Sen. Tim Kaine, a political ally of President Barack Obama who cast a subcommittee vote Wednesday for military strikes on Syria's government, said Obama should heed the will of Congress should it vote against military intervention.
Speaking to a Virginia State University ROTC class Thursday, the Democratic senator defended his support for the president's call for strikes that would punish Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime for its suspected use of chemical weapons Aug. 21 in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus and deter Assad or others from using them in the future.
"The mission is very clear, but the question is could there be unintended consequences, and that's a legit question,'' Kaine told reporters after his appearance at VSU.
"The mission is there's got to be a consequence. We've got to punish Assad and deter his ability to use chemical weapons again, both for Assad's sake and for others,'' Kaine said. "Does the military have the ability to carry out that mission with no risk that there will be any negative consequences? Obviously there's no guarantees.''
But he said he believes the Constitution demands the president seek congressional approval to hit Syria. There are times when presidents may order military responses when emergencies dictate immediate action and there is no time to consult Congress beforehand, he said.
"But if, in this instance, the Congress does not give approval, I think the discussion should stop there,'' Kaine said. "I think it was very important for the president to come to Congress on this.''
Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, voted in a Foreign Relations subcommittee for the president's request for authorization to conduct limited military operations against Assad's government. A full Senate vote is expected sometime next week. He said any reservations he had about limited American intervention were eased after briefings Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington.
One student asked Kaine about Russian and Chinese opposition to strikes against Syria. Kaine noted that Russia - which has a military base in Syria - and China both have veto power to block proposed sanctions against Syria brought before the United Nations Security Council. The alleged gas attack, however, puts them in a difficult position.
"I think Aug. 21 changed things on this. Before (the chemical attacks) on Aug. 21, it was a civil war and both sides had some problems (and) Russia could say the opposition was just as bad,'' Kaine said.
Russia and China are both signatories to the international treaty banning chemical weapons use, he said. Russia's predecessor government, the Soviet Union, was a primary signer of the first international chemical weapons ban in 1920 after Germany introduced gas warfare in World War I.
"We need to keep going back to the UN (United Nations) day in and day out and say `We have to sanction Syria for the use of chemical weapons against civilians.' We need to make Russia vote against it, then vote against it tomorrow, and then vote against it again the next day. Put them out on the limb and put a spotlight on them,'' Kaine said.
Kaine said the only solution to Syria's internal bloodshed is a negotiated settlement, something he says is impossible as long as one side retains the demonstrated ability and willingness to use chemical weapons.