By DONNA CASSATA
WASHINGTON — One of the two female Iraq war veterans in Congress said Monday she opposes President Barack Obama’s push for punitive military strikes against Syria, underscoring the administration’s struggle in trying to rally Democrats to back the use of force.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii bemoaned the carnage in Syria after a chemical weapons attack, which the U.S. says killed hundreds of civilians, including children, last month. However, after participating in public and private sessions on Capitol Hill, she said a U.S. military strike would be a serious mistake.
“As a soldier, I understand that before taking any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy, including the support of the American people, and an exit plan,” Gabbard said in a statement. “The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria.”
Gabbard, who served near Baghdad for a year and was a medical operations specialist, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Gabbard joins other Democrats from Obama’s native state, including Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, in opposing aggressive U.S. military intervention in the Syrian civil war.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. She has not made a final decision on whether she would vote for a resolution authorizing force, but the freshman lawmaker from Obama’s adopted state has serious reservations about any strike.
“It’s military families like mine that are the first to bleed when our nation makes this kind of commitment,” Duckworth has said.
The administration is pressing lawmakers to back Obama’s request for military action but faces stiff opposition from Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. With votes looming in Congress, the White House is stepping up its appeals to lawmakers.
Among other veterans in Congress, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has expressed his support for military action against Syria. Cotton is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who announced this past weekend that he would oppose military action.
Military veterans represent a much smaller percentage of Congress from decades past. In the mid-1970s, veterans totaled more than 400 among Congress’ 535 members. Today, the number of veterans is slightly more than 100. Most of them served during the Vietnam War.