We talked about the possibility of U.S. intervention in Syria today, with Shadi Hamid — director of research at the Brookings Doha Center — and Joshua Landis — director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Hamid said that U.S. leadership was required.
America is not a normal country like everyone else. Not to go too much into exceptionalist territory here, but the world, including Syrians, still look to the U.S. for moral and political leadership in their time of need. We saw the same thing in Libya, they were literally begging for the U.S. to get involved, saying: we need your help, yes we have some differences, we don’t like US foreign policy on other things, but the U.S. is the only country that has the capability to stop this slaughter. And that’s the bottom line. So when people say, why doesn’t the Arab league do something, or Saudi Arabia? or Turkey? The answer is pretty simple: because they can’t do it on their own, they need U.S. military support to bring the regime down.
Landis urged caution, and stressed that it wasn’t clear that establishing a no-fly zone earlier in the conflict would have helped.
It just raises the question: can we, can an outside power solve a civil war in a country? Every country has gone through a terribly bloody civil war. And I don’t know how we can stop Syria from going through this. This is where Shadi and I disagree profoundly. He things that a no-fly zone would have stopped Al-Qaeda from getting into Syria. I don’t think so. Al-Qaeda is going to get in there. There is not a clear Syrian leadership. The Syrian Opposition that America supports has had three presidents in the last two weeks – they keep on changing.
Listen here to a segment of the show where Landis and Hamid discuss the stakes of intervention:
LANDIS: Well it’s true that our red line has now moved. That of course makes you look weak. If we go in and invade Syria and destroy their military, we’re not going to make any friends in the Middle East. we’ve done this several times before and our ratings are at an all-time low. We’re not going to be loved in the Middle East for what we do in Syria. The Syrians ultimately have to figure this out. In America during our civil war 750,000 people were killed. We were only 34 million people in 1860. Syria is 23 million people. 100,000 have been killed. As America looking back on it today, I think very few Americans would have wanted an outside power to intervene in the United States and to keep Americans from killing each other in such massive numbers.
It’s not to say – it just raises the question, can we, can an outside power solve a civil war in a country. Every country has gone through a terribly bloody civil war. And I don’t know how we can stop Syria from going through this. This is where Shadi and I disagree profoundly. He things that a no fly zone would have stopped Al-Qaeda from getting into Syria, I don’t think so, Al-Qaeda is going to get in there. There is not a clear Syrian leadership. The Syrian Opposition that America supports has had three presidents in the last two weeks – they keep on changing.
JANE: Shadi, jump in here.
HAMID: Yeah, the bigger issue here is American credibility not just amongst Syrians but Arabs across the region. We’ve essentially sent them the message that there’s been an Arab Spring, but it’s business as usual. The U.S. only cares about a very narrow set of security interests we care about. Maybe chemical weapons or Iran, but when it comes to 100,000 Arabs being killed we will not act.
The Arab spring was supposed to force us as Americans to fundamentally reassess the way we look at the region – we have been supporting dictatorships for decades. And being part, playing a role in the destruction of the region. Now we have a change to get it right. So I think a lot of Syrians and Arabs are looking and saying: what’s going on here? And I would just disagree with Josh’s point on one thing. In Libya. Libya is the only country in the Arab world where the US has a high favorability ratings. Why? It’s because we were on their side when they were suffering and we supported their struggle against Kaddafi in 2011. So things like this do make a difference and Syrians too will remember who was by their side. What I am hearing from Syrians now is anti-Americanism, that the U.S. is actually trying to hurt Syria and prevent them from moving forward, because they say if the U.S. had wanted to act they could have, but they haven’t.