Rubio, Nelson weigh in on Syria strike

Florida's members of Congress voice both skepticism, support

By Adrienne Moore , Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida's members of Congress are adding their voices to the debate in Washington D.C. over what President Barack Obama says will be limited U.S. military action against Syria.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of several senators who questioned key members of the Obama administration during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was in Fernandina Beach, where he spoke about the issue.

U.S. forces are ready to carry out the president's orders, as warships are stationed in the eastern Mediterranean.

"As far as I'm concerned, we should have already launched, but the president has made this decision. I know that the U.S. Senate will support," said Nelson. "I think the fact that the Speaker of the House has come out in favor it, I think enormously increases the chances that it will pass in the House."

Leaders of both parties in Congress say they believe U.S. intelligence, which shows Syria's president used chemical weapons against its own people. More than 1,400 were killed, including more than 400 children.

Nelson is very clear on where he stands on the issue of whether to strike Syria following last month's deadly chemical attack. He said it's something the U.S. should have done days ago.

"We will draw the line and say that if you use weapons of mass destruction on your people or anybody else, it will not be tolerated," Nelson said.

Similar rhetoric was spoken Tuesday on Capitol Hill as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to discuss a military strike.

Kerry said during the hearings Tuesday that the crisis in Syria "Isn't Iraq. We've got the proof." That proof is in the hair and blood samples that have tested positive for "Sarin," a deadly nerve agent that first developed in Germany back in the 1930s.

At one point, the hearing took a contentious turn after outbursts from protesters who had to be escorted from the building.

The Foreign Relations Committee peppered President Obama's national Security team with questions Tuesday. Among those who voiced skepticism was Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

"We are left with options all of which that are less than idea," said Rubio. "One of the calculations that Assad used in using chemical weapons was the U.S. wouldn't do anything about it, and I understand why he made that calculation because yes -- this was a horrible incident where a thousand people died, but before this incident 100,000 people died."

Rubio, a vocal critic of Syria's Bashar Assad and a proponent of arming the rebels, criticized the Obama administration for failing to heed his call and the pleas of others to act two years ago.

"When America ignores these problems, these problems don't ignore us," he said.

Nelson said he's confident his colleagues in Washington will vote yes to a military strike. He's also certain others will follow suit.

"You'll see Britain will turn around their vote," he said. "Already, you've heard France is supporting us. So what you will see is the family of civilized nations will come in by the time we get this approval in the Congress. You will see a lot of unanimity."

Channel 4 spoke with former UN Ambassador Nancy Soderberg and retired Navy Admiral Bob Natter about the tough questions on Capitol Hill. Soderberg believes the national security team made a very persuasive case to the panel Tuesday and believes that ultimately, Congress will approve a strike.

Natter was quick to point out that the open dialogue over the last week does tip the United States' hand in a small way to the enemy, but he is confident that in no way does the dialogue compromise the U.S. militarily.

"From a force-on-force perspective, Syria doesn't have the ability to counter any strikes that we might do either from sea or from the air," said Natter.

Natter said that he believes the U.S. is doing everything right when it comes to dealing with Syria.

"The American public is kind of exhausted by the 10 years of war in the Middle East and I think it's appropriate to debate with Congress on this," said Natter.

Natter admits that he does have concern about the big picture and consequences that military action against Syria could bring.

"Once you unleash weapons on another nation, it's difficult to predict where it's going to end up," said Natter.

Soderberg said the skepticism is warranted given the high-stakes nature of the decision to get involved in the conflict.

"The cloud of Iraq hangs over this issue, but I think Secretary Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel are making a very persuasive case, that this is not Iraq and they do have evidence, and they're not trying to overthrow the Assad regime," said Soderberg.

Nelson supports Obama's call for military action and said if the U.S. fails to act, it will embolden Bashar Al-Assad.

"It's very important that a person not be able to use a weapon of mass destruction, nuclear, biological or chemical to kill people. That's the lesson that he should be taught. Otherwise, he'll continue to do it," said Nelson.

Congress is back in session Monday, Sept. 9, but Soderberg said she doesn't anticipate Congress will vote until later in the week.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.