Just back from a congressional oversight trip to the Middle East, South Asia and Europe, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said this week he's "skeptical" of suggestions that the U.S. should intervene in Syria's growing internal conflict, saying, "There's no good option."
"There would be an enormous hazard to our country that we could Americanize what is a Syrian civil war," Welch said. "The humanitarian situation is dire. The potential for chaos and things getting worse is dire. But that doesn't mean there's an easy solution about what we should do. In my view, the president is being quite wise to be restrained. Have we not learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan?"
Welch's week-long trip brought him and four U.S. senators to Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Germany. While in Turkey, the delegation visited the Kilis refugee camp near the country's border with Syria. The camp houses some 14,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict.
Welch's trip came just days before Israel conducted air strikes near the Syrian capital of Damascus and as President Obama faced escalating calls to intervene in the conflict.
But citing the practical challenges of lethal intervention, Welch said, "I have a lot of skepticism [about] the armchair general politicians here in D.C. that are acting as though it's a simple matter of a no-fly-zone or arming rebels."
Welch's position puts him somewhat at odds with that of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who addressed the Syrian conflict last weekend during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Leahy spokesman David Carle said in a statement Monday that Vermont's senior senator opposes putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, but "believes we should explore establishing a no-fly zone, with our allies, as we did in Libya."
As for arming Syrian rebels, Carle said Leahy believes, "There are clearly pros and cons to doing that, and he would want to hear from the State and Defense Departments about what they have in mind, and how it would be accomplished."
Vermont's third congressional delegate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was less committal in his response to Seven Days.
Calling Syrian president Bashar al-Assad "a terrible dictator" who "has got to go," Sanders said in a written statement that, "The difficulty for the United States is to make certain that the opposition groups that we support in Syria are not extremists working with al-Qaida. The United States should continue to work with the democratic secular organizations in the opposition toward a solution that does not draw the U.S. into another war in the Middle East."
After leaving Turkey, Welch spent a day in Pakistan and two in Afghanistan, where he traveled from Kabul to Kandahar to Helman Province. While there he met with nine soldiers from Vermont (pictured above) — upon whom he bestowed gifts of maple syrup — along with Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. (pictured below), the commanding U.S. general in Afghanistan and a graduate of St. Michael's College.
Just weeks before, when Gen. Dunford testified before Congress, Welch recounted, "He said, 'The Afghanistan war is very much in the rear-view mirror for Congress.' He's right, and it shouldn't be. I mean, we've got soldiers who are still there — still very much in danger. The day after I left, five soldiers were killed right there in Kandahar."
"America's quote 'moving on.' It's like, for America, the war is over. We just haven't ended it," Welch added. "It's not right for us as to put something as very urgent and important as bringing those troops home on the back-burner here in Congress."
Photos courtesy of Congressman Peter Welch.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch’s communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.