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Sherman Says: U.S. unable to muster support for proper response to Syria conflict

BUFFALO — The fact that Syria was in possession of deadly chemical weapons was not breaking news to the world community, at least five months ago.

Now, President Barack Obama is asking Congress to give him the authority to launch a military strike on that country, in response to a massive chemical weapons attack against innocent civilians, during the third week of August.

The lack of international support has shown that this country’s foreign policy related to Syria has been taking on water, for far too long.

The New York Times reported the following on April 24, 2013: “Israel’s senior military intelligence analyst said Tuesday that there was evidence the Syrian government had repeatedly used chemical weapons in the last month, and he criticized the international community for failing to respond, intensifying pressure on the Obama administration to intervene.”

Last week, the president announced he had decided that a military response against Syria for gassing civilians was the correct path to follow, but that he would ask Congress for authorization to do so. The House and Senate will remain in recess until Sept. 9, pushing back the debate and decision even further.

In mid-April, Israeli officials said that Syria had used sarin gas in an attack that killed “a couple of dozen” people, last March. Israel called the act “a test” by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to measure the international community’s response. The same officials said Syria had deployed chemicals a handful of times since, as well.

In August 2012 – more than a year ago – Obama told reporters that any evidence that Assad was using chemical weapons could prompt the United States to act.

Earlier this week, U.S. officials said that the Syrian government used sarin to kill more than 1,400 people on Aug. 21, outside Damascus. Among the dead were hundreds of children.

“I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have, in fact, granted impunity to a ruthless dictator, to continue to gas his people,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday. “Those are the stakes.”

In April, Kerry called for NATO to be ready to respond to a Syrian chemical weapons threat. Al-Assad ramped up the level of tension, at the same time, claiming that supporting opposition forces in his country was equal to backing al-Qaida. Earlier this year, the United States announced $60 million in nonlethal assistance for Syria, that included meals and medical supplies for the armed opposition.

“This is about a brutal, murderous dictator, versus al-Qaida affiliates and Islamic extremists. There is no good outcome for the United States,” Rep. Brian Higgins said.

“We absolutely should not act alone, and we should be standing with a very, very large group of other countries, including those in the Middle East, for whatever would happen if I were to support [the president’s request to authorize a military strike],” Rep. Chris Collins said. “The credibility of the U.S. is on the line.”

Kerry indicated that the United States’ ultimate aim in Syria is to see al-Assad removed from power. That could result in the extremists’ gaining control of the government as well as its stockpile of chemical weapons.

This is about more than America’s response. We should be pulling together a broad alliance from around the globe to stand up to al-Assad. Instead, we are planning to talk about our individual response and take a vote, at some point in the future. The civil war will continue with virtually no pressure on al-Assad to restrain his ruthless battle plan.

The United Nations, as well as NATO, should be at the core of the worldwide response to the attacks on civilians. If that had been more strongly encouraged 19 weeks ago, maybe those hundreds of children would still be alive today.

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at


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