Tag Archives: Syria

Six Reasons for Not Bombing Syria

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies Program.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies Program.

President Barack Obama still plans to ask Congress for authorization to engage in military action against Syria if the Russian diplomatic initiative to place the regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control fails.

As repressive as the Syrian regime is and as horrific as its apparent use of chemical weapons against its own people may be, authorizing U.S. air strikes would be a bad idea for the following reasons:


1) A U.S. military attack would be illegal.

According to the United Nations Charter, Article 2(4) makes it illegal for any country to use force (or threaten to use force) against another country, and Article 2(7) prohibits intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in another country. The only legal use of military force is self-defense if one’s country is under direct attack (Article 51), or in the event that the UN Security Council determines all peaceful means have been exhausted and specifically authorizes such use of force (Article 42). Having one country violate international law to punish another country for violating international law makes little sense. Furthermore, given that the UN Charter is an international treaty that has been signed and ratified by the United States, it is to be treated as supreme law, according to Article VI of the Constitution. Attacking Syria would therefore also be illegal under U.S. law, even if authorized by Congress.


2) There is little strategic rationale. 

Syria’s chemical weapons’ stockpiles would release large amounts of toxic gasses into the air, which could kill many thousands of people. Since there is no realistic way of eliminating their delivery systems either, there appears to be little strategic rationale. Furthermore, the threat of a U.S. attack in the event that the Syrian regime would use chemical weapons – a possibility first put forward by Obama more than a year ago – failed to deter last month’s attacks. Even if subjected to missile strikes in the coming weeks, there is little question that the regime would be willing to use them again and on a more massive scale, if its survival were threatened. Indeed, punitive air strikes rarely have worked, often leading to more serious acts of retaliation.


3) Military intervention likely would lead to more death and destruction. 

History is replete with examples of supposedly “limited” military actions that escalated dramatically. In addition, empirical studies have demonstrated repeatedly that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term, and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral. Other studies demonstrate that foreign military interventions actually increase the duration of civil wars, making the conflicts longer and bloodier, and the regional consequences more serious than if there were no intervention. In addition, such military intervention often triggers a “gloves off” mentality that severely increases the violence on both sides, with the government believing they no longer had anything to lose and the rebels less prone to negotiate or compromise.


4) The United States has little credibility regarding chemical weapons.

In 2002, the leading administration and congressional backers for military action – John Kerry, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor, among others – categorically insisted that the Iraqi regime still had large and dangerous stockpiles of chemical weapons. Though their current claims about the Syrian regime are probably true, the false statements they and other top U.S. officials made about Iraq have severely weakened U.S. credibility in terms of alleged threats from chemical weapons. In addition, the United States has sought repeatedly to undermine multilateral approaches to the control of chemical weapons and weaken its enforcement agencies, such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And, in 2007, the United States blocked a Syrian effort at the United Nations to impose a region wide ban on chemical weapons and other non-conventional weapons because it would have required U.S. allies Israel and Egypt to also rid themselves of such weapons.


5) A military attack likely would strengthen the Syrian regime.

Whatever strategic losses the Syrian regime may suffer, a U.S. attack could be more than made up by political gains. Any time a country is attacked from the outside, there is a rallying-around-the-flag effect. For decades, President Bashar Assad and his father have successfully manipulated the Syrian people’s strong sense of nationalism into support for their rule. U.S. support for the 46 years of Israeli occupation of the southwestern part of their country, along with U.S. attacks on Syrian forces in Lebanon during the 1980s and threats of “regime change” during the Bush era, have led to enormous resentment–even by opponents of the regime. Despite its horrific repression, the regime has convinced millions of Syrians that it is the last noble bastion of secular Arab nationalism resisting both Islamist extremism and Western imperialism. A U.S. attack would play right into that narrative.


6) The United States is isolated in the international community.

The Obama administration has very little support internationally for a unilateral strike. Despite the Syrian regime having very few remaining defenders in the international community, it appears that only France – the former colonial power – is seriously considering directly supporting U.S. military action. Unlike the 1999 bombing of Serbia, which had the support of most NATO countries, and the 2011 bombing of Libya, which had the support of most of the Arab League, neither of these organizations supports a U.S. bombing of Syria. Having the United States once again engaged in a war (in violation of international legal norms) against a much smaller country on the far side of the world can only strengthen anti-American sentiments and result in the further decline in the credibility and influence of the United States.

Syria: The United States Must Practice Restraint

Kimberlee is a sophomore French studies major.

Kimberlee is a sophomore French studies major.

I am no historian, nor politician – but I do recognize when my government is left unlearned by history.

This week’s talks about the possibility of a U.S. military strike in Syria – an issue that has been ripped to shreds since the launch of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s August 21st chemical weapons attack against rebel troops in Damascus – leave me skeptical. The Obama administration failed to confirm whether to go forward with the strike: one that President Barack Obama himself believes will be brief, with little long-term implications. Instead, focus has shifted on waiting for Congress to approve of military interference in Syria. With no confirmed reports of chemical weapon usage coming out of the United Nations, and international support to back the U.S. quickly dwindling, I take comfort in knowing that 535 civil servants rest uneasy in their seats atop Capitol Hill trying to reach a consensus.

“Uneasy” is the key term here, since hesitation does not come without reasonable doubt.

Even if Congress gives the green light and new laws are created allowing the U.S. to launch missiles into Syria, this country will not be able to ease back into its rabbit hole and turn a blind eye to the problems in the Middle East. This issue is not a ‘get-in’ and ‘get-out’ process. Intervention will surely spark another war in the region with U.S. involvement. Furthermore, it may possibly extend into Iran, a close weapons ally for terrorist groups – and more importantly, with Russia and China, two world superpowers with strong influences over the U.N.

Moreover, the use of chemical weapons is nothing new in Syria. Since the 1970s, the al-Assad family has been using ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to spark fear amongst the Syrian people and force them into submission under its dictatorial regime.

What is new, however, is the tact with which the United States can handle the situation this time. President Obama’s statements on PBS earlier this week alluded to the Syrian government violating the 1925 Geneva Convention ban on chemical weapons as reason enough to dip our hands into another country’s civil war. In my opinion, this is not fair rationale, especially if he is looking to keep involvement short and sweet.

If I ever paid close attention in history class, I grasped that without careful reflection over previous political mishaps, history often does repeat itself. A cliché statement does not exist without underlying reason. Have we not learned anything from Afghanistan or Lebanon?

The U.S. looking weak on the world stage should not be a concern at this point. I have grown tired of my government acting as though it has something to prove. If we have not yet coaxed some deference out of our enemies, or garnered unbridled support from our allies, I fear we have nothing left on our side save for a washed-out American spirit – and that is a possibly more exigent problem.

Foghorn Staff Has a Final Word on Protests

Often one can see a protest or a demonstration and wonder if all that effort is worth the trouble. When the United States decided to invade Iraq in 2003,  thousands turned out in the United States (indeed, millions around the world) to protest the invasion. On February 15, 2003, 3 million of people turned out in Rome alone against the U.S.’ intentions.

The end result of some of the most vocal public expressions in history?  The invasion of Iraq went forward, as planned, and operations continued in that country for seven years.

San Francisco is no stranger to protest. On April 13th, for example, at San Francisco Sate, dozens of students occupied the administrations building at their university to protest tuition hikes and overcrowded classrooms. As it stands now, tuition will still rise, and classrooms will still be crowded as before.

So it comes as surprise to when public displays of opinion do effect change, both on campus and off. In the case of off-campus change, most notably, we have the people-initiated revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia, which sucessfully occurred without the military intervention of foreign governments and were largely peaceful.

In the case of on-campus change, we have Upward Bound, where university leadership had first decided to sever ties with the program when the contract expired in 2012. After a consistent public outcry in the form of vocal town hall meetings and two campus protests, USF has now decided to renew sponsorship for Upward Bound and allow for its limited use of university facilities.

The Foghorn is not saying that all our problems, both campus-wide and globally, have been solved through public demonstrations. For example, Libya and Syria’s demonstrations for government change were met with violent and forceful resistance from Muammar Qadaffi and Bashar al-Assad, respectively.

Back at home, when KUSF went off the air suddenly in late January, the station rallied support for its reinstatement through hosting public events (see KUSF Lives(s)) and through petitions to the FCC. However, the doors to the old radio studio and transmitter are still locked. Also, the optimistic news of the FCC initially blocking of the transfer of KUSF’s transmitter was dampened by construction permit the FCC issued on April 12 to KDFC for a new transmitter in Sausalito, implying an eventual completion of the transfer of the 90.3 signal to KDFC.

In short, the Foghorn is advocating this: advocate however you can, because it does have an impact. It is worth the trouble to protest, demonstrate,  and advocate  (in the special case of the USF community), for both our student interests and for the rights and concerns of people around the world.

Whether the fight is to keep a funded account’s budget from going under the knife year after year, or to inform the university of the troubles its new housing policy has generated for underclassmen seeking housing, or to rally against military endeavors your government does in your name, demonstration and public expression is important and necessary; The alternative; i.e., apathy, automatically makes change an impossibility.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief copy-editor: Natalie Cappetta

Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino

Documetary Breaks Down Middle Eastern Stereotypes

On Nov. 17, Jean Marie Offenbacher presented her film Tea on the Axis of Evil, a portrayal of Syrian society. The film intended to bridge a growing disconnect between Americans and Middle Easterners in a post-9/11 climate of increased tensions between the two regions.

Offenbacher spent several months traveling throughout Syria with her camera to interview people. She hoped to break the stereotype of terrorist-inspired images portrayed by US media under the Bush administration.

Following the film, a panel of three USF professors, along with Offenbacher, answered questions and critiques.

Professor of Feminist Islamic Ethics, Dr. Aysha Hidayatullah, said it is challenging to produce a film about another culture without reinforcing preexisting frameworks. In this case, those frameworks are based on Orientalism – the Western attempt to construct the “truth” about the Middle East.

Dr. Hidayatullah said, “a film such as this illustrates that people’s preconceived notions of Syria as being ‘exotic’, ‘ancient’ and ‘barbaric’ are misled.” If people understand the film to show that Syrians are “just like us,” they fail to challenge the overall framework that leads to the stereotyping of “good” vs. “evil.”

Professor Annick Wibben, who teaches politics and international studies, said “Our pre-existing frameworks limit our options for responding to an event.”
With a strong focus on social responsibility, Wibeen added that  “so many of us [at USF] focus on helping others.” However, she said people must keep in mind the ethical dilemmas associated with changing the world.

Politics Professor Stephen Zunes, who is also the program director for Middle Eastern Studies, said Offenbacher captured the essence of Syrian society, which he remembers fondly from his many travels.  He questioned the filmmaker’s decision not to include political content. In his view, political and historical context is crucial to challenging the stereotypes that both Professor Wibben and Professor Hidayatullah addressed.
Responding to the panel discussion, Offenbacher concluded, “We have an obligation as Americans to see the parts of the world we are affecting.” She hopes the film can foster a connection, if not greater understanding between U.S. and Syrian citizens.
The film is available in the International Studies office.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain

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