February 28, 2014

Is it now — has it always been — too late for the West to save Syrian lives?

The Syria Test

Palestinians waiting for food at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus a month ago -- in a photo released yesterday by United Nations.

Palestinians waiting for food at the Yarmouk camp in Damascus a month ago — in a photo released yesterday by United Nations and printed on page A7 of the New York Times today. (UNRWA Photo)

With Iraq and Afghanistan bleeding in our rear-view mirror, is there a case still to be made for American intervention with anything more than words in Syria’s miserable meltdown? The news and pictures from Syria are perfectly awful – sarin gas against civilians succeeded by barrel bombs on Aleppo, millions of Syrians on the run, all varieties of torture, targeting of children and doctors, a death toll in two-and-a-half years of warfare approaching 150,000, and no end in sight. But is there anything like a constructive case for American intervention?

Our guest Steve Walt from Harvard was a leader of the “realist” school of American strategy before it was fashionable. He warned all along that war with Iraq would undermine the US interest; today he’s saying we should be fighting the temptation to commit American power in Syria. Our guest from London, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, is the historian of folly in Iraq, the “Neoconservative War,” he calls it. But he’s telling us that Syria is different – a murderous tyranny that only the threat of American force can check. And Nabih Bulos, the Los Angeles Times journalist, is just back from Damascus and a tour of the besieged city of Homs and Yarmouk refugee camp inside the city.

What should we have done, what can we still do, and is it too late to pass the test in Syria?

Guest List
Stephen Walt
Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, author of the bombshell book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, and a columnist at Foreign Policy.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
a Pakistani-born academic, a commentator at Pulse, and author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War.
Dr. Laurence Ronan
a staff physician at Mass General Hospital, director of the Thomas S. Durant, M.D., Fellowship in Refugee Medicine, and medical director for the Boston Red Sox, calling in from spring training.
Nabih Bulos
professional violinist and war correspondent, born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, who returned from a trip to Damascus two weeks ago.
Reading List
Understanding Syria: From Pre-Civil War to Post-Assad
William Polk, The Atlantic
The veteran foreign-policy thinker William Polk wrote a long explainer of the roots of the civil war in Syrian history and geography for The Atlantic.
Use of Force to Save Starving Syrians
Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi, New York Times
"Children of Aleppo"
FRONTLINE documentary

Related Content