Rep. Charles Rangel does not support U.S. military intervention in Syria, and he plans to vote against any resolution to approve military force, he told Spectator on Wednesday.
“I will not vote yes regardless of whether it is directly or indirectly related to the United States of America,” Rangel, who represents Upper Manhattan, said in a phone interview. “My constituents’ main concerns are around jobs, the economy.”
President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to support his plan for military strikes in Syria, but the proposal faces an uphill battle in the Senate and House of Representatives. As of Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that only 24 members of the House had publicly expressed support for military action, with 205 representatives either against action or leaning no, including Rangel.
“Something has to be done—that’s why we have the United Nations, NATO,” Rangel said. “I kind of believe until and unless war is hell ... we’ll leave the rest to the international community.”
Although Obama’s current plan doesn’t call for any troops to be sent to Syria, Rangel said he fears an escalation.
“They’re calling it a limited war,” he said. “How wars start is not how they end.”
Before he would support any military action, Rangel would want to see the draft reinstated and women required to register for Selective Service—two unlikely legislative proposals that he has pushed throughout his career.
“If we had a draft, we would not be doing the things we do in Kosovo, Panama, Iraq,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would be prepared [to go to war] if it were to be possible for their constituents to be drafted ... if they have to go to the funerals I go to.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents much of western Manhattan—including Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus—was not available for an interview and has not publicly taken a position on the Syria question.
Rangel’s opposition to military action in Syria highlights the challenge Obama faces in gathering support from Congress, even from members of his own party.
“The big question is the Democrats,” professor of international and public affairs Robert Jervis said. “There’s a lot with not so good reasons, some thinking about Iraq, some for reasons that are good but hesitate and don’t want to vote yes, and Obama doesn’t have a lot of political capital to draw on.”
Jervis said he supports “limited strikes designed to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons.”
“The purpose of the strike should be punishment and deterrent, not leveling the playing field,” he said.
Rangel said in a Fox News interview Monday that the majority of soldiers serving abroad come from low-income areas with few economic prospects, so any war would disproportionately affect those communities.
But Jervis said that trying to link instituting a draft with impending action in Syria is “a little silly.”
“We’re not talking about sending ground troops,” he said, although he added that Rangel’s concerns about an escalation are valid.
Jervis said he thinks there’s a 60-40 chance a resolution will pass the Senate and House.
Despite his opposition to Obama’s plan, Rangel said he’s happy that the president sought congressional approval before taking action.
“I am so pleased, after seeing though, the president is going to Congress to seek approval,” he said.