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Nolan steadfast against Syria strike

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan says you can call him a "peacenik" if you like, but his stance against a U.S. military strike on Syria is based on what he's seen in classified documents and briefings in the past week.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan
U.S. Rep Rick Nolan

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan says you can call him a "peacenik" if you like, but his stance against a U.S. military strike on Syria is based on what he's seen in classified documents and briefings in the past week.

And he said words being exchanged in public, such as those of Secretary of State John Kerry, have further bolstered his position.

Nolan spoke with the News Tribune on Tuesday from his office in Duluth, where Kerry could be seen speaking at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on a muted television.

"I would give anything to say what I saw and heard," Nolan said of the classified information being used to support a strike against Syria and President Bashar Assad's regime based on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the civil war there.

He said three hours of briefings and an hour-long phone conference with Kerry on Sunday haven't changed his mind.

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"It was four hours of nothing but hearing the beating of war drums," Nolan said, adding that Kerry's use of a repeated phrase irked him.

"You don't go to war on a 'high confidence' level," Nolan said of Kerry's depiction of evidence that Assad ordered chemical attacks.

In the conference call Sunday, Nolan told Kerry that any talk of a strike in Syria is an act of "historical amnesia" in light of past U.S. interventions in Vietnam and Iraq.

Nolan's words sparked a testy exchange with Kerry.

Nolan said the two plan to meet again this week to iron things out. But he didn't give any indication of backing down.

"He's operating with some different information," Nolan said in trying to explain Kerry's determination.

The 8th District congressman's voice rose when talking about "wars of choice" and spending money on military escapades while domestic programs and infrastructure go begging at home.

Nolan said he has reached several conclusions after reading the classified briefings last week. He said there is too much uncertainty about what will be accomplished with an attack and the ramifications of it. He said a strike undoubtedly will inspire a wider response and warned that China, Russia and Iran would be "doubling down" in their support of Syria.

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"We have no friends in this conflict," he said of the civil war and Syria's allies. "It's an ancient battle."

Nolan said that despite President Obama's assurance that the strike would be limited to debilitating chemical weapons use, it would still be "an act of war. You don't respond by hitting back."

"We're not sending a message," he said. "We're sending bombs. Big bombs that kill people."

Nolan called the evidence that Assad's regime used chemical weapons "questionable in nature." He said there have been more than 1,000 bombings daily in Syria as the war has gone on. There were three times as many dropped on Aug. 21, he said, and any of those inadvertently could have fallen on one of the chemical weapons depots found across the country.

He said rebel groups have chemical weapons and might have used them to lure outside forces into the conflict.

"Assad has no advantage" to use chemical weapons, Nolan said. "The rebels had every advantage."

Nolan said he doesn't want the U.S. involved even if Assad is shown to have used the weapons. That's what an international war crimes court is for, he said.

Nolan isn't alone in his thirst of better reasons to attack Syria. Minnesota's congressional delegation is split on the issue -- fellow Democrat Sen. Al Franken has issued a statement indicating support of a limited strike --and Nolan says he expects a close vote on Obama's resolution next week in the House and Senate.

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"That's troubling," he said, saying the president should go in only with overwhelming support.

He praised the president for offering Congress a chance to vote.

"He needs authorization," Nolan said. "There's 535 of us, and we shouldn't be bystanders."

Nolan said he's heard from constituents who agree with his sentiments on staying out of Syria. He didn't make the Labor Day picnic in Duluth on Monday, but comments that were read on his behalf, saying he is "vehemently opposed" to a military strike, drew applause, district director Jeff Anderson said.

Nolan said he's too often found himself on back end of wars while in office, such as voting to end the Vietnam War.

"I'd like to be there to stop one before it starts," he said.

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