Oklahoma coalition forms to declare ‘Syria – Not our War!’

OKLAHOMA CITY – A diverse coalition of individuals have allied for an anti-war rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol.  Theme of the gathering and related activities, slated for this evening (Friday, July 12), is “Syria – Not Our War!” 
Coordinating the event — which begins with musical entertainment at 6 p.m. and continues with a “left-right” spectrum of orations at 7 p.m. —  is state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Oklahoma City.  Nathaniel Batchelder, director of The Peace House in Oklahoma City is assisting with organization.

The odd couple said they are opposed to U.S. government plans to support rebels seeking to oust the government of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Wesselhoft and Batchelder joined forces with four others in a press conference this week, explaining their motivations to Capitol reporters. 

Wesselhoft stressed, “I am not a pacifist, and not an isolationist.” A common theme among the speakers tonight will be to stress that the United States is already involved in the conflict – and that said involvement is a mistake.

A retired military chaplain, Wesselhoft points out that at least two of the groups in the rebel coalition opposing the Syrian strongman have close ties to al-Quaida, the terrorist organization that coordinated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. 

“Both sides in this conflict are committing atrocities. We are against further development toward intervention. We don’t want or need a proxy way with Russia,” Wesselhoft said. Russia is a close ally of the Syrian regime. 

Co-sponsor Batchelder is a Vietnam Veteran. He contends the U.S. military is exhausted by the last decade of endless wars, and that America has already drained too many resources in conflict. He continued, “War is an abomination that should be avoided at all costs, unless absolutely necessary for our survival.”

In an exchange with reporters, Batchelder pointed out that a United Nations investigation had blamed Syrian rebel forces for use of Sarin Gas in the conflict. 

Editor of The Oklahoma Constitution, a monthly newspaper, Steve Byas agreed with Wesselhoft in eschewing isolationism, but asserted, “I am a non-interventionist.” He pointed to a conservative “peace” legacy, stretching from President Warren Harding and the late Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio (known in his most influential years as “Mr. Conservative”) to philosophers and writers such as Russell Kirk. Byas argued that human liberty always contracts, and government power always grows, during war. 

Byas rejected the influence of “wise men” Robert McNamara (a Democratic Defense Secretary in the 1960s) and Donald Rumsfeld (George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary), and neo-conservatives today, saying he hopes the country adopts “a wise and conservative policy of non-interventionism.” 

Following Byas, a former Democratic state representative and director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma spoke with reporters.

“I always got a zero on the Conservative Index” – an annual rating of key legislative votes published in Byas’ newspaper – Ryan Kiesel recalled. As Kiesel made that remark, Byas immediately quipped, “You earned it,” to which the ACLU leader responded, “I know, and I worked hard to earn it.” 

Kiesel stressed he was not appearing on behalf of the ACLU, “but as a public citizen.” The civil liberties activist believes there are in Syria “an array of options, and no good options.” Kiesel said America should stay out, when war ends, “be a force for good and change.” 

Another speaker, Lucas Collins, served as grass roots director for the state’s Ron Paul presidential campaign in 2012. Describing himself as “libertarian, perhaps an anarchist,” he added that after many years as a typical conservative, he became “a Christian pacifist.” 

Lucas said, “I regret supporting President Bush when he took us to war in 2003. Ron Paul has played a huge role in my transition. People think of peace as a cause of the Left, and Liberty as a cause of the Right, but these two cannot be separated. Violations of liberty are inherently violent.”

While military involvement often beings with “noble intentions, means and ends get mixed up. Too often we use the tools of violence to achieve an end.” He pointed out, “In the decade of war in Iraq, the Christian population of that country has nearly disappeared. I say to my fellow citizens, join us regardless of where you are on the political spectrum.”

Jason Byas – a student at the University of Oklahoma and son of the conservative publisher – said he wanted to encourage Oklahomans “to oppose a culture of war.” 

Other speakers at Friday’s rally, unable to attend the pre-event session with reporters, will include three prominent Democrats: Rep. Cory Williams of Stillwater, Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City, and former state party vice-chairman Ben Odom. 

Rep. Wesselhoft stressed that despite Oklahoma’s deserved reputation for political conservatism, speakers at the evening rally would not be bashing President Barack Obama. He noted that Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lyndsey Graham of South Carolina have supported the president’s moves toward support for the rebels, with McCain advocating enforcement of a “no-fly Zone” over Syria.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.