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Oklahoma Lawmakers Talk Syria with Oklahoma State Chamber

by Chris Casteel Published: September 10, 2013

All seven members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation spoke Tuesday morning at a Capitol Hill event with members of Oklahoma’s State Chamber. Their remarks covered a broad range of topics, but here are some of the statements they made to the chamber _ or in quick interviews with The Oklahoman _ about Syria and the proposal advanced by Russia for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said the American people had taken control of the political process with their strong opposition to U.S. military intervention.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen polling numbers from Massachusetts that look exactly like those from Oklahoma,” Cole said.
And he said congressional opinion on both ends of the political spectrum was reflecting the sentiment from back home.
“I think we’re going to see some twists and turns, but I would be very surprised frankly if there’s ever a vote on (Syria) in the Senate and certainly in the House,” Cole said. “I just don’t think the president will risk it.”

Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “It has the feeling that the president painted himself in a corner and the Russians punched a window through.”

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, questioned whether the Russian involvement would mean Russians on the ground in Syria.
“So we go from bad to worse?”
Lucas spent hours in a briefing with top national security officials in the Obama administration and said, “They’re very convincing that chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria. I really don’t doubt that. They’re very convincing that they have the ability to stand off-shore and strike at people.
“But the thing that I took from the briefing yesterday was: No one could explain to me what happens after that? What happens if the Syrians decide to be hostile to everybody. Or what happens if we have people in the region who get caught in the crossfire. You can’t start a war without thinking through what the ultimate outcome is.”
He said the Russian proposal to collect Syria’s chemical weapons give the administration “an escape hatch.”
Lucas said the president could avoid a vote in Congress “unless the Russians try to utilize this in a way that the president couldn’t even pretend to utilize it. Putin seems to be the kind of guy that once he’s got you down, he’ll make the best of it.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, “It’s a clear admission that he lost, that John Kerry and President Obama spent the last three weeks saying, ‘We are going to do this’ but are now realizing that the vote’s going to go the other way … I think he is now cozying up to this thing and trying to act like he initially started it with Russia and with Putin at the summit, when I do not believe that’s true. At that time, he thought he was going to be able to get the votes.
“And now it’s probably the only out of a very awkward situation that he has.
“The American people don’t want another war in the Middle East … And so what’s the answer? Go to the multi-nationalists. John Kerry has never said an idea was a good idea unless it came from the United Nations.
“I don’t trust Putin, and neither did the president until yesterday.”

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, “I need the president to define why this is in the national security interest of the United States. And I need him to explain what the strategic objective is related to that national security interest. If it’s chemical weapons, then the strategic objective should be to secure those chemical weapons. But he’s not suggesting that. He’s talking about a limited cruise missile strike, something that will punish and deter but not threaten the Assad regime.
“It makes no sense whatsoever.
“I’m a strong lean no and I’m probably going to vote that way. But it looks like we’re probably not going to take a vote because they don’t have the votes.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, “You have to think about (Syria) outside the confines of just us as individuals … International affairs is a very important thing for us and how we handle Syria impacts directly what Iran’s going to do and what North Korea’s going to do.
“So I’ve been very cautious not to make any statements until I’ve finished assessing the whole situation. I spent a couple of hours yesterday at the White House and I’m not convinced we have a cogent policy. At least I’m not convinced that the secretary of state is saying the same thing as the vice president and the president.
“So that gives me pause as well. And I’ll have an intelligence briefing this afternoon on that and actually get to see the details.
“It’s public now. There’s 14 times that Assad has used chemical weapons. We should have stopped him the first time, not the last time. So there’s significant information that’s not available to the public that’s classified. I wish the president would declassify it so we could all know the same thing and be talking from the same about the situation in the Middle East.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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