Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Budget Committees, says he is open to the idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under the watch of international monitors, a proposal put forward by Russia on Monday, in exchange for a promise from the U.S. not to strike Damascus.
"I'm absolutely open to it. It's really what we should be doing," the Wisconsin Republican told Newsmax, adding, "Let's face it, one of the stated goals of Obama's strategy here is to deter the use of chemical weapons. Obviously, if you've got Russia at least talking if not putting realistic pressure on the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons stockpile, or at least to secure them and get those under international control, that's certainly going to deter the use."
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Johnson continued, "Part of my problem in this strategy of the Obama administration of military action is that we signaled it, we lost the element of surprise. I'm concerned (about) ineffective military action… let's face it, that's what we're talking about right now. People are talking about a calibrated, a tailored, a limited strike...that to me is almost worse than no action."
"Plus, I'm concerned that a military action would divert the world's attention away from the heinous war crimes of the Assad regime and allow our adversaries to start pointing out the almost unilateral action on the part of the United States," added Johnson.
Asked whether Washington can trust Moscow on something like this given the adversarial relationship between the two countries over the last few weeks, Johnson responded, "Let's use the Reagan approach: trust but verify. This creates an opening. It certainly shows how you can isolate Russia or any regime or any government that would actually back the Assad regime because who… what civilized human being or civilized nation could support of the use of chemical weapons against a nation's own citizens?"
He went on to say, "This is an opportunity to try and take advantage of. If we can avoid military action, that'd be a good thing. So let's really push this hard and put a lot of pressure on Russia to follow through on this. We're going to have to have verification but this is one (time) that the UN (could) come in... utilize UN inspectors."
As for what he would see as the next step if the Russian plan materialized, Johnson said, "We have got to really take the Assad regime out of Syria. They've got to be removed from government," adding, " But as much as possible, if we can leave the governing institutions in place and try to develop a governing coalition that is going to be far more Western leaning, far more democratic, far more respectful of the rights of all Syrians, that's really the ultimate solution. But we are a long ways from that and it's going to be a very difficult journey to get to that point."
Johnson also explained his decision last week to vote against the administration's resolution to launch a limited military strike against Syria, saying, "The reason I voted no, and certainly the committee, is we voted 25 hours after the first series began. There are far too many unanswered questions and part of the problem is, I'm not sure you can get the answers to the questions that we really need answers to, before we're to engage in military action."
He continued, "I mean what are the rebel forces? Who are they? How many of them are there? What is the composition? If the Assad regime were to fall, who takes the place? I simply do not believe that it's possible to calibrate, to fine tune, to tailor a military response that does not have the potential of spinning out of control. I mean, if those chemical weapons were to start being moved and we're in danger of falling into the hands of al-Qaeda for example, that is something that's a direct threat to America. That's something that would take a far more robust military action than just lobbing cruise missiles."
At the same time, if the U.S. does not take military action, Johnson maintained, it will not be an enduring source of shame for the country as a whole. "What I do not believe is at stake right now, is America's long term credibility," he said, adding, "I certainly believe President Obama's credibility's as stake here. I'm not sure there's a whole lot we can really do to restore President Obama's credibility and that's going to be a problem for America for the next three years of his administration. "
"That definitely has to enter in his equation, which is why my advice to this administration would be to really push hard. Take advantage of what Russia has said in terms of trying to gain control of the stockpiled chemical weapons," he added.
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