No longer just a volley of cruise missiles or a limited strike, according the New York Times on Friday, President Obama has now "directed the Pentagon to develop an expanded list of potential targets in Syria" that suggest a wider military campaign, the possibility of more loss of life and a deeper quagmire if the U.S. enters the Syrian civil war.
In addition, as the Associated Press reports, the Obama administration is now considering expanding its support of Syrian rebel fights by expanding the ongoing "CIA training being done quietly in Jordan," which could spell a protracted and greatly increased involvement of U.S. soldiers on the ground in the region.
Both news stories come as Congress continues to debate war resolutions that would authorize the president's desire to go to war, even as Obama has said he does not necessarily need congressional approval to launch strikes or commit military forces.
That battle in both the House and Senate, however, has created strange dynamics when it comes to White House policy over the war. Even as some congressional war hawks—best exemplified by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—have called for a more "robust" war plan in Syria, the overall mood in Congress seems to be cool on the idea for a new Middle East war that has no clear objective and no clear endgame or exit strategy.
With those lawmakers in the "leaning No" column seeming to continue their lead over those "leaning Yes," pressure from the White House and the war lobby is now being pitted against peace advocates and those groups urging a different path towards a negotiated settlement in Syria.
As anti-war and progressive groups continue their campaign against an attack on Syria—including phone and email blasting to lawmakers and an announced national day of action on Monday, September 9th—one of the key messages being made is that there simply is no military option in Syria that won't ultimately increase the suffering of the Syrian people. In fact, as critics of Obama's rush to war say history proves, U.S. military strikes—whether "limited" or "expanded"—will only make matters worse.
As YES Magazine's Sarah Van Gelder explains, those campaigning against intervention have suggested various non-military options for a U.S. role in Syria that would allow for decreasing the level of violence in the country.
"A quick review of the options suggests there are at least six strategies that could hold wrongdoers to account, deter war crimes of all sorts, and build peace," she writes.
In abbreviated form, those options described by Van Gelder include:
- Bring those guilty of atrocities to justice. With the backing of the U.N. Security Council, those responsible for the chemical weapons attacks and other war crimes should be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for justice, whether they are part of the Syrian regime or members of opposition forces.
- Call for a United Nations embargo on arms, military supplies, and logistical support for both Damascus and opposition forces. Stopping the flow of weapons from around the world into Syria is another important step toward peace. But it will involve complex diplomacy that has not yet been attempted.
- The U.N. Security Council should hold an international peace conference involving not only the Syrian government and opposition parties, but their backers from outside the country and those affected by the flow of refugees and arms.
- Offer aid and support to the nonviolent movements within Syria, or, at least, don't undermine them. A resurgence in Syria's broad-based nonviolent movement for change that started in March 2011 is still a source of hope, according to Stephen Zunes, chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco.
- Provide the humanitarian aid desperately needed by the millions of displaced people. Humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide services within Syria only with great difficulty; the United Nations Security Council should insist that Damascus allow them access.
- Force the hand of Russia and China in the Security Council. Many people believe that Russia and China have vetoed efforts in the United Nations to condemn the Syrian regime or to impose sanctions on it. But all these governments have done, so far, is threaten to veto. Make them do it. Allow the UN dialogue to occur.
So as advocates for a peaceful, non-military approach make their case against U.S. war in Syria and Congress grapples with constituents over the upcoming votes on still undefined resolutions for war, it is time to see whether the arguments for expanded diplomacy can win a victory over those calling for expanded violence.