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How Should U.S. Respond To Chemical Weapons Attack In Syria?

Evening Edition

President Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad, shown here in 2009, against using chemical weapons.

Aired 9/3/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Michael Provence is Professor of Middle Eastern History, UC San Diego, he specializes in Syria.

Sohaib Alagha, a civil engineer here in San Diego and Board Member of the Syrian American Council


As Americans celebrated the last big weekend of summer, some may not have realized how close the nation came to another military intervention in the Middle East.

Many people expected President Obama to announce a strike against Syria on Saturday, but instead he asked for Congressional authorization before taking action.

U.S. officials said more than 1,400 people died in a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, allegedly carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Along with outrage over the use of chemical weapons, there is also deep opposition from American politicians and the public over launching another military attack in that troubled region.

A local civil engineer and Syrian American Council board member Sohaib Alagha, said he hopes the U.S. will use its power responsibly to bring the situation in Syrian to a negotiated settlement.

"The hope for a U.S. intervention is not to start a war, war had started two and a half years ago," he said. "We hope that with a U.S. intervention will help stop a war and also enforce the international rule which had existed since World War I that the use of chemical weapon is an atrocity that should not be accepted by the international community and U.S."

But Middle Eastern history professor Michael Provence said U.S. action in Syria may be fruitless.

"To think the United States, by it's military might, can affect a positive outcome in the Middle East is to suspend disbelief," he said.

Provence said in the last 30 years, U.S. military intervention in the Middle East has not had a positive effect.

"The United States has never had a successful intervention in the Middle East and has never been able to affect a positive outcome that was good for anybody in the region by use of its military weapons," he said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to debate military action in Syria. Congress is expected to schedule a vote when it returns from recess Sept. 9.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | September 3, 2013 at 12:36 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Stay out of that mess. They chose civil war against the regime. Bad call. Not our problem. One lost American will be too high of a price.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | September 3, 2013 at 1:34 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Deterring the use of chemical weapons is just a pretense. The goal of the United States government is to diminish the Syrian government's military capabilities so that rebel groups can improve their positions.

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Avatar for user 'Lance'

Lance | September 3, 2013 at 3:41 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

So many more innocents will be killed in the crossfire, and for what? The International Crisis Group has a compelling proposal that the US and other determined-to-strike-no-matter-what governments should read before taking any action:

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Avatar for user 'TheDiegan'

TheDiegan | September 3, 2013 at 3:55 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

A real leader leads from behind.

The behinder he leads from, the more leaderly he is.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 3, 2013 at 5:25 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Obama desperately wants his own war. If he succeeds in starting it, he is violating international law and will degrade the global image of the US even more.

What do Democrats say about this? Is this what you voted for?

There is absolutely no justification for interfering in another sovereign nation's civil war. Especially considering the abysmal track record of US intelligence.

Syria will be another Iraq/Afghanistan or the US will bomb it until the government collapses and it becomes yet another unpredictable Mid East failed state.

Stay out of it.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | September 4, 2013 at 6:48 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I get uneasy when I think about how violent our federal politicians are. Obama and the rest are violent people. It's time to frame the issue that way.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | September 4, 2013 at 9:03 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

A very recent editorial in The Japan Times commended the outgoing American Ambassador for greatly encouraging people in the Tohoku region by visiting there after the region was devastated by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Caroline Kennedy is the newly appointed Ambassador to Japan. That same J-times editorial already recommends "visits by Ms. Kennedy to Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the anniversary days of the atomic bombings which would help increase the momentum of the movement to abolish nuclear weapons."

Sarah Palin's tweet~ 'Let Allah Sort It Out In Syria' reminds us what may have
happened had the Republican ticket won in 2008.
Sar-ah-pa-lin gaseous communique #3874~ On March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult launched a coordinated sarin gas attack on subway trains in Tokyo, Japan. The sarin gas killed a dozen people, injuring thousands more. The "Supreme Truth" apocalyptic cult had approximately 40,000 members and a net worth of $1.5 billion. Believing World War III was imminent, Aum Shinrikyo began to stockpile weapons. In addition to several other unsuccessful attempts, the group also launched a June 27, 1994 attack in the city of Matsumoto. That attack left seven dead and injured 500. Unfortunately, because of the Aum Shinrikyo's protected religious status, the police were unable to arrest any of its members at that time. 'Let Allah Sort It Out In the Subway'

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | September 4, 2013 at 9:16 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Aug. 29 editorial in Japan Times, con't;
Ms. Kennedy, a lawyer and writer, has no experience in diplomacy and is not an expert on Japan. Clearly Mr. Obama’s choice of her as ambassador to Japan is a reward for her political support to him. But attention must be paid to other aspects.

President Kennedy had expressed a desire to become the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Japan so he could smooth out bilateral ties, which had been rattled by mass opposition to the renewal of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960. In a sense, Ms. Kennedy’s stationing in Tokyo as U.S. ambassador achieves her father’s unfulfilled dream a half-century later.

In the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, the U.S. military carried out Operation Tomodachi, a massive effort that involved search and rescue operations, delivery of emergency supplies and the removal of debris.

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Avatar for user 'Anon11'

Anon11 | September 4, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

If the US powers are good at anything, it's going into a resource-rich nation, destabilizing the government, and using the chaos as a smokescreen while they extract all the wealth.

There's a reason we arm African warlords/Mexican cartels/Taliban/etc., and that's because we want to control them. Arming them is like making them the most powerful puppet in the land, meanwhile we are pulling all the strings behind the scenes. They are so busy fighting other tribes/cartels/etc. that they can't see the ultimate manipulation happening. They are effectively making a deal with the devil.

What happened during Shock and Awe? The Iraqis set their oil wells on fire. Why would they do that as a priority when being attacked? They knew the US wanted their oil.

Why did the US arm the Sinaloa cartel? It's much easier to broker the drug trade when you have one dominant group that you effectively put into power. Can anyone tell me how the CIA/DEA turns drug seizures into money for the department?

Why was the CIA in Central America for so long? It borders cocaine-rich South America. Why in Mexico? Global drug highway into the land of consumption aka the USA. Why in Afghanistan? Heroin and oil. Why in Iraq? Oil. Why in Africa? Precious metals and diamonds.

Name a country we have occupied in the last 50 years that improved directly because of our occupation. We haven't even improved our own country in the last 50 years.

We will be involved with Syria because there is wealth to be extracted. It is already unstable, so we have one foot in the door. That's our wonderful America for you.

No need to bother discussing it... you're worthless to the government, and powerless to stop them. Thanks for voting, enjoy your freedom.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | September 4, 2013 at 11:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Best joke ever on this subject:

Why has there never been a revolution in the United States?

Because there isn't an American Embassy in Washington, D.C.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | September 4, 2013 at 11:45 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

It may be time for an uprising in this country. 80% of the people either don't trust government, or disagree with direction they are going. Viva the revolution.

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Avatar for user 'MarineRoom'

MarineRoom | September 4, 2013 at 12:19 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Why should the U.S. "respond" to an act not directed at the United States? This is just daffy, and contrary to the always-partisan CA Offender's beliefs, a bipartisan failing of long standing.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 4, 2013 at 1:32 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago


Well said!


How am I being partisan? I am just reminding Democrats that Obama is their failure and hoping they will not make the same colossal mistake again in 2016.

Ultimately, I see two unlikely factions coming together to support another bloody war:

Democrats who will support Obama no matter what. Party over principles.
Republicans who see war as being very profitable. Money over principles.

And then John McCain who is flat out insane.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 4, 2013 at 2:44 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago


Good one! I'll have to use it. Although, we did have a revolution in America from 1860-1865.

Unfortunately, the wrong side won.

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Avatar for user 'MarineRoom'

MarineRoom | September 4, 2013 at 3:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

CA Offender:
If the Republican national vote of 2004 is any guide, military adventurism by a President of one's own party will not cause most members of that party to desert it.

There is something about Congress and war that brings our esteemed "representatives" (being an optimist, I don't say rulers) to cross the aisle the way economic crises will not, and join together in raining down Hell upon people who haven't done a thing to us.

I think your analysis of the motives for this goodwill between party leaders is not sufficient to explain it. Sometimes it is too soon to cram data into a theoretical framework.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | September 4, 2013 at 4:52 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago


I agree with you. Biden, Kerry, Boehner, Pelosi, Cantor, etc, will whip Congress into a war frenzy or at least into sheepish submission.

Sadly, the task of destroying Syria will be carried out unquestioningly by the US military.

Perhaps the US military needs to start questioning. If not their orders directly, at least their own sense of morality in following them.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | September 4, 2013 at 11:22 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

"Schwarzkopf did not count the enemy dead, even though the Geneva Conventions of 1949 requires so." -- Ramsey Clark, THE FIRE THIS TIME, (Thundermouth Press, 1992) p 208

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Avatar for user 'x76'

x76 | September 5, 2013 at 4:49 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

The "gas attack" in Syria was a FALSE-FLAG EVENT by the "rebels" (outside mercenaries) meant to provide a Gulf-of-Tonkin style excuse for the US to intervene -- Israel wants all its neighbors broken into squabbling factions. And Syria is on the list of "seven countries in five years" that the former PNAC had drawn up a while back.

Assad had routed the "rebels". And so now we have this feeble, paper-thin excuse to use our overgrown military to depose a popular leader and continue the carnage nation by nation until we invade Iran at Israel's behest. The US is bankrupt and Iran's oil fields look like plunder to re-capitalize our shattered economy.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | September 5, 2013 at 3:39 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

x76, I don't believe we are in it for the plunder. The country who has come away with the plunder from Iraq and Afghanistan has been China. We give up thousands of American lives only to step aside when China comes to pick up any spoils. We are so indebted to them that we just cannot say no. Our so-called leaders are soooo lame.

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Avatar for user 'casualobserver'

casualobserver | September 7, 2013 at 10:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Amazing how selective our government's outrage is! Even though everyone other than U.S. government acknowledges that there was a coup in Egypt (which according to our laws require that we suspend military funding) we continue to fund a military which committed genocide by killing a thousand or so if its unarmed civilians. I guess genocide doesn't count if you use conventional weapons to kill your population; it's only outrageous if non-conventional weapons are used. Oh wait, it also depends on who is using the non-conventional weapons, since we are quite willing to use non-conventional drones which kill innocents in the process of eliminating military targets.

So let us once again thump our chests, pretend that we give a damn about the people of the world and invade Syria while we have an excuse. It's the least we can do until we can find an excuse to attack Iran...

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | September 7, 2013 at 6:21 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Unfortunately, war has always been good for the economy. Obama would sell his soul for a better economy. Worse yet, he would give up the lives of American soldiers. STAY OUT OF SYRIA !!!!!!!!!!!

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Avatar for user 'Jesse Thomas'

Jesse Thomas | September 7, 2013 at 6:43 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Let's send the politicians to Syria.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | September 8, 2013 at 10:45 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Better yet Jesse, let's send their children and grandchildren. If that were the case, there would never be another war.

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