Congressman Tim Walz, right, D-Minn., talks with a couple during a listening session on the situation in Syria, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, in St. Peter, Minn. Walz met one-on-one with more than 100 constituents at the St. Peter Food Co-op.
ST. PETER. Minn. – U.S. Rep. Tim Walz asked his constituents Friday to step up and tell him whether the United States should take military action against Syria.
Their answer was unanimous: Don’t do it.
“This is just a precursor to another war,” said Kent Wilson Jones of Lake Crystal, filing through a slow-moving line to speak to Walz at the St. Peter Food Coop.
“I’m tired of the United States acting like Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon,’ ” added Larry Hlavsa of New Ulm.
Julie Quist, a longtime GOP activist and former assistant to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, was among those who waited to speak: “We don’t believe the president and we don’t believe [Secretary of State] John Kerry.”
“I hear you loud and clear,” Walz said, over and over, as about 150 people filed past him.
The event comes as the House and Senate prepare to vote on whether to support President Obama’s proposal to launch a military strike that would degrade Syria’s offensive capabilities. With public support across the country coming down firmly against any military intervention, Obama plans to address the nation Tuesday.
Walz, a Mankato Democrat in his fourth term representing southern Minnesota’s First Congressional District, is among those who must decide. A former teacher, Walz also served 24 years in the Army National Guard. He has not said how he will vote. But he was impressed by the unanimous verdict that citizens delivered on Friday. “People showed up here today to say no,” Walz said afterward. He said he is “incredibly skeptical” of the need to use military force, and the views he heard Friday “enhanced” his skepticism.
The crowd Walz faced ran the gamut, from Obama supporters to military veterans to GOP activists and even Jim Hagedorn, a Republican who plans to run against Walz next year. All waited patiently in a line that snaked past the market’s food aisles and check-out counters and ended in the tomato bin, near the back of the store.
Most who approached were polite, but worried. The Iraq experience was cited as a reason to doubt the accuracy of chemical weapons claims against Syrian President Bashar Assad. The tribal and political complexity of the region, and the inability to find a “good guy” to back in Syria, also were cited as arguments against U.S. involvement.
Some were weary of the seemingly endless wars of the post-9/11 era.
Marlene Breckner of Elysian said the United States cannot stop the “everlasting dissension” in the Middle East, no matter how hard it tries. “We really aren’t making a difference,” she said. “And our young men — we don’t want any more deaths.”
Breckner’s husband, Joe, added: “The people that are really going to be hurt are probably conscripts in the Syrian army,” referring to those who would feel the effects of U.S. rocket strikes. “It’s going to be that low man on the totem pole.”
Bill Rood of Rochester cited the U.N. charter in arguing that unilateral U.S. action would violate international law, even if Congress approves. The United Nations and international war crimes courts have “established procedure to adjudicate this kind of thing,” he said. “To go outside that established procedure is vigilantism.”
No good options
Walz, wearing jeans and an open-collared shirt, listened intently for two hours. He said he believes there is considerable evidence that Assad was responsible for the attacks and should be punished in some way. But he questions how a military strike would affect the Syrian civil war, which will continue whether or not the U.S. takes action, and wonders whether the U.S. has exhausted all possibilities for a diplomatic solution.