None of the five South Dakotans running for U.S. Senate would vote to authorize the use of force against Syria, but their reasons and preferred alternatives are different.
Democrat Rick Weiland and Republicans Annette Bosworth, Stace Nelson, Larry Rhoden and Mike Rounds all say President Barack Obama hasn’t made the case for an American attack on Syria, and all say they’d probably vote against the resolution were they in Congress now.
"What is our objective? What will we consider to be a victory?" asked Rounds. "I would be very skeptical of just stepping in and saying, ‘What the heck, we’ll just go in and send a couple of cruise missiles in,’ unless we know what the endgame is."
Weiland said he, like many, has “grown weary of these international conflicts,” and said he doesn’t want to see the U.S. getting involved in Syria — or at least not without a strong coalition.
"Based on what I know right now, I’m opposed to any unilateral decision by the United States to declare war on Syria," Weiland said.
Obama isn’t asking for a formal declaration of war, just an authorization to use force, but Weiland called that a semantic difference.
Rhoden said he would be “hard-pressed to vote in favor of a military strike.”
"The overlying question we have to ask ourselves is how it affects our national security," said Rhoden, who added that "anybody with a heart would abhor the use of chemical weapons, especially on innocent civilians and children."
Obama’s request for a military strike was prompted by the allegation that Syrian regime forces launched a chemical weapon attack against rebel forces around the city of Damascus.
Nelson said attacks pose risks to both the American military and American interests.
"Every time we send one of our fighter planes into that area, we put U.S. service members at risk," said Nelson. "If we don’t have a clearly-defined national security interest… why are we taking a risk over provoking further terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests worldwide?"
Alone among the five candidates, Bosworth said her trepidation is not that the U.S. will do too much in Syria, but that it will do too little.
"His proposal for such a limited strike will only help the radical militants in that area, and not send the full message of what should be done," Bosworth said.
Bosworth said her feelings on the matter are driven by the impact on “our allies in Israel,” and said a more comprehensive blow that considers “the concerns of Israel” would be better than a short-term cruise missile strike or brief bombing campaign.
Unless Obama were to lay out a clear strategy for more aggressive action, Bosworth said she would vote against the use of force
Nelson also said he’s worried a U.S. strike could cause Syria to “retaliate against our allies” like Israel.
Several candidates added a disclaimer to their positions, noting that they hadn’t seen classified intelligence about Syria.
"Since we have not been privy to the briefings, the closed-door briefings, all I can go with is based on what they have told us so far," Rounds said.
Weiland and Rhoden also noted they don’t have all the information that would inform their votes were they in Congress right now.
Among South Dakota’s current congressional delegation, Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican, says she’s opposed to attacking Syria. Sen. John Thune, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, are undecided.