Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Sep 11 2013

Update on Syria

*This post was originally published in the latest edition of our newsletter which went out today. If you are not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay apprised of the latest happenings in the Senate.* 

There is no doubt that the suffering inflicted upon the Syrian people who are caught in a civil war to free their country from a brutal, authoritarian regime calls for a response from the international community. Confirmation that Bashar Assad’s regime used a nerve agent against civilians, killing over a thousand in the process, defines the gravity of the situation. The use of chemical weapons, banned by international law for nearly 100 years, is a crime against humanity. There certainly is a need for world powers to intervene.

But what level of U.S. response is appropriate?

For weeks, President Obama has been making the case that the only way to assert U.S. power is to send the regime a message with a unilateral, punitive response. He still appears to be keeping that option on the table regardless of what our allies, Congress and the American people think.

However, there may still be a diplomatic answer. A plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia and agreed to by Syria, has the potential to take these weapons of mass destruction out of Assad’s hands. While we should be skeptical of any deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad, a deal Putin now appears to be hedging, the U.S. needs to pursue every diplomatic avenue. 

It is important to see if we can resolve this issue through diplomatic efforts.

The people of Arkansas have spoken loudly, and almost universally, in opposition to President Obama’s request to authorize a U.S. military strike against Syria. They remain unconvinced that military force is the only way to resolve this issue or that it would successfully prevent Assad from further brutal attacks on civilians. It only takes one look at Libya, which is in complete chaos, to see that it’s very difficult to get untangled once you are involved in this type of conflict.

The American people are weary of becoming involved in another U.S. military engagement. In the weeks since the President first proposed a military strike against Assad’s regime, the majority of Americans have become more convinced that the President lacks a plan to accomplish his goals. Many have become more concerned in that time that these goals aren't even well defined.

Without a clear path forward, I agree with them and continue to oppose the use of military force in Syria.

Watch and read some of the interviews we’ve done about Syria.

KASU - Boozman discusses Syria, and reflects on 9/11
40/29 - Why Sen. Boozman says he'll vote no on Syria
Magnolia Reporter - Sen. Boozman thinks this is the wrong time to strike Syria
Hot Springs Sentinel-Record Boozman skeptical on action in Syria (subscription required)
Arkansas Democrat Gazette - Hoping Obama listens, say 5 Arkansans in Congress (subscription required)

In case you missed it, I sat down with Craig Cannon at KHOG 40/29 to talk about my concerns with the President's request to attack Syria. The Senate will be debating this proposal when we resume next week. So far I have not been convinced that President Obama's approach is the only way to address Bashir Assad's brutality. I continue to evaluate the President's case and the language of the Senate resolution, but remain opposed to military action at this point.

According to the Navy Times, President Obama has decided to give our servicemen and women a smaller raise than the 1.8 percent increase approved by Congress.

Under a Congressionally-approved federal pay formula, U.S. servicemen and women are slated to receive a 1.8 percent raise come January 1st. However, President Obama has announced that he wants to cap the increase at 1 percent.

As the Navy Times story indicates, President Obama’s letter to Congress about his decision said the U.S. is recovering “from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” requiring efforts to stay “on a sustainable fiscal course.”

It is true that Washington is spending at an out-of-control pace, but the first step in changing course is by prioritizing. Out of all of the U.S.’s financial obligations, the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms must be placed at the top of the list. This is all the more important if you are considering obligating our already overextended military in another engagement.

The President has not only failed to fulfill his promise to go through the federal budget with a scalpel, but resisted the opportunity when it was offered up by Congress to avoid arbitrary cuts through the sequester. The President then went further to try and make certain constituencies “feel the pain” by opting for government furloughs and closing down White House Tours to the public rather than eliminating waste, all in an effort to convince the American people that any reductions to the growth of government would spell Armageddon.

We have two major budget battles on the horizon—a continuing resolution to keep the government operating and a request to increase the debt limit to avoid defaulting on our obligations. These two immediate concerns do not abdicate our responsibility to bring the individual appropriations bills to the floor. These are the times for us to fight our spending battles. Not with pay for our troops. I will work with my colleagues to override the President’s decision and ensure our servicemen and women remain at the top of our priority list when it comes to how we allocate our money. 

Sep 03 2013

Ag Tour in the News

Last week we visited 15 counties throughout the state for our annual Agriculture Tour. We talked with family farmers, facility managers, agriculture researchers and others who make their living growing, processing, and securing our supply of food and fiber. Agriculture is Arkansas’s top industry we want to make sure the policies Congress is crafting will improve productivity for our agribusinesses. This is especially important as we face the September 30, 2013 expiration of the Farm Bill, which is the legislation that dictates our nation’s agriculture policy. I wanted to share some of the stories about our visits during the tour.

NWA Online
Boozman: Farm Debate Will Go Past Month’s End
Hope Star
Senator takes agri tour
Hot Springs Sentinel Record
Boozman speaks at Job Corps graduation
Texarkana Gazette
Boozman discusses agriculture, economy in visit to De Queen
Times Record
Boozman To Push For Farm Bill, Aid For Scott County Flood Damage
KFSM
Boozman Works to Bring Money to Scott County Flood Victims

There is no doubt that the suffering that is being inflicted upon the Syrian people caught in a civil war to free the country from a brutal, authoritarian regime calls for a response from the international community. Confirmation that Bashar Assad’s regime used a nerve agent against civilians, killing over a thousand in the process, defines the gravity of the situation. The use of chemical weapons, banned by international law for over 100 years, is a crime against humanity. There certainly is a need for world powers to intervene. 

But what level of U.S. response is appropriate?

President Obama seems convinced that the only way to assert U.S. power is to send the regime a message with a unilateral, punitive response and he appears to be committed to that strategy regardless of what our allies, Congress and the American people think.

U.S. involvement with Syria through bombing, unless there is a clear national security interest, is an act of war and thus Congressional approval is necessary.  The President should explain to the American people his reasoning and go before Congress to get authorization.  He needs to share the intelligence used to make his decision, the goals of a military strike and his plan to achieve those goals, as well as explain his broader Syria policy and strategy, something that has been lacking since the crisis began two and half years ago.   Without doing so, he risks exasperating the situation. This is the exact mistake he made in his handling of the Libya crisis.

The concerns Americans have with President Obama’s strategy are real:

How will one limited strike be successful in ending Assad’s war? Most military experts believe it will not. It is almost certain that limited strikes will not destroy Assad’s ability to continue to murder his own people, with or without chemical weapons, and it will absolutely draw the U.S. down the path of greater involvement in the conflict.

Is this a prudent use of military force? Military force should be used only if there is an achievable purpose and outcome.  A unilateral U.S. strike as punishment solely for using chemical weapons is unlikely to discourage the Assad regime from continuing to slaughter its own people.  Without a clear-cut U.S. policy and end game, such a limited strike would only succeed in the escalation of the crisis.

Where are our allies? France seems to be our only major partner in a potential strike against Syria. The British Parliament has already nixed the idea of UK military action. The Israelis are nervous that an escalation will lead to attacks on their nation. Jordan has said it will not get involved out of fears that it will exasperate an already out-of-control refugee crisis. Russia and China, while not staunch allies of the U.S. by any means, are supporting Assad in this conflict. We have to consider the ramifications of military action in the context of the greater picture.

Whose side are we fighting on? Of course any action we take is to aid the innocent Syrian people who are being oppressed and murdered by the Assad regime, but there is a serious concern about the make-up of the Syrian rebel forces leading the fight against the regime. Radical Sunni Islamists, many of which are linked to the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”, an al-Qaeda affiliate, are emerging as the prevalent force seeking to topple regime. This combined with al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is generally acknowledged to be the most effective force fighting al-Assad, makes for a terrible conflict of interest. With no goal of regime change on the table, wouldn’t U.S. action just embolden the very people who seek America’s destruction?  As General Dempsey stated in an August 19th letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “The use of U.S. military force can change the military balance…But it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict.”

What is the end game? The President has indicated that the goal of U.S. military action is not regime change. Then what is the point? Assad’s regime has the capability and the willingness to continue to brutally tyrannize and slaughter innocent Syrians even if strategic bombings negate his ability to do so through use of chemical weapons. Most military experts agree limited surgical strikes would do little to hasten the overthrow of Assad but would for sure draw us in further to the conflict. Again, the President has to assure America that he has a plan to avoid this.

These questions and more need to be answered by the President. The world is watching. Our response needs to be strong, but it also needs to be smart. Assad clearly is a tyrant by any standard and we need to work with the international community toward removing him from power. President Obama, however, should not try to do this alone. He needs to come before Congress and make his case to the American people. 

On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched on Washington to demand equal rights for all citizens. As they gathered on the National Mall, they were greeted by the powerful words of so many who were elemental in the fight for Civil Rights including Rosa Parks, Philip Randolph, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King, delivered his powerful “I have a Dream” speech, describing his dream of equality:

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends -- so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

His efforts for civil rights and the attention to this important cause was a turning point in the history of our country, and though we have come a long way in the fight for equality, there is still much work that remains to be done.

Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we are reminded of Dr. King’s vision for a free and equal country which was so wonderfully articulated before the American people. His words endure today and will continue to inspire us.

We’re visiting 15 counties in Arkansas this week as part of our annual Agriculture Tour. The tour takes on extra significance as we are running up against the September 30th expiration of the Farm Bill, legislation that dictates our nation’s agriculture policy. I’m honored to be on the committee that will reconcile the differences between the Senate and House bills. In this edition of 'From the Mailbag' we discuss what we want the final version of the legislation to include. Click here to watch.

There are critical deadlines that Congress must meet by the end of September to keep the government funded. In this edition of ‘From the Mailbag’ I discuss the issues that we have to resolve including the debt ceiling and our goals to rein in federal spending. Click here to watch.

We visited with Jonesboro’s KASU this morning about important issues under discussion in Washington and Arkansas. We’re kicking off our annual agriculture tour and farmers, ranchers are asking about the farm bill and we’re in a good position to help Arkansas agribusinesses get the safety nets they need. We also discussed the President’s health care law and the turmoil in the Middle East. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.

I’ve been talking a lot about the farm bill during the August work period. This morning I was on KNWA’s morning show to discuss progress toward reauthorizing the bill. It was also one of the topics that we discussed on KARK’s Sunday morning show “Capitol View” this weekend. The farm bill defines and authorizes funding for agriculture’s safety net. Programs authorized by this law are vital to ensuring that we do not become dependent on other countries for our food supply, in the vein that we have of our energy needs. In the coming days, I will embark on an agriculture tour to highlight how important this bill is to Arkansas. It is my hope that we can begin working with our colleagues in the House of Representatives on a compromise between the two versions we passed when we return to Washington after Labor Day.

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Boozman Office, Mercy Hospital Share Update on Senator's Progress Toward Recovery

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