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Sen. Tim Kaine Outlines Syria Position During ODU Visit

Photo of Sen. Tim KaineSen. Tim Kaine discusses possible U.S. intervention in Syria at ODU roundtable. Photo of Sen. Tim KaineSen. Tim Kaine talks with Jason Redman, a 2004 ODU graduate and military veteran.

A long-scheduled visit to Old Dominion University by Sen. Tim Kaine for a roundtable discussion with military veterans about revamping the War Powers Resolution took on added significance Friday, Sept. 6, in light of possible U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war.

After being introduced by ODU President John R. Broderick, Kaine spent more than an hour at Webb Center talking with a group of about 20 military veterans whose service spanned from Vietnam to more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In his opening remarks, Kaine noted ODU's unique position in the state not only as a result of close interaction geographically and historically with the military, but also due to the significant number of veterans who are students at the Norfolk-based university.

"It is a very sizable community and ODU has done a good job," Kaine said. "This is the second time in my eight months in the Senate that I've been here for a military-connected event."

Originally, the roundtable was intended to highlight efforts by Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to reform the War Powers Resolution to create a more consultative process between the U.S. Congress and the president on whether and when to engage in military action.

But that was before the more than two-year-old Syrian conflict - that was sparked by widespread "Arab Spring" protests in 2011 - spiraled into dangerous new territory Aug. 21 when rockets believed to have contained sarin gas rained down on a Damascus suburb. The attack, allegedly committed by Bashar Al-Assad's regime against rebel factions and civilians, killed about 1,500 people, including at least 400 children.

"The evidence is undeniable in my view," Kaine said, of the sarin attack. He later added: "I'm troubled by that. ... It caused me very, very great concern. I frankly feel that if an atrocity goes unpunished you buy more atrocities. You may be able to delay a day of reckoning, but the day of reckoning will be grimmer and will be more serious. Whether it will be uses of chemical weapons against more civilians or uses of chemical weapons on the borders with Jordan or Israel - we have a lot of Americans living there and American troops there - or a message to Iran with a nuclear weapon or North Korea with more chemical weapons, I believe very strongly even in a time of war weariness, and there is that, even in a time of budget uncertainty, and there is that, the failure to act will just buy a larger problem down the road. I've decided we have to act in order to uphold this global norm (against the use of chemical weapons)."

Kaine added that he feels President Obama's administration should go to Congress for a vote on whether to proceed with U.S. military intervention. He said he expects the Senate and House of Representatives will likely take up the issue beginning next week and he predicted the resulting debate would last at least a couple weeks before a decision is made.

After his remarks, Kaine opened the floor for questions and comments from the veterans assembled. Most of their queries centered around the cost of even a limited operation, especially in the context of the current budget sequester; how any involvement would be drawn to a close; whether retribution on U.S. soil is a possibility; and what "downstream consequences" are likely to result from a power vacuum should Al-Assad be overthrown.

Kaine reiterated his position that the large-scale use of chemical weapons cannot be ignored and that the main objective is to get the warring parties to the negotiating table to settle the conflict.

"I'm confident we can take an action that would demonstrate to them this is the consequence of using chemical weapons," Kaine said. "I believe that is accurate."

He predicted an "intense" debate in Congress over the coming weeks, but said he would support the consensus decision even if it opposes his personal view.

"It's going to be front and center for the next few weeks," Kaine said.