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As McCain urges intervention, Syrians in Az keep a wary eye

U.S. Sen. John McCain told a Washington audience Thursday that the United States must establish a safe zone in Syria and arm the opposition with “heavy weapons” before the region sinks “deeper into extremism and conflict.”

But Reda Taleb thinks that would be a mistake.

Taleb is one of several Syrians in Arizona who are keeping an eye on the conflict in their homeland, and on the actions of McCain. The senator made headlines last month when he went to Syria and met with leaders of the armed opposition to the Assad regime there.

While the Syrians in Arizona are deeply divided on what action the United States should take, they are all equally passionate.

“I think that (intervention) would only bring more killing and suffering and disaster to the Syrian people,” Taleb said.

The Tucson resident believes that U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war will only increase Islamic extremism and instability in the region. He pointed to fallout from U.S. actions against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Every time we (the United States) supported a military movement, like the one that brought down Gadhafi or the one that brought down Saddam Hussein, we ended up in a country that is shattered with extreme instability and severe forms of Islam,” Taleb said.

But Zaki Lababidi said the U.S. must get involved to stop what he called “genocide” on the ground in Syria.

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“This is not a civil war, this is a genocide,” Lababidi said. “You have one side that has Kalashnikovs (rifles) and the other side has a mighty army.”

Lababidi, a Scottsdale resident and member of the Syrian Support Group, hails McCain as a “champion of the Congress” for “his support of the Syrian people from the beginning.”

The Arizona Republican entered Syria from Turkey on May 27 and spent several hours speaking to rebel leaders there.

In a speech Thursday at the Brookings Institution, he said the United States must take “decisive action” in Syria to help the millions of people who have risked “everything on behalf of the same values we hold dear: freedom and democracy.”

The Syrian people are “asking us to take a chance on them,” McCain said. “Not after they have succeeded in their struggles but now, when they need it most.”

McCain called it “an inescapable reality” that U.S. national security interests will suffer if growing Islamic extremism in the region is left unchecked, and he argued that intervention could “create new leverage to defuse sectarian tensions.”

“The entire Middle East is up for grabs and our enemies are fully committed to winning,” he said.

That point was echoed by Rana Dbeis, a junior at Arizona State University, who said other nations are already actively involved in Syria.

“The only thing that hinders their (the rebels) approach to toppling the regime is the fact that they lack weapons, and that’s because the regime is heavily armed by foreign countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Russia,” she said.

Dbeis, a co-founder of Save Our Syrian Freedom, supports McCain’s push to arm the rebels. She believes that the lack of support from other countries is the primary reason why the rebels have not toppled the Assad regime.

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In the meantime, the situation on the ground grows more chaotic, with reports of atrocities leveled at both sides.

Taleb said that while the uprising in Syria began as a democratic movement, many Syrians have distanced themselves from the rebels because of growing extremism and sectarian violence – claims that Lababidi dismisses as “nonsense.”

“There were many people in Syria who were striving for democracy and freedom and all the things we enjoy in the West,” Taleb said. But in the face of reports of atrocities and sectarian violence, he said, the situation has “totally changed.”

“I am not a supporter of Assad, but people think he is the lesser of two evils,” Taleb said.

Whatever action is taken, McCain said, it must be a long-term commitment to the entire region.

Peace will “not come through drone strikes and night raids alone, but by helping people across the region lift up democratic governments and growing economies that offer hope,” he said.

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1 comment on this story

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Jun 18, 2013, 9:24 pm
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John McCain is a bitter old warmonger, that everyone should be wary of. McCain loves senseless wars!

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Paul Morigi/Brookings Institution

After visiting with Syrian opposition leaders, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said this week that the U.S. must get involved in supporting the rebels or face further instability in the region and further suffering for the Syrian people.

McCain statement on Syria

U.S. Sen. John McCain released this statement Saturday, urging the Obama administration to arm the Syrian opposition:

I just received an urgent phone call from General Salem Idriss, the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition. He is gravely concerned about conditions on the ground in Syria, which are deteriorating severely.

Following Hezbollah's victory this week in the strategic city of Qusayr, its fighters are spreading across the country. They are now, according to General Idriss, fighting around other strategically important cities, such as Hama, Deir el-Zour, Aleppo, and Damascus. Iranian operatives and Iraqi Shia militants are aiding Hezbollah in its invasion of Syria, and Assad is using the full weight of his air power to devastate civilian populations. Wounded Syrians are trapped in Qusayr and other cities under siege. The humanitarian situation in Syria has never been more dire, and moderate opposition forces under General Idriss are losing ground.

General Idriss told me that the Free Syrian Army units under his command desperately need ammunition and heavier weapons to counter Assad's tanks, artillery, and air power. He also pleaded for the United States to lead an international coalition to destroy Assad's air power and ballistic missiles. This can be done, as I have said many times, using stand-off weapons, such as cruise missiles.

General Idriss and his fighters share many of our interests and values. They are fighting our common enemies every day in Syria. They are our best hope for a moderate Syria free from Assad, Iran, and al-Qaeda. But right now, that hope is endangered in the face of a growing onslaught by Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran, with significant Russian backing. If these extremist forces succeed, it will be an enormous setback for U.S. national security interests and a stain on the reputation of the United States.

The Obama Administration has said it supports General Idriss and his fighters. Now is the time for them to prove it. If they delay any further, it will be too late.