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Is Intervention in Syria the Answer?

What To Do About Syria

Speakers: Ryan Crocker, Dean, Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University; Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria
Charles W. Dunne, Director, Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House; Former Director for Iraq, National Security Council Staff
Paul Pillar, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, Central Intelligence Agency
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
May 1, 2014

Event Description

More than three years after the start of the Syrian civil war, debates continue about what role, if any, the United States should play in the conflict. Ryan Crocker of Texas A&M, Freedom House's Charles Dunne, and Paul Pillar of Georgetown University join CFR President Richard N. Haass to outline the courses of action available to the United States and debate whether U.S. intervention would be desirable or effective. While the panelists differ on the question of intervention, they agree that a greater U.S. commitment to humanitarian relief efforts should be made.

This meeting is part of the "What to Do About" series, which highlights specific issues and features experts who put forward competing analyses and policy prescriptions in a mock high-level U.S. government meeting.

Event Highlights

Ryan Crocker on the resilience of the Assad regime:

"Why is Syria hard? Why, when we said Bashar must go, Bashar didn't go? Because this regime has been preparing for what is unfolding now, for the last three decades, ever since 1982 and Hama, when Hafez al-Assad's brother, Rifaat, surrounded the city and eliminated Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, along with somewhere north of 15,000 innocent Sunni civilians. The regime knew that a day of reckoning might come, and they have spent 30 plus years getting ready for it, with a formidable intelligence, security, and military complex."

Paul Pillar on the potential pitfalls of American military intervention in Syria:

"United States has no interest whatsoever in taking sides, or being seen as taking sides, in a sectarian conflict. And secondly, I would just recall that the last time we did decide to get directly involved in a prolonged civil war in this part of the world, I'm thinking of Lebanon, early 1980's, it didn't turn out very well for us. And it didn't end the war."

Charles Dunne on whether reports of continued chemical weapons use by Assad's forces should prompt a U.S. military response:

"There are, even with the chemical weapons agreement, still instances, as we've discussed, about chemicals being used against civilian populations. We have ample justification for revisiting the red line if we want to do that, and I think we could achieve effects on the battlefield by striking, for example, air fields that the barrel bomb attacks are launched from, striking concentrations of armor and artillery, and without putting boots on the ground. And I think it's past time to revisit that."

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Is Intervention in Syria the Answer?

Speakers: Ryan Crocker, Charles W. Dunne, and Paul Pillar
Presider: Richard N. Haass

More than three years after the start of the Syrian civil war, debates continue about what role, if any, the United States should play in the...