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Liberals, conservatives unite in opposition to use of force in Syria

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President Barack Obama has had his credibility challenged as controversy churns over his call  to use force against Syria. (Source: MGN) President Barack Obama has had his credibility challenged as controversy churns over his call to use force against Syria. (Source: MGN)
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(RNN) - As Washington and Moscow wrangle over a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria, a growing chorus of liberal voices are joining conservatives to oppose U.S. military intervention in the war-torn country.

A majority of Americans are against attacking Syria despite President Barack Obama's support of a limited strike in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians on Aug. 21. Both houses of Congress appear poised to vote against American use of force.

If the Russian plan to place Syria's stores of poison gas under international control fails, Obama said he will stand by the option of using force. The U.S. has refused to take an attack off the negotiating table.

A Middle East expert who calls himself a supporter of Obama said even a limited attack on Syria will be counterproductive and could lead to disastrous destabilization of the region.

"I'm really disappointed in Obama," said Mark Habeeb, PhD., who is an adjunct professor of global politics and security at Georgetown University and the author of Middle East in Turmoil: Revolution and Change.

"One of the problems for me – while I understand that chemical weapons are different and yes, they are horrible – in Syria more than 100,000 people have been killed in the past two years. Now because of this attack that killed, the French say 400, we say 1,400 by poison gas, we're going to say, ‘It's OK if you kill people, just not like that.'"

Habeeb said Obama made a mistake in declaring a "red line" involving movement or deployment of chemical weapons.

"When you declare a 'red line' over anything other than an attack against U.S. citizens or interests abroad, then you are ceding power over your actions to that country. Now they can determine when we get involved."

He feels use of force will not improve the situation in Syria and could lead the U.S. into another war.

"What if we did a very limited, targeted quick hit, hit Syrian targets associated with chemical weapons and then Assad uses them again?" he said. "Then what?"

Democrat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran, has become a strong voice against intervention.

"Even after the many hearings and classified briefings I have attended, I am unconvinced that this military strike would eliminate Syria's chemical weapons or prevent them from being used again," Gabbard said.

"As a soldier, I understand that before any military action, our nation must have a clear tactical objective, a realistic strategy, the necessary resources to execute that strategy — including the support of the American people — and an exit plan," she said in a statement. "The proposed military action against Syria fails to meet any of these criteria."

Habeeb said the objective appears to be little more than the president's credibility.

"We would be hitting them because we said we would hit them," he said. "That's not a good foreign policy objective. I really don't see what the real objective is. Who's our dog in this fight?"

Past strikes had little effect

The strike that Obama proposes is different from other punitive strikes in the Middle East ordered by past presidents in that no American troops, citizens or interests were the direct victims of the Aug. 21 Syrian chemical attacks.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton initiated action against Middle Eastern countries in retaliation for terrorist acts that killed Americans. But none of those strikes prevented further violence and likely led to escalated confrontation.

In 1986, Reagan ordered a strike on Tripoli, Libya in response to an bomb attack on a bar in Berlin that killed two off-duty U.S. soldiers. American bombers struck then-President Moammar Gadhafi's residence, killing his 15-month old daughter. A second strike hit Benghazi, and in all, about 100 people died in the attacks, including two American airmen.

Two years later, a retaliatory terrorist attack killed 270 people aboard Pan American flight 103 that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In 1998, Clinton bombed and shot cruise missiles at al-Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan and a plant in Sudan that he said was a chemical weapons factory. These strikes were in retaliation to bombings of U.S embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, 24 of them Americans.

Clinton also ordered attacks on targets in Iran that were thought to enable production of weapons of mass destruction for the government of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. declared those actions a success. But Osama bin Laden avoided the Afghanistan attacks, and went on to mastermind al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Some experts contend the attacks brought al-Qaeda and the Taliban into closer allegiance.

Hussein forced weapons inspectors out of his country and his government survived international sanctions until a full-on U.S. invasion in 2003 plunged the U.S. into a long, costly, controversial war.

Supporters harshly criticized

Republicans Sen. John McCain and Speaker of the House John Boehner have taken criticism for their early support of military strikes after Obama announced his decision to include Congress in the decision on Aug. 31.

McCain was shouted down at a town hall meeting in Phoenix in his home state of Arizona, and he and Boehner have been vilified by conservative talk-radio hosts and websites.

"McCain's been to Syria and met some rebels, so, of course, we should take him at his word about who can be trusted on the ground. The arrogance and gall McCain has exhibited in recent months is dumbfounding," wrote Laura Ingraham on her website.

Matthew Vadum of FrontpageMag.com attacked Boehner for siding with Obama.

"Boehner's entirely predictable move is just the latest in a long series of unnecessary capitulations by the famously conflict-averse lawmaker. It very likely foreshadows Boehner's approaching cave-ins on raising the national debt ceiling, Obamacare funding, and immigration reform," he wrote.

Proponents of force on the right found an unlikely ally in CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who denounced her fellow panelists on Thursday's edition of AC360 Later, saying America has a moral obligation to intervene.

"The president of the United States and the most moral country in the world based on the most moral principles in the world ... cannot allow this to go unchecked," Amanpour said angrily.

She later tweeted that her passion was based on "justice and the moral imperative," and she was trying to recall "America's proud history of now-forgotten humanitarian interventionalism."

A way out

Habeeb said horrific violence in Syria is nothing new. He cited the long history of the Assad family's use of extreme measures to enforce their control of the sharply divided country. The current president's father, Hafez al-Assad crushed a rebellion in 1982, and after laying siege to the city of Hama for weeks, massacred an estimated 20,000 people and razed the town flat with bulldozers.

"Is this just really worse than what his father did, killing 20,000 people and mowing a town down to the ground?" said Habeeb, who argues that poison gas is not a weapon of mass destruction.

"Chemical weapons are battlefield weapons," he said. "They are not weapons of mass destruction – we're not talking about something like Hiroshima, where there's a flash and 150,000 people are dead."

He pointed out that the talks with Russia could offer a way out that could keep things from getting wildly out of hand.

Russia has a legitimate interest in Syria, he said, with a military base in Tartus, which offers Russia its only access to the Mediterranean. It has supported the Assad family for more than 40 years because they have opposed Sunni fundamentalists, who despise Russia.

The Syrians quickly latched onto the idea of a settlement because it legitimizes Bashar Assad as the leader of the nation – his enemies don't regard him as legitimate president and consider him a religious heretic.

"It appears that they are serious," he said of Russia's diplomatic efforts. "Russia does not have an interest in a radicalized Syria being controlled by al-Qaeda or Sunni fundamentalists. It would keep Assad in power and could prevent Syria from turning into a Yemen or an Afghanistan.

"The Russian offer could get Obama out of a corner of his own making," Habeeb said. "Obama won't need to use force to maintain his credibility, and he could spin it to look his threat forced the agreement."

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