EXCLUSIVE: Syrian-American Councilwoman pleads intervention case

DALLAS, September 4, 2013 – The debate over whether America should intervene in Syria’s civil conflict rages. Recent polls and social media chatter indicate the American people are decidedly against military action in Syria. The Obama administration is confident Congress will authorize action regardless of popular opinion. The U.S. could strike soon.

Obama’s “red line” for chemical weapons usage has been allegedly crossed without consequences through the two and a half year conflict, leaving many skeptical of Washington’s new outcry. The emotional speeches and moral appeals for urgent action mirror the arguments supporting force against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Americans worry Syrian involvement could result in another disaster for America and the Middle East.

SEE RELATED: On Syria, don’t trust Obama’s ‘no boots on the ground’ promise

While some suspect Washington’s pro-interventionists harbor ulterior motives, there are humanitarian advocates with the purest of intentions lobbying the United States to action. I spoke with one such activist, Ranya Sabbagh, a board member for the Syrian American Council.

Sabbagh is an American of Syrian heritage who recently returned from the region. As a diplomat, she met with local Syrian councilmembers and representatives from the UK, Canada, Italy and the U.S. to bridge the communication gap and design solutions for ending the war. During her mission, she spoke directly with Free Syrian Army rebels, survived Assad’s bombings and conversed with refugees fleeing the destruction.

Her passionate testimony and appeals for action are not rooted in the desire for boots on the ground or complete regime change by American force, but military and humanitarian assistance so the opposition can succeed. 

Sabbagh and the Syrian American Council support the president’s proposal for military action because they hope this will save lives, restore order to the Middle East and demonstrate to Assad that using chemical weapons against innocents will not be tolerated. Striking strategic military strongholds could halt the killing machine creating the humanitarian crisis the west is treating, in their view.

SEE RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Syrians warn U.S. that Al Qaeda has hijacked revolution

During our interview, Sabbagh addressed common questions regarding the nature of the insurgency, explaining that reports that terrorist organizations Al Qaeda and al Nusra are embraced by the revolutionaries are exaggerated.

“Syrians are known as moderates that reject religious extremism. The Syrian people do not want these foreign radicals any more than the west. Syrians want to be free and unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, they are pleading for help from America, which is the leader of the free world.”

Without means to continue fighting the well-equipped regime, the rebels are forced to cooperate with the well-armed, experienced foreign fighters. With western intervention, she hopes this could change.

“Why would they want to exchange one dictator for other oppressors? Why would people like me advocate this if I thought this were the likely outcome? The Free Syrian Army has legitimate leadership, but when these trusted leaders send fighters into battle with limited bullets and cannot feed their soldiers, they lose credibility. Because they don’t have help, they must cooperate with radicals they dislike to survive.”

SEE RELATED: Why Obama’s ‘red line’ is a poor excuse for war in Syria

Sabbagh explains that these extremists come from Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq and bring with them their brutality. Unlike the native rebels, they do not fight for reform or liberty, but for their own ideological madness. She believes western apathy toward the rebels created a vacuum for terrorists, and to continue ignoring the conflict bolsters their influence.

Sabbagh, and other Syrians, assert Assad released Al Qaeda operatives imprisoned in Syria to foster terrorism for his own agenda. An influx of foreign operatives allows Assad to claim he’s defending Syria from radical Islamist invaders. At the start of the revolution, he was quick to marginalize any dissenters as terrorists to legitimize his brutality.

Among other concerns, Sabbagh addresses common questions in the interview from the pro-interventionist standpoint.

Can we avoid military involvement and aggressively intervene diplomatically? Can we trust Free Syrian Army commanders? Who is capable of leading? How do we prevent arms from falling into the hands of terrorists? Are Syrians concerned America is fighting a proxy war with other world powers? What guarantee do Americans have that the interests of free people will be represented should Assad be removed?

Our robust conversation is above. The video of our interview contains time-marks for easy navigation through the questions and answers. Whether one agrees or disagrees with American intervention, Ranya Sabbagh’s explanations are thought-provoking as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a resolution authorizing limited strikes.

Today, President Obama issued his most passionate plea for American involvement. Like members of the Syrian-American Council and other humanitarians, he believes the international community and the west, as leader of the free world, have a responsibility to act. Failure to do so will embolden the regime of Bashar Assad and “war criminals, dictators and despots for years to come.”

What do you think? Share your comments and questions. 

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Tiffany Madison

Tiffany is a writer and veteran's advocate. Her column focuses on civil liberties, veteran's issues and current events. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanymadisonFacebook or her website.

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