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S.C. lawmakers cool on Syrian intervention

The White House's closest political ally in South Carolina isn't convinced it's time for U.S. intervention in Syria.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said Friday that while he hasn't been a part of the Syrian intelligence reviews, he personally has not seen a clearly defined need to launch a military strike.

“What's the rush?” he said during a telephone interview. “There's no rush for this.”

Clyburn, the only Democrat in the state's nine-member Washington delegation, agreed with the world view that President Bashar al-Assad is a tyrant. But he said the evidence for direct military action would have to be compelling for him to support such a step.

“I know what 'it ain't,' ” Clyburn, of Columbia, said of the case so far. “And so far 'it ain't.' ”

Clyburn's comments echoed the views of other members of South Carolina's delegation, with several saying they are not in support of entering the conflict militarily or at least until Congress is consulted.

“Any action the president takes must be fully vetted and voted on by Congress,” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said. “And I will tell you now that U.S. boots on the ground should be out of the question.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of Charleston said it would be a mistake for President Barack Obama to take unilateral action without first approaching Congress to spell out the rationale.

“If he came and made the case, I suspect he would prevail based on a long-standing position by both Democrats and Republicans against weapons of mass destruction,” Sanford said.

Sanford added that the accountability track should be followed. “When something goes wrong, body bags don't come back to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They come back to congressional districts.”

Clyburn said his view might be different had Britain not backed away from joining a possible coalition against Syria. Lawmakers in London this week rejected military intervention in the wake of an eruption of public opposition.

Clyburn, who previously supported the U.S. mission into Afghanistan but opposed intervention in Iraq, said if a launch is pursued, “we ought to take the time to do it right.” Any step in should be “a well-defined mission before we embark on it.”

The state's ranking voice on defense issues, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Friday that anything less than a clear and defined showing of determination against Assad would embolden Iran and other radicals in the region.

“I'm not interested in a military response to save face for President Obama,” he said. “I'm interested in a response that protects American interests.”

Graham added: “It's pretty hard to lead the American people when the commander in chief really doesn't make the effort to explain the situation. And President Obama's explanation about our national security interest in Syria is, quite frankly, absent.”

Elsewhere in the state, talk of strike action drew doubts from other members of the delegation. Two Upstate Republicans in the U.S. House — Jeff Duncan and Trey Gowdy — both expressed reluctance at intervening in Syria, the Greenville News reported.

Gowdy said he's not willing to vote in favor of a U.S. strike for the sole reason that Assad used chemical weapons, if the evidence shows that indeed happened.

Duncan said in a statement he does “not believe it is in the American people's interest to intervene in Syria right now.”

Duncan was one of several S.C. lawmakers with questions about which groups are in the United States' best interest to back in the fighting.

“This is a Syrian civil war that has been transpiring for nearly 30 months,” he said, “and questions remain about which side we would be assisting.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.


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