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Sunday, June 4, 2023


Students don’t want another Iraq

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, directly threw the country into the throws of two controversial wars with Afghanistan and Iraq. Many Americans, including UH students, are hesitant to enter another foreign conflict. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Four thousand, three hundred and eighty days have passed. Yet the haunting memory of 9/11 still weighs on American hearts year after year. As many struggle to shake off the lingering chill, the 12th anniversary is embraced with a suspenseful sigh of relief as people around the world carefully watch Syria momentarily escape a potential war with the United States.

Tuesday morning brought a diplomatic opportunity that put everything on hold — the Syrian government accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control in a bid to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, according to news agency Interfax.

The civil war that is shattering the Arab nation day by day began more than two years ago by protesters and rebels in an effort to push Bashar al-Assad out of the presidential seat, a power that has been held by his family since 1971.

On Aug. 21, the clash escalated as a Damascus suburb was suffocated by a chemical attack, believed to have been released by the Syrian people’s own government.

“They unleashed hellish chaos and terror on a massive scale,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Monday at the New America Foundation. “Innocent civilians were jolted awake, choking on poison. Some never woke up at all. In the end, more than 1,400 were dead — more than 400 of them children.”

Ten days after the August attack, President Barack Obama addressed a waiting nation.

“Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Obama said. “This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope.”

Yet the president’s careful rhetoric could not outweigh the exhausting heaviness America has carried for the past 12 years, despite his reassurance in his Sept. 7 weekly address that Syria “would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

The joint statement on Syria, released the day before the president’s address by 11 nations, including the U.S., France, Turkey and the United Kingdom, bore words that eerily resounded with remembrance.

“More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees and approximately 5 million are internally displaced,” the joint statement said. “Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution … we are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.”

Nearly 10 years earlier, former President George W. Bush told anti-war protesters that “we will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East.”

The echoing promise of democracy in a foreign nation brought about a swell of hesitancy, which Secretary of State John Kerry addressed from the White House a week before the joint statement was released.

“We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war — believe me, I am, too,” said Kerry, who opposed the Iraq war in his failed presidential bid in 2004, as he addressed the nation from the White House. “But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.”

With Kerry by his side, Obama pushed forward with gaining support for his military airstrikes on Syria. Yet some students shared the same opposition as world powers such as Russia.

Syria was thrown into a civil war two years ago, and now is allegedly in possession of chemical weapons. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“I know that both sides are imperfect, yet I cannot support U.S. involvement in a country in which we don’t know the men we’re supporting and the rich culture and history that lies within the country,” said English sophomore Mary Catherine Huneycutt. “U.S. intervention cannot bear any good fruit. This is not America’s battle.”

A poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News Tuesday showed how “fatigue from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has made people less open to intervening in the world’s trouble spots,” as six in 10 Americans oppose the airstrikes on Syria.

Participants were also asked whether the United States should intervene to turn dictatorships into democracies. With 72 percent saying no, this is highest level of opposition seen in a decade of polling on that question, according to the New York Times.

“Obama’s proposed American military action will probably prolong an already-dangerous situation, potentially causing it to escalate to a more deadly level should the Syrian regime, Iran and Hezbollah retaliate on American assets and allies in the region and/or elsewhere,” said Cyrus Contractor, the assistant director of programs for the Center of International and Comparative Studies.

“Should things go awry with the president’s plans, what then will be the American role? Boots on the ground? Another war? The third in less than 13 years? This was a president that was supposed to end American participation in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and that, to a large extent, has been accomplished. But for what? To start another one in Syria?” Contractor said.

Though for some, the situation in Syria is less of a political battle and more of a humanitarian conflict.

“Children lined up in shrouds, their voices forever silenced. Devastated mothers and fathers kissing their children goodbye, some pulling the white sheet up tight around their beautiful faces, as if tucking them in for the last time. There are no words of condemnation strong enough to capture such infinite cruelty,” Rice said. “But where words may fail us, action must not.”

For many, Tuesday’s agreement to hand Syrian arms to international control is a step in the direction toward peace, but some doubt it is a long-term solution.

“History shows us that when governments disarm for the sake of appeasement, it’s only a matter of time before hostilities are renewed,” said political science sophomore Hayder Ali.

But if it passes, Contractor believes it’ll be a “win-win-win situation” for the Syrian regime, Obama and Russia.

“The majority of the American people are against Obama’s proposal of military action against Assad, and perhaps this saves the president from potentially making an unpopular decision,” Contractor said.

“For Assad, this would mean that he stays in power and will not be weakened conventionally by an American attack. For the Russians, it is a way to retain their client state in the Middle East.”

Although the world is being held in uncertain suspension, for today, Americans everywhere are hanging onto the compromise as a small token of hope as they look back on that day 12 years ago when the world was shaken.

“As we remember 9/11 … I think the world can breathe a bit easier,” said Huneycutt.

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