CAIRO — Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say they are confident his government can withstand any strike by the United States, while rejecting the U.S. case that Assad used chemical weapons against fellow Syrians.
Residents of Damascus are bracing for what some believe could be a U.S. missile strike any hour.
But Nahla Essa, a deputy dean at Damascus University, says many are taking the threat in stride.
Speaking by phone from the capital, she says some people are stocking up on food, in case an attack keeps them from going out for several days. But she expresses confidence in the Syrian military, as well as state and civil institutions, saying they are all in a state of full readiness.
It is never easy talking to people in Damascus, where most are well aware of the consequences of speaking out against the government. And while there are tentative signs that fear of reprisals may be decreasing, it is a rare few willing to speak on the record.
But two-and-a-half years into an increasingly sectarian war in which some of the leading opponents are linked to al-Qaida, there remain people loyal to the government — and opposed to the United States.
"We are ready to defend our country," said Bassam Abu Abdullah, director of the Damascus Center for Strategic Studies. "We know that [U.S. Secretary of State] Mr. John Kerry [showed on Friday] he has nothing about chemical weapons, and they want to convince all the world that the Syrian government used these chemical weapon. It's absolutely not right and they have disinformed the public opinion. As it was in 2003."
2003 is a reference to the Iraq War, and the faulty intelligence used by the United States as an argument for invasion.
But for Essa, the intelligence being presented is only part of the problem. She says what America calls a humanitarian intervention is regarded by Syria as un-humanitarian and unethical. She says it has no justification — only highlighted by what she calls the U.S. government's circumstantial case.
Analyst Abu Abdullah expresses some sympathy for President Barack Obama, arguing that he has been pressured by various groups, including, he alleges, Syrian enemy Israel, into his current position.
“The situation is difficult because President Obama, he said that we will finish the era of wars. And he's against war but now again he started a war. There is lobbying against him,” he said.
And while he believes the U.S. will keep itself to a limited strike, he warns the situation could spiral out of control, and “the era of war” could return.
“America I think should remember Iraq, should remember Afghanistan, should remember Vietnam," he said. "And here in Syria it is more difficult for them because Syria is not alone. We have our allies."
He points to Syrian allies Hezbollah, in Lebanon, as well as Iran and Russia, adding “America will see many surprises.”