Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: What Should the U.S. Do about the Crisis in Syria?

Background: Following the chain of protest movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the so-called Arab Spring arrived in Syria. The events in Syria began as small, disparate protests as early as January 2011 and eventually built up to larger protests in the cities of Daraa and Latakia by mid-March. By May, the Syrian Army had entered the protest hubs of Baniyas, Hama, Homs, the Douma suburbs of Damascus, among others, with infantry, tanks, and air support claiming to be fighting “terrorists and armed gangs.” Up to this point, the vast majority of protests remained peaceful; however, on July 2011, announced the formation of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel organization with the aim of toppling the Syrian regime. In Homs, which became the center of the protest movement, rebels from the Free Syrian Army began defending entire neighborhoods from Syrian forces. In August 2011, dissidents within the Syrian diaspora  organized the Syrian National Council (SNC), which sought to serve as a legitimate representation for the Syrian people.

Following the organization of these groups, the clashes escalated. According to the UN human rights chief, the ongoing violence resulted in over 5000 deaths as of December 2011, bringing increasing international condemnation of the Syrian regime by the U.S., E.U., and Arab League. The international condemnation has resulted in sanctions but all have thus far avoided military intervention. In an uncharacteristically bold move by the Arab League, Syria agree to allow their team of monitors into the country. In spite of initial hopes, the monitors proved to be ineffective as dozens were reported dead while the monitors were still in the country.

Especially in recent weeks, experts and policymakers alike have begun attempting to answer the question “What should the U.S. do about Syria?” Not surprisingly, there is no consensus.

Here are some different perspectives within the debate:

  • Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, thinks there is no other viable action but to arm the opposition.
  • Marc Lynch, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and blogger at Foreign Policy, is wary of supporting what he sees as an elusive and fragmented Free Syrian Army and instead argues for a non-military strategy to weaken the Assad regime while preparing for political transition.
  • Nicholas Noe, contributor to Bloomberg View and co-founder of Mideastwire.com, argues that there is still time to strike a bargain with Assad in order to mitigate future fallout and gradually open up Syria’s political system.
  • Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that policymakers and experts in Washington and beyond should stop assuming that the Assad regime will eventually fall, and instead, directly intervene before more protesters are slaughtered.
  • Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, makes the case for U.S. inaction in Syria.

What do you think the U.S. should do about the crisis in Syria?

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