Diplomacy over bombs

Locals make case for alternatives to use of force in Syria

Local activist Emily Alma (left) rallied with other locals outside of Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s Oroville office on Sept. 6, urging him to vote against military action in Syria.

Local activist Emily Alma (left) rallied with other locals outside of Rep. Doug LaMalfa’s Oroville office on Sept. 6, urging him to vote against military action in Syria.


Though they came armed with signs that read “Stay out of Syria” and “No War,” the nine local women who rallied outside the Oroville office of Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) on Friday, Sept. 6, claimed they weren’t there to protest.

Emily Alma, a local activist and spokeswoman for the group, insisted they gathered to urge LaMalfa to side with the majority of Americans in opposing U.S. air strikes on Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack that reportedly killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. (According to a Sept. 10 CBS News/New York Times poll, 61 percent of Americans oppose the strikes.)

“We are pleased to learn that Mr. LaMalfa is leaning very strongly toward opposing military intervention in Syria,” Alma said.

Though he has yet to take a firm official stance, LaMalfa said in a press release dated Sept. 5 that he has “serious reservations over the use of military force” in Syria. “Prior to any military involvement, we need compelling arguments as to why America’s interests and security are threatened, clear goals for our forces to achieve, and a strong understanding of any governing entity that would replace the Assad regime.”

LaMalfa could not be reached for comment by press time.

On Aug. 31, President Obama announced he would ask Congress to vote on the attack, which would involve 60 to 90 days of “surgical” air strikes—intended to minimize civilian harm—amid Syria’s ongoing civil war.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Congressional vote was put on hold. Hours before Obama appeared on prime-time national television to outline the need for military action, Syria announced it would accept Russia’s proposal to turn its stockpile of chemical weapons over to international authorities, provided the United States agreed not to strike. In his speech, Obama said he “asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”

Locally, the proposed strikes have prompted protests from both ends of the political spectrum. On Aug. 31, activists from the Chico Peace and Justice Center and the Chico State chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student organization associated with the Tea Party movement, came together at Chico City Plaza to protest U.S. intervention in Syria (see “Strange Bedfellows,” Newslines, by Ken Smith, Sept. 5). The following Saturday, about 75 protesters gathered at the plaza, including a strong showing from Chico’s Syrian community, Alma said.

Outside LaMalfa’s office on Sept. 6, facing a handful of local reporters and reading a statement prepared by the Chico Peace and Justice Center, Alma provided several reasons for opposing the strikes, including the uncertainty of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or the Syrian rebels carried out the gas attack; the potential diplomatic ramifications of bombing without U.N. Security Council approval; the unlikelihood of bringing about a regime change and stability for Syria; the United States’ own unsavory history of using chemical weapons (napalm and Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, for instance); and the questionable wisdom of increasing military spending abroad while the “U.S. infrastructure crumbles” due to lack of public funding.

“The U.S. has no business spending billions of dollars on a military escalation in the Middle East while its own people go hungry and jobless,” the statement concluded.

Though the possibility of military action isn’t entirely off the table, Obama said he will work with the international community to present a resolution to the Security Council that would require Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

“I’m breathing a great sigh of relief, and I think a great many people are,” Alma said in a phone interview Wednesday morning (Sept. 11). “I’m glad Obama had the wisdom to go along with [Russia’s] proposal. It would have been absurd to turn it down, especially since he was already facing an uphill battle in Congress and with the people of this country.

“It was really a way out for Obama, and I’m really glad that he’s taking it.”

Sue Hilderbrand, a Butte College political-science instructor and host of community-radio station KZFR’s “The Point Is,” shared Alma’s sense of relief, also noting a potential “big-picture” change apparent in Obama’s speech.

“A really interesting shift was Obama putting the whole situation into American historical context, this history of Congress giving the president power to unilaterally use the military,” she said by phone, noting that the president’s decision to put the proposed strikes to a congressional vote was a positive move in itself. “I think what we witnessed over the past couple weeks is the president voluntarily becoming a bit more accountable to the American people and Congress.

“I think there is a sense of empowerment by the American people,” Hilderbrand continued. “The vast majority of Americans said, ‘No,’ and the government didn’t [strike]. I think a lot of peace activists are saying, ‘You see? We did it.’ I believe that the American people are beginning to realize what we say matters.”