By MATT BROWN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast politicians joined the debate on U.S. intervention in Syria as the Obama administration sought congressional approval to strike the Syrian army for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, local peace groups planned protests against U.S. action in a climate that some compared to the leadup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday passed a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to use limited force to deter Syria from using chemical weapons. The full House and Senate could vote on authorizing force next week.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he has not been convinced that attacking Syria is in the best national interest.
“I’m definitely leaning toward ‘no,’” said Huffman, whose district includes the North Coast from Marin County to the Oregon border. “We haven’t been able to articulate a clear reason for military involvement there.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who sits on the House intelligence committee, said he has not made up his mind on Syrian intervention.
“My position is going to be determined by the facts,” said Thompson, who represents Napa County and parts of Sonoma County including Santa Rosa. “I am reviewing the intel. I can tell you I am appalled by the use of chemical weapons.”
Thompson said he has had intelligence briefings on Syria, and he believes chemical weapons were used in the country’s 2 1/2-year civil war. The White House says that 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, died in a Syrian government chemical weapons attack last month.
“The world has the responsibility to dissuade the use of chemical weapons,” Thompson said, adding that he thinks unilateral intervention is unwise.
In Sonoma County, peace advocates are gearing up to oppose U.S. intervention, as they did in 2003 when President George Bush took the nation to war in Iraq on the pretext of seizing weapons of mass destruction.
Obama’s arguments for action in Syria sound similar to Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, said Susan Lamont, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County.
“It’s the rhetoric,” she said. “You might as well be hearing from the Bush administration when you hear the rhetoric.”
Lamont’s group organized protests against Syrian intervention in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square last week and plans more this week. She said fewer people are active in opposing this conflict because they became discouraged when Iraq War opposition failed to prevent the U.S. from going to war.
Alice Chan, co-chair of the Coalition for Grassroots Progress, said the group’s opposition to conflict extends across party lines. The administration has failed to make the case for intervention in Syria, she said.
“Bombs dropped by a Democratic president will kill just as hard as bombs dropped by a Republican president,” she said. “This could be a possible repeat of the false information that led to Iraq. One would hope that we would have learned something. We should pull back, take a deep breath and not just rush in and drop bombs.”
Some North Bay residents are in favor of Syrian strikes for personal reasons. Nawar Laham, the Syrian owner of East West Restaurant in Santa Rosa, fled the Syrian regime in the 1980s. A strong supporter of the opposition groups trying to overthrow the Syrian government, he said the U.S. should get involved to help bring down the Assad regime.
He said his mother and brother live in the capital, Damascus, under constant bombardment from the fighting between government troops and rebels.
“The revolution needs all the help it can get,” said Laham, 43. “If the U.S. can come in and help speed the downfall of the regime, then I’m in favor of it. I want to see the country saved from future destruction.”