BELDING — The setting was informal, but the topic was deadly serious.
More than two dozen people took time out of their Tuesday afternoon to meet with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash outside of the Belding Burger King.
Amash made a series of stops in his district Tuesday to gather constituents’ thoughts on possible U.S. military intervention in the country of Syria.
President Barack Obama recently made the decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike against Syria after circumstantial evidence pointed to deadly sarin gas being used in a chemical attack carried out by the Syrian government on Aug. 21, which killed at least 1,429 civilians, including more than 400 children.
In between stops in Byron Center, Grand Rapids, Ionia and Rockford, Amash, R-Cascade, met with constituents in Belding, where he declared he is opposed to a military strike and believes most of the United States is opposed, as well.
No one at the Belding meeting voiced support of a military strike in Syria either.
“I’m opposed to the resolution to go to war,” Amash said. “Most people I’ve talked to are not anti-war … but that’s not the point. A war has to have the purpose of defending the United States and you have to have the people behind you in the country to support it. We’re not at that point, based on my conversations with people.”
Amash pointed to the current war in Afghanistan as an example of what he doesn’t want to see happen with Syria.
“That war in Afghanistan hasn’t ended and that war was (started) to go after the perpetrators of 9/11, but it’s continued on for more than a decade,” he said. “They’re no longer going after the perpetrators of 9/11, they’re going after a bunch of other people too … the point is, they’ve extended the authorization to a lot of other purposes.”
Amash said he is concerned that sending military forces into Syria could end with similar results.
“I’m concerned about this authorization,” he said.
“The way it’s currently drafted, it allows the President to do anything. There’s no limitation in the current authorization about boots on the ground or anything else. It allows the President to take any action he deems necessary and would allow him to attack other countries besides Syria.”
Amash made it clear, however, that the use of chemical weapons and the killing that has occurred in Syria is unacceptable.
“The (Obama) administration presented strong circumstantial evidence that it was the (Syrian) government who was involved in the most recent attack (involving chemical weapons),” Amash said. “None of you, I assume, and I’m not, are OK with the use of chemical weapons or killing people. We’re not OK with that. But the issue is not as simple as saying when someone uses chemical weapons we’re then going to be sending missiles. If that’s the case, we’re going to be sending missiles all over the world. We have to be really careful about our reaction.”
Belding resident Leah Linebaugh attended Tuesday’s gathering along with her 19-month-old daughter Cora Jo.
Linebaugh carried with her a sign she had crafted earlier with the word Syria covered with a circle-backslash symbol and the statement: “Listen to us!”
“There’s just too much we don’t know, like Amash said, we’ve been told things before in different situations and come to find they were all lies,” Linebaugh said. “We need to know the truth. I don’t feel comfortable with it and I don’t think it’s the right time for our country. I’m so afraid we’re going to be arming the wrong people.”
Much of the feedback Amash received was voiced in concerns about the the issue in Syria being used as a distraction from other domestic issues, such as recent problems with the IRS and NSA.
Others voiced concerns about sending their sons and daughters to fight a war that isn’t properly justified, as well questions about which are the right organizations within Syria to support in the country in the middle of a civil war.
In recent days, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have voiced support of Obama’s call for the use of military strikes in Syria, but Amash believes their views do not represent the views of the people.
“Speaker Boehner and leader Cantor have both said they are supporting the effort, but I don’t think that is reflective of what most members of Congress think,” Amash said. “We need some leadership on this issue and someone to reflect the views of the American people. Unfortunately right now what you have is the President, the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership all in support of taking action, but the American people are overwhelmingly against it.”
Amash said he plans to take the viewpoints heard throughout his two days of local meetings and deliver those messages of constituents to Republican leadership.
“I want to give feedback to my leadership, I want to go to them and say I’ve spoken with hundreds of people in my district about this issue and this was the perspective I heard,” he said.
On his Twitter account, @repjustinamash, which has more than 40,000 followers, Amash tweeted, “Clear message from ppl (incl lots of military veterans) at Burger King in Belding: Do not get us into war in #Syria. No support for strikes.”
Amash will continue his local tour of constituents today, with scheduled stops in Marshall, Battle Creek, Hastings, Caledonia and Grand Rapids.
Visit amash.house.gov online for more information.