President Barack Obama has laid out his case for military action against Syria.
During a prime-time speech Tuesday, the president said he thinks it is in the nation’s best interests to conduct a targeted military strike against Syria, although he has asked Congress to postpone its votes on authorizing such an action while a more “diplomatic path” is pursued. That path emerged over the past few days as both the Assad regime of Syria and its ally, Russia, mulled turning over control of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Paul Zagorski, a professor of political science at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University, said he thinks Obama pitched a case that he could build on later if diplomacy with Syria fails.
“He walked the line as well as he could in terms of playing domestic and foreign politics,” he said. “It certainly gives the president more time to try to work out a more elaborate and peaceful response and build a coalition domestically and internationally, and that’s probably the best move on his part at this time anyway.”
Nicholas Nicoletti, an assistant professor of political science at Missouri Southern State University, said the president’s speech focused heavily on the threat of force against Syria. There was only a limited focus on diplomacy, he said.
“He’s trying to get public opinion on his side,” he said. “This is also a message to both Assad and the Russians that the credible threat (of the use of force) is still there.”
Syria presents a complex picture, said Stephen Harmon, an associate professor of history at Pittsburg State University. Its alliance with Russia dates to the Cold War era, and Iran depends on Syria for access to the Mediterranean Sea, he said.
Syria’s government is also headed by an offshoot of Shia Islam, as is Iran’s, despite the rest of the Muslim world being led primarily by Sunni Islam members, he said. That religious conflict is part of the underlying basis for the civil war.
“It’s complicated for the United States because on the one hand, we’d like to see the resistance as pro-democracy and secular, but unhappily for the United States’ interests, the Islamist groups are a little more powerful and organized right now,” he said.
Harmon said other countries have largely been reluctant to get involved in the conflict. Regardless of what the United States does, it likely will remain entangled in the situation for several reasons, he said.
“We need to be keeping an eye on it if chemical weapons are involved because it’s such a dangerous precedent,” he said. “And as long as we can’t seem to wean ourselves off of hydrocarbons (crude oil), we’re stuck with being involved with the Middle East.”
Several local members of Congress have said they oppose U.S. intervention in Syria.
About 97 percent of nearly 500 people, including more than 300 at an electronic town hall meeting held Monday night, have told U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., that they oppose or have deep reservations about U.S. military action in Syria. Hartzler’s district includes Lamar, Nevada and other parts of Southwest Missouri, and she serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
“I have previously stated that I have concerns about the president’s plan to strike Syria, and have yet to be convinced that military action against the Assad regime is in the interests of the United States,” Hartzler said in a statement issued with the results of the meeting.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that while he condemns the “abhorrent” chemical attacks on Syrian civilians that allegedly were carried out by the Assad regime, he would not support U.S. military action in the country.
“I’m not convinced that the president’s strategy lines up with the policy goals our country should have, or that the administration currently has realistic policy goals in Syria,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said in a statement released before Obama’s speech that she opposes intervention in Syria. She said she has heard from hundreds of her constituents regarding Syria, and a “vast majority” of them have said they oppose American action.
“I remain unconvinced that military action against Syria is in our nation’s best interest,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a statement that “not a single Kansan” has told him he or she supports military action and that he is “firmly opposed” to American intervention.