Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, says he and a bipartisan group of Congressmen will send a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan this week to request a new Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force.
The request comes after U.S. ships fired missiles at an airbase in Syria last Thursday. The country’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, used the airbase to deploy apparent chemical weapons against Syrian citizens last week.
Cole has long argued for a new authorization. The administration is currently working under an authorization that was approved in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. Cole says military operations in Syria were not even under consideration at the time, and ISIS did not yet exist.
“It seems to me you need a whole new set of congressional authorizations, you need a vigorous debate about it. And members of Congress ought to have to vote yes or no,” Cole said.
Cole says he believes regime change should come to Syria in the “longer term” because he does not think Assad can effectively rule the country. However, he does not think an American intervention is necessary. Cole agrees with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has stated the decision to up to the Syrian people.
“I don't consider Syria, as in and of itself, vital to American interests,” Cole said. “But I do think we have a vital interest in, number one, making sure that countries and groups don't use chemical weapons or any form of WMD. We do have a vital interest in going after ISIS wherever they are at because they have demonstrated they're a dangerous and deadly foe.”
Rep. Cole says he believes President Donald Trump acted within his power when he ordered Thursday’s missile strike. Cole says the action was appropriate because Assad violated terms of a 2013 agreement to surrender his chemical weapon stockpile.
“They did turn over thirteen hundred tons of chemical weapons but they clearly didn't turn them all over. The Russians were to be responsible for making sure Syrians carried out that agreement. And again they failed. So the United States in this case had every right to act,” Cole said.
Jacob McCleland: Congressman Cole you spoke favorably about President Trump's decision to launch missiles last week in Syria, and you've also long argued for a Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force. Do you believe the president acted outside of his power by launching the missiles?
Rep. Tom Cole: Actually I dealt with this case. You have to remember United States was a guarantor to an agreement that involved the Russians and the Syrians. The Syrians agreed to turn over all their chemical weapons. They did turn over thirteen hundred tons of chemical weapons, but they clearly didn't turn them all over. The Russians were to be responsible for making sure Syrians carried out that agreement. And, again, they failed. So the United States in this case had every right to act. We had already gone into an agreement. The two parties violated that agreement. So I think the president did the right thing. I think going forward though if we're going to continue to engage in activity not only in this area but we're very heavily involved in Syria right now against ISIS in Raqqa. We're involved with the Iraqis against ISIS in Mosul. I think you do need an Authorization for the Use of Military Force for those kinds of activity. In fact they have joined with both Democrat Republican members of Congress will be sending next week a letter to Speaker Ryan asking them to take up that matter.
McCleland: Do you believe that you would have the votes to pass something like that?
Cole: I do. Now there would be a pretty vigorous debate. There are some people who don't want that that want authorization but don't want us there at all. And that's fair enough. We made a decision in Congress. You know partisan or bipartisan not to be there then we shouldn't be there. And I personally think in this case again I don't I don't consider Syria as in and of itself vital to American interests. But I do think we have a vital interest in, number one, making sure that countries and groups don't use chemical weapons or any form of WMDs. We do have a vital interest in going after ISIS wherever they are at because they have demonstrated they're a dangerous and deadly foe. But again I always point out to people that the military authorizations were acting under, ISIS didn't exist. Nobody envisioned this being involved in Syria. We've already exited Iraq. We’re now back there again. It seems to me you need a whole new set of congressional authorizations, you need a vigorous debate about it. And members of Congress ought to have to vote yes or no.
McCleland: As part of protecting those vital interests in the region would that involve a regime change in Syria for you?
Cole: Well I think longer term, yes, in the sense that I don't think Assad can ultimately rule Syria. I mean, effectively he's sort of the mayor of Damascus right now. You know I think the anger and the bitterness and the legitimate resentment against the brutality of his regime makes it impossible for him to be there. But I actually agree with Secretary Tillerson who a couple of weeks ago said in the long run you know this decision is up to the people of Syria. If the people in Syria wanted to keep them I suppose that would be their business. I can't imagine that they would.
McCleland: But would you support U.S. intervention to to change the regime there?
Cole: No, I don't think that's necessary. I would you know… Look, our our main enemy there is ISIS. Again I'm no, I'm not fond of Assad any more than I was fond of Gadhafi in Libya but I didn't think we had any vital national interest in getting rid of Gadhafi in Libya. They had not attacked us. They were not in the terrorism business. To be fair to Assad, and it's hard to be fair given how brutal the regime is, he has not attacked the United States and so far as I know, he's not busy sponsoring non-state actors, certainly actors directed against this country. So I don't like him. I would hope people reject him but why not use force against him in and of himself. We did it in this case because he broke an agreement.
McCleland: We've been talking with Congressman Tom Cole. Representative Cole thank you so much has been a pleasure. Hey
Cole: My pleasure. Thanks for calling.
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