An overflow crowd flooded the community room at West Hartford Town Hall on Monday for a forum scheduled by U.S. Rep. John Larson, who wanted to discuss the possibility of a military intervention by the U.S. in the ongoing civil war in Syria.
The conflict in Syria has been in the news for about two years since the government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, began using force to quell what has been described as a “democratic” uprising — part of the Arab Spring movement. But the government’s initial pushback and use of force appeared only to harden the opposition. Since then, casualties have reportedly surpassed 100,000 and the fighting has fueled an ongoing and growing refugee crisis at the borders and within neighboring countries that are accepting Syrians fleeing the violence.
The tipping point may have arrived last month when news reports say a banned chemical weapon — deadly Sarin gas — was used outside Damascus. News reports have put the death toll in that attack at more than 1,400, including civilians. The Russian government, which reportedly supplies weapons and other support to Syria along with Iran, has challenged the claim that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack. Nevertheless, as reports of evidence purporting to verify the use of Sarin gas by government troops have circulated around the world, President Obama and Secretary of the State John Kerry, among others, have been advocating for military intervention of some kind.
As a result, and despite rainy, muggy weather, a few hundred people arrived at West Hartford Town Hall on Monday to make sure their voices were heard. They filled the community room past capacity. Dozens of people waited in the hallway, trying to listen through the doorway. West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka opened an adjacent conference room to the public, and constituents filled that room to listen through another open door behind Larson.
Slifka said that a free concert, which had been scheduled to take place outside the building, had been moved inside to the larger auditorium because of rain, so Larson was left with no other options in the building.
Outside, on the south side of the building, about 70 people, many of whom identified themselves as Syrian Americans, held a rally chanting for the U.S. to “act now” to end the violence.
Inside, Larson tried to allow speakers one minute each and attendees who had managed to get into the room said a variety of opinions were voiced but a majority appeared to oppose U.S. military intervention. Many urged caution going forward. The Courant has more here.
For a relatively quick primer on Syria, the Washington Post offers 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask.
Al-Jazeera America reports that Assad warns of ‘chaos’ in Middle East should U.S. launch military strikes.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that although the U.S. is moving lots of military hardware into the region, a New Senate Syria plan may limit Obama’s options. And Sen. John McCain says a Syria ‘no’ vote would be ‘catastrophic’.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We couldn’t get into the room or close enough the podium to leave a recording device or even to get the names of people who spoke, so this story is unfortunately only a glimpse of what happened at the event on Monday. We’ll be following up again as Connecticut’s congressional delegates formulate their positions on the conflict in Syria, and we will keep eye open for public polling data on the issue.