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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Senator On Syria: ‘We Just Can’t Take On Anything Else’

Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., left, is pictured in January 2013. At right is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., left, is pictured in January 2013. At right is Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Congress is in recess until September 9th, but lawmakers are calling for congressional involvement to any U.S. response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians last week.

This evening, U.S. House and Senate leaders will get a briefing from the White House. President Obama has said he is certain that the chemical weapon attack was initiated by Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

Some lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts say they would support “surgical” strikes that don’t involve civilians. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona says the U.S. needs to act.

But Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma — a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — is one of the few against any response.

“I’m opposing military action by us,” Inhofe told Here & Now. “We just can’t take on anything else.”

He says the Defense Department budget cuts due to sequestration have been too great to use military resources.

“I’ve taken my position for a reason that no one else is talking about,” Inhofe said. “My concern is this: This president has gutted the military during the four-and-a-half years that he’s been in. And right now, we’re in a position where in order just to meet the expectations of sequestration, he’s furloughing people.”

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. British Prime Minister David Cameron responded today to tough questions from members of Parliament about whether the U.K. should sanction military intervention in Syria. We'll get the latest from London in a few minutes.

YOUNG: But first, the debate in Congress, or the lack of it. Congress is in summer recess until September 9th, but lawmakers are calling for congressional involvement in any U.S. response. This evening, House and Senate leaders will get a briefing via teleconference, but President Obama says he is certain that the chemical weapon attack against Syrian civilians was initiated by Assad's government, crossing the red line he'd drawn.

Last night on PBS, he added concern that those weapons could someday be used against the U.S. Some lawmakers - like Senator Ed Markey, the Democrat from Massachusetts - say they would support surgical strikes that don't involve civilians. Senator Jim Inhofe - the Republican from Oklahoma, and a ranking member of the Senate Armed Service Committee - is one of the few against any response.

Senator, your thoughts. Why? Make your case.

SENATOR JIM INHOFE: Well, I think, first of all, I've taken my position for a reason that no one else is talking about, Robin, and I'm opposing military action in Syria by us. My concern is this: This president has gutted the military during the four-and-a-half years that he's been in, and right now, we're in a position where, in order just to meet the expectations of sequestration, he's furloughing people.

Robin, I've got 14,000 civilian employees in Tinker Air Force Base, and they've having to be furloughed as we speak. We had - the president had to ground 16 of the flying squadrons. You can't do that and then expect to have those people up and ready to do some type of a - what they call a surgical attack.

So I've been opposed to this, because we just can't take on anything else.

YOUNG: Well, you write: No red line should have been drawn without the strategy and funding to support it. But is there some irony there? Because, of course, the White House and the Democrats blame Republicans for not coming to some kind of a deal so that sequestration wouldn't have had to happen.

INHOFE: No, they are dreaming. That isn't what happened. We have sequestration right now because of the excessive spending of this president since - in the first part of his office. If you remember, the deficit that he's given us, you remember the $800 billion so-called stimulus, all of these things were - it seems like it was heavy spending on everything except for the military.

And I knew this was going to happen. Four-and-a-half years ago, when the president came out with his first budget, I went to Afghanistan so I could respond, because I knew he'd be devastating our military. And sure enough, he did.

YOUNG: Senator, what about your fellow Republicans like John McCain, who say you can't delay reaction to what is essentially a massacre, as he says. You saw these pictures of dead children. Come on, this is horrific. We can't stand by and watch this happen.

INHOFE: You know, I can remember when we stood by and let the - in 1994, in Rwanda, when the genocide took place. There are tragedies that are taking place all over. If we had a - the military with adequate support, yes, I would certainly look at that and want to do something. I'm sympathetic about the devastation that's taking place in Syria.

It's very similar to what happened with Saddam Hussein and the Kurds in the north, and I was very much opposed to what he did, and we wanted to help at that time. That was different, because now, we have a military that's just been - as I say, it's been devastated. We can't take on any more military responsibilities.

YOUNG: Well, you mentioned Saddam Hussein and the Kurds. Of course, he horrifically gassed the Kurds, and there was no response. There was, however, an attack on Iraq years later, long after that, and when we now know there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Is the shadow of Iraq also over some of the thinking today?

INHOFE: Well, see, first of all, I disagree with the statement when you say no weapons of mass destruction. I don't want to open that up for a debate. However, when you're talking about gassing people, and - that is a weapon of mass destruction.

YOUNG: But the response was years later. In other words, the war in Iraq was not - was 17 years, I think, after Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds.

INHOFE: OK. What's the question, then?

YOUNG: Well, is the shadow of Iraq and the fear of another slippery slope, or making a mistake, is that also behind either your decision or the decision or the decision of some of your fellow lawmakers?

INHOFE: No. No, it isn't. If we just take - I don't know about anyone else. In fact, I think I'm probably the only one who has this strong a feeling about not putting our military into another situation where it could be - use our rare assets. Right now, we don't have spare assets, spare resources to use. We are overworked. We have an off-tempo - the word, the term that is used for the operation tempo - that's unacceptable for our Guard, our Reserve and our regular forces.

YOUNG: By the way, are you surprised there haven't been more voices raised with concern?

INHOFE: I am, a little bit. You quoted Ed Markey, and I think the left probably would take the position that he has. I'm not being critical of him. Actually, Ed's a good friend of mine. But to say that he would approve of surgical strikes kind of gives the impression that this is nice and clean. We won't get our hands dirty. It won't cost anything. It'll solve the problem. Well, that isn't the case, in my opinion.

YOUNG: Jim Inhofe, Republican senator for Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe, thank you so much.

INHOFE: Thank you, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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