By: Ryan Blong
The contentious issue of military action abroad galvanizes American citizens; however, in no time, passions are extinguished and few gain a full understanding of the matter at hand. On August 31, President Obama moved six warships toward the Syrian coastline in preparation for an imminent strike against the Assad Regime. Across the country, street protests swept up denouncing involvement in Syria. In Chicago, protesters outside of the Federal Plaza feared military action would lead to a lengthy involvement in the Syrian civil war. However, others echoed the cry that the chemical weapon attack in Syria must be dealt with as a massacre perpetrated by a government on its own people. Three weeks later, the national news has de-prioritized the Syrian crisis, instead focusing on new atrocities and political fallout. Despite the fact that the civil war in Syria has raged on for two years, the past month’s chemical attack was the first time many Chicagoans began engaging with the war, and now they are left polarized.
Moving forward, the two established options for America are a series of military strikes or a potential diplomatic removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Both options have their weaknesses and will take time to correctly apply. Thus, in the intermediate, the debate over America’s role in Syria carries over into the public sphere. On the UIC campus, students who have a comfortable grasp of the ongoing crisis have mixed views, resulting in a lack of consensus regarding the issue.
In order to initiate military strikes, President Obama has vowed to wait until congress has a chance to vote on whether or not action should be taken, and if so, in what way and what duration. However, the vote has since been postponed, due to its inherent unpopularity in congress after the announcement of a possible resolution proposed by Russia. Ysra Zarzour, a UIC student with relatives in Syria, sees military action as the only real choice. He says, “even if we can remove the chemical weapons, Assad will still slaughter civilians.” Which raises the question, is President Assad guilty of war crimes? Since the United Nations has conceded that they believe the Syrian Government is at fault for the massacre on August 21, and the international community has come to the consensus that the Assad Regime cannot have access to the rest of their chemical weapon supply.
Since its initial proposal, the peaceful removal and destruction of chemical weapons in Syria has been met with a generally favorable reception, both internationally and locally. UIC Junior Allison Lenertz believes that any option which prevents the necessity for American involvement should be considered first, noting “If Russia can make a deal with Syria, then we should let them take the lead…so we don’t need to be involved.” This opinion resonated with other students who believe that America should take this opportunity to distance itself from the crisis and allow the international community to take over. Based on President Bashar Assad’s response to the proposal, it seems that the U.N. disposal of chemical weapons, led by Russia, may become very plausible.
Russia’s recent actions have caused America’s trust to diminish greatly, and many believe President Putin and President Assad may be too close. One student stated, “While Russia’s involvement may resolve the chemical weapon issue sooner, it will also strengthen their defense of Assad later.” Russia’s ties to the Assad Regime have slowed involvement in Syria in the past and may complicate proceedings against the regime leader down the line.
Whether or not America proceeds with a military or diplomatic option in the wake of the chemical attacks, one issue still divides many UIC students: can the rebel forces be trusted? This is by far the most daunting reason many Chicagoans fear involvement; the intelligence surrounding who America can ally with in Syria is muddled, and most American’s don’t want to be drawn into another long time engagement in the Middle East. Matt Happ, a junior at UIC, believes that if we become involved, and Assad’s regime does fall, the factions that make up the rebel force will crumble into a sectarian turf war.
As the political machine continues to press onward, students continue to strive to be informed. The UIC community has witnessed America’s involvement in the Middle East over the past decade and now finds it necessary to understand the ramifications of our current actions involving Syria. As the issues become more obscured by international maneuvering, the disconnect widens between students’ knowledge of events in Syria and the desire to understand and impact America’s role in the global community. The need for informed discussion is essential in order to promote an engaged student body as this crisis moves forward.