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US divided on possible Syria attack

Updated: 2013-09-06 09:29
By Chen Weihua ( China Daily)

Public, lawmakers wary of further wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan

Unlike the vote in the British Parliament on Aug 29, which rejected Prime Minister David Cameron's proposal for airstrikes against Syria, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Sept 4 gave the green light to President Barack Obama for military action.

The committee approved a revised resolution that authorizes military action against the Syrian government, but rules out any commitment of ground forces. The new resolution restricts the military strikes to 60 days. Obama can extend it by another 30 days, if he notifies Congress and if Congress does not object.

Obama decided to take the issue to Congress on Aug 31 in the face of criticism over his planned attack. His original resolution has now been narrowed in scope, and it gained support from key members of the Senate from both parties, as Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey made their case.

However, their testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sept 4 showed a sharp divide among members.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed China's deep concern over the possible unilateral military action against Syria.

He said China firmly believes that a political settlement is the only realistic path through the Syrian issue and said any action by the international community should comply with the UN Charter and basic international norms to avoid complicating the Syrian crisis and worsen the disaster in the Middle East.

Doubts, however, still abound among lawmakers and a public wary of further wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and the most vocal opponent of military action, said he believes that an attack on Syria would create more turbulence and danger in the region, and may not even disable the Syrian government's ability to launch chemical attacks.

Public opposition in the US was on the rise over the Labor Day weekend, which saw protests in many cities, including Washington, just outside the White House.

The Senate committee hearing on Sept 3 was interrupted by protesters, including anti-war activist Medea Benjamin, who shouted, "Nobody wants this war!" before she was forced out of the room. On Sept 4, Benjamin and her colleagues appeared in the House hearing, sitting several rows behind Kerry and raising their hands, which were painted red to symbolize blood.

A Pew Center poll released on Sept 3 showed that 48 percent of US citizens oppose military airstrikes against Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks that the White House blames on Syria. Twenty-nine percent support the proposed airstrikes.

The poll found that 75 percent believe that US airstrikes in Syria are likely to create a backlash against the US and its allies in the region, and 61 percent think it would be likely to lead to a long-term US military commitment there.

Meanwhile, only 33 percent believe airstrikes are likely to be effective in discouraging the purported use of chemical weapons, and roughly half think they are not likely to achieve the goal.

Many people in the US are troubled by the idea that the US may be fighting on the same side as some extremist groups, including al-Qaida, in opposing the Syrian government. Some have questioned the double standard that previous administrations have adopted, given that the US did not respond after Saddam Hussein killed many more people with nerve gas in the 1980s. The Iraqi president was a US ally at that time.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com.

US divided on possible Syria attack

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