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Wednesday, September 11,2013

Diplomacy

Supporters for military action in Syria are few and far between in greater Lansing

by Andy Balaskovitz
About 10 years ago, Anas Attal was attending a soccer match at a stadium in his hometown of Homs, Syria, when security guards opened the gates to the field.

Hearing the story, I imagined what it would have been like as a 12-year old to stand on the sidelines of the Pontiac Silverdome during a Detroit Lions game.

“Any kid would like to do that,” Attal, a 22-year-old Michigan State University international relations student, said.

But shortly after the gates closed behind them, security forces that were loyal to the Assad regime began attacking kids and adults with clubs — “right and left,” Attal said.

“I escaped, started running. I’ve seen them taking people from the streets for speaking their minds. We have lived in fear for many years. In terms of brutality and the lack of human rights, it’s a very brutal regime.”

Attal has had two friends killed in peaceful protests since 2011, when Syria’s civil war — or, revolution, as he calls it — started. His aunt’s home has been bombed, but his relatives survived. His former apartment house in Homs, which is housing refugees, also was bombed. The United Nations reports that about 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. Attal, who has lived in the U.S. for five years, talks to his family everyday.

You might predict Attal is all for military action against the regime, but, like a majority of Americans, he favors a diplomatic approach to toppling President Bashar Assad.

“Then the Syrian people would vote on who they want to represent them,” he said. “I think this is the least violent option.”

Attal’s view aligns with those of Russell Lucas, director of Global Studies in Arts and Humanities at MSU.

“The only way to get out of this will have to be some sort of diplomatic solution,” said Lucas, who is also an associate professor of Arab studies.

“No one party is going to be able to militarily decide this. Even if the U.S. did a full-fledged invasion, like it did in Iraq, it wouldn’t solve the situation beyond getting rid of the Assad government.”

Lucas, Attal and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who represents much of the Lansing area, will appear on “City Pulse Newsmakers” this week, which airs at 10 a.m. Sunday on My18-TV.

Rogers, R-Brighton, chairs the House Intelligence Committee. He was an early supporter of a military strike, putting him out of step with many Republicans and a growing number of Democrats.

He is backing the president even though the administration has done an “awful job explaining to the American people what is in our national security, what is the national United States interest in any level of engagement in a place like Syria. … It is a confusing mess up to this point,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Carl Levin, one of Michigan’s two U.S. senators and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also supports the strike — and more. The U.S. should also “help the Syrian people who are resisting Assad to have the weapons to fight for themselves,” he said on PBS’ “News Hour” last week.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Monday she is still undecided on military action.

“As one of the senators who voted against going to war in Iraq, I understand why people are wary of military intervention in Syria, and I strongly oppose sending American troops there,” Stabenow said. “I believe that we must be very thoughtful and deliberate whenever considering the use of military force. The evidence is clear that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, including children. In the coming days, I will continue to be briefed by our foreign policy and military leaders to assess the most effective response to these horrific acts.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, is opposed to military action. “The president has yet to provide a convinc- ing objective or outcome of this attack,” said Walberg, who represents Delta Township and Grand Ledge. “This has produced an almost total lack of support from the American people whom I serve. It’s not their credibility that is in question, it’s the president’s. That’s not reason enough in their minds to risk another war.”

Just as the Syrian situation is making for some odd political bed fellows in Washington, two local pro  tests are scheduled today by diverse groups.

Members of the Traditionalist Youth Network — whose website says it is empowering high school and college students to “speak as one voice against the united voices of decadence, individualism, Marxism, and Modernity” — is holding a pro-Assad, anti-intervention rally. (See infobox). The rally is in support of minority Christians in Syria who members say are being protected by Assad. The group has dropped plans to burn Qurans and pictures of the Prophet Muhammad to mark the anniversary of 9/11, one of the organizers, Matt Heimbach, said.

The other protest has been organized by the Lansing Area Ad Hoc Committee for Peace and Opposing U.S. Military Action in Syria.

“We need to put pressure not on a military attack, but some very grand diplomatic move to alleviate the situation,” said Ann Francis, one of the organizers.

That could include an arms embargo, empowering ethnic and religious minorities to have a voice in politics, and more humanitarian relief for Syrian refugees, she said. “No military attack and no military intervention doesn’t mean we don’t do anything.”

“Encouraging diplomacy — opposing U.S. military action in Syria”

Vigil for peace and calling Congress Today (Sept. 11) 4-5:30 p.m. Corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue in median East Lansing

Pro-Assad/Antiintervention rally

Today (Sept. 11) 5:30 p.m. meet at Hugh McCurdy Park 600 W. Corunna Ave., Corunna Then move to downtown Owosso In support of Christian minorities in Syria

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