By Calvin Pynn, contributor
Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Cline told about 50 of his constituents in Harrisonburg Monday night that while he wants to avoid war with Iran, he agreed with President Donald Trump’s assassination order of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani based on the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in place in Iraq.
“Given the information I have, I believe that the action was appropriate,” said Cline, who just finished his first year representing Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. “Now the question is: where do we go from here?”
Cline’s comments came in response to Harrisonburg resident Michael Snell-Feikema’s question at Monday evening’s town hall meeting at the American Legion Post in Harrisonburg. In his question, Snell- Feikema described the clashing of nations as an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object in the wake of last week’s drone strike, which Trump ordered, that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, many questions centered on the likelihood of war with Iran.
“Would you be willing to be a serious voice for peace?” Snell-Feikema asked Cline. “That seems to be the only way out of these two colliding forces and us ending up in another quagmire that reminds me, in many ways, of Vietnam.”
Cline is a member of the Freedom Caucus, whose members have advocated for ensuring congressional approval for military actions and dialing back involvement abroad. After the town hall, Cline told The Citizen he would advocate for that approach would influence his decision if it came to congressional approval.
“There is a point where if there is a response, and the President determines that a full engagement is necessary, we would work in concert to make sure the war is avoided as much as possible,” Cline said. “But if it does occur, it should be short, and is one we win overwhelmingly.”
When a constituent asked if he agreed with Trump’s tweet following Soleimani’s assassination – which threatened to target Iranian cultural sites in response to retaliation – Cline said he would support action that complies with international law.
Audience members asked follow-ups asking him to clarify his answer, and Cline said he believes the president would abide by those terms and would revisit the language of the tweet.
“Iran has a choice, and if they want to continue to wage terrorist war against the international community, we will respond,” Cline said. “But we will do it in compliance with international law.”
Questions and comments regarding Iran continued to occasionally come up throughout the two-hour meeting, with some citing the United States’ long history of conflict with the country.
Others spoke up in support of military action, such as Harrisonburg resident Al Ford.
“Nobody in their right mind wants war,” Ford said. “But how much longer can we negotiate with evil people?”
After the meeting, Snell-Feikema told The Citizen he worries about a possible war with Iran. He also said he wasn’t satisfied with Cline’s answers on the topic.
“I don’t think he has developed his own independent view of foreign policy,” Snell-Feikema said. “There wasn’t much conviction.”
This was Cline’s first meeting in the Valley following the U.S. House’s vote last month to impeach Trump. Cline voted “no” on impeachment.
When asked where he would draw the line for a president to be impeached, Cline explained his reasoning behind his vote.
“It’s a line that the founding fathers set down – high crimes and misdemeanors,” Cline said. “What we have now are allegations, not criminal violations of our criminal statutes.”
Other questions from the audience addressed equal pay for people with disabilities and potential gun control legislation in Virginia.
At times, it was a tough crowd, for instance, when Cline was asked about congressional action on climate change.
“Humans can contribute to that change, and I think the evidence is showing that it can,” Cline said. “Then there’s the question of how much is it contributing to that change, and I believe that there’s still a lot of debate about how much.”
A cacophony of “no’s” built up in response to his answer, prompting Cline to backpedal.
“Maybe we should review the rules,” he said.
While Monday’s meeting prioritized questions and comments from Harrisonburg residents, Cline said he’ll hold another meeting later this year will give Rockingham County residents the first chance to speak up.
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