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NY Congressman Bill Owens at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Fort Drum's Warrior Transition Battalion Complex in May 2012. Photo: Army Medicine, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
NY Congressman Bill Owens at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Fort Drum's Warrior Transition Battalion Complex in May 2012. Photo: Army Medicine, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What Owens still needs to know before Syria vote

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North Country Congressman Bill Owens says he needs more information before deciding whether to vote for or against military action against Syria.

The Democrat says he believes President Obama has demonstrated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind a deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria last month.

Owens praises President Obama for seeking Congressional approval before authorizing military action against Syria. "There's been a fair amount of criticism against the executive branch over the last, probably, 30 or 40 years," says Owens, "for usurping Congress' prerogative relative to the declaration of war, so I thought this was a good move."

But how Owens will vote is another matter. He's still undecided. And he says he recognizes that Americans are weary of war.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer


Rep. Bill Owens:  I am looking to really determine a couple of things. First, what is the nature of the mission? What is it that we’re going to go in and do? What’s the duration of that mission? And what are assets or resources we’re going to use?

I also want to know whether or not they have done any evaluation of what the likely response to this will be, meaning, do we anticipate that Syria might attempt to attack us or our allies? Might some of Syria’s allies attack us or our allies? Or may, sort of random groups do that—which clearly could be very problematic—Taliban, Hamas, etcetera.

So these are some things we, I need to get answers on, or at least the input that the administration has, before I make a decision as to whether I’m a “yes” or a “no.” I’m certainly waiting also to see what I learn at classified briefings. I have not had one of those yet; I’ll have one of those next Monday when I return.

David Sommerstein: That was going to be my next question. I mean were you expecting a phone call to sort of vote within the next 24 hours? Or is this something that’s going to take more time?

BO: Clearly going to take more time. I participated in a conference call on Labor Day that lasted for about an hour, a little over an hour. I had a call from the White House; I spoke to someone there. And now I’m waiting until Monday night until I get back, until I get that classified briefing, to learn more.

DS: Do you think the White House has made a credible enough argument that it was in fact  the Syrian government that launched these chemical weapons?

BO: Yes. In my mind, and minds of the people that I’ve talked to, in my communities, I think most people believe that the Syrian government did this. Whether it was Assad specifically or he simply allowed it, maybe that’s open to question. But in any event, the Syrian government is responsible. And the question in people’s minds is, is this something the United States should become involved in? That to me is a bigger question, and the more difficult one to answer at this juncture.

DS: One of our reporters just came in, who had been out speaking with people about this issue, and, she said that they were 15 to 1 against intervention.

BO: That does not surprise me.

DS: It doesn’t surprise you. Why not?

BO: Because I think people are very concerned about us becoming embroiled in another long-term military commitment in the Middle East, when I don’t think they believe that we’ve had a successful outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think people are basically tired of war. And I will tell you, that that’s certainly a big impacter for me. You know, we’ve spent a lot of lives and blood  and a lot of money, and even though I think what Assad did was despicable, to his own people including women and children, I think people are very reluctant to become involved again.

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