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Listen to the Arab and American Streets on Syria Strikes

Thank heaven that there are additional intense conversations happening beyond the U.S. Senate hearing -- and in other parts of the world -- or one may have walked away thinking that there were only TWO options regarding the Syria crisis: "strike" or "no strike." Even while bowling, a player gets to aim for the "spare" option. Thanks to other bloggers, like Nabil Ouchagour of Le Huffington Post, I see that many inside and outside of the U.S. do not see just two options regarding Syria either. He shared his French version in English for our back and forth conversation on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relation Committee vote in favor of Syria strikes.

It's Complicated

The 'It's Complicated' camp is growing, and is pretty diverse. They recognize the following: The anti-strike camp argues:
  • If the reason to intervene boils down to humanitarian concerns, e.g. chemical weapons massacre or Qusayr siege, then consider humanitarian intervention.
  • The Assad regime can claim that any U.S. strikes have killed innocents or the wrong people.
  • The US has no interest in democracy in Syria. Remember how the U.S. accepted Hafez Assad's support when he joined against Iraq.

The pro-strike camp argues:

  • "Syria is haemorrhaging women, children." Numbers displaced by escalating conflict reaches 6.2 million.
  • Uphold American values via Secretary John Kerry's assertion that the Assad regime cannot gas his own people.
  • Strikes may, hopefully, empower a moderate Syrian opposition.

Arab Bloggers Mirror "It's Complicated" View
When I started blogging on The Huffington Post site on Middle East and North Africa's political economy challenges, I committed a "punditry" error: I stopped practicing other languages, like Arabic, or trying to learn new ones, like French. Luckily, The Huffington Post community has grown so much that I can rectify some of that as I've had an opportunity to exchange points with Ouchagour who also blogs for Al Huffington Post (Magreb version) from Morocco... in Arabic AND French. Both of these languages operate as the conversational languages in Syria. So it may be helpful to identify common ground in these parallel conversations. Lately, we, as Americans, share more sentiments with Britain's general population (and many Arab populations as shown below) than we do with most of our elected leaders -- remember how Cameron's Syria intervention faced defeat by his own public?

Why am I harping so much on the language deal? Well, the reason is because Ouchagour asked a basic question that the Senate hearing on Syria did not include its "calculus": What do the other Arab nations' young people think about military intervention in Syria? Then he actually waited for not one response, but many, and considered each before committing a different type of punditry error: advocating a position without listening to others. (For more examples, check out how Ramah Kudaimi warns emotionally charged pundits, activists, and policymakers about the hyper-usage of empty rhetoric.) Ouchagour tweeted, "Has someone asked ordinary Syrian people about what they want? any opinion poll? :) #Syria."

My quick response to Ouchagour was "yes," but the publicity of the study died down quickly because of its origins. My longer response to the study is here: "Is Assad Winning Hearts & Minds?" Interestingly enough, Arab responses to Ouchagour's questions weaved in humanitarian arguments without focusing on the use of chemical weapons.

Young Arab leaders' opinion about Syria intervention by Nabil Ouchagour

One of the biggest challenges facing President Obama is to have a different attitude towards Foreign Policy in the Middle East in comparison with Bush. While most Arabs are horrified by Assad's treatment to Syrian people, it is almost impossible to find any kind of support for U.S. intervention. Fellows of United Nations Alliance Of Civilization program share almost the same point of view even though there are slight but essential differences depending on each one's perspective.

Ola Sidani, a Lebanese Economic Officer, said:

the bulk of damage and loss will be burdened by civilians and the already deteriorating economic infrastructure. And for sure, heritage and cultural richness of Syria will be severely damaged. I believe a similar scenario of the early days of U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 will be repeated to a large extent in Syria.

Sidani draws attention to the refugees issue:

What can be done at this stage and in the near future is to minimize the repercussions of the existing situation, in relation to the status of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees (escaping from Syria) from one side and the hosting countries from the other side. As we know, hosting refugees and intervening in the Syrian crisis is challenging the status of governments in neighboring countries (like Turkey and Lebanon).

Zied Mhirsi, one of the most influential bloggers in Tunisia and a media entrepreneur, has a different point of view:

I am really confused with the situation unfolding in Syria. I am on one hand against Bashar's regime and consider it as a regime that should be part of the past of the region but also against the violent radical islamists funded by the gulf to fight Bashar's regime. I understand that this war is also a War between the U.S./ the Gulf/ Israel vs. Syria/ Iran/ Bashar/ Russia.

Feeling compassion for innocent civilians, he concludes saying to me,

the U.S. intervention in Syria was always about when and not if. I however doubt about the efficiency of a short limited one and I think that in one way or another, the U.S. will remain involved till Bashar's regime falls.

Selected among hundreds of leaders from Arab region, Nazeeha Saeed, a Bahraini correspondent for many French media and known for her engagement for freedom in her country, has a clear opinion:

I'm against the U.S. military intervention in Syria and in any other country, U.S. is not the police of the world, and it should respect the independence of each country. If any intervention [is] going to happen it should be through a UN forces in countries that need it.

From Palestine, Afnan Mahmoud, who works for USAID funded program on Youth Entrepreneurship Development, goes further since she has doubts about chemical weapons use :

It is outrageous for the USA to base a war decision on a lie, which raises a lot of questions all start with WHY! Why now? The conflict in Syria has been going on for a while now! Why USA? Who gave the USA the responsibility to save the world when other bodies were created to do so, and why are these bodies not lifting a finger? I am against the US intervention! I don't want to see another Iraq and another Afghanistan ten years after.

Mirelle Karam links Obama's decision to what happened lately in Egypt:

In my opinion Egypt is one of the reasons U.S. wants to invade Syria, knowing the Radical Islamists failed in Egypt -- the biggest country in the region -- Obama is afraid that the rebel movement is starting to fail in Syria so it is time for US to help the rebels. » This young Egyptian, who has helped the promotion of Political and Civic Awareness in local communities, is asking for clear answers from Obama administration « In case Bashar regime fell, will U.S. guarantee the next regime (Radical Islamists) to be their ally? What will happen to all Christians in Syria?

Last week, Obama's administration consulted the United Nations, as well as other European and Arab governments. A lesson that one should not forget from the Arab uprising is that a leader cannot take any important decision without taking into consideration street opinion first. With the lack of access to a Syrian public opinion, Obama should take into consideration the voices of young Arab leaders. This is the least, we can expect from a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

PITAPOLICY Response
Although I disagree with Ouchagour stopping short of calling out other Arab nations to pose an alternative solution on the Syria crisis, I agree that U.S. foreign policy for the MENA region remains unchanged. By viewing Syria through an Israel-Iran paradigm, diplomatic alternatives to the military strikes are ignored. Why can't the U.S. entertain a less costly (financial and human life-wise) option like curtailing all weapons sales -- including the $640 million cluster bomb sale to Saudi Arabia? If the U.S. stops selling weapons that feed the conflict, then it is easier to pressure Russia at the G-20 Summit to stop selling weapons to the Assad regime.

Also, Ouchagour suggests that President Obama should consider the voices of the "Arab street." On this last point, I slightly disagree, or rather if I may adjust it: President Obama should consider the voice of the "American street," who are largely against Syria strikes, according to Ariel Edwards-Levy's analysis of polls by Pew, Washington Post/ABC News, and NBC News. Once Congress resumes September 9th, they should consider how most of the "American Street" remains against Syria strikes.

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