, Salem, MA

September 5, 2013

Congressman, challengers weighing the options on Syria


---- — Congressman John Tierney (D-Salem) is undecided about whether to support or oppose U.S. military action in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons there. And he’s not alone.

Likely challengers in the 6th District election next year seemed equally undecided this week.

Tierney refused requests for an interview on Tuesday and yesterday, but he issued a statement saying, “There is justifiable concern and horror being expressed throughout the world about the deaths said to have been caused by the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and I join others in finding this deeply troubling.” The statement said he was “pleased,” however, that President Obama had sought congressional authorization for use force in Syria.

“Between now and the anticipated vote on the question, I will continue to assess the relevant facts, as well as the strategic objectives, costs, duration and ramifications of any military action so as to make an informed decision,” Tierney said.

Seth Moulton of Marblehead, a former Marine who served four tours of duty in Iraq and was a special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus, issued a statement Tuesday saying he would be “paying close attention to the case the administration makes to the American people before coming to my own conclusion about what I believe is the best course of action.

“If it is clear that the Assad regime used weapons of mass destruction against its own people,” Moulton’s statement said, “the world must hold him accountable. But we must also be extremely careful not to get dragged into another long-term engagement in the Middle East.”

In an interview yesterday, Moulton said he does not have access to classified information about the chemical attack in Syria or the country’s military options, so he could not say how he might vote.

“One of the lessons we learned from Iraq is we have to have the right intelligence,” he said, adding that his experience in Iraq would cause him to be careful as a congressman when weighing the use of force.

“I don’t think there is any question we don’t want to get involved in another ground war in the Middle East, especially a civil war in Syria,” Moulton said. While the world should condemn use of chemical weapons, he suggested that a military strike might not be the only option. There could be other military or diplomatic options, but he could not say exactly what.

Another Democratic challenger in the 6th District, attorney Marisa DeFranco of Middleton, said that if she were in Congress, she would vote against a military strike, considering what little information the public has been given. With more information, she might be persuaded to support air strikes, she said.

“I represent people who have escaped murderous dictators,” said DeFranco, who works as an immigration lawyer but has not worked with recent Syrian immigrants.

“I very, very much want to help the Syrian people. It’s not a question of want,” she said in an interview.

DeFranco said the lack of a long-term strategy to end the conflict is one reason she does not support a military strike at this time. She said there does not seem to be a plan if the strikes spark a regional war or have other unintended consequences.

She also takes issue with the military action being marketed with euphemisms such as “precision striking” that sanitize the action.

“The word is ‘bombing’; that is what it physically is,” DeFranco said. The other problem, she said, is who would replace the Assad regime, given reports that al-Qaida fighters are part of the rebel movement.

Republican Richard Tisei, who lost his bid to unseat Tierney last year, has not decided whether to seek a rematch next year, but he posted a statement on his Facebook page saying, “President Obama’s decision to seek Congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria is the right one, whatever the reasons.”

“Up until this point, the president did the right thing, not acting on his own and going to Congress to get an authorization vote,” Tisei said in an interview.

But Tisei, too, said he would need more information before deciding whether to support or oppose a military strike.

“I am going to be listening very carefully,” said Tisei, who listened to the debate on CSPAN in the British House of Commons in which Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for a military strike in Syria.

Tisei said Obama will have to convince both Democrats and Republicans in Congress on his plans.

“Is it good to lob a few missiles into Syria? I don’t think that is going to accomplish anything,” Tisei said. He also said he has misgivings about who might replace the Assad regime if it is toppled.

A key Senate panel yesterday approved a resolution for military action, though support in the House was uncertain.

President Obama, on a visit to Stockholm, Sweden, yesterday said the international community’s credibility is on the line when it comes to enforcing treaties against the use of chemical weapons.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.