Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has taken sharp exception to a column in The Washington Post
suggesting he had changed his position over Syria because of a dislike of President Obama.
The column "got it wrong on my stand on Syria," Inhofe said.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee responded in no uncertain terms to a column by the Post's Dana Milbank, who wrote that Inhofe, a leading opponent to a U.S. military strike in Syria, has sharply changed from the position he took only months ago.
Milbank wrote that Inhofe "is in a spirited debate — with himself" and, likened his opposition and that of other congressional Republicans on Syria to a "conversion on the road to Damascus."
Such Republicans, concluded Milbank, "don't like what Obama is doing in Syria — whatever it is."
"That's not correct at all," Inhofe said. "And not what I have said in the past."
Milbank cited an Inhofe article in USA Today
from May 9, writing that the senator "demanded that 'President Obama step up and exhibit the leadership required' to show Syria's Bashar Assad 'that his barbaric actions have consequences.'"
In Milbank's view, Inhofe was only four months ago as hawkish on Syria as Republican Senate colleagues John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina because he "floated the idea of a 'no-fly' zone or even 'boots on the ground.'"
Inhofe said in response to Milbank's column that he did not "float" those ideas at all. Rather, he warned that such options were "not easy" and fraught with danger.
"Enforcing a no-fly zone," Inhofe wrote in May, "even a limited no-fly zone, has many risks including ineffectiveness against low-flying attack aircraft, misidentifying civilian aircraft, and the potential for escalation. Boots on the ground could accelerate the growth of extremist influence and create more support for Assad rather than hasten his removal."
Just because the choices before us are hard doesn't mean the United States "has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing," Inhofe wrote in the column.
In calling for President Obama to "step up," he didn't advocate intervention in May but instead called for the U.S. "to help partners like Jordan with refugees now, empower moderate members of the opposition, and have a plan to keep chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands. Our next steps must be calculated and informed by the best intelligence and best military advice our defense community can provide."
"And the strategy has always been a long-term one, not only for Syria but the region — including Iran," Inhofe told Newsmax. "I don't consider [Obama's] current calls a fulfillment to my request then, nor my requests of today. In the time that has passed since I called for this strategy, more than 30,000 additional Syrians, including young children, have been murdered by Assad."
Saying that the plan now being pitched to Congress by Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry "still fails to present a long-term strategy in Syria in the Middle East," Inhofe repeated calls that "it is apparent the president has no plans to reverse his sequestration cuts that are decimating our military. Part of a long-term strategy would include reversing course of the president's past 4 1/2 years of budget cuts."
"I hope that clears up any doubts that anyone might have had on the consistency of my position on Syria," Inhofe told Newsmax, adding that if there were any doubts, it is because the Post "got it wrong."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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