WASHINGTON — Leading Colorado Democrats used to echo President Obama’s case for intervening militarily in Syria. But as their constituents and former anti-war allies have mounted an intense lobbying effort to oppose an attack, few are echoing the administration any more, or even commenting on the issue.
In late August, President Obama and administration officials discussed the need for the United States to draw a “red line” on Syria’s alleged use of Sarin nerve gas against civilians on Aug. 21.
Three Colorado Democrats either borrowed Obama’s talking points or cited his speeches to comment on the need for a new U.S. policy in Syria.
“The role of our military is to defend our interests. If we have the ability to do it, without adversely affecting our security .. we have the moral responsibility to examine it,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) told the Denver Post.
“As the President suggested, any action must be targeted and limited in scope,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Golden) said in a statement on Aug. 30.
“I have real concerns that any surgical strikes could lead us into deeper involvement in a complicated civil war, but last week’s strikes — and the Syrian regime’s years-long war against its own people — demonstrate that staying on the sidelines may carry risks just as grave,” Democratic Sen. Mark Udall said in an Aug. 26 press release.
After the Labor Day holiday, Sen. Michael Bennet announced he is likely to vote for a limited bombing campaign against Syria.
“The use of chemical weapons colors far outside the lines,” Bennet told the Denver Post on Sept. 3.
Yet no other Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation have followed Bennet’s lead by announcing their intention to vote for a military strike or echoing the administration’s rhetoric.
Udall is an example. Despite being a member of both the Armed Services and Select Intelligence committees, he has not commented on Syria in a press release or on his Facebook or twitter pages. Two spokespeople did not respond to an email message.
Instead, Udall voiced his support on twitter for the IRS and Obama administration’s decision to treat same-sex married couples the same as heterosexual couples for tax purposes and the “start of another great season for the” Denver Broncos football team.
Other Colorado Democrats have stopped giving signals of support for a strike on Syria.
Polis linked to an article critical of a military campaign against Syria on his twitter page, while Perlmutter told the Denver Post he was “undecided” on the issue.
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver has given no indication of her position on her Facebook page, twitter account, or home page.
What explains the reticence of Colorado Democrats on the issue? The lobbying of their constituents as well as their former allies in the antiwar movement against a bombing campaign is likely one reason.
Ron Forthofer, a volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, said he and others met with Polis’ district director in Boulder for an hour on Aug. 30. He indicated their opposition to war in Syria is shared more broadly.
“They’re getting a lot of emails from the community and it’s overwhelmingly against a strike. It’s a 50-1 ratio,” Forthofer said.
Forthofer said members of his organization met with aides to Senators Udall and Bennet in mid-to-late August to press them to oppose a Syria strike. In addition to lobbying from organized activists like Forthofer, Colorado Democrats are hearing from rank-and-file constituents as well.
Leslie Vornholt, a self-employed clinical social worker in Boulder, signed an online petition Sept. 5 that MoveOn.org sponsored urging Colorado Democrats to oppose a military strike.
In a telephone interview, the 60-year-old registered Democrat said despite her previous support for Polis and both of Colorado’s Democratic senators, she will rescind it if they vote for war.
“These members voting for war and against peace need to look out for their seats because I would be willing to vote them out,” Vornholt said.
A revolt from members of their own coalition is the last thing any partisan elected official wants.
So far, at least, Syria does not appear to be a repeat of Vietnam in the late sixties and early seventies. No Democratic interests groups have said they will mount a primary challenge to a Democrat who votes with a President of his own party for a limited military campaign.
Congress is expected to vote on authorization for the use of force in Syria as soon as this week.