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Big Thinkers On Syria: Morality And Strategy

We invite big thinkers to wrestle with the moral and strategic implications of a military strike or pass in Syria.

Syrian rebel-controlled area of Aleppo, as destroyed buildings, including Dar Al-Shifa hospital, are seen on Sa'ar street after airstrikes targeted the area a week before. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria's conflict over two years ago, an activist group said Wednesday. (AP)

Syrian rebel-controlled area of Aleppo, as destroyed buildings, including Dar Al-Shifa hospital, are seen on Sa’ar street after airstrikes targeted the area a week before. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the start of Syria’s conflict over two years ago, an activist group said Wednesday. (AP)

The megaphones will be on full blast this week over Syria.  To hit or not to hit the Assad regime after a big, deadly attack near Damascus with chemical weapons.  Public opinion is running strongly against American intervention.

And yet, you can hear Americans wrestling with the moral question:  Do we have a moral obligation to hit back against mass chemical killing?  Or is that a nicety we can’t afford?  A bad idea?

This hour, On Point:  just war philosopher Michael Walzer and tough geopolitics thinker Stephen Walt debate the moral and strategic implications of a military strike or pass in Syria.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Michael Walzer, political philosopher. Professor emeritus at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Author of “Just and Unjust Wars.

Stephen Walt, professor of international Affairs at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. Author of “Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy.” (@stephenwalt)

From Tom’s Reading List

Foreign Policy (Stephen Walt): An Open Letter to My Congressman About Syria — “A U.S. attack on Syria is unwise for several reasons. First, the United States has no vital strategic interests there. Bashar al-Assad’s government is clearly a brutal dictatorship, but neither Democratic nor Republican presidents have cared about that before now. Instead, presidents from both parties have cooperated with the Assad regime whenever it seemed advisable to do so. More importantly, helping to topple the regime is likely to turn Syria into a failed state, igniting a struggle for power among competing sectarian factions. Some of these factions are deeply hostile to America and sympathetic to al Qaeda, which means that U.S. intervention could help bring some of our worst enemies to power.”

The Economist: Fight this war, not the last one — “America’s potency comes not just from its capacity to project force, but also from the enduring appeal of the values invoked by its founders. Those are stronger than Mr Obama seems to think. With China’s economy slowing and its political corruption evident, the Beijing consensus will seem ever less enticing to citizens of the emerging world. Mr Bush tainted America’s values with inept invasion, prisoner abuse and imperial overstretch. Meeting Mr Assad’s atrocities with appropriate force will help to rebuild American moral authority in the world.”

CNN: Obama to take his case on Syria to American people on Tuesday — “Obama wrapped up his trip to the G20 summit in Russia by telling reporters he will address the nation on Tuesday as Congress prepares to vote on a resolution authorizing limited military strikes against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons. Facing public opposition reflected by legislators hesitant to support him, Obama said Friday that he understands the skepticism over his call for punishing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for what U.S. officials call a sarin gas attack on August 21 that killed more than 1,400 people.”

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