October 22, 2015

Were we wrong to stay out of the worst humanitarian disaster of the decade?

Second-Guessing Syria

Syria has been burning now for four years — with millions displaced into Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, more than 250,000 dead, and no end in sight.

In March of 2014, Stephen Walt, Harvard’s “realist” foreign-policy hand, warned against a costly and uncertain entanglement in Syria as against national security interests on our show.

Today, to his credit, Walt is wondering whether he was wrong to warn against intervention, as we all watch a human tragedy unfold on a grand scale.

What was disturbing in 2012 has become apocalyptic. Russian and Iranian forces are backing the Syrian assault on Aleppo, dislocating tens of thousands of people each day. ISIS has emerged as an uncontrollable third party in the conflict. Our guest Lina Sergie tells us her Syrian-American friends are surprising themselves: many are turning to Jeb Bush, the candidate most loudly saying that we’re “duty bound” to take on Assad with muscle.

In his column at Foreign Policy, Walt concluded “with some genuine reluctance” that holding back the Western military in Syria remained the right course. But we want to dig deeper than that: to the yet-unimagined theory of this country’s military mega-power that allows for both life-saving interventions in terrible situations and for prudence and timely restraint. (Does such a thing exist?)

What would have worked, what were the worries, and what are the war-weary Western powers to do when millions of innocent lives are on the line?

Photo by Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters.

Guest List
Stephen Walt
professor of international affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, columnist-strategist at Foreign Policy, and author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy with John Mearsheimer.
Lina Sergie Attar
Syrian-American architect and co-founder/CEO of the Karam Foundation, which provides Syrian refugees with aid and therapy.
Khaled Fahmy
Egyptian historian, visiting professor at Harvard, and author of Mehmed Ali: From Ottoman Governor to Ruler of Egypt.

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