By Jeremy Herb - 05/10/13 08:57 PM EDT
There are no good options to secure Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles without putting troops on the ground, the No. 2 Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Friday.
“At the same time, you don’t say ‘putting boots on the ground’ in this sort of environment, in any lighthearted fashion ... Some people seem to have the idea you can just bomb these places that have chemical weapons, and that simply is not a very good option.”
Thornberry expressed caution about any military option in Syria, putting him in a different camp than many of his Republican colleagues, as well as some Democrats. His comments highlight the difficult terrain the Obama administration is facing as it determines what to do next to address the bloody two-year civil war in Syria.
Many lawmakers have called for the U.S. to arm Syrian rebel groups or create a no-fly zone in the wake of reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons, crossing President Obama’s “red line.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) joined defense hawks Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on the chamber floor this week to call for more U.S. action.
Thornberry, however, questioned on Friday what those steps would accomplish.
“It’s hard for me to see any way we would intervene in this situation to make a substantial or certainly decisive difference,” Thornberry said.
Thornberry said he worries about terrorists getting ahold of the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles, particularly when the Syrian opposition includes elements of al Qaeda-affiliated groups.
"My biggest fear is terrorists are going to get their hands on chemical weapons, that they’re going to turn and use against Europe and us,” he said. “The United States has very limited options to prevent that from happening. You can go down what we should have done in the past, but this thing has continued to deteriorate, and I’m afraid there are no good options.”
But that has raised questions about how the country’s chemical weapons would be contained in the event that the Assad government falls and rebels take over.
Thornberry said that the U.S. military should be in a “contain the damage” mode in Syria as it gives options to the president.
“I would say we would all hope and expect that putting huge numbers of troops, whether they’re ours or anybody else’s, into Syria would not be something we ever exercise,” he said. “But I think it is important for the military to have a variety of plans on table from big to small.”