Carol Anne Costa: Syrian Crisis Makes Strange Bedfellows

Thursday, September 05, 2013


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It's a complex debate when Republican US Senator Rand Paul agrees with...

When Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Charlie Rangel are taking the same position, Syria has certainly turned American politics into a pretzel.

By all accounts the President’s decision to recommend a military strike against the  Bashar al-Assad regime, but first send it to an Authorization vote in Congress has transcended politics, as so many elected on both sides of the aisle acknowledge this debate is healthy and necessary before military action, especially given the hefty constitutional background of our president.

The complex, serious, somber and fluid situation in Syria has brought about new political and ideological coalitions. Pelosi and Boxer the hawks and Cruz and Paul the doves provide perspectives that appear so completely inverted. For me the contortions represent the multi-faceted issues and troubling choices we face as a country and as a world. The pressing questions remain: Where will Congress and the administration take us? Are we prepared for the next steps after a potential strike? When our bombs rain down on a Syrian assets and we see the images of the human collateral damage (which will be placed as shields by Assad), have we calculated the Arab and Muslim reaction? Are we again in the process of creating a new generation of Arab people who simply hate America? After a strike, who are our allies on the ground?  How do we deal with the enormous humanitarian crisis that grows exponentially each day? In recent polling it is clear the American people are not in favor of military action. Will the President, his administration and the hawks in Congress make the case for intervention to a war weary nation, only time will tell?

Obama’s Gamble…

President Obama deployed Secretary of State, John Kerry, Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel and Joint Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey to the Hill in order to make the case for military action. The case in chief made to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations was a firm and forceful presentation by Kerry citing the violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the shocking images of the human devastation utilized by the Assad regime, intelligence confirmation the attack came from regime controlled territory, national security implications, and our obligation to act in the face of evil.

Not a Slam Dunk…

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... US Congressman and Democrat Charles Rangel

Over and above the utterly immoral use of WMD by Assad, the terminology used at the hearing by administration officials such as “vetted opposition”, and “moderate rebels” in and of themselves paint a bleak picture of Syria’s future and our involvement either pulled in full throttle or minimal. Secretary Kerry’s opaque position regarding “boots on the ground” also became fodder for much concern. It was evident to me the ghosts of Iraq were floating through the Senate hearing room and looming large over the deliberations and debate. We find ourselves at another “what now” moment. And, what I am hearing from Congressional leaders are keen questions (replete with the mistakes of Iraq) with an understanding of far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. Whether Congress says no or yes to military intervention, the political fallout will be sweeping for Congress and President Obama.

I admit I am of two minds on the crisis and await more debate. The gut-wrenching images of the murdered children and families combined with Assad’s disregard of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and even flexing our muscles for other despots to witness certainly provide great cover and support of a punitive strike.

On the other hand, careful consideration of Representative Charlie Rangel and Senator Rand Paul’s position for non-intervention is equally powerful. In Senator Paul’s Meet the Press interview, he stated clearly, “I don't see American interests involved in a Syrian civil war.” Rangel’s sentiments to MSNBC’s Alex Witt were also compelling, as he unequivocally stated, “But this whole idea of any president of the United States drawing lines saying that if any country does something that he considers wrong, that the nation is going to war, it’s unheard of, drawing a red line,” Unlikely partners, Paul and Rangel’s questioning of the lack of a direct threat to United States interests carries much weight to a jaded public as well. The debate continues, positions are forged and President Obama’s credibility and resolve are in a tenuous position, as are the members and Senators who face reelection.

The President Faces Hard Questions Abroad

When pressed with a pointed question by a member the international press corps at a news conference in Stockholm, by Swedish national television’s, Erika Biash, (“Mr. President, you’ve given very eloquent talks about the moral force of nonviolence. I was wondering, could you describe the dilemma to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner and getting ready to attack Syria?"), Obama responded in part, “… When we believe in peace but we confront a world that is full of violence and occasional evil. And the question then becomes, what are our responsibilities?”

Obama continued. "The question, though, that all of us face, not just me, our citizens face, not just political leaders, is, at what point do we say, we need to confront actions that are violating our common humanity? And I would argue that when I see 400 children subjected to gas, more than 1,400 innocent civilians dying senselessly in an environment in which you already have tens of thousands dying, and we have the opportunity to take some action that is meaningful, even if it doesn’t solve the entire problem, may at least mitigate this particular problem, then the moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing. But it’s difficult.” The question and its answer are indicative of the difficult place we find ourselves. Obama looked drained and appeared defensive, as he described his administration’s position on the crisis, looking more like a wounded hawk rather a forceful dove.

As the Hawks and Doves Swoop in … Syria is Mobilizing

As I write this column, Senator McCain has indicated he will not support the Syrian resolution in its current form. And, Rand Paul is talking filibuster. The debate will rage on, the authorization resolution will evolve and in the meantime Bashar al-Assad and his regime are moving assets, placing civilians in strategic places as human shields, and the flood of Syrian refugees continue to wander across the border into the cruel desert. Every vote cast on this Authorization resolution in Congress holds much impact to Americans, our troops, innocent civilians, America’s role in the world, and our reaction in the face of an evil despot. I maintain confident our leaders will continue this debate and bring it to conclusion with a decision based on conscience, morality, facts on the ground and potential consequences. For what happens in Syria will have an effect on each of us, regardless of the vote.

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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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