COMMENTARY: State coalition opposing Syria intervention intensifies
Published: September 4th, 2013
Oklahoma activists opposed to U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war have intensified their efforts in recent days. Led by two well-known and respected military veterans, a coalition has formed that is characterized as “Tea Party to Socialist to Anarchist.”
The Sooner State’s anti-war movement is so diverse that it does not fit any simple political template.
At least one prominent “flaming moderate” has stepped to the forefront of the anti-intervention coalition, as a broad swath of Oklahomans plead with the state’s conservative Republican congressional delegation to oppose a resolution authorizing President Barack Obama to use force in Syria. Further, dozens of conservative activists have become active in the anti-war movement.
State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Oklahoma City, a veteran military chaplain, will hold a noon hour press conference at the state Capitol Thursday. Joining him at the event will be Nathaniel Batchelder, founder and president of The Peace House in Oklahoma City.
In recent weeks, the coalition deemed “Syria: Not Our War” has held regular rallies adjacent to the city’s busiest shopping mall, attracting supportive car honks and a steady stream of volunteers holding American flags and signs opposed to intervention. The pair collaborated on a widely covered Capitol rally in July.
While Wesselhoft is an ardent multi-issue conservative, Batchelder is a reliable barometer of sentiments among the capital city’s progressive wing. In a joint commentary, the pair agreed that money to support military action would, in this case, be better focused on domestic needs: “Domestic needs here in the U.S. cry for financial support, but our treasury is depleted by war. Our military and ‘We the People’ are exhausted by war. It is time to invest our efforts at home, in an economy that supports justice and lifts all boats.”
Joining them for the Sept. 5 press event will be Steve Byas, publisher of a conservative monthly, state Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, Ryan Kiesel of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lukus Collins, 2012 volunteer coordinator for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in Oklahoma.
Williams and Wesselhoft, who often disagree in legislative debates, are passionately allied in the anti-intervention cause. Williams told one rally he saddened to disagree with an Obama administration policy, but reiterated his concern about the national government’s present approach.
That “flaming moderate” among Oklahoma’s anti-intervention leadership bunch is Ben Odom, former state vice chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Concerning the July rally at which he was a keynote speaker, Odom told Oklahoma Watchdog, “The crowd and speakers were the most interesting mix I have ever seen at an Oklahoma political event. Most were from the libertarian GOP, or the pacifist left of the Dems. I was the ‘flaming moderate’ of the bunch, and simply made the point that of the possible scenarios, three out of four do not result in a positive for the USA – and the fourth is the least likely result. I am not a pacifist or an isolationist, this is simply a bad idea for us at this time.”
This week, at town hall meetings throughout his Fourth Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, has been heavily applauded when declaring his opposition to the resolution authorizing military force to punish the Syrian government for use of chemical weapons in recent battles.
In a Wednesday statement to Oklahoma Watchdog, U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, “I will review the classified materials in Washington, DC, but from what I have heard to date, the proposal on the table does not achieve our larger goal in the Middle East of stability or a reduction of chemical weapon threats.
“A limited missile strike will only weaken our hand in the Middle East when Assad claims a year from now that he beat the rebels and the Americans. We must continue to engage diplomatically and with our allies to ensure our strategic goals in the region remain achievable.”
The groups working together against American intervention in Syria are unlikely to sit down and sing “Kumbaya” after the present debate is over. Still, the depth and passion of their cooperation is both notable and memorable, providing images of unity that have become rare in Oklahoma politics.
You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.