Wikinews interviews Dr Thomas Scotto and Dr Steve Hewitt about potential US military intervention in Syria

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

File:Tom scotto.jpg
File photo of Dr. Thomas Scotto.
Image: Tom Scotto.

The United States President, Barack Obama, announced on Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Wikinews interviewed Professor of Government Dr. Thomas Scotto from the UK's University of Essex and Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies Dr. Steve Hewitt from the UK's University of Birmingham about the proposed military intervention by the USA in Syria.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What is your job role?

Dr. Thomas Scotto: I am a Professor of Government, teaching courses in quantitative methods, public opinion, political behaviour, and American Politics. I have been at Essex since January, 2007. I am the Principal Investigator of a major ESRC grant on public opinion on foreign policy attitudes in five nations (Great Britain, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy).
Dr. Steve Hewitt: Dr. Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies [at the University of Birmingham].

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Republican speaker John Boehner is endorsing Barack Obama's strategy, do you think this will lead to Congress authorising military intervention?

TS: Ultimately, I believe that the President will succeed, but I doubt it will be a neat voter — there will be a significant number of Democrats and Republicans who do not fall into line and vote against intervention.
I think the real story is that in the past two weeks, we have seen an amazing shift in how the Executives of the United States (President Obama) and the United Kingdom (Prime Minister Cameron) execute foreign policy. In the post-War period, committing the nation to take military action was seen as the prerogative of the President and Prime Minister, with the legislatures of both countries providing, at best, weak oversight.
In the United States, there is the War Powers Act and the authorisation of the first Gulf War, but the President's authority was rarely challenged nor was it really believed that the President needed to consult Congress. In the UK, you would have to go back to the late 1700s to find the last time a Prime Minister was truly rebuffed on a matter of military intervention.
Why is that? I think it's war fatigue on the part of the public and the average member of the UK Parliament and the US Congress. A significant number of those sitting on the backbenches of Parliament and in the Congress are thinking of balancing their nations' budgets in times of fiscal austerity, and they have ties to constituencies, which don't want to see their country shed blood and treasure in another prolonged conflict in the Middle East where the backgrounds of the rebel groups the US and UK are supporting is not well defined and the end goals are uncertain.
SH: Not necessarily. Boehner has not been able to carry Republicans in the past. His being onside increases the chances of authorization but it doesn't make it inevitable.
US State Department map of Damascus areas of influence and areas reportedly affected by by chemical attack on August 21.
Image: US State Department.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Is the US general public in support of taking military intervention in Syria?

TS: No, not at all. We've polled a representative sample of the American public in June of 2012, February of 2013, and this summer. Support for intervention in Syria has not moved. In our surveys fewer than 1 [in] 5 respondents were open to the idea of sending American ground troops into Syria. This was true regardless whether their aim was to provide humanitarian assistance or topple al-Assad. There are also low levels of support for arming the rebels. What is amazing is that, despite the reported use of chemical weapons and the deaths and displacement of 100,000s of Syrians, there has been little change in support levels over the time period we've been in the field with our surveys.
SH: No, clearly the American public is not in favour of intervening in Syria. About 60% are opposed in the latest poll.
A file photo of Barack Obama.
Image: The White House.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has led Obama to put a vote to Congress?

TS: I think Obama wants Congress to own this. Some in Congress believe that the United States would be doing too little if it only carried out limited missile strikes to punish al-Assad. Other Members are dead set against intervention of any type. The President was finding it impossible to please everyone, and instead, basically said sort out what you want me to do. It is an amazing turn of events where the President might be constraining himself in terms of the response he could take. Obama's decision may have ramifications for Executive-Legislative relations in the US for years to come.
SH:That may have played a role but it is still not clear why President Obama has taken this course. It may also be the case that he is looking to share the political risk that goes with attacking with Republicans and Congress in general.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, does the US general public feel disillusioned in taking military action?

TS: Yes, definitely. Less than half of the American public believes the Iraq war was a success, and we have found that those who believe that the previous conflicts in the Middle East were a failure are likely to be those opposing action against Syria. So many people think the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions cost too much and did little good — it's really weighing on the public's mood at this time.
SH: Yes, there clearly is fatigue in relation to interventions and the lack of clear resolutions of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think military intervention in Syria will affect Russia–United States relations?

TS: It is hard to say — in the short term, yes. In the long term, it really depends on how Putin sees the long term interests of himself and his nation vis-à-vis the United States and America's western allies.
SH: Yes, although relations are already tense. How extensive any attack by the US on Syria will determine the full impact on US–Russia relations.
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