The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 6, 2013

Constituents to Walz: Stay out of Syria

Citizens wary of another Middle East war but few address chemical weapons charge

By Dan Linehan

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ST. PETER — About 150 people spoke to Rep. Tim Walz Friday during a listening session about whether America should bomb Syria.

None of them advocated a military intervention.

"I've never seen this happen. Absolutely unanimous," Walz said.

St. Peter resident Roger Parras said a strike would have unexpected consequences.

"The more we bomb other countries, we're perceived worldwide as a bully," he said.

Walz said he is still undecided on whether to authorize military action, but repeatedly said he was "skeptical" about the proposal.

“My job is to make sure that your safety and their safety are paramount,” Walz said, gesturing at the line in the St. Peter Food Co-op.

Walz also sought to establish a middle ground between military action and inaction, though he was vague on what exactly that meant.

“I’m not advocating doing nothing,” he said.

Instead, he wondered if the United States had exhausted all of its “leverage points” with Syria and its allies.

And he repeatedly told his constituents that he’s not indifferent to Syrians’ suffering.

“ … and I care deeply that they violated a norm about chemical weapons,” Walz said.

Any intervention, he said, should be done “in a way that adheres to our values.”

Walz also said the evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons is “pretty strong.”

But there was little talk from citizens about what precipitated this conversation — the Aug. 21 murder of 1,429 people, including 426 children, in a gas attack — and whether justice could be done.

Walz and his constituents instead focused on the complications such an engagement would bring, especially given the militant Islamists among the rebels.

Tyler Davis, a 25-year-old veteran of Afghanistan, noted the al Qaida elements among the rebellion and said arming them would be a “major slap in the face” to the military.

Residents called up memories of the unintended side effects of regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The last thing I want Obama to do is to take us into another theater of war,” said Kathryn Christenson of St. Peter.

After the two-hour session wrapped up, Walz praised that inclination, saying his constituents have “learned lessons about being skeptical.”

The closest someone came to supporting an intervention may have been Neshan Tabibian, a California resident of Armenian descent visiting a cousin in Mankato. He said he was not against a bombing, but warned that an American attack would incite more anger in the Middle East.

One of Walz’s three Republican opponents, Jim Hagedorn, stopped by to criticize Obama’s Middle East policy. He said the president has undermined allies in the region, such as Yemen and Egypt, and allowed rebels to take power.

Obama has refused to say what he’ll do if Congress does not authorize military action. Walz said the president will lack constitutional authority for a strike if Congress doesn't agree to it.