Aspen Institute keeps close eye on Syria | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Institute keeps close eye on Syria

Editor's note: Today marks the launch of "Bringing it Home," which will run Saturdays in The Aspen Times and focus on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.

With each and every development coming out of Syria, the Aspen Institute keeps a close eye.

Recognizing that the situation in Syria is developing, Toni G. Verstandig, chairwoman of Middle East programs for the institute, said in an interview last week. She said President Obama took the proper steps by threatening to use military action against Syria in the wake of mounting evidence showing that President Bashar al-Assad authorized a chemical-weapons attack in August.

"He will use them again," Verstandig said, "and we can't let this go unanswered."

She added, "Right now we don't want boots on the ground, and we don't want a political vacuum. But we need to address the use of chemical weapons."

The U.S., whether through diplomacy or a military strike, needs to stay involved in some type of capacity, Verstandig said. The Middle East — from Iran, which is an ally of Assad's, to other nearby countries into which Syrian refugees are spilling — are watching closely.

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The American public, however, is not thoroughly convinced that a military strike is in order. Obama no longer is taking the matter into his own hands and has deferred the decision of whether to strike Syria to Congress.

Public-opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are against the U.S. having a military response against Syria. And locally, as of noon Friday, an Aspen Times poll showed that 57 percent of its more than 1,200 respondents were against a strike.

In the meantime, the U.S. and Russia are in evolving talks about disarming Syria by securing its chemical weapons.

On Wednesday, the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who worked under the Clinton administration, spoke as part of an Aspen Institute function in Washington, D.C.

"Give the brutal slaughter of (Assad's) people … over the last 19 months, the world cannot trust Assad," she said.

But as complicated and dire as the situation seems — from the American public's weariness to take action against Syria — Albright likened the current dilemma to Kosovo. In 1999, U.S. bombings played a large part in ending the war there.

"Everything that has been said about the Middle East was once said about the Balkans," she said. "Many of the factors that split Syria were on display less than two decades ago in Bosnia and Kosovo."

Albright added the Obama's "threat of the use of force has moved the diplomatic venue into place," adding that "there's no reason whatsoever to trust President Assad."

She said the U.S. should make it clear to Assad that he can leave his post either voluntarily or involuntarily.

"But either way, (Assad) will not have a say on Syria's future."

The former secretary of state, a regular participant at the institute's Aspen Ideas Festival in the summers, noted that "it would be naive to think that a change in Syria will arrive soon" but said the U.S. has a "responsibility" and "cannot in good conscience" fail to take some kind of action.

"This was not the first such atrocity by the Syrian government. … It was the largest," she said. "The question is now, how to respond."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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