tv [untitled] June 18, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm EDT
this was a mistake. it was folly at the back of the plan, of course. particularly because the plan didn't even call for assad to leave, which the president had done. in fact, when ananne was interviewed about it shortly after introducing the plan about whether he was committed to assad's departure he said this is up to the syrian people to decide as if they had a say over their own future. it was never going to happen. the assad regime would never allow the country to be flooded with journalists. it would never stop murdering innocent people. the assad regime won't participate in its own demise. yet we backed the plan. that was february, right after the russians and chinese vetoed the security council resolution. this heralded the start of the massacres really. there were massacres all throughout. this is when it started to pick
up. anyone following the developments of the time knew the ananne plan wasn't going to work. we didn't have and we still don't have a plan b. right? we hear a lot about plan b. back in february after the mass killings started, the administration actually leaked that it was planning a plan b. on february 28, 2012, the cnn's crack pentagon correspondent barbara starr got a scoop from a senior u.s. official and said the pept gone had detailed plans for military action against a regime. or had it? you have to consider the remarkable statement. i encourage you to look for it. i will quote from it right now. the remarkable june 7 statement from chairman of the joint chiefs of staff martin dempsey. general dempsey was asked to, quote/unquote, give us some idea about how a big military operation would be required to stop the killing of civilians in
syria. general dempsey answers, no, i can't do that because i have to know what the outcome is. you tell me what the outcome is and i can tell you about a plan to achieve that outcome. he says, tell me that you want regime change in iraq. i can build you a plan. how many divisions, air wings. i know what it takes. tell me following the regime change in syria you want me to restore order, do nation building stability ops. i know what that looks like. so anything at this point vees a see syria would be hypothetical in the extreme. i can't build a plan unless i understand the outcome. didn't president obama say august 18 that assad had to go? this is june 7. two weeks ago. general dempsey is saying he can't plan because he doesn't know or doesn't understand the outcome. this is remarkable. it seems that general dempsey is
lacking any civilian guidance regarding the end state of what we want to reach in syria. right? assad's gone. what is it going to look like? what should we do? the fact that it took more than a year or we are more than a year into the slaughter is indicative of ambivalence at the highest level of the government about what to do in syria. time matters. you heard it from senator mccain. the longer the fight continues the more bad trends are going to emerge. radicalization. you have the islamization of the revolt. if you're watching youtube you can tell there is a trend in what's going on on the ground. of course the move -- the more and more move to al qaeda on the ground, al qaeda fighters are heard from brian is not a surprise here. this is home base in a way for many of the jihadis. they spent years going into and out of syria to kill americans
in iraq. come back through syria to go on conjugal visits. we know this. this is home. they're familiar with it. at the same time assad's strategy has been heavily dependent on using the scare tactic of al qaeda and syria. the longer it goes on the more chance it has of becoming a reality and the more chance the fighters in the free syrian army who are not by and large islamic will become islamists. so that's a problem. unlike another trend -- unlike the syrian council which is a basket case the army is more effective on the ground. operations are more lethal, better coordinated. the free syrian army has 300 separate identified battalions on the ground or fighting units. no shortages of ammunition. they are kill canning assad syrian forces. this is good. sometime in the not so distant
future, and we are seeing it now -- some of the chemical weapons. 40 or so sites in syria with mustard gas may go somewhere else. we don't know. these are weaponized. it's a large advanced and nasty program. they have production facilities near homs and homma. the third trend we are seeing is ethnic cleansing. two purposes while the assad regime is doing this. one is they are clearing sunni villages. unlike washington, the assad regime has a plan b.
that's to create alawi land. they are doing it. clearing out areas to make sure there are no hostiles in the area. the second reason they are doing that is massacres on the scale they are doing these lastens civil wars. if it is insurgency we can get involved. if it's civil war, we don't want that. that's domestic stuff. we can get killed. the first thing that comes to mind is lebanon in the 1980s. civil war for assad is a good thing. it keeps us away. there is on our side a lack of urgency. not only to end the slaughter, but especially given the potential strategic benefits of assad's fall vis-a-vis iran in particular. what do we do in the future about this? i'm going to short cut it here. senator mccain has it right. we should give more assistance to the free syrian army
including tactical guidance, command and control. that means boots on the ground. not in syria but in turkey. i'm talking about special forces. one lieutenant colonel and a handful of majors. they work on command and control. they go in and organize. help the free syrian army be better organized. decrease the number of atrocities they are perpetrating on the ground. make sure we don't have what looks like libya in the end with hundreds of militias not holding to the central government, running around refusing to disarm and the government having to bribe the militias to provide security. to work with assad, et cetera. that's one. we should be building, as the senator said, a coalition of the willing. let's call them the better friends of syria. not just friends of syria. we should plan coalition military operations. with an emphasis on arab forces. the uae and qatar were
instrumental in libya. they are on the right side here, too. russia, iran, venezuela are acting without u.n. consent. they are not seeking our consent. they send weapons to kill the syrian people. we don't have to seek their content to help them defend themselves. we can't let the iran policy be held hostage. i'm sorry, our syria policy be held hostage to russian cooperation on iran. we can do both. we can also stop restraining turkey. turkey in the past, according to tony bodron, a colleague and friend, back in february, secretary of state clinton met with the turkish foreign minister who put forth a set of measures including creating a buffer zone, humanitarian quarter and a plan for quipping the free syrian army. clinton told her turkish
counterpart no less than three times, we are not there. so we're straining the turks from doing something that's beneficial. they don't want to be out front on this. traditionally turkey hasn't sought permission when it wants to kill kurds in iraq and syria. they act in the national interest as they see fit. i think we really have to help the turks to be the best they can be here. if they think that's in their national interest to create a buffer zone we should not be constraining them. if the turks are generally interested in taking a leading role we're not doing it. we shouldn't stop them from doing it. a buffer zone, i think, would be a watershed for the syrian group. it would create mass defections. finally we should derecognize the syrian government like libya did. not only booting out syrian
diplomats but turning over the keys to the syrian embassy to the syrian opposition. these guys aren't legitimate. there's no talking with them unless they want to talk about going to venezuela, tehran or moscow. they are beyond the pale. we should act like other nations like libya have. thank you. >> lee? >> thank you, david. thank you, brian. it's a pleasure to be here with you. thank you very much. it's a huge thrill, particularly exciting to be here with senator mccain delivering the keynote. as michael noted, i work at the weekly standard where i think for much of the last year i have been writing articles attacking the administration over its syria policy. among other things but especially syria policy. i figured i would be less polemical and ask general questions and the particular
place i wanted to focus on was when senator mccain was talking about why the fall of assad is important strategically, especially regarding iran. it's one thing to keep in mind because we keep talking in this administration. iran is a central regional issue. other people say it as well. what i want to the questions i want to ask or the things i want to look around are to try to explore, tease out briefly, quickly if that's the case. if people regard iran as a central issue or a serial policy or confused policy suggest something else. maybe iran is not as important as many of us have been saying. let us start with one comment
quickly that brian raised when talking about the alouise and others. the big concern is it's not foreign fighters, not local islamists. it's regular sunnis. what's been happening over the course of the last year. including ethnic cleansing. this is a big deal. we saw what happened. the majority of the victims came from one family. it came from one sunni family. what we have seen happen over the course of the last year is i'm of the impression this civil war has been going on over a year. that it started when the
allouites came to power. syria has sectarian issues. let's be frank. the civil war has been going on for a long time. we have seen different episodes of the fighting. we saw it in 1980. during the '60s. we have seen a lot of the fighting. what we have seen is an especially hot episode of the episode going on. that's about the sunnis and allouites. it's ugly now and will be uglier. the reason i raised it is one of the interesting things that's happened in the debate is a lot of the times the ideas of the regular sunnis who live there regardless of religious belief this has been with al qaeda. this has been going on for quite a while.
these are different things. no doubt as david talked about al qaeda and other sunni fighters have been an issue in syria for a long time. over the last decade this is primarily nurtured various relationships. it's hardly surprising now that many of the guys should be still around. one of the things i wanted to put forth, speculate about is do we know who is controlling the groups now? we didn't know for the last decade when they were going into iraq. most of the guys who described themselves as sunni groups are really sunni fighters but whether they are operating according to their own plans, that's an entirely different question. how much control did the regime have? how much control does the regime and damascus have now? we don't know that. maybe it's something we can talk about later. i think we don't know that. that's what i would put forth. let me come back to iran quickly
now. in the framework of iran why does the administration still say it doesn't know if there are suitable recipients of weapons on the ground in syria. one of the concerns is we have heard them clearly say we are worried it will wind up in the hands of al qaeda. the last thing we want is for it to end up in the hands of al qaeda. partly for political reasons but there are real military reasons as well. we don't want the weapons floating around like a lot of weapons in libya are floating around now. some even in the gaza strip. this is not something people want happening. i want to warn you on -- or warn all of us on the allusion made between al qaeda and sunnis generally. why can't the administration make the distinction after a year? is this a reflection of the american intelligence community that the american intelligence
community still after a year has no idea who the good guys are and who the bad guys are in syria? i think they probably have something of an idea now. the most important thing is if the administration made a decision and said the president has made it a preference of his policy to identify the good guys in syria, who are we going to back and who are we going to arm? i submit the american intelligence community would come up with a good idea of who we should be backing and who we should be arming. the fact that we are not arming these people suggests it is not that we can't find them. it's not that we can't tell the difference between al qaeda and the regular sunnis. we probably don't want to. and, again, i would say what does this mean about our iran policy, if you have general mattis saying the fall of assad would represent the greatest set-back for iran in the last 25 years i happen to believe that's
pretty accurate. senator mccain articulated the same. senator mccain put a finer point on it describing hezbollah. look. syria represents hezbollah's strategic depth. it's also its supply line. hezbollah has a lot of arms now. no matter what, even if they toppled today they probably have enough missiles and rockets for more than one round with israel. we don't know. but they have a lot of weapons. nonetheless for hezbollah to lose its strategic ally and its strategic depth in syria would represent a huge setback for the iranians and the iranians recognize this. this is one of the reasons why i think there is probably -- we should probably lend credence to the reports that there are both irgc fighters and hezbollah fighters now in syria. in order to keep the regime afloat. it's interesting what it says about how the regime is doing
militarily. if there are foreign fighters supporting the regime and syria, what does the military position look like? let me go through this quickly. again, if we believe if the iranian threat is that significant, why don't we look for an opportunity to take on the iranians wherever possible, especially if, as everyone is saying, that -- david said there should be boots on the ground in turkey, but not in syria. no one else is calling for american troops in syria now. the idea is though essentially backing a proxy force in syria. the administration has said they have been quite clear saying, look, we are not moving toward a policy of containment and deterrence. we are preventing the iranians from getting a nuclear weapons program. in either case, that means not
just a credible threat of force, but the actual use of force has happened during the cold war backing proxy forces. again, i'm not sure why we are reluctant to back the free syrian army. one possibility is we don't think -- we think syria is a distraction. we think iran is much more important. this might be one of the reasons why russia -- why we have given russia a leading role. we expect the russians to deliver the iranians over the next two days and over the next two days to begin with. but then over the rest of the negotiation process. the other possibility -- and i'm going to close with this. the other possibility is we actually do not think the iranian nuclear program -- and i think it's an argument -- i haven't heard the argument made by the administration. i can see the argument would be made, but that the iranian
nuclear program isn't that big an issue. if the iranians -- the israelis have a problem with it, let the israelis deal with it. remember, our issue is not the american interest. it's not protecting israel. the persian gulf is, as martin kramer called it, an american lake. this is our interest. who is there? it's inhabited by sunni powers. the idea that we are turning against sunnis or keep alighting sunnis in syria is how we see the iranian nuclear program generally. thank you. >> thank you very much, lee. david, brian, amar. i would like to immediately move to q & a. just a couple of notes first. when you are handed the microphone state your name and affiliation. i believe in what i call jeopardy rules which is if you have a statement to make phrase
it in the form of a question and i'm going to instruct the panel for those that might be tempted to ask multiple questions is ask as many as you want. they are only answering the first question so we get as much back and forth as possible. we have a large room. so as many people as possible can ask questions. yes, sir? up front. >> thank you for the great empirical assessment. my name is mason merringer and i'm a teacher. i want to go back to senator mccain. his call to action seemed to hinge, to get him, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal with inalienable rights. this seems to be at the heart of the american exceptionalism argument. what's striking about this, and i want to ask the entire panel. this argument is the idea that one nation is hitched to universal rights for all human beings. therefore, sovereignty, national sovereignty dissolves in the
face of this. so you have a nation whose exceptionalism is based on universal ideals. what does that imply for sovereignty of all nations generally speaking? >> thank you. who would like to take it? [ laughter ] >> i would be happy to take it. let me just rephrase it, if i may, very quickly. you're saying because the united states has an exceptionalist view of itself that means that it perceives itself as able to trempl the sovereignty of other nations. is that what you mean? [ inaudible ] >> let me -- we need to address the issue. let me phrase it this way. if the panelist could address issues relating to the clash of sovereignty with universalism,
idealism and we can talk about the concept of unilateralism -- >> if i could say quickly, i don't see it in terms of -- i don't see it in terms of a violation of syrian sovereignty and universal values. i will say quickly the way i phrased it, my argument is in terms of u.n. interests especially regarding iran and the nuclear program. that's how i see it. >> senator mccain identified the intersection of american values and national interest. we can't fix everything. this is a clear case where it meets both criteria. >> i think we need to make judgments about the moral justness and strategic utility of any action based on the expected outcomes of actions, not our motivations for taking them. i worry in this case that our
actions aren't necessarily going to advance our cause the way we would like them to. that's where my note of caution would come in. >> yes. other questions? i would like to start in the back and work forward so people who haven't had the opportunity before can ask questions. >> thank you. my name is jenny from the center for global development. my colleagues and i have been working on a new idea -- a new tool -- diplomatic tool for addressing the situation in syria called progressive contract sanctions. the idea is that the u.s. and uk could declare that as of a particular date all new contracts signed with the assad regime would be deemed illegitimate, not enforceable in the courts. this could be done with other governments and it would be more effective that way.
this could have a direct impact on companies in russia and china doing business with the regime by just tightening the squeeze on them essentially and making it known their contracts might not be enforceable if the successor government chooses to repute yat them. it could keep the government from being saddled with debt from the assad regime. think it is a diplomatic tool maybe not having more diplomatic tools. i wonder if you have thoughts on this, other tools and ways to address the russia issue diplomatically. >> i will give a quick answer. there was a question about diplomacy before directed to senator mccain. i think his skepticism was called for. if we look at what the regime is doing i wrote a book basically about the use of force and coercion. that's how middle eastern politics works. we're talking ethnic cleansing now.
i think we are past the point of diplomacy or contracts. i don't see how that will happen. >> david? >> the theory -- syrian national council said it won't honor contracts with russia or weapons being sold from russia to the assad regime to kill them. that's not stopping russia from sending more weapons. >> i think these things are worth trying. i don't think they are necessarily independent of military action. you could do those things simultaneously. the one thing that's interesting, not directly related but when you look at the jihadi discourse about syria it's interesting to note russia and china have become the big bugaboos in the way the united states was in a singular way in the past. we see china increasingly seen
by jihadi organizations as a problem. china imports as much saudi oil as we do. this is an argument for al qaeda. i think they do see. this doesn't mean they will change their focus. you see the popular resentment toward russia and china reflected across the arab world because of support for the assad regime is sharpened in ugly jihadi movements which as lee said are not representative of syria and the middle east. i think they will face some consequences from the ugly nonstate actors. >> i'm going to use moderator's prerogative and jump in on the question as well. military academies teach the so-called dime paradigm that every strategy should have diplomatic and military and
economic components. we have a problem within the region that the longer some of the conflicts drive on, some seek to profit from them. we saw for example, saddam hussein who no one expected to survive the 1991 uprising. eventually companies in france, russia, china perhaps decided they were going to try to break the international isolation by trying to win contracts up to and including the last days of hussein. i do think contracting sanctions actually have some -- can provide positive pressure to bypass the stranglehold moscow has on the united nations security council by means of veto. if it is not adopted by the syrian council but also adopted by declaration in london and in
washington as the policy of the british government and the american government, it can perhaps have some weight in courts and discussions as various governments and companies tried to pick up the pieces should the assad regime fall. with that, let me -- >> look. i think this kind of movement -- are important. i wish they had been sort of undertaken months ago. right now, you know, it's okay. i mean, let's have them, but not as a replacement or substitute for intervention or consideration of intervention. i also want to pick up here and abuse my prerogative as a panelist to actually respond to the argument on jihadi elements and tie in some things. it's not that i'm disagreeing with you. no one is saying this is not becoming a