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September 1, 2013

Rep. Tom Cole on Syria, Russia, Duncan shooting

DUNCAN — U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., was in Duncan this week for a town hall meeting, one of seven he held during a swing through the state’s 4th congressional district he has represented since January 2003.

Cole sat down with The Banner’s Mike Smith before his town hall meeting Wednesday at the Red River Technology Center. Here are some excerpts of his answers to various questions that day:

On Syria, President Obama and possible military action:

“I remain skeptical that we need to do something but to be fair, we haven’t heard the case made by the president. So I think the first thing the president needs to do is let the American people and Congress know precisely what he wants to do and why he wants to do it and what impact he thinks it will have. So far he hasn’t done that.

On military action and congressional approval:

“I think the president’s hand would be much stronger if he sought congressional approval. Both President George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, when we went into Iraq and then Afghanistan and then Iraq again, came to the Congress and asked for approval.

“I realize what we are talking about here is not on the same scale as either of those, but I think the president is always stronger if he looks as if he is acting with the full support of the American people. So my recommendation would be, even if it’s a single, limited strike, which he may well have authority to do, that he would be better off with congressional approval.”

On public support — or lack of it — for military action:

“There is very little public support for going to Syria, certainly not in this district, which quite frankly is very pro-defense and very patriotic. But they don’t see vital American interests at stake in Syria. He (Obama) drew a lot of red lines and I don’t think he ever thought he would have to enforce them.

“Well, now it’s really as much his credibility as the country’s credibility at stake, so I think I will withhold judgment, but I would be a very hard sell.”

On Russia’s stance on Syria and other matters:

“I think Russia, and (President) Putin in particular, sort of enjoy being a foil to the United States. They don’t have a lot of power to get things done in a positive sense globally but they do occasionally have the power to say no.

“And this is a place (Syria), to be fair to them, that they have long-standing interests. They have a naval base in Syria, which is really their only presence in the Mediterranean Basin. They have been the chief arms supplier to the Assad regime, both the father and now the son, for decades so this is a place where they feel like they have heavily invested in an ally.

“And they have been heavily invested on Assad’s side throughout the civil war so I’m not surprised they would take an opposite position here. They didn’t seek out Syria as a place to deliberately oppose the United States. From their standpoint they are defending an ally. But I do think they always enjoy tweaking the American nose a little bit.”

On aftermath of the drive-by shooting in Duncan of Australian Christopher Lane:

“I’m very proud of this community in the way it has handled this. We all know this is an unspeakable tragedy and there is no rational explanation for what happened. Sometimes you are judged not by the tragedy but by how you handle the tragedy, and I think Duncan can be proud of that, but I know it’s with a great deal of sorrow.”

On demands by some Republicans — in Congress and elsewhere — that the federal health care law enacted in 2009 be defunded at any costs, even by shutting down the government this fall:

“Certainly there are a lot of people who say shut down the government to stop Obamacare. Number one, I don’t think it would work. I think the president would understand very quickly that, ‘This is working to my advantage.’ I think it’s the sort of thing Democrats want Republicans to do.

“But second, no matter who gets the blame ... if we put 3,000 civilian workers at Fort Sill out of work and 15,000 at Tinker Air Force Base and we didn’t pay American troops in combat in Afghanistan and look at shutting down Veterans centers and services for 70- and 80- and 90-year-olds who served their country ...how in the world is that possibly the right answer?”

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