NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - President Obama and his National Security Team are trying to convince Congress to use U.S. military force in Syria, but some military experts say a strike is a bad move because our national defense is underfunded.
A Senate Foreign Relations Hearing has been underway for hours Tuesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee listened carefully to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs make the case for military action against Syria.
The Chairman of that Committee -- Democratic Senator Robert Menendez -- gave a hearty endorsement of the plan.
"Yes, there are risks to action, but the consequences of inaction are greater, and graver still: further humanitarian disaster in Syria, regional instability, the loss of American credibility around the world, an emboldened Iran and North Korea, and the disintegration of international law,” Menendez said at the hearing.
Virginia’s 4th District Congressman Randy Forbes, who is not part of the committee, had a dissenting opinion in a statement he released Tuesday.
I have no intention of voting to authorize American intervention in Syria. While the President’s decision to seek congressional authorization for military involvement in Syria shows a regard for the Constitution that has been noticeably absent for much of his presidency, I remain strongly opposed to an action that I believe will in no way contribute to America's national security interests. I also find it concerning that the President is again seeking to use military power even while he has accepted nearly a trillion dollars in cuts from our national defense over the last four years. The President’s willingness to use our military without ensuring that it is properly funded should alarm all who view the maintenance of unparalleled American military power as a principal Constitutional duty of our Commander-in-Chief.
The Norfolk-based USS Mahan headed home from the Mediterranean Tuesday, leaving the Stout, Graveley, Ramage and Barry off the coast of Syria, waiting for orders. Forbes spoke to WAVY.com Tuesday and said he thinks sequestration played a role in the decision to bring the Mahan home.
Forbes also said he’s concerned the Navy's reduced presence in the gulf region -- a consequence of budget cuts -- may have contributed to Assad's decision to use chemical weapons.
To tie the movement of U.S. warships directly to sequestration might be considered a stretch by some commanders at the Pentagon, but it's hard to dismiss the notion entirely.
The four Norfolk-based ships that remain in striking distance of Syria carry enough fire-power to exact a heavy toll on the Assad regime's weapons of war. But the Navy has always had another weapon in the gulf region and around the world -- presence.
"I say presence is peace …,” said retired Rear Admiral Fred Metz.
Metz says the declining number of U.S. warships in the gulf region because of sequestration may have emboldened the Assad regime to carry out a chemical attack on August 21.
"...you put a line in the sand, but what are you gonna back it up with? You know in the past, we've had a battle group that operated in the Mediterranean all the time, now we just pass through,” Metz said. “So what are we telling our enemies and what are we telling our friends?”
"I think that's a message around the world that both our allies are looking at, but also our potential enemies, that the United state has been on this decline because of all these massive cuts,” Forbes said.
Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Sub-Committee on Seapower. He says the Navy is currently only meeting 51 percent of its defense commanders’ obligations in the world compared to 90 percent in 2007.
“[The administration] wanted to do surge in Afghanistan, they wanted to do this re-pivot to the Asian area, they wanted to do military actions in Libya, now military actions in Syria, but the whole time they been consistently and dramatically cutting our military capability,” Forbes said.
In fact, Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott, who's district includes Newport News, expressed serious reservations about endorsing military action against Syria on Monday.
The question about a strike on Syria will go before the full Congress next week.
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