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The Obama administration is making a case to Congress this week for punitive airstrikes on Syria. Much of the conversation in Washington centers on American interests in the region and on whether an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government necessitates a global response. We get a perspective from a Washington-based Syrian activist and scholar and examine the long-running conflict between opposition forces and the ruling regime.
- Abdul Aziz Said Professor, School of International Service, American University
- Radwan Ziadeh Director, Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health joins us in studio to explore everything from a new project to map the human brain to the quest to develop a universal flu vaccine.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, the potential consequences of American intervention in Syria, the Obama administration is making a case to Congress this week for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government because of an alleged chemical weapons attack carried out by the ruling regime last month that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,000 people including children.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMuch of the conversation in Washington today is focused on the impact a limited intervention might have on American interests and whether it's necessary to send a message to the rest of the world about the use of chemical weapons.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut today, we're exploring what intervention, no matter how limited, might mean on the ground of the conflict for Syrians engaged in the fight for the future of their country. And joining us to have that conversation by telephone is Abdul Aziz Said. He's a professor at the American University, School of International Service. He holds the university's Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace. He was born in Syria. Abdul Aziz Said, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ABDUL AZIZ SAIDGood to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Radwan Ziadeh. He is the director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Radwan Ziadeh, thank you for joining us.
MR. RADWAN ZIADEHThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIRadwan, I'll start with you. You are one of the activists who is challenging the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. You've pushed over and over again during the past few years for more aggressive intervention from the West and the United States.
NNAMDINow that the Obama administration is making a case to Congress for action what are you and other people connected to the opposition movement hoping most to see from the United States?
ZIADEHActually what's happening in Syria today, it's breaking the heart not only every Syrian, but every human being. It's a tragedy to see a dictator using chemical weapons against his own people. This has not happened in the history many times and this is why it's a responsibility not only on the United States, but in every nation in the world to take an action to end the Assad regime and to end the Syrian suffering.
ZIADEHThere is so much talk in the media about the evidence, just if you can allow me to say that the Syrians, they do have enough evidence. They do have hundreds of eye witnesses. They do have hundreds of photos and YouTube which everything confirms the suffering and the tragedy of the use of the chemical weapons.
ZIADEHThis is why we are supporting the position of President Obama to take action against the Assad regime and we call up on the Congress to support his decision. I think this is, even that if this decision has been made and there would have been a call for the Syrian people and from the Syrian opposition for the administration to take action but unfortunately that's been ignored and abandoned.
ZIADEHAnd now this is the time come for the administration to take such action to stop the atrocities and the massacres against the Syrian people.
NNAMDIAbdul Aziz Said, so much of your academic work has been about non-violent movements.
SAIDThat is true.
NNAMDIWhat path do you see if any, for a relatively peaceful resolution to this conflict? Do you think the Obama administration should indeed conduct a military strike against the Assad regime?
SAIDKojo, no, like my colleague I'm totally, totally unhappy, sad with the tragedy in Syria, but number one for me, what we do should help and stop the violence. It comes about if anyone should stop the killing. Number two, apologize, forgiveness. Somebody in the Syrian government must show remorse for the loss of life, mass displacement of people, refugees over seven million, destruction of homes, loss of livelihood, disturbance of daily life.
SAIDNumber three, stop de-humanizing, both rebels and government, need to stop demonizing each other and recognize that all are Syrians. Number four, yes what we should do, reconciliation. This should come from religious groups inside Syria, outside Syria, women's groups, tribal leaders, elders.
SAIDFive, find an alternative to violence. Both government and opposition should recognize that tough measures aren't working and that violence is not achieving their objectives. We should look for domestic solutions. Internationalizing the conflict only takes away Syrian agency and ability to make its own decisions.
SAIDTheir decisions about where should, who, should be made by Syrian people, do not globalize their solutions, localize them. Encourage Syrian voice. International action should provide room for a Syrian voice in its future in keeping with the Syrians must speak up about what they want.
SAIDAnd conclusion, in my statement being tough through (word?) is not working so we need reconciliation, reconciliation and non-violence.
NNAMDIRadwan Ziadeh, what would you say to those people who are nervous about international intervention in Syria because of what's happened in other countries in the region recently? People are nervous about the organizational capacity of your opposition movement. They're nervous about the prospect of a radical Islamist government replacing the one you're seeking to topple.
ZIADEHLet me put it in this way that no one is happy actually to have an intervention in his own country, but this is unfortunately became like the last option. All options has been used and have no impact on the ground, negotiations, sanctions. We tried the Security Council, failed because the veto and the Russians and the Chinese vetoed. This is why it became the use of force as the last option to rescue and to protect the civilians in Syria.
ZIADEHSometimes, sometimes the force is necessary to bring peace and this is the case in Syria. The Assad regime has rejected all the proposals. All the negotiation has been, caused him to come to Geneva and have, he's been actually increasing the use of violence against the Syrian people and we ended up with the use of the chemical weapons.
ZIADEHIt's true that the opposition is not perfect. After 40 years of dictatorship we should not expect that the opposition will work as a solid and democratic institution. It needs some work and it needs of course some support but I'm sure that the certain people who have their own democracy in the 40s and the 50s, they would be able to install their democracy again with the help of all their friends.
NNAMDIRadwan Ziadeh, if in fact the military strike is conducted by the United States against the Assad regime, what would you think the next step would be?
ZIADEHThe next step that such a strike has to be strategy, has to be clear from its aim and goals to end the Assad regime. It should not be as cosmetic a...
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt you're saying that the strike should be able to end the Assad regime? How would you see it accomplishing that goal?
ZIADEHI think what we have is if the strike happened and there is no clear vision that should this strike end the Assad regime I fear that Assad will use it to retaliate against the Syrian people after all. And we have seen as example, the Assad regime is repeating that there is an international conspiracy against him and this is my. If he escapes from such a strike he will. He will use it as a hero of the country and other than helping the revolt from the Assad regime.
ZIADEHAnd let me add here if the United States and all the international powers confirm that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons then how we allow him to continue his power then there is a high possibility to use the chemical weapons against the Syrian people again.
NNAMDIAbdul Aziz Said, if in fact this strike is intended to and does remove the Assad regime from power, what do you think would be the consequences?
SAIDRadwan, I think has described the situation correctly. From my perspective, we don't know, unknown and as for me as someone trained as a political scientist it is dealing with the unknown, consequences could be more violence, could be dismemberment of Syria, could be many things. This is why I'm opposed to intervention and opposed to using a force.
NNAMDIWell, on the other hand, Abdul Aziz Said, do you think it would send a stronger message to the rest of the world if countries like the United States stood by and did nothing to account for the alleged chemical attack that took place last month? What do you see as being at stake for the international tolerance for the use of those kinds of weapons?
SAIDOh definitely, like everyone else, I'm completely opposed, outraged. When you say what message does it give? The U.S. can maximize its choices and identify many other priorities, work with regional actors...
NNAMDIYou said work with regional?
SAIDNot actors, regional players, yeah, and reach out to Iran, yes, reach out to others.
NNAMDIHowever you, Radwan Ziadeh, feel that that course has already been tried and it has not worked?
ZIADEHAh, yes, the Assad regime has rejected all the proposals as I said before. But more important that he feels that he has the green light, what Assad did during the last two years and half, that has been make a test for the international community. He started using the air force and there wasn't any response. This is why now he has at least 40 to 45 air strikes against the civilians.
ZIADEHThen he starts using the chemical weapons on small scale and again there is no response from the international community. That is what's actually encouraged him and what he thought that give him the green light to use the chemical weapons on a larger scale and this is why it's important for the international community to understand the message and to take action to prevent other massacres or atrocities, (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIRadwan Ziadeh is the director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He will be watching the debate in Congress very carefully hoping that it results in approval of a military strike against the Assad regime. Abdul Aziz Said is a professor at American University's School of International Service. He holds the university's Mohammad Said Farsi chair of Islamic Peace. He was born in Syria. He will also be watching the debate in congress closely hoping that it does not end with a vote in favor of a military strike against the Assad regime. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.
SAIDThank you, Kojo, thank you.
ZIADEHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe'll be taking -- you're welcome. We'll be taking a short break. When we come back, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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