ANCHORAGE - President Barack Obama continued to push Congress for military action against Syria on Monday, meeting with prominent Republicans and other congressional leaders to present his administration’s evidence for intervention.
More than two years of civil war in Syria reached a flashpoint two weeks ago, after a chemical attack in Damascus killed more than a thousand civilians, including hundreds of children. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is poised to testify before Congress that samples of hair and blood tested gathered from the cite of the attack test positive for signatures of deadly sarin gas. Kerry further alleges the al-Assad government is responsible for the use of the gas.
Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said Monday they want to see Obama’s strategy for bolstering Syria's opposition forces before signing off on a plan. Others, like Representative Janice Hahn (D-California) were opposed to military action. "We know that chemical weapons have been used in other instances, and we did not take military action,” Hahn said.
As the Obama administration continues to push Congress towards military action, not all Alaskans agree.
”I think what Assad is doing is definitely terrible, I think it's definitely a crime against humanity, but I think the U.S. trying to take care of the situation by itself is a bad idea. I think they need a [United Nations] mandate,” said Daryl, a Juneau resident who asked to only be identified by his first name.
”The president, I think, has wisely decided to seek congressional approval, and that's started this national debate on whether or not we should use force,” said Forrest Nabors, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He said that, as certainty on the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons grows, the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leave many with doubts.
”We are still living the legacy of the poor intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that led to the invasion,” he said.
Others in Anchorage said the president’s consultation with Congress is the right way to go.
”I think it’s very wise of him to see what the opinion of the people are, and also to get the congress discussing it and talking about it,” said Cordova resident Susanna Marquette. “I think there are other ways to go about taking a stand. The military is capable of a lot more things other than violence.”
The fog of war means any action could have long-lasting repercussions for Syria, and the region. Assad’s government faces opposition not only from rebel groups in the south, but Islamist fighters from other countries as well. Both sides in the civil war have been accused of mass killings.
”If he makes a militarily significant strike against Assad, he then weakens the Assad regime,” Nabors said. “He better make sure the free Syrian forces prevail. And that means arming them, and that means greater intervention.”
"If the strike is militarily significant, then we better be sure we know who we are helping,” Nabors added.
Alaska’s congressional delegation reiterated their stance on Syria Monday. Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) maintained opposition ”to any U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war.” He called the Obama administration’s reasoning “muddied at best.”
Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he would only support “immediate” and “short” military options so long as soldiers are not involved. “I do not want any American boots on the ground in Syria,” Begich said in a statement.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a phone interview she was “hoping to hear a clear plan for our nation and our allies to send a signal to Syria,” but Obama’s meetings with select congressional representatives does not amount to true engagement with Congress. “If the president wants Congress to act, he should call us back now to engage in a vigorous debate about next steps ahead.”