US NEWS & WORLD REPORT 08/28/13
By Steven Nelson
The advocacy group representing the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers, is hastily appealing for calm ahead of what it fears is an imminent U.S. military strike on Syria, which is two years into a civil war.
“The churches are uniting,” Michael Shank, director of foreign policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Friends Committee on National Legislation, told U.S. News. “I would like there to be some protests, but it’s happening so quickly. We’re all scrambling as fast as we can.”
News reports citing administration officials say U.S. planes may attack Syria’s government as early as Thursday in reaction to a chemical weapon attack near Damascus last week that some officials blame on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
The FCNL mailed letters urging restraint to all members of Congress on Monday and received positive unofficial feedback, Shank said. The group also sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Friday.
The letter encourages ending U.S. military aid to rebels and a negotiated end to the war similar to the agreement that concluded Lebanon’s long sectarian conflict.
“The same militant fighters who have committed gross atrocities are among the best-positioned of the rebel groups to seize the weapons that the United States sends to Syria,” the letters warn. “U.S. military strikes against Syria would escalate the bloodshed and could inadvertently disburse chemical weapons.”
Obama administration officials have strongly hinted at an imminent military attack.
“There must be a response,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, after Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday declared Assad responsible for the chemical weapon attack.
However, it’s unclear if Obama will wait for Congress to reconvene in September. In 2008 he told the Boston Globe the president “does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
There has been no congressional authorization of a strike and Obama’s deputies have made no public disclosure about the Syrian government posing an imminent threat to the United States. A letter currently signed by 33 House members reminds Obama to acquire congressional approval before launching a military strike.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Aug. 24 found just 25 percent of Americans would support U.S. intervention if Assad is proved responsible for using chemical weapons. Without that proof, 9 percent support intervention.
Shank and other anti-war advocates fear they are watching a repeat of the drumbeat that preceded long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As with Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a “fairly arbitrary” haste to launch an attack, Shank said, along with pressure to act before facts can be established.
“In Iraq we preempted the U.N. inspectors from doing their job. We’re doing the same” in Syria, Shank said. “In terms of deaths… the urgency could have come sooner.”
Shank said the Quaker advocacy group is working with other anti-war organizations to argue against a Syria strike.
One of D.C.’s most active activist troupes, CODEPINK, plans to picket Obama’s Wednesday speech at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous address on racial equality.
The feminist anti-war group will hold a 20-foot-long banner saying “U.S. Stay Out of Syria” during the festivities, according to a Tuesday announcement.
Syria’s civil war began with 2011 protests against Assad and morphed into an armed rebellion. Some of the rebels are Islamic fundamentalists. In June a large group of rebels excitedly shrieked “allahu akbar” as they watched an associate saw off three people’s heads and in a separate attack rebels shot to death a Catholic priest.
A pro-Western group called the Syrian National Coalition and the non-militant Free Syrian Army are also opposing Assad, but it’s unclear how much on-the-ground influence they have vis-à-vis the religious extremists.
In a Tuesday interview with The Hill, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said the U.S. might serve as “al-Qaida’s air force” with a rushed bombing campaign.
Although the traditionally pro-peace Quakers are opposing a strike on Syria, some other religiously affiliated groups support a strike.
“We urge the U.S., preferably with its NATO allies, and if possible, with Russian cooperation – but alone if necessary – to take immediate and muscular steps to destroy or remove all WMD stockpiles in Syria,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in an Aug. 22 statement.