The Edmond Sun

August 30, 2013

Obama, Kerry make case for U.S. action against Syria

Local residents react to potential military strike

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — On the University of Central Oklahoma campus, Knut Evensen, a sophomore from Norway, and a couple of his classmates, were sitting at a table Friday in the student center getting ready for the long holiday weekend.

Evensen said he has been keeping an eye on the news and wondering what will happen next. He said he doesn’t like what he’s been seeing with all of the escalating war talk regarding Syria. There is usually no logic in military attacks, Evensen said.

“In Norway, we are pretty peaceful,” he said. “I think we all learned after the Second World War that war is never the answer. You’ve got to think ahead. I think war is all about money now.”

Rather than let the situation escalate, leaders need to work for a peaceful solution, Evensen said. If the United States acts, he thinks there is a pretty good chance for a broader conflict.

A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed including at least 426 children during a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, the White House announced Friday.

It was an active day that saw U.N. inspectors in Damascus preparing to leave for The Hague and comments from President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry. Release of the assessment comes a day after the British Parliament narrowly voted against a motion to support the principal of military intervention, narrowing prospects for a coalition.

Since fighting began in March 2011 between the Syrian government and opposition groups seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, up to 100,000 people — perhaps more — have been killed, almost 2 million have fled to neighboring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced, according to UN estimates. At least 6.8 million Syrians require urgent humanitarian assistance, half of whom are children.

In 2011, locals took to the streets in the Syrian city of Deraa to protest after 15 schoolchildren had been arrested and reportedly tortured for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall, according to the BBC. Protesters called for their release, democracy and greater freedoms for Syrians.

On March 18, the government opened fire on protesters, killing four people. The next day, the regime killed a mourner at one of the victim’s funerals. People called for al-Assad to step down; he refused. The violence worsened, and the situation worsened due to the various players involved.

Friday, the White House announced it has assessed with “high confidence” that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21. Earlier in the week, the president briefed leaders in Congress on the situation.

Kerry said based on the pre-Iraq experience, U.S. intelligence has been carefully reviewed and re-reviewed. Some of the evidence, in order to protect sources, cannot be discussed publicly, Kerry said.

Kerry said the U.S. knows the Syrian government, which has the largest chemical weapons program in the Middle East, has been determined to rid the Damascus suburbs of the opposition, and that three days before the attack regime chemical weapons personnel were on the ground in the area preparing.

“We know where the rockets were launched from and at what time,” Kerry said Friday. “We know where they landed and when. We know rockets came only from regime-controlled areas and went only to opposition-controlled or contested neighborhoods.”

He described rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood, and rows of dead children lying on a hospital floor, all dead from Assad’s gas.

Earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke during a ceremony marking the centennial of the Peace Palace in The Hague, where evidence gathered by UN investigators is going. Ban said there is no military solution to the conflict, noting it would only add to the violence inside the country.

“To those providing weapons to either side, we must ask: What have those arms achieved but more bloodshed? The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat,” he said. “Why add more fuel to the fire?”

Oklahoma City University political science professor Mohamed Daadaoui, who specializes in Middle East and North Africa political analysis, said since Obama made his “red line” in the sand remark regarding chemical weapons, the administration feels compelled to act, likely without a broad coalition.

A limited, surgical strike would not inflict long lasting damage on the Syrian regime, enough to change the situation on the ground, Daadaoui said. He questioned the goals of such action. And he also spoke about the potential for a broader conflict given the interests of Russia and China in the region. | 341-2121, ext. 108