MILWAUKEE — Republican Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner and Sean Duffy said Wednesday that they will vote against military intervention in Syria, and other members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation expressed hesitancy about a strike.
A staff member for Republican Rep. Tom Petri, whose district includes Columbia and Marquette counties as well as Oshkosh and Fond du Lac, said he remains undecided.
The U.S. and France have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons against his own people, and President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize a military strike. The president has said only limited military action is planned.
Duffy, who represents northern Wisconsin, said in a statement that Obama did the right thing by seeking congressional approval, but he didn’t think the president had outlined a “coherent plan to justify American military action.”
“It is not clear who we are fighting with or what we are fighting for,” Duffy said. “Therefore, I do not plan to support the resolution to intervene.”
Sensenbrenner, whose district includes Milwaukee’s western suburbs, said in a statement that Assad’s actions are “reprehensible” but “Congress did not set a red line for military action in Syria — President Obama did. And his plan for military force will not help the Syrian people or promote the freedom or security of the United States.”
Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, who represents northeastern Wisconsin, and Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, whose district includes Madison, also lean against military action but are keeping open minds, their spokesmen said in emails.
Other members of the delegation were still seeking more information. After attending intelligence briefings by the White House, Democratic Rep. Ron Kind said he remains concerned about the possibility of the U.S. being drawn into a long conflict. Kind said he asked the Obama administration for a national intelligence assessment of what the day after a strike might look like.
“There are many trip wires throughout the region and we could very easily be drawn into a prolonged engagement, not of our choosing or liking, just based on the response in the region,” Kind said.
Kind said he has been speaking with residents in western Wisconsin and “there’s not much enthusiasm about another prolonged military engagement in the Middle East following two long wars this past decade in the same region.”
But not taking military action could send “the wrong message,” he said.
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“There’s a reason so many countries throughout the world have signed the chemical weapons treaty, because they’ve determined that is a red line, that that cannot be tolerated in the international community,” Kind said.
Among the questions Kind still wants answered is, who gave the order for the attack?
“I think that’s what a lot of members have focused on, including myself,” he said. “Was this a rogue general? Was it Assad himself? And that’s where we’re looking for some greater clarification.”
Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore, who represents the Milwaukee area, said she has “decided to be undecided because I have two awful sorts of choices. And I promised myself I would listen to all the arguments before I made up my mind.”
Moore said a vote on military action is among the most important she can cast and she has been talking to as many people as she can, including peace activists, Jewish groups and Syrians living in the United States.
“I’m concerned about the humanitarian crisis that the use of these chemical weapons has caused,” she said. But she added, she was not concerned about arguments that the U.S. must use force to save face after Assad ignored Obama’s earlier warnings. She said she’s asking, “can we actually have some sort of impact, other than just extracting some sort of revenge for them crossing the red line?”
Staff members for Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson said they also remain undecided. Baldwin, a Democrat, and Johnson, a Republican, both released statements saying they were looking for Obama to present a convincing case to the American people for military action.
“The President says Syria ‘presents a serious danger to our national security.’ He must explain what this danger is, and how his plan would reduce it,” Johnson said.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who represents the southeastern corner of the state, released a statement saying Obama “has some work to do to recover from his grave missteps in Syria.”
“He needs to clearly demonstrate that the use of military force would strengthen America’s security,” Ryan said.