Bill Shuster (left), Tim Murphy (center), Mike Kelly (right)
Many were quick to praise President Donald Trump for his decision on April 6 to bomb a Syrian air base with ballistic missiles in response to the Syrian government killing more than 80 Syrians with chemical weapons. Pundits, politicians and regular Americans applauded Trump’s decision to retaliate against the Syrian government’s chemical attack on its own citizens.
In fact, three Southwestern Pennsylvania U.S. Representatives publicly issued with strong praise for Trump’s air strikes. Mike Kelly
(R-Butler) tweeted on April 7, “Tonight the world's greatest force for good stood up to pure evil. We're doing the right thing. #Syria #Leadership #GodBlessAmerica”
Bill Shuster (R-Hollidaysburg), who also represents Monessen and Indiana, tweeted on April 7, referencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “There must be consequences for such Assad’s terrible attack on innocent men, women, and children. I support the president’s actions. #syria”
And Tim Murphy
(R-Upper St. Clair) issued a statement on April 7: “I am in strong support of President Trump’s decision to take decisive action against Syria and the Assad regime. The atrocities of Tuesday’s chemical attack on innocent Syrian civilians show that the Assad regime has been held unaccountable for too long.”
While these three Congressmen shared strong support for Trump’s decision, they also share the distinction of drastically altering their stances on military intervention in Syria under the last two presidents. Why do these Republicans support military action in Syria under a Republican president, when they were skeptical when a Democrat was in charge?
In 2013, the Syrian government also carried out a chemical attack which killed more than 350 of its own people. Then-President Barack Obama wanted to use the U.S. military to respond to the humanitarian crises, but went to seek Congressional approval first (as many have argued is the process according to the U.S. Constitution).
So in September 2013, the House of Representatives was considering supporting or opposing U.S. military intervention via missile air strikes. Kelly, who never stated publicly whether he was in support or opposition, “expressed reluctance” about America involving itself in the Syrian conflict, as described by a September 2013 TribLive article
“I think the American people are war weary,” said Kelly to TribLive.
In response to a CP
inquiry, Kelly's office emailed the following statement: “Rep. Kelly has never opposed targeted, retaliatory military strikes against the Syrian regime. He believed the president had the authority to carry out such an attack in 2013, and he continues to believe so now. In his speech on Syria in late August 2013, President Obama himself stated, ‘I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization,’ yet he still chose not to enforce his own ‘red line’ and instead asked Congress to vote on giving him authorization. Obama’s request, coupled with his vague strategy and end goal, begged more questions and required considerable deliberation. Eventually, President Obama asked House and Senate leaders to pull the vote before it could take place. Had it occurred, and had Rep. Kelly’s questions been adequately answered, then the congressman would have voted to authorize military action. About seven months later, after the consequences of Obama’s inaction became increasingly apparent, Rep. Kelly authored an op-ed in which he referenced the crisis in Syria and stated that ‘when we fail to confidently lead, crises only worsen, and a heavy price — in blood, treasure and American credibility — is paid. This administration — and whatever one comes next — must commit to reversing course.’ Rep. Kelly believes that last Thursday’s targeted attack on the Syrian airbase is a prime example of President Trump reversing course and reasserting proactive American leadership on the world stage.”
For his part, in 2013, Shuster told state political news site PoliticsPA that he would vote against
U.S. military intervention. “Military intervention would likely result in entangling the U.S. in a chaotic and complicated civil war with already 100,000 casualties, and a ruthless dictator on one side, and rebel groups that include al Qaeda and Islamic extremists on the other,” said Shuster to PoliticsPA.
And Murphy’s statements about Syrian intervention under Obama versus under Trump offer the starkest contrast of all. While Murphy praised Trump’s
“decisive action,” he criticized Obama
in 2013 because Murphy said Obama at the time had “not presented a rational plan, not developed an overall coherent Middle East strategy, and has failed to define the objectives of a U.S. military strike” and said he could not support Obama’s plan.
Murphy continued in his 2013 statement: “The [Obama] Administration is pursuing a meandering, amorphous strategy without a clear goal or end game. This go-it-alone strategy, which has seemingly changed by the day and now by the hour, has convinced me we should not authorize use of force as it is guaranteed to end in failure.”
But Trump took action without creating and sharing a broader plan to Congress, and it’s still unknown if the Trump administration actually has a comprehensive plan
for U.S. military involvement in Syria.
Murphy’s contradictions reached full flip-flop level, when he criticized Obama in his 2017 Trump-support statement, saying, “There is no longer the quiet inactive response of inaction, as it has been for the past 8 years.” Murphy publicly stated in 2013 that he would vote against Obama’s 2013 Syrian intervention plan, even as, in 2017, he blames Obama for not acting.
When asked why Murphy displayed two contrasting stances under the two presidents, Murphy’s press secretary Carly Atchison reiterated Murphy’s support for Trump’s action in an email to Pittsburgh City Paper
. Atchison wrote, “Moving forward, Murphy will be actively engaged with his Congressional colleagues and the President in a long-term comprehensive strategy to end the carnage and ongoing war crimes in Syria, including Authorization for the Use of Military Force if necessary.”
Request for comments from Shuster's office on why the representative changed his stance went unanswered.