Exploring The Road to U.S. Action in Syria

Monday, September 02, 2013

A protest against U.S. intervention in Syria at the White House. August 31, 2013 (Twitter user @AnswerCoalition/Twitter)

Over the last two years more than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, which has entered a new phase as violence escalates around the country.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed intelligence information that found 1,429 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack in suburbs outside of the Syrian capital of Damascus, including at least 426 children.

"This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security," President Barack Obama said from the Rose Garden on Saturday. "Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets."

The military option the Obama Administration hopes to pursue would not be open-ended or require boots on the ground.

"Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope," the President said. "But I'm confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out."

The U.S. military has positioned assets in the region, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff says the United States is prepared to strike.

Until it can do so, however, the people's representatives must weigh in. All four congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote over U.S. military intervention in Syria at some point after the legislative session resumes on September 9.

"While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective," President Obama said Saturday. "We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual. And this morning, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy."

Joining The Takeaway to discuss the next steps for the U.S. Congress and the vote on U.S. military action in Syria is Frank Pallone, Democratic Congressman from New Jersey's 6th congressional district; Gregory Meeks, a Congressman representing New York's 5th congressional district; and Tom Cole, a Republican Congressman representing Oklahoma's 4th district.

Lara Setrakian, journalist and founder of Syria Deeply, joins the program to discuss the implications of action in Syria and the humanitarian crisis on the ground there.

David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent for our partner The New York Times, fills us in on what to expect around the capital.


Congressman Tom Cole, Gregory Meeks, Congressman Frank Pallone, David Sanger and Lara Setrakian

Hosted by:

Todd Zwillich


T.J. Raphael

Comments [32]


This can have it such an area given more than what should be given to keep this part. - Derrick Strauss

Nov. 29 2013 05:53 AM
Kay Merkel Boruff from Dallas

Air America Widow: Damned either way. $end the money to refugee camps. We are too slow to act. We let the enemy know what we're going to do and when we'll do it--strange war plans. All politics to me.

Sep. 05 2013 12:32 PM
Kelly from Fort Gordon, GA

I am tired of those who persist in lobbying for military action in other countries, like bombing Syria. About 1% of our country serves in the military. Many of our Service Members have served honorably for the last 10 years in 2 wars.
For the people who want to bomb I have a question, why don't you join the military and see what it is like? Then maybe you can have an opinion about sending more of our sons and daughters, our spouses, our parents, to war...
To play armchair general with the lives of our Service Members is another example of how our population is totally disconnected with those who serve our country.

Sep. 05 2013 10:06 AM
Arthur Lange from Sunnyvale

Bombing Syria will have unintended consequences, up to and including WW3 with Russia and China. It makes no sense to add more bombs into the volatile mid-east region.

Sep. 04 2013 04:54 PM
nikki davis from Benicia California

I am an Israeli and American citizen. My children and grandchildren are living in Israel and they are being outfitted with gas masks as we speak.
I trust the Israeli intelligence completely and understand these measures are taken for a reason. I believe they do know the source of the chemical attack on the Syrian people.

Asad is dangerous to his people and the region. It is time to "help" him go.

Sep. 04 2013 03:59 PM
Chaka from Dallas

This may be a stupid question, but has anyone considered offering to BUY Syria from Assad?

Assad is a dictator, right? And as such the country "belongs" to him, correct? I've read elsewhere that his total net worth is about $550 million. What if we made an offer that would bump him up to billionaire status? It may be something he'd be inclined to consider. That way the U.S. could TEMPORARILY take control of Syria and PEACEFULLY (hopefully) oversee the transfer of power to the local population.

There should be numerous terms and conditions of course that would require Assad to leave the region and prevent him from ever being involved with Syria in the future, and require him to give us full access to all their high level intelligence, their facilities, their arsenal and so on. Also we may have to pay off some of his advisors and military leaders to leave as well to prevent them from causing trouble, but I think it would be worth making the offer. And we should make the offer BEFORE attempting any sort of military strike. We should exhaust ALL possibilities, no matter how remote, before resorting to military action.

Sep. 04 2013 02:26 PM
Daniel from Dallas

I'm a strict non-interventionist, but I'm absolutely not an isolationist. Please stop using these words interchangeably!

Isolationism refers to pre-WWII philosophy which considered trade and diplomatic relationships with other countries to be unnecessary and even dangerous, in addition to any military adventures overseas.

As a non-interventionist I still place a very high value on our trade and diplomatic relationships (which are in an absolutely abysmal state of disrepair) - how does that make me an isolationist?

Sep. 04 2013 10:04 AM

My comment goes to the specifics of the interviewing style by today's host. Why bother to interview expert guests if you interview them with a question and include the choice of two answers that you expect them to respond to? I have heard this style of questioning over and over the last few days and it does the guests and the public a disservice. It limits the possibilities for discourse on subjects and dumb downs the show.

Just ask a question and don't preface it with the answers that you expect the guest to give. Thanks.

Sep. 03 2013 03:35 PM
Don Medal from Crookston, Minnestoa

I'm a Vietnam era vet who was opposed to Iraq. I support a punitive response to the use of chemical weapons, which are part of the WMD triad of biological, nuclear and chemical weapons. If we do not make it unprofitable to use these weapons then we will see their use ramp up in the future, mostly by bad actors. It must cost their army enough to give pause before further use. "Oh but it is not our war." True, but deterring the use of chemical weapons is very much our problem. If not us, then who? If not in this case, where would we punish the use of Chemical, Biological or Nuclear weapons? Only when it comes to our shores?

Sep. 03 2013 03:08 PM

It's interesting to listen to the same old arguments dragged out to use in support of the next American adventure in the Middle East. Funny we didn't bomb Israel when it used white phosphorous bombs on civilians in Gaza, or cluster bombs on civilians in Lebanon in 2006. It's just funny this time as we're siding with Al Qaeda this time, making is seem like something out of 1984.

We've been running an outsourced regime change via the Turks and Saudis and cheered by NPR and supported by the CIA for the past 3 years. This is just a rerun of Iraq 1990s before the final invasion. This is also predicted by General Wesley Alexander during the Bush era, when the Pentagon specified the 7 regime changes on the books, including Syria. The sad thing is we'll kill more than were gassed.

Imperial power politics de jour.

Sep. 03 2013 02:38 PM
Ann Bock from Iowa

The use of chemical warfare should be addressed by the United Nations, not by the US unilaterally.

I find it a bit ironic that the Republicans have spent the past 5 years opposing everything that President Obama has presented and at the mention of 'war', the leaders can hardly wait to stand behind him. It seems clear that they prefer to support war rather than measures that might benefit the American public.

Sep. 03 2013 02:35 PM
Kathleen from Portland OR

I vote NO on military action in Syria. Haven't we learned from our mistakes? There is no certainty that military involvement will be "limited". We are nobody's savior in this situation. If we bomb Syria, we will add many more dead bodies to the count.

Sep. 03 2013 01:02 PM

I am a Vietnam era vet. We are not the cops of the world. I am against sending missles into Syria. We stood by in Rwanda in the face of genocide and there are other instances too.

If we can arm the "right" rebels we should do so.

Sep. 03 2013 12:56 PM
Tom Dorn from Gualala

Syria - eliminate chemical weapons
Consider the possibility of eliminating--destroying--Syria's chemical weapons.

I know we don't want to bomb and disperse them.
Assad needs to do it!--carefully!

Ask your guest commentators how we might cajole Assad to destroy his chemical weapon stockpiles?

I don't know what the options might be.
Maybe some kinda blockade of Syria banking and international transportation activities:
restrict landing rights for flights from Syria, turn away or blockade ships from and to Syria, close rail & road ways.
But, I guess there will likely be some unintended consequences from any such activity.

Seems to me that just punishing the guy will not eliminate the further threat of his use of his nasty weapons.

Sep. 02 2013 05:05 PM

How unfortunate that the UN is not only ineffectual but actually a deterrent to effective action in any crisis such as Syria.

Our own congress is paralyzed by the members' self-serving self-interests. Many (probably most) congressional officials are responsive primarily to the corporate interests that funded their elections. It's doubtful they're listening to the public, but I do believe they're listening to the Koch Brothers. So, let's find out what the Koch Brothers and other major donors are saying to congress and the President. I suspect we'll then know what action will be taken.

I agree totally with the President's savvy decision to initiate a congressional debate on potential action. Congress should be forced to take positions. I hope congress votes to support limited, targeted action against the weapons of mass destruction of the Assad regime. It should have been done a year ago. Yes, we should have acted in Rwanda.

Yet however congress votes, the President holds the role of Commander in Chief. He can decide to take military action in Syria, no matter what the congressional vote. The buck still stops there, in the Oval Office. I am aware there is enormous corporate influence on the President's decision-making, just as there is with congress.

So, let's hope the debate in the week ahead will raise the bar on democratic debate in this country. Let's hope some true statesmen and stateswomen surface in the debate, rather than the crass, self-interested politicians who for the most part have dominated the airwaves in the past decade.

Sep. 02 2013 04:38 PM
Mary-Alice Strom from Marysville, WA 98270

I am SO appreciative of your invitation to send comments on this issue, and your supportive action of encouraging a discussion of the impending vote to bomb Syria. I am reliving the rush to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and re experiencing the feeling of being in an environment where reason does not prevail. Nor a respect for human rights.

I empatically say NO! to any military action. Although it does appear, from what I am hearing on the radio and tv, Assad is the one who used the gas on his people, in my mind, I have not yet heard something that makes me feel certain. Also, I have uncertainty of what good bombing will do, even if it is intended to be surgical and cover a small area. I see more lives being lost and the U.S. CAUSING MORE DEATH to Middle Easterners.

I have NO uncertainty about diplomatic efforts. I am certain that such efforts COULD bear some fruit. I believe that IF the U.S. were to, ALTERNATIVELY,take as hard of a stand as it has already taken on being determined to bomb, instead DEMANDING a cease fire and peace talks, employing the assistance of Russia, something better could take the place of the civil war that has cause SO MUCH DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. WHEN did our leaders decide that the only steps to be taken against tyrants were WARS, covert and overt? When did it stop mattering that we have engaged in the ALL of the most deplorable, inhumane, illegal, ways to kill others?

Sep. 02 2013 04:20 PM
SUSAN from Florida

I refer you to the post yesterday by Robert Reich, suggesting alternative action against Syria via economic and financial cooperation from other countries... we have acted in this way against terrorism by freezing assets, etc. - why not use this with Syria?

Here is the text:

"Status Update
By Robert Reich
The President's decision to await Congress's approval before launching an attack on Syria is prudent. But if Congress approves he's in an even tighter spot than he was before: He has no choice but to attack. And he thereby establishes a new precedent for American foreign policy even broader than that claimed by George W. Bush: Even when we can't get the support of the United Nations Security Council, even when our NATO partners won't join us, and even when our staunchest ally Great Britain is opposed -- we still have the right to take unilateral military action against a sovereign state that has not attacked another sovereign state whenever the president can get the backing of the U.S. Congress.

Again, let's be clear: What Assad appears to have done is atrocious. It would be useful to respond in some manner that raises the costs of using poison gas. But there are ways of doing so, short of military action. One such step would be to freeze the assets of Assad and Syria's elite, refusing to do business with any bank that won't cooperate. The British government and our other allies would likely join us. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis we now have greater capacity to oversee international financial flows. Moreover, we have had significant success stopping assets flowing to and from terrorist organizations, as well as North Korea. Why not at least try these and other economic sanctions before we launch missiles -- and thereby begin a chain of violence whose end we cannot possibly foresee?"

Sep. 02 2013 04:17 PM
Claudia Finseth from Tacoma

Austerity. Sequestration. Cutting of benefits to the American people.

Supposedly we don't have the money to take care of our own people, and so 50 million American children go hungry.

How can we enter another war? Will the money come from our social security fund again, as it did under Bush for Iraq?

I just don't understand why we have become the warrior police of the world at the expense of the American people.

I am against entering the Syrian conflict.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

Sep. 02 2013 04:14 PM
Jeremy Wadsack from Seattle, WA

The Washington Post put together a really great analysis of why this is important and why this isn't about getting involved in or changing the war in Syria.


Specifically, see questions 6, 7, and 8.

Sep. 02 2013 04:10 PM

President Obama made his precipitous "red line" statement because he wishes to be able to continue to field an all-volunteer armed force.

As my brother-in-law, a U.S. Army recruiter in the 1980s, told me once, "The only piece of cool, high-tech equipment you'll never see on a recruiter's desk in any shopping mall across the country is a gas mask." And you still never will.

Not even a Google Gas Mask.

You can convince lots of dumbass eighteen-year-olds that they can dodge a bullet and shoot back; you can convince them they can even dodge a flame thrower and shoot back. You'll never convince even the dumbest kid he can shoot back at a cloud of gas.

It doesn't matter where in the world nerve agent or biological agent (or radiological weapon, for that matter) is used- if it affects recruiting in Springfield.

The American people may have tender feelings for the people in Syria. But the president (and David Cameron and Angela Merkel and Jean-Marc Ayrault, all of whom also command all-volunteer forces) knows that his citizens aren't sufficiently interested in Syrian misery to involve themselves in Syria for the sake of the Syrians- not for their soldiers, their rebels, their civilians, their children or their puppies or kitties.

His citizens don't want conscription. He knows that for SURE.

Sep. 02 2013 03:17 PM
Anne Petersen from Sonoma, Ca

Yes! Surgically bomb Al Assads various homes. That'll send a message. Our greatest shame is that we did nothing to stop the Ruwanda genocide. This is the main reason for military might.

Sep. 02 2013 03:12 PM
spiral from Charlotte, NC

questions for your guests:
1. what is the legal basis. The two UN conventions do not apply; Syria did not sign the chemical weapons convention and second, the Geneva convention relate to use of chemical weapons AMONG states not WITHIN a state. So, without a UNSC resolution, what is the legal basis?

2. What is OUR strategic interest? The President says OUR national security is at risk. I am NOT interested in the indirect effects, eg. the usual refrain that Israel will be at risk. NO one really believes that; that is just to get AIPAC to put pressure on congress.

3. What is our exit strategy; the proposed resolution is open ended. What are the un-intended consequences?

4. I have read all the public documents and am not convinced that Assad is responsible for this. I was fooled once (Iraq) and would like to see a lot more evidence. There is a lot of news about saudi supplied Sarin gas to rebels.

Bottom line, we should stay out of this, no legal, strategic or even moral basis (you want to address moral issues, take a look at congo, gaza etc)

Sep. 02 2013 02:25 PM
The Israeli Insider from TLV

Should the U.S. attack Syria? And if so - how?

Hope you'll find it useful

Sep. 02 2013 02:21 PM
Annamarie from Harvard, IL

I don't know if bombing Syria will help the people there. I believe gas masks for the citizens, and aid to those who are taking in refugees will be of the most to the people there. It saddens my heart to think of living in constant fear of your neighborhood being bombed. My heart is heavy thinking of the average family in Syria.

“I look forward to the day when the schools automatically receive the funds they need and the Pentagon holds bake sales to buy tanks.”
(1973 Terry Herndon, executive secretary of the National Education Association—ed.)

Sep. 02 2013 02:12 PM
B. Rad from Portland, OR

If our equivocating, moralizing representatives (including the commander-in –chief) in Washington were forced to spend the same quality of tax-funded energy as they spend on proving the existence of sarin gas in the attack on Syrian civilians towards proving that not a single American dollar of profit has ever been earned by any American investor in any aspect of the manufacture, transport or sale of any of these weapons in the world, then we might have some sort of moral ground on which to stand in Syria. That is—not a single dollar earned in any of the complex, global investments by any of our ‘too big to fail’ investment institutions and their boards; not any American-owned corporations. As long as we remain governed by an ideology of unbounded enterprise, then we can only expect these murderous occurrences to continue—and with increasing frequency. It’s a much easier task for our corporate-propped politicians to continue to insult our historical awareness of the military-industrial complex and divide us with simplistic and equivocal rhetoric. ‘We’ as Americans, knowingly, with much clearer available evidence, allowed Saddam Hussein to break the same international laws that we now cite, in using deadly gas to murder many more Iranians in the 1980’s. He was then our ‘ally’. I have not a single ounce of confidence that U.S. rockets can be delivered, without a any civilian casualties. It can only be glaringly obvious to Assad and his allies, that our moral high ground in the middle east has long been played out. Before we can rightfully act militarily in Syria, or anywhere else, we are bound to bring our own war crimes to justice.

Sep. 02 2013 01:53 PM
Cristi McCarty

Key points to consider in this Syrian crisis. First, is there evidence showing WHO used the chemical weapons? I am unaware of definitive evidence that it was the Assad regime versus rebels versus and accident. Second, what is our ultimate goal and historically can that best be achieved militarily or through diplomacy? Diplomatic talks involving all parties at the table seems to be what has worked best to resolve conflicts of this sort. On one side there is Syria, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. On the other side there is the Syrian resistance, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the US. Third, identify all the parties involved in the crisis in Syria and the history leading to this conflict. There are several aspects to this conflict: Civil War, Iran-Saudi power struggle for control of region, Sunni-Shia religious struggle, Israel/US - Iran power struggle, and US - Russia power struggle. Also throw in China's need for oil supply. It's more complex than a Civil War in a single country. I believe the long-term solution to be aggressive diplomacy rather than military intervention. Let's use the International Criminal Court to punish the perpetrators, but first let's sit at the table to hammer out a peace process with compromise on all sides.

Sep. 02 2013 01:14 PM

I am surprised by the question: Why Is the President going to the Congress to ask permission to attack Syria? Let me make it clear, the President is going to the Congress because the voters voted the Congress into their positions; for once, the Congress must listen to the voters. Unless the Arab League takes action either on it's own or leads the way with the rest of Europe to follow along with America to throw dictators out of the Middle East, the American public does not want to enter another war in the Middle East. For once let democracy work in America and let Congress do the work of the voters and not for some corporation who may have vested interest in wars anyplace on the planet for their investors. I hope this statement answers a stupid question.

Sep. 02 2013 01:05 PM
Stuart Warren from Portland, OR

What would be accomplished in a real sense with a US attack on Assad? Assad would not be deterred from his course because at this point he is committed--e.g. if he were to cease his attacks on the Syrian people he would risk being annihilated himself. It's horrible that we (the West) are reduced to symbolic protests and economic pressure with negligible effects, but given our own precarious position at home and abroad there are limits on what we could do. That this situation is taking place in the Middle East,, a powder keg that could explode into a third world war is another reason to be slow on the trigger finger. In this vein, such other factors as drawing Hezbollah, Russia,Iran & China into the fray must also be considered. The lack of international partners in Obama's (who I usually support) suggested "strike across the bow" also does not augur well for success. Finally, any time we have inserted ourselves into another country's civil war, we have made things worse for the US and the combatants.
As someone who lost family in the Holocaust, I am sensitive to what happens when good people do nothing when faced with evil. While I agree that we should do something, I cannot support direct US participation beyond arming the rebels (many of whom have extremist Islamist credentials) which in itself is a slippery slope. It remains for someone more sophisticated than
myself to come up with a response that would have real effects without making the situation in the Middle East worse.

Sep. 02 2013 01:02 PM
Kay Merkel Boruff from Dallas

Damned if we do: damned if we don't. $ave the money to bring down the debt and let them take care of their own.

Sep. 02 2013 12:55 PM
Susan Dimitman from Portland, OR

The US should NOT become militarily involved in Syria. It should instead increase its diplomatic efforts to bring about peace in the area.

Sep. 02 2013 12:26 PM

Unfortunately today's comment page listed only one topic. My comment is about college attendance and affordability.

...After everyone gets his or her college degree, who will clean the toilets?

Sep. 02 2013 09:27 AM
Ed H from Larchmont

The Syrian government knows that the U.S. is very ready to attack if chemical weapons are used again, so the deterrent is there even if the attack is not carried out now. (Those who have been killed won't be brought back, we hope they are with God.)

Pope Francis is calling for a day of prayer and fasting this coming Sunday. When a pope does this, one knows the situation is serious.

Sep. 02 2013 09:06 AM

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