Valley split on Syria

As President Obama and his administration try to build consensus in Congress and internationally on using military force against the Syrian government, local residents are divided.

“I’m all for it … just because the man used chemical warfare on his own people,” said Newport-area resident Bob Jones, 54. “I’m not a big fan of being the policeman of the world, but you’ve got to stand up for what’s right. And if we don’t, who will?”

Williamstown resident David Bailey, 36, doesn’t see the logic of “if we kill Syrians to tell Syrians to stop killing Syrians.”

“If you’re worried about people killing people, is killing more people really the answer?” he said.

Obama recently called for military action after an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack for which the administration blames Syrian President Bashar Assad. U.S. officials say more than 1,400 civilians – including at least 400 children – were killed, although other casualty estimates are lower. The Syrian government denies responsibility and blames rebels for the attack.

Although not constitutionally required to do so, Obama has asked for Congressional approval of military intervention – likely with cruise missiles rather than ground troops. Senators and representatives in the Democratic and Republican parties alike have come out in both support and opposition to such a strike, and a number remain undecided.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has not indicated how he would vote on the measure, but said he’s glad Obama is involving Congress in the decision.

“I’m encouraged that President Obama will make his case to the American people and seek approval from Congress before taking military action in Syria,” he said. “We need to build international support around clear objectives for ending the violence against the Syrian people.”

Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said he wants to listen to the debate in Congress and read the resolutions from the House and Senate before committing to vote one way or the other. The Marietta resident said Obama did the right thing in putting the question to Congress, but “at this point, I am not convinced that the president has made his case for putting our military in play.”

The Congressman said Obama still needs to communicate why the situation in Syria is a threat to U.S. security and merits action when previous chemical weapon attacks in the region – including their use by Assad before – have not resulted in military intervention. And if and when the threat to national security is identified, Johnson wants to know how it will be addressed.

“If we’re not going to neutralize the chemical weapons, what are we accomplishing?” he said.

The Obama administration has argued failing to act against Syria could encourage other hostile governments – like Iran or North Korea – to develop or use weapons of mass destruction. Johnson questioned whether there is anything stopping those countries now.

“Assad had no problem using chemical weapons in spite of the fact that the president, of his own accord, drew a red line in the sand,” he said, referring to Obama’s statement that the use of such weapons would be a “red line” when it came to American military action.

The situation in Syria was the topic of the first “Pizza and Politics” event of the semester at Marietta College Thursday evening.

Mark Schaefer, chairman of the college’s Political Science Department, said he often has to come up with the topic for the event, which brings students together to hear from professors about current events, then ask questions and weigh in with their own opinions.

“For this one, we actually had interest. People were asking for this,” Schaefer said. “(It’s because) I think it’s really thought that the U.S. is going to get active in this and there could be some kind of military strike and … just the imagery of the (chemical) attack.”

Nearly 100 people attended the event in Thomas Hall.

Kayla Ventura, a sophomore from Pittsburgh and vice president of the College Republicans, said she’s opposed to U.S. military action against Syria.

“I think they are in the middle of a civil war, and I don’t think we should go in and make this another Iraq,” she said. “I don’t want (us) to spend a decade in Syria.”

Freshman Alex Boggs, of East Liverpool, said he doesn’t want to see the country involved in a long, costly war either.

“However, if we don’t do anything, people in Syria will suffer,” he said.

Some local residents say they support a military strike against Syria, provided it’s a missile strike and there are no troops on the ground.

“I think a limited strike is the only option,” said Devola resident Katherine Pekruhn. “No. 1, our word must be believed, and chemical weapons have to be retaliated against.”