Syrian groups gearing up to campaign on behalf of military strike

09/03/2013 4:13 PM

09/05/2013 5:12 PM

A graphic half-page ad published Tuesday by a California-based advocacy group foreshadows an escalating lobbying campaign in support of a U.S. military attack on Syria.

More will come like rolling thunder, this week and next, as Congress considers President Barack Obama’s proposed authorization for the use of military force. With a flurry of phone calls, public rallies, social media updates and ads in mainstream media, organizations both large and small will be urging martial U.S. intervention.

The Syrian Institute for Progress is a small group, though this week it got loud.

Established last year in Southern California, the organization funded the ad in Tuesday’s Washington Post that declared “America’s credibility and national interests are at stake” in the coming military authorization vote. The ad, which ran on the third page of the paper’s first section, included a photograph of more than a dozen children who were said to be victims of a chemical weapons attack.

“It’s a way to generate more interest, mainly targeted at the members of Congress, members of the administration and think tanks,” Saed Mujthed, president of the Syrian Institute for Progress, said of the ad in an interview Tuesday, adding that “when you are spending your dollars, you need to spend them in the most efficient way possible.”

Past Middle East wars have seen their own public relations mobilization, some of which have become controversial after the shooting starts. Prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, for instance, the giant public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, with funding from the Kuwaiti government, helped craft the story line presented by a group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait.

The lead-up to the second Iraq war that began in 2003 later prompted Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., to specifically ask the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the work done by a company called the Rendon Group. The investigators later concluded there was no evidence the company had been hired to convince the U.S. public that Iraq was an imminent threat.

Leaders and spokesmen for the various Syrian-American organizations supporting Obama’s call for military action say they are just getting the facts on the table for those who’ll make the final decision. In particular, organizations hope to mobilize some of the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Syrian-Americans to contact key and undecided lawmakers.

“I believe they need to hear from the Syrian-American community, because we are the most knowledgeable about what’s going on,” Mujthed said.

Similar messages are being geared up by other organizations.

“We’re planning things,”’ Syrian Support Group spokesman Dan Layman said in interview Tuesday. “We’re trying to figure out how to move forward.”

Founded in December 2011, the nonprofit Syrian Support Group holds a Treasury Department license to ship logistical supplies and other material to Free Syrian Army rebels. The organization has helped deliver an estimated $10 million in U.S. government aid so far, including meals, medical kits and surgical equipment, Layman said.

The organization, with Washington offices in a 12-story building near the city’s K Street lobbying hub, is also providing U.S. lawmakers “with points of contact” among Syrian rebel forces, Layman added.

The Coalition for a Democratic Syria, which encompasses roughly half a dozen organizations such as the Syrian American Council, called Saturday for “strategic and decisive action” against the Syrian government led by President Bashar Assad. The message is amplified by individuals, including those who belong to the multiple California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina chapters of the Syrian American Council.

Separately, Justice Department registration records show, an entity formally known as the Office of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces retained a New York-based firm called Independent Diplomat in April. The New York firm will “meet with key officials and desk officers” and “advise the Syrian Coalition how best to tailor their own approach to the U.S. government,” the registration statement declares.

The rebel coalition is currently planning to “spread awareness through print and Internet media,” coalition spokesman Yaser Tabbara, a Chicago-based attorney, said in an interview Tuesday.

“There are a number of concerted efforts we are trying to do across the United States,” Tabbara said. “We’ve reached out to all Syrian-American groups, to conduct local activism as well as national activism.”

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