Syrian civil war creates division in United States

Raul Herrera/Contributing Writer

As the United States considers intervening in the Syrian civil war, the political divisions in Washington mirror the divisions among University professors and students.

On Sept. 4, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-3 to authorize the use of force against the Syrian government. The full Senate is expected to vote on the authorization next week.

The Syrian civil war, which broke out when President Bashar al-Assad responded to Arab Spring protesters through violent force, has been raging since 2011. The alleged atrocities committed by al-Assad’s regime, such as the use of chemical weapons against civilians, are what some, such as President Obama, claim to be a reason for international intervention.

“In March of 2011, protests began in Syria and al-Assad, just like his late father, was determined to crush all opposition, escalating the level of coercion and bloodshed every step of the way to the present use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians in the outskirts of Damascus,” wrote Felix Martín, Associate Professor of politics and international relations, in an email to Student Media.

Fay Goldstein, senior international relations student and president of Shalom FIU, a pro-Israel student organization, said that many have been using the term “red line” in regards to the conflict.

“President Obama explained then that ‘we have been very clear to the al-Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,’” said Goldstein.

However, Goldstein claims that this is not simply a matter of responding to chemical weapons, but also of credibility.

“The United States is not strategically interested in having military intervention,” said Goldstein. “However, President Obama’s ‘red line’ has been crossed and the entire world is watching and waiting to see if he will stick to his word about changing his status of non-intervention.”

Florida’s own senior senator, Bill Nelson, agreed with the President’s decision, but also wished that the United States should strike against al-Assad and his regime. However, Marco Rubio, the junior senator of Florida, has claimed that while he does support a plan to help remove al-Assad and replace him with a secular regime, he supports direct military intervention only when the United States pursues a “clear and attainable national security goal,” according to a statement.

The president of the FIU College Republicans, Adriana McLamb, was unavailable for comment. Sahara Fonseca, president of FIU College Democrats, said that many blue state politicians are not entirely on board with the President’s decision or with Bill Nelson’s stance. Congressional debate, he said, is important.

“The President is jumping the gun on a sensitive issue that deserves a thorough wait before making [an] extreme decision, and the Democratic Party agrees that there [needs] to be a substantial debate with both houses and the executive branch, with the finishing of a thorough investigation before moving on,” said Fonseca.

Fonseca added that if the UN investigation does indicate that al-Assad did indeed use chemical weapons, that she would encourage intervention, but that “sending troops should be our final resort.”

Martin believes that there are other options other than intervention.

“Congress can reject President Obama’s proposed policy to [launch] a punitive attack against Syria, purportedly to degrade the use of future manufacturing and use of chemical weapons against its own,” wrote Martín.  “The US should transfer the burden of responsibility to the Chinese and the Russian [governments] and show the world that these two are embarrassing supporters of a callous regime that systematically massacres its own innocent people.”

However, Professor of Political Science Kevin Evans , believes that congressional approval will not deter the Obama Administration, citing a Foreign Affairs article where presidency scholar William Howell explains the same.

“It is important to note that the Obama administration has maintained that they have the right to take action in Syria regardless of the outcome in Congress,” said Evans. “Nonetheless, it would be very difficult politically for the president to move forward if Congress denies his request for an authorization of military force.”

Martin explained that while he does find the chemical attacks heinous, “killing is killing nonetheless.”

“Even the reprehensible aspect of this indiscriminate and callous attack does not warrant the intervention of the US, just like it was not justified in Vietnam, Libya, Egypt or Iraq,” said Martin.

The professor also criticized the complexity of the Syrian Civil War and its factions, while pointing to the possible negative diplomatic repercussions of the United States’ involvement.

“To some detractors in the Middle East, the military option will be further evidence that the US uses heavy [hands] to intervene in the Arab world to advance its own narrow national interests without regard to the plight and sensitivity of […] the Muslim world,” said Martin.

According to Evans, the goal of the President with regards to Syria is not as directly confrontational as it seems.

“The President has been leery of engaging in the Syrian conflict and he’s taken pains to suggest that this would be a limited military engagement with no boots on the ground,” said Evans.

A poll released by the Washington Post and NBC on Sept. 3 revealed that 59 percent of the interviewed Americans oppose the use of United States’ missile strikes against the Syrian government.

Seventy percent of the interviewees were also vehemently against the United States government and its allies supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels.

Evans points to American war fatigue as one of the reasons behind this. But when foreign policy elites are themselves divided about the wisdom of intervention, the public tends to divide too.

“Yet, when elites band together and provide a common justification, the public tends to give them latitude,” Evans said.

Evans pointed to Speaker of the House John Boehner‘s support for action on Syria as an example of this unification. He believes that this is important to create a “winning coalition in the House”, which usually finds itself at odds with the President.

“It’s impossible to convince the American people that intervention is necessary,” said Fonseca. “So long [as] our troops are being sent to die, the American people will never agree with intervention.”


1 Comment on "Syrian civil war creates division in United States"

  1. Carlos Bracero | October 2, 2013 at 1:46 PM | Reply

    The United States government has been waiting patiently for this event to unravel itself. The American people are tired of war. Plain and simple. For many of us here at FIU, our teenage years and into adulthood has been dominated by Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Middle Eastern conflicts. To be quite honest, many of us our geographical knowledge of the region is probably better than previous generations. The United States would be wise to listen to its citizens and not into another war. Missiles and bombing will not do anything for the Syrian people.

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