Veterans have questions for lawmakers on Syria strike

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on September 6, 2013 at 5:19 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 6 at 5:22 PM

AUSTIN -- The images show chaos on the streets of Syria as government and opposition forces continue to exchange gunfire.

Two weeks after chemical weapons attacks left hundreds of innocents dead, U.S. lawmakers considering a military strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to the attacks are drawing a different kind of opposition.

"We cannot afford to turn Syria into another Iraq or Afghanistan, I beg you," warned one Syrian-American at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. John McCain (R-AZ) Thursday in Phoenix.

Among those questioning further U.S. military involvement in the nation consumed by violent civil war are veterans of America's previous conflicts. Ron Dorsey, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, describes the chemical attacks as horrible. At the same time, he told KVUE Friday he's wary of the U.S. government committing troops to a conflict without a clearly defined objective and the resources to end the conflict successfully.

"If you've been in any kind of combat, you're not going to favor going back to that situation," said Dorsey. "I don't know of any combat veteran that supports an open-ended war where folks die for questionable reasons."

Despite the administration's promise that any strike will not involve "boots on the ground," many including U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former infantryman Ben Kessler are skeptical.

"Your plan goes out the window when your first shot is fired," said Kessler. "I was in Afghanistan in 2004, almost 10 years ago, and we had a plan to go in there, and 'bam-bam,' get this out of the way quickly, and it's the longest war in U.S. history now."

The idea of a limited attack has found skeptics in Texas' congressional delegation as well, including U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX). Speaking with KVUE Thursday, McCaul cautioned that removing chemical weapons from the Assad regime's control would likely require more than air strikes or rocket attacks.

"The problem is you really can't accomplish that without putting a presence on the ground," said McCaul, who has also expressed concern that an attack could benefit certain rebel elements with ties to anti-American terrorist organizations.

"Just a punitive strike to punish one time and make a political statement is not going to resolve the situation in Syria. They say they're not for a regime change, but what is the chief objective here? What is the mission here?" asked McCaul. "I don't want to put our men and women in harm's way without an objective and a mission and a clearly defined one."

U.S. Marine Corps veteran John Weyerhaeuser served in Afghanistan, where he says American servicemen and women worked hard to assist Afghan citizens rebuild in the wake of an oppressive Taliban government. When it comes to the idea of entering into another conflict, he says lawmakers should consider their decisions carefully.

"I think our leaders should really be considering what sort of impact is this going to have on our communities back home. Is this making us safer? Is this worth the squeeze that it's going put on our troops and on their families?" asked Weyerhaeuser. "Are we making America safer first? And are we giving the people that we're trying to help a fair shot?"

Dorsey put it another way. "I would say to Congress: If you want a war, you pick up a gun," said Dorsey. "You're no less expendable than we are."

Click here for an explanation of the G20 Summit and Syria by University of Texas professor Dr. William Inboden, who also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House.

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