Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.

We have legislative break during August so this gives me the opportunity to spend more time traveling around Arkansas. Last Thursday we visited Little Rock and talked with KARK’s Mallory Brooks about some of the legislative issues we’re working on including the farm bill and our upcoming agriculture tour around the state. Click here to watch the interview.

You may have recently read that the Obama Administration delayed a consumer protection provision in the health care law that limits patients’ out of pocket costs. This is another broken promise. As you’ll recall, the President delayed the employer mandate provision earlier this summer. In the latest edition of ‘From the Mailbag’ Senator Boozman discusses this decision and his commitment to delay Obamacare for all Americans. Click here to watch.

A call to prayer began when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in the formation of our nation and we follow this tradition every day when the Senate and House of Representatives meet, each chamber begins with a prayer.

The Senate tradition began when a chaplain was appointed to the chamber in 1789. A case before the Supreme Court is challenging this practice.

The New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently ruled that the Town of Greece, New York had violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing town board meetings to be opened with prayer, even though the town's practice welcomed prayers from members of any religion or denomination as well as reflections from atheists. For example, the town has welcomed Christian, Jewish, and Wiccan prayer. The Supreme Court will take up this case in its upcoming term.

I joined Senator Marco Rubio, (R, FL) and many other Senate colleagues in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Town of Greece v. Galloway, the landmark case concerning religious liberty. The brief argues that the Court should reaffirm the Constitutional footing of the practice of legislative prayer.

In the brief, we wrote, "In this religiously diverse Nation, the best means of ensuring that the government does not prefer any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is not to silence some such prayers while allowing others. It is to allow those who pray to do so in accordance with the dictates of their consciences." Adding that “...allowing those who offer legislative prayers to pray in accordance with their own consciences is the approach that best serves the value of religious liberty that underlies the First Amendment.”

Read the brief at the link below.

Week in Review: July 29-August 2

The Senate adjourned for the August work period, but we got a lot accomplished in the final week.

  • Eliminate the Death Tax to Create Jobs: I introduced legislation that would permanently eliminate the federal estate and gift taxes that punish America’s small business owners and agriculture producers. This will help create jobs
  • Rural Airports Get Grants: Senator Pryor and I, along with Congressmen Rick Crawford (AR-1) and Tom Cotton (AR-4) announced that six Arkansas rural airports will receive over $1.2 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants.
  • Upcoming Mobile Offices: Members of my staff will be in Hope on August 6th and Piggett and Corning on August 8th for Mobile Office events. They will be available at the walk-in event to help Arkansans with problems involving the federal government and to hear their thoughts about legislative issues.

  • Thank You to Our Interns: Our interns have been a great help to the people of Arkansas during their time in Washington. I appreciate their dedication and their commitment to working with the staff to address issues concerning Arkansans. They have taken advantage of the opportunities in Washington and learned about legislative process and how we serve the people of our state. I appreciate all they did for the people of Arkansas this summer.