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IPFW expert says deal could enhance Russia’s prestige

– 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 weren’t 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. “It’s 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 IPFW’s Walb Student Union, Toole said Russia’s proposal for the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal is “a win-win for them. The United States comes out OK.”

If the weapons are removed, “it can enhance (Russia’s) 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. “It’s 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.

“They’re already opposed to us,” said James Lutz, chairman of IPFW’s 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 don’t like the U.S. intervening, but they don’t 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, it’s when. … If he does that in any event, then it doesn’t matter what we do. We may accelerate the process, but it’s going to be bad either way.”

When it comes to dictators, he said later, “it’s 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, “It’s much easier to say no now than when the vote is actually up.”