Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a hearing Wednesday that neither he nor his constituents are yet convinced that the United States should launch a military assault on the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons in the country's ongoing civil war.
Bera, a freshman lawmaker who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his war-weary constituents have told him they oppose a U.S. strike. The House and Senate are set to vote next week on whether to authorize such a move, though President Barack Obama could give the order anyway.
Bera told the panel's witnesses, including Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Syria was too far away from the problems of people in Sacramento County.
"People don't want us to strike Syria," he said. "They're fatigued."
Bera asked Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, how he could make his case in his district that a military operation in Syria was vital to the country's interests.
Hagel's answer: 9/11.
"There's a clear living example of how we are not insulated from the rest of the world," he said.
Hagel asked Bera how many of their constituents even knew where Afghanistan was prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or what al Qaeda was.
Hagel added that the use of chemical weapons by any country has never been accepted in modern warfare, and that letting the Syrian regime off the hook would embolden other enemies of the United States, including Iran and North Korea.
"We've got to stay ahead of these things," he said.
Bera said he understood the universal condemnation of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, but that sending a message to the regime would do little to stop further attacks if the weapons stockpiles were left unsecured.
"My constituents and I still need to be convinced," Bera said. "We need to know exactly what our goals are."
PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, attends the California State Society's inaugural luncheon on Jan. 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C. McClatchy Tribune/Tish Wells