GOP lawmaker: US can't secure chemical weapons without troops

There are no good options to secure Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles without putting troops on the ground, the No. 2 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT
“I don’t think there’s a good way,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air Sunday.

“At the same time, you don’t say ‘putting boots on the ground’ in this sort of environment, in any lighthearted fashion ... Some people seem to have the idea you can just bomb these places that have chemical weapons, and that simply is not a very good option.”

Thornberry expressed caution about any military option in Syria, putting him in a different camp than many of his Republican colleagues, as well as some Democrats. His comments highlight the difficult terrain the Obama administration is facing as it determines what to do next to address the bloody two-year civil war in Syria.

Many lawmakers have called for the U.S. to arm Syrian rebel groups or create a no-fly zone in the wake of reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons, crossing President Obama’s “red line.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinSenate continues to disrespect Constitution, Obama and Supreme Court by not voting on Garland As other regulators move past implementing Dodd-Frank, the SEC falls further behind Will partisan politics infect the Supreme Court? MORE (D-Mich.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert MenendezRobert MenendezConfirm Julien Neals for the district of New Jersey Puerto Rico task force asks for help in charting island's economic course Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (D-N.J.) joined defense hawks Sens. John McCainJohn McCainRyan: Obama putting 'pet' projects above troops The Hill’s 12:30 Report McCain names Britney Spears as a favorite MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamClinton, Trump sharpen attacks Graham: Let special prosecutor probe Clinton emails The Trail 2016: Clinton’s ups and downs MORE (R-S.C.) on the chamber floor this week to call for more U.S. action.

Thornberry, however, questioned on Friday what those steps would accomplish.

“It’s hard for me to see any way we would intervene in this situation to make a substantial or certainly decisive difference,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry said he worries about terrorists getting ahold of the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles, particularly when the Syrian opposition includes elements of al Qaeda-affiliated groups.

"My biggest fear is terrorists are going to get their hands on chemical weapons, that they’re going to turn and use against Europe and us,” he said. “The United States has very limited options to prevent that from happening. You can go down what we should have done in the past, but this thing has continued to deteriorate, and I’m afraid there are no good options.”

So far, no lawmakers or the Obama administration have expressed any support for putting U.S. troops on the ground. There’s little public appetite for another Middle Eastern ground war after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that has raised questions about how the country’s chemical weapons would be contained in the event that the Assad government falls and rebels take over.

Thornberry said that the U.S. military should be in a “contain the damage” mode in Syria as it gives options to the president.

“I would say we would all hope and expect that putting huge numbers of troops, whether they’re ours or anybody else’s, into Syria would not be something we ever exercise,” he said. “But I think it is important for the military to have a variety of plans on table from big to small.”