Not Should we, but WHEN #MIDEBATESyria. Yesterday.

Dear Pitaconsumers,

I just listened to four policy experts, or “Four Anglo-Saxon Men” on Syria at the McCain Institute…and I am almost tempted to complete a PhD in Middle East Studies just so I can write a dissertation on how horribly disappointing the consensus, or lack thereof, emerged from the panel.  I no longer understand what a “moral imperative” means anymore, but I learned some new terms from the panelists: “Manic Interventionist” and “Grand Extricator”.  These are labels that hawks sometimes use to  describe U.S. consideration for human rights issues.

I rarely blog right after attending a policy debate or event, because some of the best advice from my baba is: sleep on it first, then make a decision–speaking or writing. But I can’t sleep: after attending the McCain Institute’s first debate in its series of foreign policy debate, I wish I could say that Syria was “lucky” to be selected as the first topic.  The question posed to the four debaters was: “Should the United States Save Syria?”  The question should have been “When?”.  My response would have been: Yesterday.

For the last 22 months I have been blogging about Syria. Initially, I reviewed it from a political economy perspective in Aslan Media…then after the death toll mounted, despite peaceful protests, I reviewed it from a human rights perspective for Huffington Post. Consider that over 60,000 are dead because of the Assad regime’s intransigence and greed for power; more than 1.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, and an additional 1 million Syrian refugees are the result of the Shabeeha raiding towns, the Syrian Armed forces bombing bread and gas lines populated by civilians…and oh yeah: Syrian forces are raping their own Syrian women.  That’s a Warcrime.  That’s a “Redline”  for all the bureaucrats and military analysts who obsess over chemical weapons.  (This obsession is nearly pornographic.)

Neither approach was working.  In 2012, I tried the Diaspora approach.  No change in the US, Russian or other non Arab countries’ stance.  I have written about Syria for almost every outlet that I am allowed to contribute to…but nothing has changed.  So for the moderator that has asked all of us attendants to “write positive reviews” of this event.  Are.  You.  Kidding Me?

Syrian women, children–minority and “majority”–are still being shot at, tortured and rape while one of your debaters lectured us on the Lincoln Doctrine (Aaron David Miller, former U.S. Bureaucrat), and another argued not to intervene as ethnic cleansing is taking place because more intervention will inspire more ethnic cleansing (Joshua Landis, Director of Middle East Studies at University of Oklahoma).

Sadly, I almost rooted for the more conservative debater: Leon Wieseltier because “No one on panel has addressd that breadlines have been bombed, the civilians R suffering genocide, ” as I tweeted this, Wieseltier explained that even a “cold-hearted” pragmatist will see that “U.S. human rights interests intersect with its strategic interests” because the conflict has already spilled over and is only going to worse.  (Yes, I realize that there are circles that call Wieseltier ‘liberal’, but that has been among Conservatives…and he has served on the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq“.  So, yeah, I’m not convinced enough to call him “liberal”. )

Ironically, the fourth debater, who focuses on U.S. and European Policy at Brookings, Robert Kagan, made the most sense.  It was only fitting that he drew parallels with Bosnia to counter Landis’s point that ethnic cleansing will result if the U.S. intervenes.

So here’s my review as @PITAPOLICY who live-tweeted questions that received no answers: Are. You. Kidding. Me?!


For Tweets Replaying the points…here you go:

  1. Best part of debate: Kagan & Miller just burned each other down but after they were in the lobby deciding where to get drinks #MIDebateSyria

  2. @HowIvana Landis: “Leave the Syrians to fight it out” I remember when they used to say that about #Bosnia. #MIDebateSyria V @michaeldweiss

  3. Analysts defending and explaining lame US performance on #Syria is not good analysis #MIDebateSyria

  4. @omarsyria Your mom’s according to #MIDebateSyria “experts”, we aren’t ready for democracy yet. So, let’s roll back & go home.

  5. Opening this debate will show the US just how much people disagree with its vacuum sucking wind as policy #MIDebateSyria

  6. #Syria needs the intl. comm.’s help to overthrow a brutal, ruthless, strong dictatorship not to in *creating* a democracy. #MIDebateSyria

  7. Great debate with the @McCainInstitute. I still fall on the side that the US can and should save Syria. #MIDebateSyria

  8. Ladies & gentlemen in #Syria, according to #MIDebateSyria “experts”, we aren’t ready for democracy yet. So, let’s roll back & go home.

  9. Best debate on #Syria?? Umm considering there were 4 debaters on the stage &not one of them Syrian, I’m going 2have 2 say NO. #MIDebateSyria

  10. Perfect example of why these things should never be live streamed RT @KreaseChan: Now the self congratulatory bit #MIdebateSyria

  11. Arabs do not own their politics. How can Arabs own their own politics if there is no real democracy yet? #MIDebateSyria

  12. Robert Kagan at #MIDebateSyria: Obama will tolerate 100s of 1000s of deaths in #Syria and wait for CW before intervening.

  13. I reckon Landis is obsessed with “winners” and losers because for so long in this fight he was on the losing side. #MIDebateSyria

  14. Tonight’s panel is wrapping up but you can continue the debate at #MIDebateSyria

  15. Inorder 2stop what is #genocide I would arm the opps’ion, help the council,& provide a safehaven.#Syria #MIDebateSyria #finallyusedtheg-word

  16. The guy whose in-laws are all fighting for the regime says we can’t pick winners in #Syria. Shocking. #MIDebateSyria

  17. LOL RT @LeRifai: The only good thing about this #MIDebateSyria is the choice of furniture.

  18. The only good thing about this #MIDebateSyria is the choice of furniture.

  19. Robert Kagan at #MIDebateSyria: Obama will tolerate 100s of 1000s of deaths in Syria and wait for CW before intervening. #Syria

  20. Yup “@ImmAloush: Why does Joshua Landeis insist on classifying effort as “choosing the winner”-its about stopping bloodshed. #MIDebateSyria

  21. ADMIller: THis is not Bosnia.. really not Bosnia — give me a strategy.. strategy.. give me strategy.. don’t get it.. etc #MIDebateSyria

  22. Aaron David Miller has drastically boosted his credentials as an absurd, delusional nincompoop in my book. #MIDebateSyria #Syria

  23. Landis: “Leave the Syrians to fight it out” I remember when they used to say that about #Bosnia. #MIDebateSyria

  24. Ouch “@BBCPaulAdams: Robert Kagan at #MIDebateSyria: Obama will tolerate 100s of 1000s of deaths in Syria and wait for CW before intervening

  25. J. Landis once AGAIN just said the US came in and divided Yugoslavia along ethnic lines. ??? #MIDebateSyria

  26. Bob Kagan just owned Aaron David Miller. #MIDebateSyria

  27. An unmitigated stream of fatuous horseshit from Joshua Landis and Aaron David Miller right now #MIDebateSyria.

  28. Landis: they can sort out among themselves!! whoa !.. #Syria #MIDebateSyria

  29. @joshua_landis honestly, you’re a disgrace to humanity #SYRIA #MIDebateSyria! Who in the hell invites this guy to talk about #SYRIA

  30. At some point 1 of these people is gonna get exasperated and say “OK khalas – let the US full on invade & occupy #Syria#MIdebateSyria ;-0

  31. Landis now claims that Syrian secularists will get along just fine with Al Qaeda types without American intervention. #MIDebateSyria

  32. @aarondmiller2:When limited measures don’t work, won’t there be pressure 2 do more, and where would we draw the line? #goodpt #MIDebateSyria

  33. “Manic interventionism” and “The Great Extricator” are now two of my favorite phrases #MIDebateSyria

  34. It’s like there are two Realists and two Liberals with no Constructivist in this argument? #MIDebateSyria

  35. #MIDebateSyria is opened up to questions and comments from the audience.

  36. I think @joshua_landis just flinched when he heard the word ‘moral’ #MIDebateSyria

  37. @joshua_landis sticks with the argument that ethnic cleansing could happen if the US intervenes to stop..ethnic cleansing #MIDebateSyria

  38. Thank you @RafifJ for reminding @joshua_landis of how #syria conflict really started: peaceful. #MIDebateSyria Rafa’ati rasna!!

  39. J. Landis just completely mischaracterized the Yugoslav wars and the US role in it. Should get his facts straight. #MIDebateSyria

  40. Leon Wieseltier: “No greater blow could be dealt to Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas than the fall of the Assad Regime” #MIDebateSyria #Syria

  41. #midebatesyria Leon Wieseltier “one side of the struggle in syria needs our help and the bad guys are helping the other side”

  42. Who is this guy that was just speaking? I like him. #MIDebateSyria @RafifJ

  43. “Other side of the struggle is getting help from” Iran, Putin you name it.. #SYRIA #MIDebateSyria!

  44. US interest in Syria is that the two parties destroy Syria so the Syrian people will be busy for decades resolving their pbs #MIDebateSyria

  45. Chemical Weapons, not rape nor torture, mutilation, killing, bombing, shelling, is a red line. #MIDebateSyria

  46. .@RafifJ: No one on panel has addressd that breadlines have been bombed, the civilians R suffering genocide. #MIDebateSyria @McCainInstitute

  47. @joshua_landis doesn’t think that Syrians are READY 4democracy He focuses on Alwaites bc he’s wife is one and related 2ASSAd #MIDebateSYria

  48. What if France debated like this instead of helping Americans gain their independence #MIDebateSyria

  49. Okay we r not ready 4 democracy in #Syria so lets sit back & tell Syrians 2 put up w/Assad’s ruthless indiscriminate killing #MIDebateSyria

  50. McCain Enstitusundeki Suriye tartismasini konuyla ilgilenen herkesin internetten seyretmesini tavsiye ediyorum #MIDebateSyria

  51. Luck and chance, better than anything else @WashingtonPoint: Kagan: what outcome we expect if we don’t do anything?.. #MIDebateSyria!”

  52. Aaron David Miller at #MIDebateSyria: US doesn’t want Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia. Not in US interest.

  53. Are they debating whether or not we’re ready for democracy? Really? After 2 years of revolting? #MIDebateSyria

  54. Robert Kagan makes key point on chem weapon redline, “who thinks Assad will go down w/out using every weapon in his arsenal?” #MIDebateSyria

  55. Panel: all Caucasians NO SYRIANS.. @joshua_landis married to a SYRIAN relative of ASSad doesn’t qualify  #MIDebateSYRIA!

  56. “Should the United States Save #Syria?”  @BarackObama will tolerate so many deaths it doesn’t matter #MIDebateSyria!

  57. Robert Kagan at #MIDebateSyria: Obama will tolerate 100s of 1000s of deaths in Syria and wait for CW before intervening.

  58. “What is the outcome that we are going to get if we do nothing”–Robert Kagan asking the MOST important question–#MIDebateSyria #Syria

  59. Kagan: what outcome we expect if we don’t do anything? — Kagan has been the best performer so far– clarity.. #MIDebateSyria!

  60. Kagan “the use of chemical weapons will be the red line for the US” #MIDebateSyria

  61. Following the debate “Should the United States Save #Syria?” #MIDebateSyria of @McCainInstitute in #DC; hot and but fruitful debate goes on.

  62. @BarackObama will tolerates 100’s of thousands of deaths in Syria #MIDebateSyria! #SYRIA CW already used FYI!!

  63. #midebatesyria Bob Kagan “I am prepared to support democracy promotion in Middle East” and “what is outcome when we do nothing in syria?”

  64. @b_momani: Landis just argued tht #ArabSpring is a mvmnt 2 get #Islamists into mainstream power-Guess I missed that newsbrief #MIDebateSyria

  65. I find it very pathetic that not one of the four “experts” speaking at #MIDebateSyria are actually Syrian. Explains a lot.

  66. While Syrians die every day…RT@McCainInstitute:@joshua_landis “We are going to make sure that no side wins in Syria. #MIDebateSyria

  67. Joshua Landis at #MIDebateSyria. US will make sure no-one wins in Syria. It’s in US interest.

  68. A pretty huge leap in logic there Mr.Landeis–2 claim that every1 who isnt Sunni is going 2 be cleansed, is a HUGE assumption.#MIDebateSyria

  69. .@joshua_landis “We are going to make sure that no side wins in Syria. #MIDebateSyria

  70. .@joshua_landis apparently knows what all Jews & Palestinians want, not one state. #MIDebateSyria #Palestine

  71. Great turnout at @McCainInstitute‘s Syria debate. “Democratization is not an event – it is an era.” #MIDebateSyria

  72. Moderator of #MIDebateSyria @eliselabottcnn: How do you avoid the Pottery Barn prblm “if u break it, u buy it” w/ #syria? #mccaininstitute

  73. Debate getting pretty heated with some great FP experts- Bob Kagan, Josh Landis, Leon Wieseltier, Aaron David Miller #midebatesyria

  74. L. Wieseltier “Democracy is an exercise in destabilization” #MIDebateSyria

  75. #midebatesyria Leon Wieseltier “democratization is a long process…a process in destabilization”

  76. Not that either #Bosnia or #Syria are “ethnic conflicts” to start with #MIDebateSyria

  77. #midebatesyria aaron d miller “we have 10 yrs of bad history behind us…so prove a Syrian intervention would be any different than Iraq ”

  78. Miller “prove to me you can do this with military aid?” #MIDebateSyria

  79. what the hell Aaron D. Miller talking about? got no idea.. questions there and here.. #MIDebateSyria

  80. To those fearing the consequences that follow Assad leaving, what is happening today is the consequence of him staying #MIDebateSyria

  81. TY R. Kagan for mentioning intervention in #Bosnia as counterpoint to argument the US shouldn’t get into “ethnic conflicts” #MIDebateSyria

  82. thank you! finally, a mention of the moral imperative! #MIDebateSyria

  83. @joshua_landis, R U saying that only rich old pple get democracy? Syrians are intelligent, entrepreneurial & innovative! #MIDebateSyria

  84. #midebatesyria Bob Kagan “if we sit on our hands what is our action when Assad uses his weapons in his arsenal?”

  85. .@pitapolicy RT @airguitarGenius Aaron David Miller: extrication is not the metric by which we should measure success. #MIDebateSyria

  86. Kagan “What is the policy when Assad uses the chemical weapons in his control? What then?” #MIDebateSyria

  87. Why does Joshua Landeis insist on classifying this effort as “choosing the winner”–its about stopping bloodshed. #MIDebateSyria

  88. Landis at #MIDebateSyria. Democracy won’t be outcome in Syria. Can’t defeat militias with Harvard-educated liberals.

  89. Ugh Landis is doing his thing. RT @McCainInstitute: .@joshua_landis “democracy is not happening in Syria anytime soon” #MIDebateSyria

  90. .@joshua_landis: Can’t put a group of Harvard educated ppl to run the country post-#Assad #MIDebateSyria

  91. #MIdebatesyria Let’s just have Mossad tells us where Assad is hanging out and then “drone” his ass into oblivion. Whaddya think?

  92. Excited that our first debate is in front of a packed room! #MIDebateSyria

  93. Shorter Leon Wieseltier – with our lack of support, the next Syrian leaders will not feel they owe the US anything #MIDebateSyria

  94. .@joshua_landis “democracy is not happening in Syria anytime soon” #MIDebateSyria

  95. #midebatesyria josh landis “the notion that we will find the democrats in Syria is a false notion”

  96. Wieseltier “We are talking about assisting a democratic rebellion already in progress” #MIDebateSyria

  97. Aaron David Miller: extrication is not the metric by which we should measure success. #MIDebateSyria

  98. #midebatesyria Leon Wieseltier “given our lack of help the next government of Syria will not feel that it owes the US and the West anything”

  99. Had the USA intervened earlier, it wouldn’t have had to donate hundreds of millions of dollars worth of relief aid #MIDebateSyria

  100. Miller ignoring fact that international community is seeking to intervene in Syria. This is not a unilateral US interest. #MIDebateSyria

  101. Aaron David Miller at #MIDebateSyria: Obama “the great extricator”.

  102. @aarondmiller2: Syria not a fair test of US foreign policy. To oppose involvement in Syria not same as pulling back frm world #MIDebateSyria

  103. @joshua_landis: argument against intervention in #Syria is fear of ethnic cleansing? What’s happening now? #MIDebateSyria MT @ehdomenech

  104. Aaron David Miller at #MIDebateSyria: Obama a less reckless, more disciplined version of George W Bush. Hence GOP probs with US for policy

  105. @ImmAloush @PoliticallyAff #SYRIA #MIDebateSyria Who says its a sectarian ethnic war? Heard this one for the first time!

  106. Miller says @MCCAINinstitute: Even if we could save Syria we shouldn’t b/c we don’t have the resources: eg cost of #noflyzone #MIdebateSyria

  107. One of Joshua Landis’s argument against intervention in Syria..fear of ethnic cleansing? What’s happening now? #MIDebateSyria

  108. #midebatesyria aaron david miller “we don’t want to own another arab country”…”need to understand our ends and what means we have”

  109. @joshua_landis, stop saying US support for #Syria is abt picking ethnic winners! Assad is head of a mafia not the Allawites. #MIDebateSyria

  110. Motives MT @McCainInstitute: Wieseltier “no greater blow..could be dealt to..Iranian regime than..fall of the Assad regime.” #MIDebateSyria

  111. #MIdebatesyria Joshua Landis makes “some” sense1

  112. .@joshua_landis: to think that we can save #Syria is foolish. We can’t unradicalize them. We tried twice and failed. #Iraq #MIdebateSyria

  113. “Should the United States Save Syria?” Watch the debate LIVE now from the @McCainInstitute:  #MIDebateSyria

  114. @McCainInstitute Many flaws in Landis’s argument & I shudder to think how many in the audience are being misinformed. #MIDebateSyria

  115. RT@cspan: Experts Debate U.S. Role in #Syria, hosted by @McCainInstitute #MIDebateSyria – LIVE online here: 

  116. Its not about putting 1 group on top another group!Its bout taking out a dictatorial regime thats butchering its own citizens #MIDebateSyria

  117. .@joshua_landis “I don’t think America can decide this equilibrium.” #MIDebateSyria

  118. Joshua Landis: Getting involved in this kind of internecine conflict is bound to come to grief #MIDebateSyria

  119. #MIDEBATESYRIA Weiseltier argues @MCCAINinstitute: But even cold-heart realism will benefit as it’ll be a blow to #Hamas & #Hezbollah.

  120. Sen. McCain opening debate “Should US Save Syria” at McCain Institute #Syria #MIDebateSyria

  121. #MIDEBATESYRIA Weiseltier argues @MCCAINinstitute: Nobody is talking abt deploying 200K troops to #Syria.

  122. “America cannot nation build in the Middle East” says Joshua Landis #MIDebateSyria

  123. So happy this is finally a questions for debate! Do you think US should help Syria? #MIDebateSyria

  124. Agree with Wieseltier that from a purely strategic standpoint vs Iran, the best outcome is the removal of Assad #midebatesyria

  125. #MIdebatesyria how do we know our $$ for humanitarian assistance isn’t being stolen by Assad? We don’t, of course. Let’s stop our madness!

  126. .@joshua_landis “Only the Syrians can save Syria. The US cannot nation-build in the Middle East.” #MIDebateSyria

  127. #Midebatesyria josh landis “America cannot nation build in Middle East”

  128. Shorter Leon Wieseltier – the pursuit of our moral values abroad often aligns with our strategic interests abroad #MIDebateSyria

  129. Leon Wieseltier: “Iraq War doesn’t tell us all we need to know about US foreign policy choices” #MIDebateSyria

  130. Leon wieseltier No greater blow could be dealt to Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas than the fall of the Assad Regime #MIDebateSyria

  131. Wieseltier “there is no greater blow that could be dealt to the Iranian regime than the fall of the Assad regime.” #MIDebateSyria

  132. .@pitapolicy someone should ask Kagan about the millions of Iraqi lives destroyed by US efforts to save Iraq #MIDebateSyria

  133. Bob Kagan for doing more in Syria: compared w other cases of boots on ground, supporting anti-Assad forces is least US can do #MIDebateSyria

  134. #MIdebatesyria Let’s have Leon Wieseltier pickup an AR-15 and go rescue some Syrians from oppression. Don’t hold your breath!

  135. #midebatesyria Leon Wieseltier: “we can”t ask the world for a time out on US leadership while we get our financial house in order”

  136. Wieseltier “History doesn’t allow us zero sums or timeouts.” #MIDebateSyria

  137. LIVE now. Im watching @McCainInstitute: “Should the United States Save Syria?”  Live-tweet us: #MIDebateSyria

  138. #MIDebateSyria the US supposedly stands for humanity and democracy and the least this administration can do is save the Syrian people

  139. #midebatesyria Bob Kagan: “we should establish a no fly zone in the North of Syria”

  140. Kagan @brookingsFP: Yes, intervene #Syria b/c #humanrights & Strategic interests – can’t afford a failed state #MIDebateSyria #Aid #Nofly

  141. Robert Kagan: Syria as failed state not a prospect US can countenance. #MIDebateSyria

  142. #midebatesyria Bob Kagan: “failed states like Syria are extremely dangerous to US interests”

  143. Is Syria a nexus of strategic interests and humanitarian need? Robert Kagan argues yes, at the McCain Institute Debate #MIDebateSyria

  144. #MIdebatesyria How many tax dollars are being wasted by all this bloviating by “international scholars”?

  145. bunch of white men debating whether US should save #Syria (one of them helped push US effort to save #Iraq) #WTF #MIDebateSyria


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