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Iowa City weighs in on Syria conflict

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | SEPTEMBER 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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Newman Abuissa has lived the United States for the last 30 years, but the current Iowa City resident has been brought to attention by the birthplace he left a long time ago: Damascus, Syria.

“[Syrians] are dodging bullets now … that is the situation on a daily basis, and there is no reason for us to add more bombs to it,” he said. “The Middle East is already a flammable area, and with [U.S. involvement], the area could get even worse.”

Abuissa and other Iowa City residents express some ambivalence about a possible U.S. military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.

Gerald Sorokin, the executive director of Iowa Hillel, an organization for Jewish students, said there is no perfect approach for the United States to take in response to the reported gassing of Syrians — especially because lessons learned from the buildup and war in Iraq have demonstrated the consequences of getting involved in the Middle East. Sorokin said Jewish students have a particular interest in this conflict because of Israel’s proximity to Syria and family members in the region.

“[The current situation] leaves a real problem as there is no obvious right approach,” he said. “We have ignored genocide before, and it is probably the most shameful thing where in the 1990s cases the world community sat back and took its time.”

An expert in international relations said one of the main problems with a potential military strike is the possibility of civilian causalities. Destabilization would push more refugees into other countries, which in turn could lead to unrest within their borders.

“The humanitarian question is how many people are you going to save versus how many people are you going to potentially harm,” said Sara Mitchell, the University of Iowa Political Science Department chairwoman.

Mitchell said Secretary of State John Kerry’s and others’ belief in not putting “boots on the ground” could ultimately undermine any long-term gains, because no peacekeeping force would be able to ensure long-term stability.

Jessica Nelson, a UI graduate who studied in Lebanon, also feels the United States is stuck in a difficult situation on whether to respond with military action — along with the inherent complications of getting involved in the Middle East.

“[The Middle East] is so interwoven and complicated with religious, political, and economic differences that if any external power goes in and gets involved, it would create an entirely different situation,” she said.

While some locals agonized over the possibility of military action, one UI student preferred for the United States to end all current involvement in the country.

“The humanitarian thing to do is to not escalate the war,” said Joey Gallagher, Young Americans for Liberty president. “Washington, D.C., can barely control this country — what makes you think it could control a country half a world away. It would be a sign of intelligence for the United States to not get involved [in Syria.]”

Leaders from the UI Republicans declined to give an official statement on the conflict, and the UI Democrats could not be reached on Wednesday night.


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