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Democratic 5th Congressional Candidates Weigh In on Syrian Intervention

See what the candidates had to say before President Barack Obama spoke Tuesday night.

State Sen. Will Brownsberger speaks at Tuesday's forum. Photo credit: John Waller
State Sen. Will Brownsberger speaks at Tuesday's forum. Photo credit: John Waller

Before President Barack Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night on Syria, Democratic 5th Congressional candidates weighed in on the situation at a packed forum at Watertown Middle School.

The candidates also expressed their views on the NSA, renewable energy, Social Security, the sequestration, Obamacare, gun control and Citizens United, among other issues. It was the first time all of the candidates were on stage together. The Democratic primary is Oct. 15.

Here are the candidates responses to a question on Syria, in the order they answered:

Moderator George Bachrach, former state senator: “I think all of you would say that if our national security interest was at stake, you would support some form of military action. What if our national security was not at stake? What if it is simply a question of inhumanity? What if it wasn’t 1,000 that had been sprayed with chemicals but 10,000, or 100,000? When is American intervention appropriate?”

State Sen. Karen Spilka, Ashland: “ … I watched those videos of the chemical weapons being used on Syrians. It was really, really hard to watch, but I felt like I needed to, to get as much information as possible. I’m Jewish, so to watch those videos and see the people writhing in pain, it was a really strong gut reaction. Many of my family perished in the Holocaust, so I’m very much aware how hard it is, but we do need to be able to separate that out and look at what else have we done. My background is conflict-resolution, I believe that we need to use diplomacy first and try to build a coalition – that is the best way to put pressure on other countries, to build that, and that does take time and that apparently seems to be working now … I think that a diplomatic path should be pursued and military options only as a very, very last resort. We should never think lightly about putting our men and women in harm’s way.”

State Rep. Carl Sciortino, Medford: “I came out last week, very early on in this conversation around Syria, and said that I would not support military authorization in Syria. And it wasn’t because it was only 1,000, it wasn’t, there’s already been over 100,000 people killed in Syria – the bloodshed is unacceptable. I think the United States has a moral obligation to intervene, but it’s not the same as taking military intervention. I was very disappointed frankly to see our administration, Democratic administration, beating the drums of war … We have an obligation right now to immediately reconvene [the negotiations we had in Geneva last summer]. Because if we strike tomorrow, whether it’s 1,000 people or 10,000 people or 100,000 people, you can’t tell me that the next day, another attack won’t happen. The next day, it won’t get even worse. I think, in fact, it will.”

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, Waltham: “As Karen had said, this is much more of an emotional issue than a political issue for me – I’m the grandson of Armenian genocide survivors … It’s not an easy decision, but when I did take a look at it, I saw that there was no longterm vision, no exit strategy. I also found that there was a significant lack of support from the international community … There is no natural ally in this conflict. On the president’s side, you have Hezbollah … on the rebels’ side, you have al Qaeda … On both sides, you have a natural enemy that has been a sworn enemy of this country, and I think that alone can make a difference about whether you enter it. When you ask, ‘What else you could do?’ … We should begin war criminal prosecution on President [al-Assad], we should look into providing more silent applications and refuge visas, we should provide more humanitarian aid, and we should continue to work with the international community, as we have for unilateral condemnation of these acts.”

State Sen. Will Brownsberger, Belmont: “ … We’re not talking about a situation, in this case, where it was clear that we were going to save a lot more people by doing something. Obama’s framed his proposal very narrowly as punishment, so it’s unclear whether we were going to save anybody. If you framed it as, if you intervene you were going to save millions of lives, then maybe you’d have to do that … Whatever the scenario is, we need to set a really high bar for that kind of intervention because America’s credibility depends on the principled consistency of its foreign policy and to the extent to which it collaborates with international organizations.”

State Sen. Katherine Clark, Melrose: “As a mom, as a fellow inhabitant of the planet, nobody can watch what happened in Syria, nobody can look at the 100,000 people that have been killed during this civil war and turn their eyes from the Syrian people. But, we have to be particularly careful given our history over the last 10 years, that we have been in a war that we have paid for on credit cards – what that’s done to our economy, what that’s done to our returning veterans. We need to be very clear about what our goals are and what is the best way to accomplish them. For me, that case has not been made in Syria, and I would be a no vote on military intervention.”

Paul John Maisano, Stoneham: “Tell me what the difference is between conventional killing and chemical killing, it’s the same, you’re murdering people – killing in general is wrong regardless of what tool you use, and that’s the message that I have here tonight. We’re not going to accept this, but we can’t go in there and intervene … I’ve said absolutely not … My opinion is we’ve got a lot of work to do building relationships and having the rest of the world be accountable for when things go wrong, just not when they go right.”

Martin Long, of Arlington, was not called on by the moderator to answer the question. You can see his views on his campaign website and on his recent Huffington Post blog, “Time to Consider a War Surtax.”

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