Rep. Janice Hahn is still not convinced that the United States should intervene in Syria.
Hahn, a Los Angeles Democrat, told an audience at Loyola Marymount on Thursday night that she’s not willing to support President Obama’s call for air strikes against the Middle Eastern nation, even after attending a confidential briefing for lawmakers earlier this week.
“I came away unconvinced that military action at this time is the right course for the United States,” Hahn said. “I believe we have a moral obligation to use our influence as a superpower to bring together the international community and try to find a diplomatic way to hold (Syrian leader Bashar) al-Assad accountable for these atrocities.”
Hahn spoke on a panel with several political pundits and LMU professors, who gathered to discuss and debate the president’s proposal to launch missiles and air strikes against al-Assad’s forces. The event was sponsored by LMU, TalkRadio KABC 790, and Fox11 News.
President Obama has said al-Assad’s troops used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels during an attack in Damascus that left 1,400 civilians dead. In previous remarks, Obama said the use of chemical weapons crossed a “red line” set by international agreements outlawing such weapons.
Most of the panelists questioned the president’s justification. “We would be sending the wrong message, that it’s not the number of dead that matters, but the symbolic use of chemical weapons,” said Najwa al-Qattan, a history professor at LMU.
But Hassan Twiet, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Syrian American Council, favored a strike against the al-Assad regime. He invoked both the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia to prevent a feared genocide by Serbian forces in Kosovo, and the lack of international action during the Rwanda Genocide in 1994.
“We are a unique nation. We have an obligation to stand for what’s right,” Twiet said. “In Kosovo, many people opposed military action, but the strikes saved thousands of people. In Rwanda, we did nothing and nearly a million people died.”
At the same time, however, political science professor Feryal Cherif questioned whether the call for missile strikes was part of an achievable military objective, or a political maneuver by the president.
“What’s the point? Does it lead to any change in Syria, or is it just a way for President Obama to show resolve, and to posture?” she asked. “The real question is, how do you bring stability back to Syria? We ultimately do care about a stable Syria, because otherwise it’s a problem for the region and the world.”
Syrian rebels have been fighting al-Assad’s forces since April 2011, when Army troops fired on protesters seeking reforms to the nation’s government during the wave of demonstrations across the Middle East dubbed the Arab Spring. Since then, the protests have evolved into armed rebellion, with many outside groups supporting one side or the other.
President Obama has stated that as commander-in-chief, he has the right to order a military strike without the approval of Congress. Either way, Congress is currently in recess and expected to take up the president’s proposal when its members reconvene on Monday, Sept. 9.