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Syria, Chemical Weapons, And The Intervention Question

With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook.

The question over Syria.  Chemical weapons use has been charged.  The “red line,” but uncertain.  Should the US intervene?

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria during a press conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with reporters after reading a statement on chemical weapon use in Syria during a press conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP)

Hard questions for the US on Syria. The U.S. said evidence suggests the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. President Obama faces mounting pressure, from both sides of the aisle, to act.

Last summer he said he would do just that if the “red line” is crossed. A game changer.  Now, he wants more time. What would intervention look like? No fly zones? Arming the rebels?  Help with refugees? U.S. credibility is one the line, say some. A decade after faulty intelligence contributed to decision to invade Iraq, others urge caution.

This hour, On Point: the U.S. and the red line.

Guests

Anne Barnard, Middle East reporter for the New York Times. (@abarnardnyt)

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Blogs at “Syria Comment.” (@joshua_landis)

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. (@shadihamid)

From The Reading List

The Atlantic (Shadi Hamid): Why Is There a ‘Red Line’ on Chemical Weapons but Not on 70,000 Deaths? — “These concerns are of course justified, but the focus on security implications — rather than focusing on the 70,000 already killed by good old-fashioned artillery and aircraft — suggests an outdated (and morally problematic) calculus for action. In saying that chemical weapons are a red line, the Obama administration is also saying that the killing of 70,000 Syrians is not a red line, which, when you think about it, is a remarkable thing to say.”

Reuters: Syria’s neighbors cautious about U.S.-led intervention — “Syria’s neighbors, wary of stirring a conflict that could spill back over their borders, would be reluctant partners in a U.S.-led intervention but are ultimately likely to support limited military action if widespread use of chemical weapons is proven.”

BBC News: Syria chemical weapons claims: UK and US tread cautiously — “The US, UK, Israel and others have been collecting evidence to try to determine whether chemical weapons have been used. The signs so far are that they have been, but politicians are being cautious of over-selling their level of certainty. This is partly because of the lesson of Iraq when too much was based on too little hard information and all the caveats and cautions surrounding intelligence were lost. And also partly because this time the political context is different.”

From the Hour

Listen here to a segment of the show where Landis and Hamid discuss the stakes of intervention:

Transcript:

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.

 

 

 

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