QUINCY—US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who opposes US military intervention in Syria, was in good company at town hall here Thursday.
The South Boston Democrat spent nearly two hours taking questions from a polite crowd, whose inquiries revealed a deep vein of doubt that military action would achieve positive results for the country and thanks that Lynch held that view.
“I really appreciate your commitment to voting against another war in the Middle East,” said Dorchester resident Jeff Klein, 67, echoing the sentiment of the majority of questioners in the Quincy High School auditorium.
The crowd of about 100 people, which was split between men and woman, skewed older and included a number of military veterans. Many asked questions of fact —how can we know that the chemical weapons were used by Assad’s regime?—while others just wanted to have their voice heard in opposition to striking Syria.
Lynch gave detailed, often nuanced, answers to every question he was asked, often peppering his responses with anecdotes from his many visits over the years to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region.
He said that the high volume of constituent calls and emails about the potential intervention in Syria—more than five to one against—prompted him to hold the event.
On Aug. 31, President Obama said in an address he believed the US should take military action against Syria after the reported use of chemical weapons by the forces of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. But, he said, he would first ask Congress for its green light.
In the subsequent days, public opinion and the opinion of many members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, appeared to be strongly opposed to authorizing Obama to strike Syria. Many in the all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation, Lynch among them, expressed deep skepticism about military action in the civil war-torn Middle Eastern country.
But after a potential diplomatic settlement in which Syria would give up its chemical weapons began to gain traction, Obama announced Tuesday he had asked Congress postpone a vote on the authorization of force.
Before Lynch took questions Thursday evening, he spoke about what informed his opposition to authorizing the use of force and was repeatedly interrupted by applause from the audience.
He said there were two main reasons he was currently against intervention.
The first, he said, is that there is a “fundamental flaw in the foreign policy of the United States to unilaterally attack Syria without meaningful international support.”
The second was that “the course of military action that has been chosen, as described Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry has I think a pretty unlikely probability of success in terms achieving what we would hope for in Syria.”
Lynch’s position puts him at odds with Obama, an issue he addressed early in the forum.
“I love my President, but, based on my own reading of this—and this is where democracy with a small d comes into play—I think that’s the wrong the decision,” Lynch said.
Lynch staffers provided copies of the authorization resolution, which many in the audience flipped through over the course of the event.
Heba Eid, 28, was one of the only questioners who expressed support of US military action in Syria.
“I don’t think Bashar al-Assad is going to agree to any kind of diplomacy unless there is military pressure on him,” Eid said. “I think that the House should vote for military action.” She said that doing nothing in the face of the alleged chemical weapons use would send the wrong message to Assad.
Lynch, engaged in a lengthy but respectful back and forth with her, replied that “There are a lot of options between bombing and doing nothing.”
In the televised primetime address on Tuesday, Obama also said that taking action in Syria did not mean the US would get involved in every humanitarian crisis across the world.
“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death...I believe we should act,” the President said.
But that message had not resonated among the people in the auditorium Thursday night.
Quincy resident Russell Erikson, 91, served as a pilot in World War II and was the first member of the public to arrive at the town hall. He said he was opposed to a military intervention in Syria, not wanting to see any young American men or women die in that conflict.
“We can’t police the whole world,” he said.