Background: For the last two years a civil war has raged in Syria which started as part of the Arab Spring uprising that saw regime changes occur in several Arab countries. However, Syria’s uprising has been the most protracted, deadliest and most complex. It is believed that over 100,000 people have been killed and millions upon millions forced to flee the country. Recently, evidence has emerged that Syrian forces, controlled by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons on its own people and the US says it is all but certain chemical weapons have been used. The UN, however, says it will need at least a month to analyze the evidence its weapons inspectors gathered while visiting the site of the alleged attack.
President Obama had previously said using chemical weapons was a “red line” that, if crossed, would trigger US military action. Obama now says he wants to attack Syria to punish it for crossing this line and breaking international law. He is currently seeking congressional approval for such an attack while trying to rally international support, which so far, has been virtually non-existent.
1. Do you think the Obama administration has made its case and proven that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons?
PL: I’m not sure. Dennis Kucinich recently wrote an article for Huffington Post outlining what he felt were the top 10 unproven claims for war against Syria. There are a lot of unanswered questions that raise doubts about if chemical weapons were actually used, and if so, who used the chemical weapons. That being said, other intelligence agencies around the world (namely from France, Germany, and U.K.) seem to be echoing the Obama Administration’s assertion that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against their own people. This is beginning to look eerily similar to Iraq in 2003.
AP: I won’t say one way or another if the administration has proven anything. I just want to say that this does look familiar, only last time the buzz phrase was WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). Either way, it looks like we are going in, sooner rather than later, and whether a legitimate case exists will ultimately be proven down the line (hopefully). I just hope that we don’t see news this time next year telling us that the chemical weapons attacks that prompted this war were actually septic tanks that burst open due to poor maintenance or some bullshit of the like.
JK: The president and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, have done very little to convince the general public. There is too much secrecy behind the would-be proof that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons on its own people. There’s enough doubt as to whether or not these claims are legitimate. We need more proof and less conjecture.
2. Do you support the US conducting military strikes against Syria at this time? Why or Why not?
PL: So for a primer on the entire situation, the Washington Post has a really good summary. Is spending U.S. military resources worth telling the world that chemical weapons will not be tolerated? In my opinion, yes. While there aren’t that many universally acknowledged codes of war, this is one of them. If the Syrian government actually used chemical weapons, there needs to be some sort of international response, at least to prevent the weakening of a no-chemical-weapon norm. But it’s really a lose-lose situation. The fighting is essentially between Hezbollah and with al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups.
AP: The more I think of our current role as the tip of the spear, the more I hesitate to commit us to various “righteous” causes around the world. I can’t in good conscience say that we need to have boots on the ground bringing the fight to Syria when A) it is so expensive to wage a war on the other side of the globe and B) we are in a constant state of bitching about how we have no money. Yes, using a chemical weapon is bad. Yes, something should be done. Do I think the U.S. should take the lead like they have in the past? No, empirical evidence suggests that U.S. involvement will probably just add fuel to the fire, meaning it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.
JK: Why is the president in such a rush to attack Syria with the US military alone? We don’t have the money. Even if we do, wouldn’t it be cheaper with UN backing us? I know Russia will be a huge obstacle, but shouldn’t that motivate our president to gather the hard evidence to legitimize his claim?
3. Regardless of whether or not you support a military strike, what steps would you want to see Obama/the US government take before conducting an attack?
PL: The release of intelligence and military reports would be helpful so that the public knows what the decision to attack was based on. The President took a very big gamble by formally consulting Congress on the matter, although he reserved his right to order a strike. However, the leaks that are coming out about possible strike locations and the kinds of missiles we will use are baffling. If we are going to attack, why are we telegraphing our plans? For an attack to be effective and send a message, it needs to do damage. Let’s not tell Syria what we plan to attack, so they can pull all their military resources out pre-strike.
AP: I think that all avenues related to preventing physical combat and full-scale war should be exhausted. I would also like there to be a specific make or break time table. While it is unfair to expect that this will be over in a week, I do think there needs to be some realistic expectations set forth. In my short lifetime, I haven’t seen anything get solved through war, and I don’t think as students of history, we can honestly say that there is a need for us to make Syria a battlefield. If “bad” turns to “shit storm” in the coming days and weeks, let’s get some drones in the air and carpet bomb the country. That’s always fun, right? Sarcasm: fun when speaking, unclear when writing.
JK: I’d like to see hard proof first. Second, we should take every step possible to minimize civilian casualties. If we are going to do this for the Syrian people, we shouldn’t be OK with civilian casualties. Most important, our goal should be to remove the chemical weapons. We should NOT be occupying Syria once we are done.
4. What do you think the best and worst case scenario would be of US involvement in this conflict?
PL: According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 60% of Americans are against intervention in Syria, but if the vote passes the House (the truer representation of the People), things will get very interesting. I don’t think there is a best case scenario. Maybe just a couple of quick strikes with some of our allies will be enough to make a statement that chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Our long term interests in that area are simple. Help Israel. Contain Iran. Disrupt Iran’s support of Hezbollah in Palestine via sending weapons through Syria. Show a little more muscle against Russia (they have a naval installation in Syria). Is that worth getting involved in a conflict that experts say will not be resolved for years? Again, I’m not sure.
AP: Worst case scenario is that we further alienate countries in a region that has been wrought with turmoil since Jesus walked the earth, which is basically what we’ve been doing with our blanket support of Israel since forever. I also think that if this does happen, it will trigger further destabilization in the region which is only going to hurt us and our allies down the road. It will justify (in the minds of our enemies) any and all actions taken against us, which as we saw in our past, can have horrific consequences. I won’t pull the 9/11 card here, but you get my drift.
JK: Best case scenario: We strike against the Syrian government and then find the evidence, thus justifying the attack.
Worst case scenario: Turns out we were wrong. Russia gets involved opposite of us and starts World War 3.
Moderator’s Thoughts: Iraq. Iraq. Iraq. Rightly or wrongly, the well for humanitarian intervention on the grounds of anything related to WMD’s has been poisoned by Bush the Second. As for the need to intervene, itself, I have seen the images and videos and the dead children and it is horrifying. But when it comes to the death of a child, why does it matter if it’s by gun or by gas? I cannot come up with a good enough of a distinction to make one way of killing worthy of international condemnation while the other is, essentially, permitted.
But again, the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan must be remembered, the US cannot write people’s history for them. We should not get heavily involved in wars that have nothing to do with us. However, the talk is of limited and punitive strike with no boots on the ground. But if this is the case, and the only aim is to punish Assad, then why not wait for the UN’s investigation to finish? It would bolster our claim, show we support an international system and it would rally international support.
However, Obama’s whole approach to this situation has seemed a bit off to me. I can’t escape the feeling he’s not really into this attack, and why would he be, there are no good outcomes. He’s also setting himself up to fail. He’s quickly lost international support from many countries that were previously arguing something had to be done, and he has now asked Congress to approve military action that he does not need their support to carry out. It seems to me this might all just be a show to silence his critics and war hawks by calling their bluff. At the same time, he’s also restoring some balance of power in our government by forcing Congress to act like grownups for the first time in years, and he’s uniting the country (against his “plan”). It’s not a hard calculation for him to make: Democrats don’t like war and Republicans don’t like anything Obama wants to do, even if it was their idea in the first place (like this one). If you wanna show you’ve learned the lessons of Iraq, you would suggest an unpopular war that has nothing to do with any vital US interests, seek congressional and international support and then respect the fact you didn’t get that support and not follow through.
Contributing Writers: Alex S. Pak, Jun Kim, & Paul G. Lee
Moderated by: Brian M. Williams