Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his own citizens is generating revulsion among Ohio’s federal lawmakers as well as Syrian-Americans in the Toledo area, but there is no consensus over American military intervention.
Ohio’s two U.S. senators, Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Sherrod Brown, both said there should be an international response, with Mr. Portman advocating more aggressively for some kind of action by President Obama.
Northwest Ohio’s two congressmen, Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), said the President should take no action without consulting Congress.
Sylvania lawyer Ammar Alo, whose family emigrated from Syria in the 1970s, has become a local leader in the effort to create awareness of the atrocities carried out by Assad. “We’d like to see policies and/or actions that will stop the Syrian regime from killing innocent civilians and innocent Syrians and, stop their military campaign in total,” Mr. Alo, 30, said.
Asked about a possible U.S. attack on Syrian military installations, Mr. Alo said, “That would definitely help.”
He said he’s involved in various organizations that collect donations for humanitarian relief and lobby to influence U.S. policy. He lost an uncle in Syria about 30 years ago, when Assad’s father, Hafez, ruled the country. The uncle disappeared and was not heard of again, and the family believes he was taken by the government, tortured, and buried in a mass grave.
“It’s not a rare occurrence that a Syrian civilian is ‘disappeared’ or killed under torture. … That’s the reason why a lot of people left Syria and never came back. They don’t want to be connected with someone who is disappeared because it might happen to them too,” Mr. Alo said.
He said the revolution under way started as protests for democracy and freedom.
John Shousher, an emigrant as a child in the 1920s from Lebanon and a leader in Toledo’s Muslim community, said the United States should lean on Syrian ally Russia to change Assad’s behavior. He said U.S. military intervention will invite retaliation against U.S. outposts in the region and could drag Americans into another Mideast war. He also said that Christians, a minority in Syria, will suffer from retaliation.
“I hope our country doesn’t get involved in retaliation. I’d rather have our President and our government go to Russia and have them persuade the guy to abdicate,” Mr. Shousher said. “Let’s try it that way first before we go into another catastrophic situation.”
Manar Nahhas of Sylvania, a native of Syria and a member of St. Elias Orthodox Church, also said the United States would not improve the situation by getting involved militarily and said the Syrian people should be left to determine the outcome.
“It’s not going to make any difference. It’s up to the people of Syria. I just think lives are going to be lost for no reason. All we’re doing is increasing the number of deaths,” Ms. Nahhas said. “Just look at Egypt. It just got worse.”
She said a U.S. intervention would potentially make the regime stronger, while putting American troops at risk.
Members of the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition demonstrated opposition to U.S. military intervention Wednesday night by picketing near the Secor Road and Central Avenue intersection.
Senator Portman said the President’s response on Syria will telegraph his intentions to Syrian ally Iran, whose nuclear weapons program America is trying to prevent. “The further deteriorating situation makes it clear we must take a leadership role in bringing this conflict to an end. This conflict is no longer simply an internal struggle between the Syrian regime and the domestic opposition. It has become far more complicated, international, and dangerous,” Mr. Portman said.
“As bad as the reported chemical attacks by Assad’s regime are, a much greater threat to the U.S. and its allies would develop if Assad’s chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, which could use the banned weapons in terror campaigns outside Syria,” he added.
Senator Brown said, “The regime in Syria has killed, detained, and tortured civilians, creating a humanitarian and refugee crisis. The U.S. must work with our allies to ensure security in the region and an end to violence. We need an international approach to ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria and ensuring stability and peace in the region.”
Miss Kaptur, who traveled to Syria about a decade ago, said it was a tragedy that Syria fell under Soviet influence, but she said even if America were able to remove Assad from power, she’s not convinced anyone better would take his place. “I don’t think the United States should act alone, certainly, in some cross-border incursion. I just hope they don’t act precipitously, and I hope there’s full consultation with Congress. As we saw in Egypt, even when a dictator is deposed, what do you get?”
Mr. Latta also called for Congress to be included in the decision about how the United States will respond.
“The use of chemical weapons is a horrendous crime. Should President Obama decide to respond to the Syrian conflict through U.S. military action, he must first consult with Congress, and any action taken that will directly involve the U.S. should be heavily weighed and transparently debated,” Mr. Latta said. “The President should be prepared to present the facts that went into his decision-making process to both Congress and the American people, as well as offer a clear strategy that maintains America’s strong national security, prior to proceeding with military action.”
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.