The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Mac left and right join to oppose Syrian intervention

Editor’s note: Managing editor Danny Surman and associate news editor Joe Klein are both involved in organizing this coalition through their roles in MacGOP and MacDems, respectively. They were not involved in the production of this article.

In an impromptu meeting organized on the day it occurred, Macalester political activists from a variety of groups met in the Campus Center Sunday night to coordinate opposition to military action in Syria. Since then, the coalition, headed by leaders of MacDems and MacGOP, has contacted elected officials, drafted letters to the press signed by students across the state, and collected support on campus.

Motivation for the reach across the aisle came together as a vote in Congress approached. President Obama had considered taking executive action in response to evidence that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had used sarin, a highly fatal neurotoxic gas, on more than 100 Syrian civilians, including children. In a Rose Garden speech on August 31, Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for military action, which he assured would be confined to limited missile strikes on military sites.

Erin Newton ’14 took the lead in organizing the meeting. He emailed campus political organizations and talked to students he knew that shared his views against military intervention in Syria.

Sunday’s meeting of around 10 students included members and leaders of MacGOP, MacDems, Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus (KWOC), Macalester Students for the Safe Exercise of our Right to Bear Arms (SSERBA), Macalester Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG).

“It was a broader coalition of students, not just bi-partisan but multi-partisan,” said Rick Beckel ’15, a former MacDems co-chair.

Though the group was united in their opposition to military intervention in Syria, their perspectives on the conflict varied.

“People have different priorities based on their worldview,” said Andrew Ojeda ’14, a Republican who ran a campaign for state representative last year. “That’s gonna happen in any subject.”

Ojeda also acknowledged the group’s common point of reference.

“The thing that really influences everybody, outside of our political ideology, is how this past decade of war has really influenced our opinion on the Middle East and shaped our ideology,” he said.

The ad-hoc group reached out to students on campus by tabling on Monday, planning to continue throughout the week. At press time, they have collected more than 100 signatures.

A letter signed by the group and written primarily by Danny Surman ’14, a prominent college Republican, is printed in this week’s edition of The Mac Weekly. An op-ed written by the group will also be sent to local media outlets, including the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press. The op-ed has been co-signed by student political leaders around the state, including the heads of four other chapters of college Democrats and seven other chapters of college Republicans.

Supporters of military intervention in Syria claim that a response is needed to curtail the use of chemical weapons and to maintain credibility for the United States. Additionally, most supporters are clear in distinguishing their support for limited strikes from support for more extensive military action on the ground. Responding to these views, leaders of the group cited political principles, tactical considerations and personal connections to the conflict.

“It’s a totally false dichotomy,” Newton said in response to the idea that the United States has a moral duty to intervene due to the use of chemical weapons. “Peace does not come from the barrel of a gun.”

Newton acknowledges that he feels a ground war in Syria is unlikely, agreeing with proponents of the proposed tactical strikes. Yet he still feels that the limited strikes proposed by the President would be ineffective and ultimately harmful, even without escalation.

“Sending missiles there in and of itself doesn’t do enough good, doesn’t change enough, costs us for little gain, and would cause a worsening of relations in the Middle East,” Newton said. “I just don’t see a net gain.”

Beckel noted that the bill that passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not explicitly rule out the use of ground troops, instead authorizing 60 days of military action. Like Newton and the other leaders of the coalition, however, he does not support any level of military intervention.

“There are innocent civilians that are going to be dying on my dime, basically,” Beckel said. “And that’s not something I’m down with.”

Ojeda expressed similar reasons for his own opposition, citing the military’s activity in the Middle East over the last decade.

“These perpetual wars we’re going into—you can argue it from a fiscal perspective, yeah, but you can also argue it from a perspective that our military has been utilized way too much and it’s time for them to take a break,” he said.

Ojeda’s opposition is enhanced by the many people he knows throughout the branches of the military.

“These are my friends that they’re asking to do these things,” he said. “I can’t see me asking my friends to do something like this.”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL), representing the city of St. Paul in the House of Representatives, has expressed support for military intervention in Syria. Surman, Newton, Ojeda and Sam Eklund ’14, who live together and describe themselves as a libertarian, a Democrat, a conservative and a leftist respectively, all went to her office to express their disapproval of her position on September 9.

Influencing McCollum is a primary goal of the coalition. In general, however, their plans are in flux as the situation in Congress on the question of Syrian intervention changes by the day.

At press time, the House appears unlikely to pass an authorization of military force in Syria as it is currently written. The Senate has postponed its vote on the question, originally scheduled for Wednesday, September 11. Much of the delay is due to evaluation of a Russian proposal for Syria to hand over its arsenal of chemical weapons to international authorities.

The group may hold a town hall meeting next week, but is waiting for the situation to develop further before making a decision.

“It depends on a lot of events that are up in the air globally, as well as the votes of our representatives,” Newton said.

In the meantime, they will continue to talk to students and organize calls to congressional leaders, particularly Representative McCollum and Senators Franken and Klobuchar, both Democrats.

Newton said the group is encouraged by waning support for military force both in Congress and among the general public. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 24 percent of Americans believe military action against Syria in response to President Assad’s use of chemical weapons is in the United States’ best interest.

Still, he says he and others in the coalition will continue to work until a resolution is fully reached.

“I won’t be satisfied until this is six feet under, until there’s no potential for military intervention,” Newton said. “Period.”

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