Local reaction to possible US action in Syria

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - As President Barack Obama asks Congress to approve military action in Syria in response to its reported use of chemical weapons on civilians, local residents and lawmakers raise questions. Both Congressmen spent the weekend in Washington, and residents weighed in on what the American role should be.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, sent out a statement that he's been in Washington since the president announced Saturday that he wants Congress to pass a resolution authorizing U.S. military force in Syria. McCarthy said he moderated a classified briefing with members of the House and Senate.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, told Eyewitness News he left for Washington late on Saturday and went to two briefings on the situation.

"They were talking a little bit about the strategy they would like to see happen in Syria," he said Monday afternoon, "or their reasons for us supporting them, and what the White House wants to do in Syria."

Valadao said he has concerns about what he's heard so far.

"What we're supposed to accomplish if we go there, and what are our goals?" he asked.

The congressman said he wants a "better-defined plan" and more international support.

"It's fine if we're the ones the people expect, or the world expects, to be the police, but we can't do it alone," Valadao said.

That's a concern some local residents share.

"Right now, to me, most importantly is protecting the United States," resident David Andrade told Eyewitness News.

"We can't be big brother for everything," David Davis agreed.

But, California State University, Bakersfield professor Dr. Stanley Clark said the United States has a certain international obligation.

"Part of that, for me, means that the United States does often need to play a policeman role," the professor said.

Eyewitness News talked to Clark last week, asking about the circumstances that led to the current situation. He said use of chemical weapons has been a special concern since World War II.

"They're an especially inhumane way of fighting your enemies," Clark said. "Chemical weapons used against a population calls for extraordinary actions."

But, the professor said there are worries about the United States taking action.

"There's a lot of concern among a lot of American groups, and would it affect the whole region, not just Syria," he said.

While Valadao has concerns, he said other lawmakers also have worries.

"A lot of them made comments about a more narrowly-defined scope," he said. "So they know exactly what the president has the ability to do."

Local residents said they are glad the president asked for Congressional input.

"I think that's very wise politically on his part," Karen Harness said. "Getting involved without a lot of support from the rest of the country through our representatives in Congress, that's not going to make people happy at all."

"I believe it's important for our Congress to have a say," Greg Laskowski agreed. "At least we get our Congressional legislators who represent us to tell the president what we think."

McCarthy's statement said he will meet Tuesday with the president and his national security team regarding the situation in Syria.

Valadao said the current schedule calls for Congress to be back on Sept. 9, and that's when the debate starts. He's not ready to approve military action yet.

"I don't feel like there was anything to gain from what could be done in Syria, at least for the American people," Valdado told Eyewitness News. "From what I gathered yesterday, for me personally, I'm not prepared to vote to support that."

Local reaction included worries about American military being spread too thin. Others say the use of chemical weapons is clearly horrible, and requires response. But, there are a lot of serious questions.

"He drew a line in the sand, he has to follow through with something," Laskowski said of the president's call for military action. Laskowski has ideas on what that should and shouldn't include. "I think a very limited strike that hurts them where it sends a message, but I don't think we can send troops in," he said.

"As far as sending troops in, we've been spread very thinly for a long, long time," Chris Tilley said.

"What sort of actions do you mean?" she asked. "I think that's the question."