On Monday, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted a discussion in search of a bipartisan solution on the Syrian conflict. During the event, panelists and students disagreed over how to arrive at lasting peace, if the creation of safe zones was a feasible or even worthwhile goal and whether Assad is actually a dictator. The only emerging bipartisan sentiment was that the United States must intervene, but what that intervention should look like remained unclear.
This call for action was articulated by Let Me Go Home board member and Syrian-American Nora Barré, for whom the importance of toppling Assad goes beyond politics.
“His father killed my grandfather,” she confided. “And, I mean, look at the son! What, are we going to wait for the next son to come along and destroy the rest?”
S.E. Cupp, CNN contributor and board member of Help Me Go Home, opened the discussion with an honest look at the horrors of the last six years.
Condemning the apathy toward the massacre in Syria, she told the audience, “You, as millennials, are the first generation to watch a holocaust happen in real time on your cell phones, on your iPhones, so there’s no excuse not to know what’s going on.”
Yet, whatever agreement was present at the beginning of the discussion quickly faded as students and panelists’ views on the conflict became more nuanced. The most controversial moment in the discussion came when a student blamed the media for portraying Assad as a dictator. Panelists responded that Assad is, in fact, a ruthless dictator who killed over half a million Syrians, employing chemical weapons against his own people as recently as December. However, as the panelists conceded, not all Syrians see Assad as a foe, and some groups even see him as a stabilizing force.
Most members of the panel advocated for the creation of safe zones within Syria to provide relief for the millions of refugees. Anne Richard, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration during the Obama administration offered a different perspective. Safe zones had been considered numerous times during the Obama administration, but, according to Richard, would be impossible to implement.
“The High Commissioner for Refugees was just in Aleppo and he said that he didn’t see the possibility of a safe zone,”said Richard. “Instead, he said that the energy used for creating a safe zone should be used to pursue peace.”
Hunter Estes (SFS ’19) asked the panelists what would constitute a long-term solution in Syria
Congressman Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) emphasized swift and decisive action, stating, “The regime needs to know that violations will be met with power . . . The only language Assad speaks is strength.”
Kinzinger emphasized that he was not a “war hawk” and did not want to start another war in the Middle East.
“I’m not advocating, again, for mil-to-mil conflicts on this. But, the willingness sometimes to use ‘the stick’ as Roosevelt said . . . makes the use of it all much less likely.”
The panelists’ failure to arrive at a clear-cut, bipartisan solution underlines an important truth in the debate over Syria: there are no easy solutions. This discussion, however, needs to continue—at Georgetown, in the media and especially in the White House. President Trump should make a swift and informed decision on our relationship with Syria within the first 100 days.
The United States cannot continue to turn a deaf ear toward the pleas of millions of Syrians who are begging for relief. We can decide that the costs of another war in the Middle East would be too great to bear and that an unstable Middle East controlled by dictators and terrorists is a state of affairs that we are prepared to accept. But we cannot continue to keep the Syrian people in limbo, wondering when the rest of the world will step in to overthrow this genocidal despot.
If the United States continues to stay out of Syria, non-intervention should be our stated policy; and if the United States does decide to act, intervention will not become easier as the years pass.
“Every day that goes by our options become less and less,” warned Congressman Kinzinger. “This is not a fire in a house and the house is just going to burn down. It’s a fire in an apartment building, and the fire is spreading to the next apartment, and the next apartment.”