Reid Warns Against Staying on the Sidelines in Syria

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 9, 2013 at 3:26pm

President Barack Obama has a tough act to follow during his Tuesday evening address to the nation on U.S. intervention in Syria — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The Nevada Democrat gave one the most forceful speeches yet in support of U.S. intervention in Syria on the Senate floor Monday, making an open and robust comparison to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“As America faces yet another crisis of conscience, another opportunity to intervene on behalf of humanity, my mind returns to that turning point in the world’s history, when the United States of America faced down an evil regime that murdered millions of innocent citizens. Millions and millions of civilians and prisoners of war were murdered by gas in Nazi death camps,” Reid said. “Belsen, Trebinka, Auschwitz. ‘Never again,’ swore the world, ‘never again’ would we permit the use of these poisonous weapons of war.”

Reid used a familiar quote, often attributed to Dante’s “Inferno,” noting it has prominent placement at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

“Today, many Americans say that these atrocities are none of our business, that they’re not our concern. I disagree. Any time the powerful turn such weapons of terror and destruction against the powerless, it is our business, and the weapons in question are categorically different,” Reid said.

Reid’s comments to a mostly empty chamber (Dan Coats, R-Ind., was the only other senator in the room) came even as many senators in both parties are announcing opposition to the authorization for use of force against Syria being sought by the Obama administration. Just today, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said she could not support the current resolution, as did Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Alexander’s home-state colleague, Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Corker, helped draft the authorization.

“If we allow [Bashar al-]Assad’s use of chemical weapons to go unchecked and unanswered, hostile forces around the work will also assume these terrible attacks of demons like Assad are permissible,” Reid said. “That America cannot allow.”

Reid said he viewed a 13-minute video Monday of the effects of the chemical weapons used in Syria. Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., announced last week that copies of the video produced by the CIA would be given to all senators. The 13-minute version was publicly released by the Intelligence panel on Saturday, along with a warning about the content and advising viewer discretion. It is no doubt troubling to watch.

“I will never get that out of mind,” Reid said. “Little baby boys and girls dressed in little colorful play clothes. Boys and girls, some look like teenagers, retching in spasm … and of course, older people. But you see, these poisons killed the kids first.”

“Without question, this brutality demands a response,” Reid said. “Congress has done its due diligence. Since President Obama announced that he would seek Congressional approval for this limited military action against Syria, the Senate has had many committee hearings and briefings in addition to five classified, all-members briefings. There are more briefings and much debate to come this week, including open debate here in the Senate.”

Reid said that the first vote is expected to take place Wednesday. Absent an agreement, that would be a debate-limiting cloture vote on a motion just to proceed to the resolution drafted last week by the Foreign Relations Committee.