DUNKIRK - It was the last of a six-stop tour for U.S. Rep. Tom Reed when he held a listening session with constituents Wednesday afternoon at Dunkirk's City Hall. Reed said his purpose was simple - to hear opinions and take questions from those constituents on a possible strike by the United States against Syria's chemical weapons capabilities.
Prior to the session, Reed, R-Corning, was asked about Republican House Speaker John Boehner coming out in favor of President Barack Obama's limited strike plan.
"I appreciate and respect the Speaker's position on it, as well as the leader's position, but I look at these things independently," Reed replied. "When I get the input of the constituents to make sure their voice is heard in Washington, that's a critical piece of information for me. When I look at this I'm going to come to my own position and cast my vote independently."
When asked if he was leaning toward opposing the president's plan, Reed said he was opposed to what he was seeing and hearing.
"It's been a tough issue because when you see the videos of women and children getting massacred, obviously you have an emotional response to that. But stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, there is just too much risk of escalation and destabilization in the area with what the president's proposing," he added. "I don't think it's been well thought out and I think it's also been driven by the comment of drawing a red line in the sand and not having a strategy, a long-term plan, to deal with it. I know that's a real problem."
Reed said his vote - at least for now - would be no.
"I've talked with many colleagues and many other members who are very concerned about supporting this initiative. I have come to a decision, absent some compelling information, that we're going to be standing for a 'no' on this resolution, but time will tell," he explained.
Asked if the President is wasting time seeking Congressional approval if he plans to go ahead and does what he wants to anyway, Reed said that approval is needed.
"I do believe that based on the Constitution and the War Powers Act it's clear, he needs to come to Congress for approval and authority to engage our military in Syria. I think that's the right call," Reed added. "Now, he has been inconsistent on that. We saw with Libya, he didn't do that. So I'll leave it to the President and for the American people to decide as to what motivation the President has in coming to Congress in regards to Syria. I do appreciate he is coming to Congress and we're going to weigh in on it because when we talk about putting our men and women, our sons and daughters in harm's way, we should have that Congressional input in that conversation."
Reed began the listening session by asking people to rise and say the Pledge of Allegiance and then thanked the city for providing the forum on short notice. He said he took the decision making on Syria very seriously. He called the use of chemical weapons a "despicable act."
"What I have tried to do is deal with that emotion but also look at the big picture and look at the obligation I have to the office, to the people of the 23rd Congressional District, to the state and to the nation, and make the decision in regards to this matter that is in our national security American interests and what is best for America going forward and what is best for us here in the 23rd Congressional District."
He added a proposed limited airstrike is the "wrong path for America going forward" and told the room he would be voting no.
"The risk of escalation to me as a result of that type of military strike is legitimate, it's real and it's going to have consequences and that's one of the reasons I've come to a 'no' position on this because I don't see a real long-term plan," he added. "I don't see a real strategy with that risk of escalation and destabilization in the region that will come from it."
He said he recognizes the counter arguments.
"If we don't act after chemical weapons have been utilized, there are serious credibility questions and issues that America now faces across the world and that could have a destabilizing effect in and of itself in the region and the area. You have to weigh those two together," Reed explained.
Questions and opinions ranged from doing nothing means weakness and encourages other nations to use chemical weapons, to doing something may make the situation worse. Who was telling the truth about chemical weapons use was another issue to be decided before action was taken.
He said the discussion about using missiles to send a message is taking place.
"I'm not a supporter of nation building, I don't believe it's appropriate. That policy has long-term risks also. I understand the concern of doing nothing ... and what message does it send ... you can use chemical weapons and nothing is going to happen to you?" he continued. "I would offer this. If the situation escalates, ... if America or America's allies are attacked, that's a whole different situation. Also, if this is such an international offense, where is the international coalition developing to stand with us to say, 'we reject this.' That's not happening."
He said that lack of participation also sends a message and a coalition is needed. He added Syrian President Assad is likely taking women and children and locating them near military targets in order to get some propaganda in the event of a U.S. strike. He said those images could unite U.S. enemies that are currently battling each other and lead to a larger conflict.
Congress should make a decision on retaliation for the chemical attacks when it reconvenes; what it will be remains to be seen. What is will mean also remains to be seen.