The Norman Transcript

September 7, 2013

OU assistant director cautions against U.S. involvement in Syria

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — As President Barack Obama seeks approval from Congress for military intervention in Syria, University of Oklahoma assistant director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies Joshua Landis cautions against any U.S. action that would completely destroy the Assad government.

“There is no alternative. There is no one to step-in and stabilize the country if it were completely destroyed. Many citizens still rely on the Syrian government for services,” Landis said.

An expert on the Middle East with numerous articles and online publications as well as a daily blog on Syrian politics, Landis has consulted with state department and government agencies.

Although, initially a U.S. retaliation seemed imminent on Assad, Obama has since turned to Congress to authorize a strike for use of chemical weapons in Syria. Currently, Congress fractiously debates whether to authorize the limited military action Obama has proposed.

This past week, the Senate hosted several hearings to discuss a drafted resolution by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would allow President Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria — not to exceed 90 days and not to involve troops on the ground.

After Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opposed the proposition and said something other than cruise missile strikes should be used against Assad, the resolution was changed.

Landis said the new drafted proposal would require the president to change the balance of power in Syria, meaning he would have to help the rebels win over the government.

It is uncertain if such a hard strike against Syria would address what Landis said is a two-issue situation.

“What’s going on in Syria right now is really two issues: 1) that of Syrian civil war and 2) non-perforation of weapons,” Landis said. “If the president is going to act, he has to figure out how not to get sucked into a Syrian civil war while retaliating against Assad enough to be a deterrent.”

Members of the Oklahoma delegation have weighed in against military intervention in Syria.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, has taken a stand against any military action to punish Assad.

“I still oppose the current plan for military intervention in Syria,” Inhofe said in a statement released earlier this week. “Let us not forget the failed efforts of former President Clinton in 1998. He sought to punish Saddam Hussein through a limited bombing campaign for violating UN sanctions over the development of weapons of mass destruction. After surviving four days of attacks, Saddam Hussein emerged unscathed and, in fact, stronger to continue his reign of brutality.

“Like Saddam Hussein, Assad is already portraying himself to the UN as a victim and to his people as a hero for standing up to the United States. We’ve tried cruise missile diplomacy before and it didn’t work. Instead, it increased the stature of a dictator in his defiance of the United States and the civilized world.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, also released a statement expressing opposition to American meddling in another nation’s civil war.

“Military intervention in Syria is not in America’s best interest and is ill-advised,” Cole said. “The United States has not been attacked and neither have our allies. As it stands, this conflict is a civil war, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and a religious war. America should avoid being drawn into this conflict. The president’s recent proposal is a gesture, not a clear policy or military strategy.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, is undecided on the issue, spokesman John Hart said.

With the Iraq war fresh on Americans’ minds, the public questions the president’s ability to make a strike against Syria “limited and proportional” as he has said a strike would be to hold to international norms.

Nathaniel Batchelder of The Peace House said Oklahomans in particular fears that military involvement in Syria would lead to three problems: The U.S. would become involved in a whole quagmire; the U.S. would be placed in a proxy war with Russia and Iran; and the U.S. would inadvertently support groups like Al-Qaida who support Syrian rebel troops.

“Our group supports non-violent intervention possibilities. We would support sanctions, prosecution of Assad for war crimes or possibly an embargo or blockade,” Batchelder said.

The Peace House hosted a rally, “No U.S. Intervention in Syria,” on Friday at Penn Square Mall at which Oklahomans could voice their opinions on Syria.

Landis said his sources in Syria know refugees are praying a true coalition will come together and flip the current regime, and even on pro-regime radio station ShanFM, callers phoned in from Damascus to insist there be a strike back.

Yet, it is uncertain what the president will do if Congress does not approve a military strike. Landis said he does not believe the president will strike without Congressional approval, and that might not be a bad thing.

“It’ll let Syrians know they have to deal with this on their own. It would end false hope, an unrealistic picture the president has perpetuated to this point,” Landis said.

Katherine Parker