Foreign Policy discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
What would Wilson have done regarding the current situation in Syria?
My question to the panelists:
I’m Oula Abdulhamid and I’m a Syrian activist. I live here in D.C., and I left Syria in 2005 because of Assad death threats to my family. My question is about how to protect Syria. The U.S. is the superpower country and it can help the Syrian people. The Syrian people never had the chance to practice the right to self-determination. We were under the control of colonial powers, and then the Assad family dictatorship for 40 years, for more than 40 years. And now we’re asking for freedom and dignity, and we need the U.S. help. And I believe that the U.S. can do that. We are a nation that has the right to live freely. I believe that the U.S. should have acted two years ago. If we don’t want to arm the rebels because we don’t know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, how about, you know, establishing a no-fly zone, a safe haven for the people to protect them from Assad’s daily airstrikes and massacres? We have over 200,000 deaths today and I don’t rely on the official numbers, you can easily triple that number. So thank you very much.
Anne-Marie Slaughter: Thank you.
Anne-Marie Slaughter: I agree. I think we should establish a no-fly zone. I actually from — I will say, from my point of view, and actually Mike — Professor Kazin, I can engage you on this because in your — the end of your piece you say that, you know, one of — part of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy was a great liberal legacy. And I agree with you that Franklin Roosevelt continued and then Lyndon Johnson continued and that what destroyed it was the Americanization of the Vietnam War, and that — so — because Lyndon Johnson immersed himself in Vietnam, it destroyed, in the end, his domestic liberal reign — I think that’s a fair characterization — and that this president has at least learned that lesson and is not going to make the same mistake and is going to protect what I also hope will be a great liberal record. And he has started by not getting involved, and I think that is exactly how President Obama sees it. I think he sees that Syria can only be a world of hurt. That there’s no — there’s very little we can do and there’s a great deal that would drag us down.
My own view is it’s sort of the flip side, that as much as you want to focus on domestic issues as a president, the world has a funny way of dragging you down. And I fear that unless we act, no matter how awful it — and difficult and challenging it is, and I’m not talking about ground troops — as I said, I think this will become the Middle East war, and that will consume him one way or another. And will ultimately destroy — it will overshadow anything else he’s able to accomplish. So I will just say I think we should be working with others to use enough force to both protect people and to signal that we are not prepared to let the entire Middle East go up in flames.
Former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush
Professor of History, Harvard University
Professor of History, Georgetown University
Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University
Fast-forward to 1:05:40 to see me asking the panelists about Syria: