FORT WAYNE – Whether the U.S. does it with missiles or Russia does it with diplomacy, deterring the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government should be the ultimate objective, according to two IPFW political scientists.
If it werent rare, it would be kind of too late to do anything, right? James Toole said about the alleged sarin gas attack Aug. 21 that reportedly killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. Its the nature of the weapon and the fact that this is a rare, thankfully, opportunity to actually address the use of that kind of weapon.
During a panel discussion on the Syrian civil war at IPFWs Walb Student Union, Toole said Russias proposal for the elimination of Syrias chemical arsenal is a win-win for them. The United States comes out OK.
If the weapons are removed, it can enhance (Russias) prestige with their allies and others and make them look more like a great power than they really are and allow them to thumb their nose a little bit at us, Toole said. Its up to the U.S. to keep the pressure on.
On the other hand, Toole said targeted strikes by the U.S. against Syrian military sites could send a strong message about war tactics to Syrian President Bashar Assad and other despots.
You are deterring chemical weapons use, not dictatorial abuses or civil wars, Toole said.
A student wondered whether possible U.S. military force might bolster anti-American extremist groups in Syria and the Middle East.
Theyre already opposed to us, said James Lutz, chairman of IPFWs political science department and a global terrorism researcher. Our standing in the Middle East is probably not going to suffer. It may even benefit because there are groups, Sunni Muslims, in our corner. They dont like the U.S. intervening, but they dont want to see the regime in power in Damascus.
The larger threat is if Assad retains chemical weapons, he warned.
Now we are talking about at what point does he become desperate enough to use chemical weapons again, Lutz said. Not if, its when. If he does that in any event, then it doesnt matter what we do. We may accelerate the process, but its going to be bad either way.
When it comes to dictators, he said later, its either victory, defeat or cut a deal.
Lutz noted that many conservative Republicans in Congress oppose U.S. airstrikes against Syria while many liberal Democrats support an attack. Both groups are changing their stripes from stances on past global conflicts, he said, in large part because President Barack Obama, who wants lawmakers to authorize limited force against Syria, is a Democrat.
IPFW political scientist Michael Wolf observed, Its much easier to say no now than when the vote is actually up.