Press-Republican

September 8, 2013

Politicians, activist react to Syria question

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Political leaders and citizens alike are reacting to the crisis in Syria and the possibility of American intervention.

This weekend, the situation was on the minds of many in the North Country.

‘UNDECIDED’

After touring the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery in Lake Placid on Friday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer fielded questions about the upcoming Congressional debate on Syria.

Schumer (D-New York City) said President Barack Obama’s question of action and response to lawmakers will be discussed next week.

“I’m undecided,” he said, outlining two sides of the dilemma.

On one side, he said, “chemical weapons are terrible. To just shrug our shoulders is a bad thing.”

On the other side, he said, “Americans are saying, ‘Enough — let’s pay attention to America.’”

The people here, he assessed, want Congress to focus on job creation and the national economy.

Schumer said both he and Congressman Bill Owens, who was also in Lake Placid, would look to a “very narrow” act of intervention, if any.

But America, as the strongest global power, cannot wholly sit by and allow Syria’s president to deploy and kill with chemical weapons, the senator said.

There are several proposals offering various types of response being drafted by members of Congress, he explained of the review process underway ahead of debate.

“It’s always difficult,” Schumer said, “because I want to focus on America. The way to thread the needle is to allow only very narrow action.”

Asked whether the fact that other global superpowers are warning the United States to stay out of Syria has any impact on his decision, Schumer said that neither China nor Russia has backed any United Nations effort at diplomacy.

Both countries have said they would veto any U.N. Security Council actions proposed against Syria.

‘MANY QUESTIONS’

Owens (D-Plattsburgh) said he is still waiting for a classified report detailing what kind of military action the United States would take before he makes up his mind.

“There are a lot of questions to be answered yet,” he said Friday.

“What is the exact nature of the mission, how long will it take, what kind of retaliation might there be to allies in the region, what might groups like al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah do, what kind of intel to we have?”

Owens said he would like to see the issue debated in Congress and wants to be able to put forth amendments to any measures approving military action. He said Congress should have the ability to cut off funding if any action goes longer than approved.

“This clearly is one of the biggest issues we’ve faced as a country because of the ramifications it could have,” he said.

LOCAL ACTIVIST

Plattsburgh activist Rachael Chrestler, who is organizing a November event called “March Against Corruption” in Plattsburgh, expressed opposition to American involvement in Syria.

“The Congress feels they’re gonna be life savers and save Syria, when they’re just going to cause more damage, like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.

Chrestler said she believes the decision should be made through a referendum, as opposed to congressional vote or executive action.

“It should be up to us, the people,” she said, arguing that a referendum would put the decision directly in the public’s hands.

PRAYER VIGIL

A “Peace Prayer Vigil” in response to events in Syria was held at St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh on Saturday evening.

“The Prayer Vigil is not a military or political statement,” according to a news release from the church.

The event was held at the intersection of Cornelia and North Catherine streets.

Held at sunset, the vigil, which included candle lighting and hymns, coincided with others around the world.