The Talk: No Hysteria Over Obama’s Speech on Syria

The Talk: No Hysteria Over Obama’s Speech on Syria
August 19, 2011

Charles Lebovitz: Let’s move beyond the continental United States this week. President Obama finally called for Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to resign. Was this the right move by the president?

Ross Freiman-Mendel: Yes. I often struggle with my “Ron Paul non-interventionist under no circumstances leanings” and remembering the massacres in Rwanda, for example. While I support the president’s condemnation, the United States should go no further in intervening in Syria, unlike how they have in Libya.

Chip Lebovitz: Blanket policies on any subject worry me for their lack of flexibility; however, the president’s Syria policy has been well thought out. He left most of the heavy lifting to his very popular Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and he worked to limit the Assad regime through sanctions while not riding lone ranger all over the toes of allies, like Turkey. Pragmatically, pushing for Assad’s departure any earlier would have likely achieved nothing but diminishing the power of the United States.

Ross Freiman-Mandel: Fair enough, Chip. It’s important that Turkey, and not the United States, takes the lead on the issue. While the international community will press for Assad to step down, the United States can and should do it at little to no cost with soft power and diplomacy. In the face of massive budget cuts this year, our resources can’t sustain a fourth war and increased global intervention.

Chip Lebovitz: The sustainability argument is a bit of a crutch. In the event of World War III, our resources would support increased global intervention because they must for the safety of the nation. There are three main reasons why the U.S shouldn’t intervene in Syria. The American people have no appetite for the slow grueling process that it would take to oust al-Assad. The resistance movement in Syria is diffuse and lacking the semblance of central leadership found in the Libyan National Transnational Council. Finally, the multilateral path to intervention is blocked – the UN Security Council is unable to condemn Syrian atrocities due to a Russian veto threat.

Ross Freiman-Mendel: Our resources could not support a new war, because our military strategy necessitates that the United States can only sustain two wars simultaneously; from where would the troops come – a draft – and money spawn – more printing and taxation? While I agree with your reasoning on Syria, it fails to mention that the US physically can’t micromanage the globe, and both President Obama and congressional Republicans won’t risk a prolonged involvement. The president, after all, promised Libya would take “days, not weeks.”

Chip Lebovitz: Sticking to the issue at hand in Syria, the lack of rebel leadership deserves more scrutiny. Dissent has been focused in peaceful protests in the country’s third and fourth largest cities, Homs and Hama. The unfortunate reality about the Syrian protests is what would happen if al-Assad abdicated power? Who would lead the country? That uncertainty limits what the United States can do to help the plight of the Syrians.

Ross Freiman-Mendel: It’s a question of short-term versus long-term. Assuming al-Assad abdicates rule, yet another power-vacuum will open. While democracy may empower the Syrians to elect their own leaders, it can be costly in terms of American strategic interest in the region. In the long term, however, democracy has proven the only viable solution for stability.

Chip Lebovitz: Over the long run, the general consensus is that democracy in the Middle East will be beneficial to the United States’ interests in the region. When we talked to Washington Post Columnist Charles Krauthammer earlier this month, he noted that after a period of short-term instability, Arab Spring democracies would be the American hope for restoring balance to the region.

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