February 10th, 2012
08:46 AM ET

Zakaria: Arming the Syrian opposition is risky

The following is a transcript of my discussion with Don Lemon about Syria. Does the Free Syrian Army have a chance? Should the U.S. arm the Syrian opposition? What does instability in Syria mean for Iran? Let me know what you think.

Don Lemon: Straight off the top here, does this small rebel force in Syria stand any chance against the powerful Syrian armed forces?

Fareed Zakaria: It doesn't seem that they have much of a chance because the regime has decided to be utterly brutal.

This is a regime that looked at Gadhafi and that looked at Mubarak and said the lesson is don't waver, don't show any weakness and just grind them down. The one problem they face is the regime is not an oil-rich regime - it's not like Saudi Arabia. It can't bribe its people. It doesn't have that kind of ability even to bribe the army.

Eventually, they're going to face real cash shortfalls. And what that means going forward is a really interesting question. This is not a regime that can outlive the sanctions and all this pressure unendingly. They have got one source of cash right now, Iran. And that too is drying up.

Don Lemon: We are hearing, Fareed, calls here and there to arm the Syrian rebels. I want you to put yourself, if you will, in the shoes of the president of the United States. What would you do?

Fareed Zakaria: I think it would be a very risky move and I wouldn't do it. I will tell you why.

Firstly, this is geographically a difficult place. It's landlocked. You don't have the kind of access you had in Libya. In Libya, you had the country divided into two parts. There was an eastern part with Benghazi that could be easily supplied from the sea. You had rebels who set up a capital there. They created a transitional government. And you could funnel arms and money to them through Egypt and through the Mediterranean. None of that is available in Syria.

In addition, the Chinese and Russians are dead set against this. So it couldn't happen through the United Nations. There would be effectively a kind of unilateral or NATO operation with no international legitimacy. And finally, the odds of success are frankly not that high. This is a still a regime very much in control with no real defections from the army, no defections from the intelligence service. There's no point in doing something noble and failing. I would be very, very reluctant to advocate an American intervention.

Don Lemon: You mentioned the surrounding areas, the neighbors there. How will the outcome in Syria affect its neighbors, Iraq and what about Syria's ally Iran?

Fareed Zakaria: If you assume what's going to happen is a slow-motion either civil war or collapse of the regime over the next year or two, the biggest loser here is Iran.

Iran is all-in in Syria. It has made a huge number of bets on the regime. It is supporting the regime. And as it unravels, it faces the prospect of the loss of an ally, the loss of a buffer. The Russians don't look too good. But frankly, nobody looks very good because you're going to having low-grade chaos and instability in the region. Everyone's going to get worried.

The great danger is that Syria becomes a proxy battleground for the forces of Iran and the forces of Saudi Arabia, which will tend to be Sunni, somewhat religiously motivated militias that will go in - in the name of God and in the name of jihad - to overturn the Assad regime.

A sort of replay of what happened in Iraq might take place in Syria. Remember, in Iraq it took a decade before it stabilized. And there were 140,000 American troops helping stabilize it. This could get very messy for very long.

Don Lemon: And, Fareed, as you know, the Russians are being accused of giving aid and comfort to President Bashar al-Assad and to giving a green light for this slaughter that is occurring in Homs. What's the Russians' motivation here?

Fareed Zakaria: The Russians have always been very, very reluctant to have the U.N. be used as an instrument to get rid of the regimes. They have an alliance with the Syrians. It's really their last Cold War alliance.

If you think about it, the Soviet Union used to support half these Middle Eastern countries. We used to support the other half. The Soviet Union collapsed. They're left with Syria. Syria is the one Russian ally. I think some of it is that.

But finally, remember, if the U.N. is allowed to intervene every time you see mass protests on the street, claiming that a regime is undemocratic - they have got protests taking place all over Russia, and the last thing the Russians want to do is establish some kind of international principle that when you have protests against an undemocratic regime, the U.N. Security Council can vote to intervene in some way or the other.

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Topics: Iran • Russia • Syria

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soundoff (541 Responses)
  1. GivemeaBreak

    Obama surrounds himself with lousy advisors and you said he seeks your advice??? No woner he foreign policies are so screwed up!!!

    February 13, 2012 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • Tahir

      One should have advisers like Bush, who can advise to kill people in millions. I think Obama has non US advisers.

      February 13, 2012 at 6:12 am | Reply
  2. Jonesy

    It's too bad there is so much hate in this world, but America is pretty tapped out to continue to be the police of the planet again. Every country that is free has had to fight for their freedom. With that said, couldn't we just lob a few missiles in Bashar al-Assad direction.

    February 13, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply
    • Tahir

      What type of freedom you are talking about. People want freedom from Wall street should they do they same which you are suggesting? Should they bomb wall street for freedom? American fools have only learned to talk with bombs. Leave the politic of bombs otherwise your own people will bomb Wall Street one day.

      February 13, 2012 at 5:01 am | Reply
      • .

        And just what are YOU doing to help, Tahir?

        February 13, 2012 at 6:24 am |
      • Tahir

        I am here to help stop the politic of bombing and killing

        February 13, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  3. .

    The Syrian rebels would cut Fareed Zakaria's head off, throw his body in a ditch and post the video on You Tube.

    Let them wipe each other off the face of the earth. Muslim vs. Muslim and the whole world wins.

    February 13, 2012 at 6:23 am | Reply
    • Tahir

      You will soon see these rebels terrorists killing each other.Rebel activities are not allowed in Islam.Any person fighting against its government is a terrorist according to Islamic sharia.These rebels are US puppets.

      February 13, 2012 at 6:44 am | Reply
  4. William

    As soon as Obama makes a move to bring force into Syria, the writer of this article will change his topinion on the spot. Just like he did in Libya.

    February 13, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
  5. Jmal Williams

    The U.S must remain cautious. Americans support war until the casualties start to come home.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
  6. Aaron Goldfarb

    Billions stolen from the American taxpayer to fund the "Syrian rebels", who are mostly Mossad agents setting off bombs, shooting mortars, sniping the children and women of Syria. China will likely invade Israel and stop the Jew-Israeli-US destabilization of the whole Middle East oil area. The US produces oil and benefits from Jewish Israeli land expansion/conflict wars. China doesn't have oil and does not benefit from increased prices.

    February 13, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  7. rm

    You know, it's real easy starting a war, but it's hard to end them. Have we not just been there? Also, where is the Arab League in all this? Why are they not intervening? The US would need UN approval to go in there, which is not going to happen, so that is not a solution. Perhaps humanitarian aid would be possible, not sure how that would work. But the US is not the "world police". Those days are gone. We have too many problems at home and we need to get our own house in order.

    February 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  8. GAR

    Help Syria...? Why? What for? Let the freedom fighters and Assad fight it out. This is a internal problem. So what is going on in Libiya..? Zero news.....

    February 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • Quarant

      You are totally correct !

      February 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • Mcbain

      You hit the nail on the head. Do you know that Libya is now more unstable and violent than never before... thanks to arming and support of the rebels by the west as the fought for 'DEMOCRACY"

      February 14, 2012 at 1:01 am | Reply
  9. Quarant

    Arming the Syrian "opposition" is, shall we say, ILLEGAL !!!

    Turkey's harbouring of the so-called Free Syrian Army is a violation of International Law.

    February 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  10. janu

    fareed, your an idiot. No wars, no violence. lets take care of our economy

    February 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  11. paul

    the road to tehran goes thru damascus.. it's all pr0paganda

    February 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  12. Mcbain

    What about occupy wall street, should the UN also come into America?? Lets not forget how American police forces are using brutal force against the protesters.

    February 14, 2012 at 12:57 am | Reply
  13. Peter

    The same logic was said when Libyans started demonstrating against their own dictator ... that they would have no chance because of this and that and so on ... It would take persistence on the part of the Syrian people to prove otherwise and once they got political support from the international community, the Assad regime is history.

    February 14, 2012 at 1:06 am | Reply
  14. Thomas Fontana

    well if we give weapons or supplies we would be losing a relationship with Isreal because if we start helping syria isreal will start denieing our supplies to syria because the tension between syria and isreal because of the six day war in 1967 when isreal attacked Jordan and United Arab Republic.

    February 14, 2012 at 2:08 am | Reply
  15. Aaron Goldfarb

    Yes, the Occupy Wall Street had brutality and the Occupy Oakland protesters had bullets shot into their skulls. But people say that the Occupy Movement has no arms, no RPG's and no air cover. Should Syria decide to declare a "no fly zone" over NYC and Oakland, arm the Occupy protesters with anti-tank missiles, so they "have a fighting chance"? The stupidity and low IQ of the social reasoning is hilarious to the world watching the Jews of the USA try to destroy all countries around Nuclear rogue state of Israel.

    February 14, 2012 at 3:36 am | Reply
  16. Belay Weledemeskel

    So,the world is suppose to establih a 'UN Security council -B' with a sort of international principles that Russians could always be the 1st to vote in favour of it. And i rarely seen when Fareed puts his opinion ,made so frustratedly, as to his saying , "Russians want to do is establish some kind of international principle that when you have protests against an undemocratic regime, the U.N. Security Council can vote to intervene in some way or the other".

    February 14, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
  17. Dietrich

    As usually...all talk and no action. Everyday more people die...and the talking continues. Sad...very sad!

    February 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • Aaron Goldfarb

      Israel can shell Gaza children with White Phosphorus, Napalm-like, munitions, and the US vetoes the UN Security Council resolutions against it. So Israel can kill children using banned WMD, and the US supports that.

      February 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Alex R

      Are you sure that 'everyday more peaceful people die'? Did you verify it YOURSELF? People in Syria has very different point of view on 'what is going on' and they have right to live THEIR lives not as we believe they must live. For someone these are 'peaceful people dieing' but for others they are 'armed rebels who die because they shot into others and want to get country by power'. Russians understand it and this is why they prevent UN from any forceful action – as this makes more harm then good for the country.

      February 24, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  18. Aaron Goldfarb

    Do we see Syria arming the Occupy Wall Street protestors with anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles and AK-47's?

    February 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  19. Steve Elliott

    The thing about facts is, they are very stubborn.

    Syria doesn't have a Rothschild controlled bank, period.

    The international media giant Reuters, will use stories of "terror" happening to the Syrian people.

    Reuters is controlled by the Rothschilds, and Reuters controls CNN, among all other mass media YOU consume.

    The Rothschilds do not have a bank they control in Syria today.

    The Rothschilds will direct the U.N. to use Military Force to either convince the current leaders of Syria to give them a bank, or kill them and replace them with someone who will give them a bank.

    Before this year is out, there will be a Rothschild controlled bank in Syria.


    After the Rothschilds set up their bank in Syria, the Reuters media giant will then direct CNN and every other media outlet to talk of the great liberation of the Syrian people and how successful the U.N. intervention was. Shortly after, there will no longer be talk of Syria in the Reuters media giants.

    There will be ZERO media stories released through the media giant Reuters of the newly installed, Rothschild controlled, banl once it set up in Libya

    YOU are owned by the Rothschilds.

    February 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  20. Alex R

    And hey, people was protested in Oakland – why don't UN intervene and send troops to California?

    The whole idea of support all such protests is dumb. Countries should solve their local issues themselves. It includes both, USA with 'occupy Wall street' movement, and Syria with their rebels. Else we will end up in a total mess.

    Syrian-s events are really, really, something much more complicated then' bad guys vs good guys'. And 'bad guys' for someone are 'good guys' for someone else. We in America must understand it and stop pretending to be 'world police'. As world is much more complicated then American's impression.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply
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