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Durbin votes for Syria attack, says situation different from Iraq war

By Katherine Skiba

Tribune reporter

6:46 PM CDT, September 4, 2013

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WASHINGTON — Saying the U.S. government was "guilty of a political mortal sin" when it misled Americans about the Iraq War a decade ago, Sen. Dick Durbin asserted Wednesday that the proposed military strikes against Syria were different, and he voted in favor of an attack.

Durbin, an Illinoisan who is the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, stood with the majority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's 10-7 vote to approve the use of force against Syria, clearing the way for consideration by the full Senate, likely next week.

He said he had voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which he said caused thousands of Americans to lose their lives and more than $1 trillion to be spent "on a war that should have been avoided."

Then, he said, "the government of the United States of America was guilty of a political mortal sin. It misled the American people into a war. … And we paid a bitter, heavy price for it."

Last Saturday, Durbin said, he was in Illinois with friends, many of whom worked on President Barack Obama's campaigns. "They don't agree with the president, not at this moment, and his policy in Syria, and he understands that," Durbin said. "But a true leader has to step up and do what he thinks is right."

He said he took seriously the president's promise not to put "boots on the ground" in Syria. "I have been to too many funerals, visited too many disabled veterans, to ever want to see us do that again," Durbin said, "except when absolutely necessary for America's survival."

Two other Illinois lawmakers spoke at a House hearing Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger told the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he supported the strikes, warning: "God help us if we become a country that can't do the right thing because we paralyze ourselves to inaction."

He also said Obama's policies in the Middle East were to blame for the difficulty in rallying an international coalition to act against Syria.

Kinzinger, from Channahon, near Joliet, is a pilot and major in the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield said at the hearing that he recognized the angst of his constituents on the issue. He asked Secretary of State John Kerry whether he had stated that if the U.S. did nothing, the likelihood of Syrian President Bashar Assad using chemical weapons again approached 100 percent.

"Is that fair?" Schneider asked.

"Fair," Kerry answered.

Also Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago indicated that he was leaning against supporting the military strikes. He condemned using chemical weapons against civilians, but he said U.S. intervention without a "clear plan" could worsen the situation.

kskiba@tribune.com


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