WASHINGTON -- Local members of Congress Friday mostly praised President Trump's order to launch a missile attack on Syrian airfields in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian people, but Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand said she was concerned that the United States took unilateral military action.
More typical was the response of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had to be punished for the sarin gas attack earlier this week that is believed to have killed at least 70 people.
“Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do," the senator said.
The Senate minority leader added: “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it. I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today.”
That seemed to be the rough consensus among local members of Congress: that Trump had done the right thing in launching a missile attack against Syria now, but that the administration has much more work to do to try to bring peace and stability to a troubled country that millions have fled.
“We support the limited missile strike to disable President Assad's ability to use chemical weapons on his own people," said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who represents much of the Southern Tier.
"Use of weapons of mass destruction where innocent civilians, including women and children are killed, cannot go unchecked unless we risk the unfettered escalation of such weapon's use in the future around the world," Reed said. "It is the right thing to do, as is our commitment to continue to search for diplomatic ways to bring peace to the region.”
Assad previously resorted to a sarin gas attack in 2013, prompting Congress to consider a resolution authorizing an attack at the time. Then-President Barack Obama never offered a military response, despite previously saying a chemical weapons attack would cross a "red line" that would demand U.S. action.
Local members of Congress were reluctant to support an attack on Syria at the time.
“The risk of escalation is legitimate, it’s real, and it’s going to have consequences,” Reed said.
But Assad's second use of chemical weapons was enough to change Reed's mind.
"Diplomatic efforts have not thwarted Assad's use of chemical weapons on innocent women and children," he said.
Meantime, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said at the time of that 2013 chemical weapons attack in Syria: “It is not the time for Americans to be subjected to the potential of yet another unwinnable overseas war.”
This time around, though, Higgins was supportive of the limited military action Trump took, while expressing caution about the future course of the conflict in Syria.
"While this targeted strike on the airfield which purportedly administered the chemical attack may be considered proportional, my previous stance on America's role in Syria has not changed," Higgins said. "I oppose wholesale American intervention in Syria, and the Congress must debate an authorization of the use of military force."
Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, strongly praised Trump -- a close ally -- for acting against Assad.
“Bashar al-Assad’s barbaric actions against innocent children and civilians were tolerated for too long," Collins said. "President Trump promised Americans he would stand up to our enemies, and he delivered on that promise. Last night’s military actions demonstrated American strength and leadership. It reassured our allies and let our enemies know the status quo will no longer be tolerated.”
That left only Gillibrand -- a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a frequent critic of U.S. military action and a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 -- as the only local member of Congress to take a stand against Trump's unilateral retaliation in Syria.
“The chemical attacks by the Assad regime in Syria are unconscionable atrocities and a direct violation of international law; these attacks demand a firm response from the U.S. and the world community," Gillibrand said.
“However, unilateral military action by the U.S. in a Middle East conflict causes grave concern, given the lack of any Authorization for Use of Military Force from Congress and the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action," she added.
Gillibrand also said there is no "military only" solution to the strife in Syria. She said the Trump administration should tell the American people more about how it will bring coalition partners together to forge a long-term diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war.
Meantime, Higgins noted that there was some tragic irony to Trump's military action against the Syrian regime.
"It should be noted that the Trump administration's about-face on Syrian intervention demonstrates how ill-advised its policy of halting entry of helpless refugees from this war-torn country is," he said.
Trump has cut refugee admissions to the United States by more than half, and issued an executive order barring refugees and others from several Muslim-majority countries -- including Syria -- from entering the United States.