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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Middle East Expert Says Don’t Rush To War With Syria

Fawaz A. Gerges is pictured in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fawaz A. Gerges is pictured in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons)

Fawaz Gerges is a longtime observer of the Middle East and fears the United States is rushing to take military action in Syria.

Gerges, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says Assad’s use of force and likely use of chemical weapons against his people should not be tolerated.

But instead of taking military action, he argues the U.S. needs to go to the United Nations Security Council, assemble an international coalition and try to broker a settlement in which Russia and China join the U.S. in finding ways to ease Syrian president Bashar al-Assad out of power.

What’s more important here: is it the credibility of Barack Obama or is it basically stopping the carnage inside Syria?
– Fawaz Gerges

Gerges says he is less interested in punitive measures against Assad than creating the conditions for a diplomatic settlement.

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen the morning after the United States attacks Syria: [Assad is] going to hunker down, and he’s going to emerge a few days after the Americans attack, by proclaiming to the Syrian people and the Arab people that he stood up to the might of the United States. He has survived, he has another day to fight. The civil war goes on. The killing goes on, and little would have changed,” Gerges told Here & Now

Gerges says the Syrian conflict is no longer a conflict between Assad and the opposition, rather a regional war by proxy — part of an international rivalry between the United States and Russia. He says unilateral action by President Obama is an attempt to preserve the United States’ credibility.

“But what’s more important here: is it the credibility of Barack Obama or is it basically stopping the carnage inside Syria?” Gerges asked. “You can do both, but more intelligently, more comprehensively, and also by proving to the world that the United States has learned the lessons of unilateral actions.”

Gerges said the international community views the United States’ motivations for military action in Syria through a cynical lens, as a result of the Iraq War.

“The irony is that the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ assembled by George W. Bush was wider and broader and bigger than the coalition being assembled by the Obama administration,” Gerges said. “And the tragedy is that this is a president who cares deeply about international law, who cares deeply about multilateral action, who cares deeply about the United States being a good global citizen in the international community.”

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

There is already plenty of vocal opposition to military action against Syria in Washington and abroad. Russia opposes a strike. So does China. And the British parliament, of course, voted against military action.

FAWAZ GERGES: Fawaz Gerges is also a dissenter. He's professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics and author of "Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?" Fawaz Gerges, welcome.

Thank you.

HOBSON: Well, do you think that the United States is rushing into war with Syria?

GERGES: Yes, I do. And I'm not the only one who thinks that the United States is rushing into war. The pope thinks that the United States is rushing to war, Ban Ki-moon, the majority of Brits and French, the Arab League, Germany, Poland, Italy. And I don't see why. Why not try to convince the Russians and the Chinese that the evidence is not just compelling, it's conclusive? And there is no...

HOBSON: Well, do you really think that it would be possible to convince the Russians - who have a lot of relationships with Syria, including a very big arms trade with them - that it would make sense to attack the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons?

GERGES: President Putin yesterday made it very clear that if the evidence is deep, hard and conclusive, Russia would basically vote for war against Syria. Whether he means it or not, that's not the question. What does the Obama administration have to lose? After he gets the mandate by the U.S. Congress, why not go to the Security Council. Why not share the U.S. intelligence with the international community? Why not try to convince Americans and the international community that the United States is genuine and serious about basically defending its sacred principle against the use of chemical weapons or gas in the international system?

HOBSON: So do you think, then, that if it is proven that Assad used chemical weapons against his people, and if a number of countries around the world or the United Nations Security Council were to agree that it made sense to go in and attack Assad's regime, that then it would not be a rush to war?

GERGES: Not only that. In fact, I'm less interested in punitive measures against Assad than in finding a way out of the (unintelligible), in stopping the carnage in Syria, in forcing Assad out, in creating the conditions for a diplomatic settlement. And the reason why it's so important for the United States to go to the Security Council is to really try to broker a settlement whereby the carnage stops inside Syria.

This is no longer an internal conflict between Assad and the opposition. It's all-out civil war. It's a regional war by proxy. It's a part of an international rivalry between the United States and Russia, and that's why, of course, we must uphold the sacred principle - not just Assad, any leader, not just using gas against his own people, but using massive force against (technical difficulties) should be tolerated. But the reality is what the United States needs to do is to try to go the Security Council, assemble a genuine international coalition, try to broker a settlement whereby Russia and China join the United States in trying to find ways and means to ease Assad out of power and basically protect and preserve the state institution so that any security vacuum in Syria is not sealed either by chaos or militant elements who subscribe to al-Qaida's ideology.

HOBSON: What about the argument, though, that after setting this red line about chemical weapons, that if the United States does not act - even if that action is unilateral - that it loses credibility in the region and that it sends a message to Iran and to Hezbollah that the U.S. doesn't stand by its word?

GERGES: You know, this is really now more about the credibility of the president, the credibility of the Obama administration, the credibility basically taking action, as opposed to finding a way out of the carnage inside Syria. I understand the debate in the United States. I'm an American myself. And I appreciate the credibility of the presidency. But what's more important here? Is it the credibility of Barack Obama, or is it basically stopping the carnage inside Syria?

And, of course, we need to punish Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons when and if the evidence is presented to the Security Council. But my first priority now is for the United States to use this particular moment of heightened tension, of the threat of war, to try create a new diplomatic effort with Russia and China in order to punish Assad, I mean comprehensively, not just by sending - of you carrying out a few missile attacks against Assad, that really exerting international pressure on Assad to see him out of power and begin the process of political transition inside Syria.

Let me tell you what's going to happen the morning after the United States attack Syria. He's going to hunker down and he's going to emerge a few days after the American attack by proclaiming to Syrian people and the Arab people he stood up to the might of the United States. He has survived. He has another day to fight. The civil war goes on. The killing goes on. And little will have changed after the morning after.

This is what we're talking about. It's not just we disagree on whether to punish Assad or not. But what's more important, is to basically preserve the credibility of the Obama administration or rather to find a way after the deadly embrace(ph) inside Syria? You can do both, but more intelligently, more comprehensively, and also by proving to the world that the United States has learned the lessons of unilateral actions over the last 60 or 70 years.

HOBSON: Obviously this conversation happens in the wake of the war in Iraq, and I wonder what you think about how this would be different - how your calculation would be different if we had never gone to war in Iraq.

GERGES: Well, you can't ignore the ghosts of the Iraq. I mean, I'm sitting here in the heart of Europe. I want you to know there's a great deal of cynicism about the intentions of the United States throughout the world because of the Iraq war. And that's why there is no reason, there is no urgent need to rush to war. Let's take our time. Let's go back to the Security Council. Let's assemble an international coalition. Let's present the U.S. evidence and let's move forward in order to end the Syrian tragedy.

The Obama administration keeps saying we're going to do it unilaterally. The Security Council is paralyzed. The Russians won't be convinced regardless of what we say. We have the international coalition. Where's the coalition? In fact, the irony is that the coalition of the willing assembled by George W. Bush was wider and broader and bigger than the coalition being assembled by the Obama administration.

And the tragedy is, this is a president who cares deeply about international law, who cares deeply about multilateral action, who cares deeply about the Unites States being a good global citizen in the international community.

HOBSON: Fawaz Gerges is a professor at the London School of Economics, also author of "Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment." Fawaz Gerges, thank you so much for talking with us.

GERGES: Thank you for having me.

HOBSON: And let us know what you think. Should the military - should the U.S. military launch a strike against Syria? You can go to hereandnow.org or send us a tweet. We are @hereandnow. I am @jeremyhobson. Coming up, as the International Olympic Committee meets to pick the host city for the 2020 games, we will look back to the 1972 Olympics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    The Military-Industrial Complex would dearly love to sponsor a big fireworks show, so as to provide job security for the next year, as arms factories swing into action to replace all the missiles fired off so as to rotate the stock.

    Best estimates are that the MIC wants to shoot off about 200 cruise missiles, mainly to expend the older models which have to be manually programmed in advance (and cannot be dynamically retargeted in flight).

    We’re talking about roughly a half-billion dollars worth of cruise missiles that would then have to be replaced.

    • WestCoastSusan

      Any money should be spent on material support for refugees. This would create at least some goodwill toward Americans, help people in desperate need and, if votes are held among refugees to elect various local boards to administer the funds, it would begin to create a civic community forming a legitimate alternative to both the Assad regime and the jihadists.

    • ClaraThomas

      Wars are necessary for the war machine to test its weapons on others. Especially countries and cultures that are too weak to fight back.

      Look to see how the cowards in Washington attack with drones so called “terrorists” in Yemen and Pakistan.
      Yemen is one of your poorest countries on earth, yet according to Pentagon war mongers, they have this extensive terror network.
      Reminds me of how Osama bin Laden, a CIA asset known as Tim Osman orchestrated the 9-11 attack from a cave in Afghanistan.
      I have been to Afghanistan back in the late 1980′s and can’t imagine how anyone gets many generators up these mountain sides to run some operation out of against a country like the US that spends $40 billion a year on security.
      Something wrong here.
      Your enemy is the MIMAC in the West.
      The Military Industrial Media Academic Complex
      Americans have been duped so long by the media clowns, they can’t even think straight.
      Pity the herd.

  • Susan A. Wood

    I agree with Fawaz’s comments about the US, Obama, not to bomb Syria. I believe also that Obama is trying to save his own credibility, and not wanting to work with other countries to stop the horrors that the Syria leader did to his own people.

  • Kim Ludwig

    I completely agree with Mr. Gerges!!! It is very unfortunate that president Obama set the line to begin with. Yet even having said that circumstances do change and wisdom is an inherent human ability to adjust ones behavior according to the changing times. Striking some targets in Syriah just to “save credibility” is not applying wisdom to the situation.

  • mk

    You offered an opportunity to ‘vote’ as to whether or not the US should take military action against Syria. Although I don’t see where we can ‘vote’, my vote is NO. Thank you.

    • crescentfang

      Email your congressman and Senators. That is how you vote NO in this case.

  • Mitzi1942

    I do sincerely agree with Fawaz Gerges!. The US should definitely not go it alone! The country is still recovering from a recession and has a huge deficit, so it cannot afford the expense of another war and should think about the numerous casualties already inflicted on the population.

  • Mer’tan Trione

    Does anyone else see a pattern here? It seems our politicians, against the will of the people, have a lust for going to war and we need to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves why? I see the largest Military Industry in the world rearing it’s all powerful head again…and what does any business need? CUSTOMERS! And as the word bribing slowly evolved into the word lobbying, our war industry has nearly bought the U.S. Congress and now looks to every possible reason to go to war. Unfortunately “We the People” pay for it all. As a young man it took me quite a while before I realized it’s not about America winning OR losing a war—it’s simply about the profits of ANY war. While all people suffer greatly paying with their lives, and dollars, the Halliburton’s of the world get richer. It’s a perfect scheme, but when this becomes our foreign policy we create more hatred directed back at us and believe it or not that is great for business. Yes, war is good for business, but horrific for people, and we need to stop this perpetual war policy because the blow-back from this is going to eventually take us down. Couple all this with the latest NSA revelations and a military strike on Syria just adds one more to the long list of reasons to hate America—and business will be great for the few…

  • Faith Parker

    Fawaz Gerges presents brilliant logic. I don’t believe the proposed “fly-by” strike strategy is realistic and, really, what would be the point. We will, in fact, be drawn into major conflict — with the potential of a global conflict.

    The last statistics I heard indicated that 80% of the American people are opposed to the imminent strike on Syria. I listened to Senator Casey [D-PA] this AM and was appalled that he is casting a pro vote DESPITE his constituents’ overwhelming objections. Then in a careless moment, he mentioned increasing access to US oil resources. That’s what this is all about, folks. As usual, there are deals being made on the Hill to make the rich even richer.

    Where are US priorities? Children are hungry and without shelter in our own country. Why can we never afford to take care of our own citizenry, but can afford the staggering costs of war? Yes, my heart goes out to the innocent in Syria; but, the US cannot and should not continue trying to be the conscience of the world.

    I voted for President Obama and have supported him, admired him, and at times defended him. Alas, it turns out he’s just like all the rest.

  • Roteemee

    I disagree with Prof Fawaz and unfortunately with most commentators on this subject. For a moment lets forget about the weak justification for US strike against Syria bothering on credibility of Obama , the real issue here is on the US role in the world as the peace maker/broker even though it takes the road of military offensiveness to carry out the duty. Secondly, the other issue here is the determination of Syria to dare the US by using Cm on his people, thinking he can get away with it. Going by the history of events in the Middle East, Syria’s action if unpunished will send a very big wrong signals to other rogue nations in the Middle East, especially those that do not want Israel to exist. While one can understand most Americans non support for any strike, the fact that the burden of maintaining/balancing world peace or the US being the arbiter of peace in the world, makes it inevitable for the US to now abdicate this responsibility. Most of you should realize this is why God continues to bless America. America cannot quit on God regarding the responsibility which has been given to it. For me personally, I would not have supported any strike against any Arab country on the basis of the apathy of the West during the Rwanda genocide, but what shall we say of humanity? I can support the West not taking any action in Syria on the basis that they have not killed one-tenth of people killed in Rwanda, but then I will be guilty of racism. But I ask, are those Americans who are against Obama intervention in Syria doing so with the intention of after all they are only killing one another and not Americans or these war weary Americans are just concerned about the cost of prosecuting the intervention?

    • crescentfang

      I would suggest reading Mark Twain’s “war prayer”. Perhaps you should also check the bible. Have you forgotten Christ’s advice: “Those that live by the sword, die by he sword”? Our role as “peace maker” has been compromised by our constant resort to violence. No one on Earth trusts the US, for good reasons.

  • GEM

    Fawaz Gerges is right on every point. Instead of shooting from the hip again, the U.S. should show true international leadership by continuing to gather the facts, present them to the world, and make a case for condemning Assad’s regime for crimes against humanity. If Putin is honest about about punishing the Syrian government, should the facts show it used gassed its own people, he would have to join the world community.

  • John Hunter

    Certainly US needs to go out of the box…..let Russia lead a UN Peace Keeping Force into Syria. Russia can run the controls with other countries a part of the Force. Let us say have the Canadians as part of it. What have to lose? This would allow a ceasefire, would extract Assad and his retinue from Syria and could begin the process of creating a coalition government there.

  • reason

    What is the rush? As far as I know you are innocent until proven guilty. It may very well be the opposition that used the chemical weapons. Remember Carla del Ponte’s suspicions in May? I also would vote NO.

  • andrew spam

    I find it ironic that this guy is stating that the US should prove to the security council, to the Russians and the Chinese that there is strong evidence of a chemical strike by Assad and that they will indeed go after Assad. Putin has already said so, says Gerges. Really? When did the free world see China and Russia as supporting freedom anywhere? Their own people are suppressed. Putin launched a war to divide and conquer Georgia. The only thing China and Russia likes to do is to stop democratic countries from succeeding anywhere still. Putin regularly launches attacks on Chechen rebels, innocent civilians be damned. He locks up people who defame him in any kind of way. False charges are trumped against anyone who dares challenge him. He sells billions to Syria. Syria lets him park his naval vessels in their port. Putin is going to give up Assad? Gerges claims that understands America’s needs, he’s an American himself. Yup, he sure sounds like a hot blooded American doesnt he? He was born in Lebanon who teaches in Britain but holds U.S. citizenship. If the U.S. goes to war will Gerges defend the USA? I doubt it. It’s not Obama’s credibility on the line, it’s the US’s credibility in backing up what it will do what it says it will do. Iran is the next problem with an even bigger threat, nuclear weapons. All it takes is one detonation to irrevocably harm Israel and unsettle the whole volatile region.

    No, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were wrong, but I don’t think hitting Assad with bombs is uncalled for. He has displaced 2 million of his people and killed 100,000. America has not sent in any troops or weapons worth anything to Syria and therefore this is not a proxy war as Gerges claims it is. How did this guy get to become a professor of anything with statements like that? We know for a fact Iran has sent military personnel, weapons, and missiles to Syria. Syria has tried to move those weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon…a country Gerges is well acquainted with. Israel has launched airstrikes on these missile transfers. No, sir this is not yet a proxy war of any sort. I guess he has not been reading about the FSA’s complaint that they need weapons from the US and others. That they cannot fight against tanks, planes, and missiles with AK47s and handguns.

  • K Sugar

    Let’s not
    intellectualize or politicize the Syrian crisis…

    While having hours of intellectual and political conversations, at the end of the day Americans should ask: whose interest does this policy serve? Does it end the violence or create more? Does it create security for Syrian children or create more suffering? There are innocent children, and families suffering horrific violence and indignity in Syria, we should not be led down a path that will only create more human misery, suffering and a potential regional war.

    One could argue, with vigor, that the situation in Syria is a regional proxy war, which includes Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon. The only solution is a political solution:

    If we only focus on a military solution, we have already lost. How do we explain to Syrian children their lives were not worth the effort.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005571030791 Walter White

    It’s absurd that we’re wasting
    time with wars in the Middle East when the biggest program of genocide ever is
    being carried out across the Western world. This program is not being
    carried out with gas, or bullets, or starvation; it’s being carried out by
    force integration and assimilation of non-Whites into EVERY White country and
    every White community on earth. Whites have no choice but to accept forced diversity.
    Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Africans, Asians are all free to have spaces to pursue
    their own destinies. ONLY Whites are denied this right. This will lead to the
    end of White humans on earth. This is White genocide.

  • Sam

    Press the buttons and bomb this evil bastard and evrything associated with him. The professor is extremely ignorant in thinking that Russia and China would be convinced of anything if the proof was there. Press the buttons we’ve wasted to much of our lives talking about Assad, the mass murder of children.

    • ClaraThomas

      Where’s the real proof Sam?
      Show me the evidence. Are you one of those one percentters who will benefit from more war. You must be in the military-industrial complex.

      You have been so indoctrinated via the brainwashing from the mainstream media, your thoughts are skewed. Believing the sound bytes, thus eliminating the need for any critical thinking.
      Your enemy Sam originates with those from the CIA or Capitalism’s Invisible Army who runs all the wars for Corporate American and War Street.
      No wonder you people get the government you deserve.
      Apathy, indifference and ignorance has its costs.

  • crescentfang

    I think the President is bluffing. He is putting the neocons in Congress on ice by asking Congress to approve a completely nutty idea and letting the public stop them from acting. His actions and Kerry’s are actually stirring up opposition to an intervention both at home and internationally. Either he is stalling or he is a complete idiot, which seems unlikely. The amazing thing is that no one seems to suspect a lie in spite of the track record for deception our politicians have established.

  • http://profiles.google.com/barry.kort Barry Kort

    As I see it, this is not a referendum on who released the chemical agents. As I see it, this is a referendum on whether or not the US subscribes to and adheres to the protocols of the scientific method when examining evidence to sort among all conceivable hypotheses (including the Null Hypothesis) to explain an anomalous observation.

    All Mr. Kerry has done so far is to falsify the Null Hypothesis. He has convinced everyone that there really was a release of chemical agents in the suburbs of Damascus; it was definitely not a Hollywood movie stunt faking the story of civilians succumbing to some mysterious deadly agent.

    As a (now retired) scientist and science educator, I watched closely to see how well Mr. Kerry adhered to the protocols of the scientific method to ensure that the hypothesis he put forward a week ago Friday was the sole surviving hypothesis after rigorously undertaking to falsify each and every conceivable hypothesis on the table.

    I was frankly alarmed and chagrined to observe that Mr. Kerry substantially departed from the protocols of the scientific method, in much the same way as the government had done in previous historic examples in this recurring pattern.

    Modern day humans devised the Protocols of the Scientific Method as our most reliable method for sorting out accurate hypotheses from incorrect ones. Politicians, alas, are notorious for declining to rely on the Scientific Method for drawing conclusions.

    Will this episode prove to be yet another failure of our government to arrive at the ground truth by a trustworthy method?

    Or will this episode mark an historic turning point in our methods and practices for making wise and sensible decisions?

    I fear the political operatives scripting this drama will once again go out of their way to depart from the protocols of the scientific method.

    The first duty of a scientist is to array all conceivable hypotheses and then try like the dickens to falsify each and every one of them.

    I have not yet seen any attempt to array the alternate hypotheses or to falsify the one that the Obama administration (and the Military-Industrial Complex) favors.

    And so the meta-question stands before us. We have the Null Hypothesis and the Working Hypothesis, and the challenge to falsify either of them.

    H₀ (Null Hypothesis) – The US rigorously adheres to the protocols of the scientific method and the concepts of the Rule of Law.

    H₁ (Working Hypothesis) – The US routinely departs from the protocols of the scientific method and the concepts of the Rule of Law.

    This episode now in play will help determine which of the two hypotheses best characterizes the practices of our national governance model and methodology.

    I am frankly not sanguine about the outcome of this trial.

  • ClaraThomas

    Only the one percent want this war.

    Those 1% who own nearly everything in the country. Those who control the banks, the media, Hollywood, the government, the Federal Reserve System.

    They are your war mongers. They always have been. They pull the strings from behind the curtain. Expose these criminals before its too late.
    What are you waiting for? World War Three?
    Or gasoline at $15+ a gallon.

  • ClaraThomas

    Check out what Wesley Clark had to say on this subject years ago.

    General Wesley Clark reveals the US plan to invade and take over 7 countries, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, And Iran, before we even invaded Afghanistan.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LTdx1nPu3k&feature=player_embedded

    Where is the mainstream media on this?

  • Jocelyn Sophia Poesnecker

    Bombing Syria is not helping victims of a chemical attack in any way whatsoever. All bombing is terrorizing. The US claims to be against terrorism, so how could the US even be discussing bombing Syria or not? Obviously, the people who did the chemical attack need to be arrested and punished properly. PRESIDENT OBAMA, DO NOT BOMB SYRIA!

  • Alfred

    Another “false flag” operation probably by the CIA, MOSSAD or the Saudi secret services to discredit Assad.
    Why would Assad gas his own people the same day the UN chemical weapons inspectors were arriving in Syria?
    Why would Assad gas innocent women and children?
    Why wouldn’t you attack the rebel elements? They are the enemy.
    You attack women and children because this creates the greatest emotional outrage from the public.
    Look at what occurred at Sandy Hook School last Dec. Woman and children were the target. Then the outrage.
    Its known throughout history and been used where innocent women and children are slaughtered. This created maximum outrage from the masses.
    Its psychological warfare at its finest.

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