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Syria 101: What is the fighting about and can the U.S. stop it?

Night falls on a Syrian rebel-controlled area of Aleppo, as destroyed buildings, including Dar Al-Shifa hospital, are seen on Sa'ar street after airstrikes targeted the area in 2012. This file photo by Narciso Contreras was one in a series of 20 by AP photographers that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography.

Can the United States “fix” Syria’s problem with an air strike in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons use against its own people?

Washington Congressman Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, recently visited Syrian refugees in Jordan and believes what Syria’s president is doing there is “hideous,” but he questions whether air strikes are the solution.

The Washington Post recently explained, Nine questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask. This summary is a look at what’s happened in Syria over the past couple of years. I’d like your thoughts on whether a U.S. air strike is the answer.

Syria, the Post points out, is about the same size as Washington state. Our state and the country are about 71,000 square miles.
That’s the extent of what we have in common. Their population is three times ours though, with about 22 million people.

Human Rights Watch considers Syria to be “one of the worst in the world” where censorship is as common as the “arbitrary detention, torture disappearances” of those who try to fight for civil rights.

Syria’s civil war started in April of 2011. Remember the Arab Spring? Those earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia inspired people in Syria to challenge their dictatorship. Syrian activists were not successful.

Syrian security forces killed activists, according to Ed Turzanski, a Professor of Political Science and History at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Kidnapping, torture, rape of family members followed and in order to send a message to other activists, mutilated bodies were left in public for all to see.

Armed civilians organized into rebel groups to fight back. The more they fought, the more Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army began bombing whole neighborhoods and towns.

As many as 100,000 have died. The U.S. is focused on the 1,429 who were allegedly killed by chemical weapons on August 21, 2013.

Secretary of State John Kerry says it was “undeniable” that chemical weapons had been used in the country and that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had committed a “moral obscenity” against his own people.

“Make no mistake,” Kerry said. “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapon against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny”

Early next week Congress returns to debate and determine what the U.S. response should be to the use of chemical weapons. France and Turkey are the only countries, so far, willing to help with a show of force.

“There is no end to the places we could intervene because of man’s inhumanity to man,” says Turzanski. “There are lots of places where we could play a leadership role but we just have to be careful how we articulate why we’re doing it, what we hope to accomplish.”

He calls Syria “Libya and Iraq combined on steroids because of all the killing that’s gone on.”

Killing in the country will continue even after a U.S. air strike, he says, and refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries as they have been doing for 30 months.


We’ll talk live with Congressman Adam Smith Wednesday morning, just after 7:35 on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM

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