The following is an edited transcript of my appearance on John King USA Thursday. We talk about arming the opposition and whether Mitt Romney is following Obama's Libya playbook.
John King: Fareed, the Secretary of State says the United States should be prepared now to embrace the Syrian opposition. I want to listen here to what General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told you just the other day, because he seems quite worried about that.
Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: There's indications that al Qaeda is involved and that they're interested in supporting the opposition. There's a number of players, all of whom are trying to reinforce their particular side of this issue. And until we're a lot clearer about who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them.
John King: Now, General Dempsey's talking about arming them. But what about the idea of embracing them? Is there a split and should there be caution on that front?
Fareed Zakaria: I think that's a very smart question, John. Everyone has assumed that the only way that we can support the Syrian opposition is to arm them. And, of course, that is the most effective way we could do it and, of course, that's probably what they want. But there are many things we can do short of that, because that involves us in what has essentially become a civil war.
And we're not sure we understand it well enough to take that jump. But perhaps what we could be doing is trying to support them, help them organize, figure out who they are so that some of General Dempsey's concerns can be addressed.
John King: When you hear ominous accounts mixed with appeals for help, Fareed, and then you see the international community is having a hard time coming up with a consensus upon what to do, what does that tell you?
Fareed Zakaria: Well, the truth of the matter is that Syria has some backing. And that is why international support is so difficult to muster for the opposition.
They have Russia and they have China in the Security Council; they have Iran next door. And so when protesters in Homs say, 'If you don't get involved there will be oceans of blood,' unfortunately, the tragedy is that if we would get involved there would perhaps be even more blood because there would be activism on all sides.
Already, Syria is turning into a kind of cockpit where there is a cold war between Iran on the one side supporting the Syrian government and Saudi Arabia on the other side supporting increasingly these militants who are either in Syria or coming into Syria. So when we talk about bloodshed, there will be a lot more bloodshed. That's not a reason not to support the opposition because at the end of the day we want to do the right thing both politically and morally.
But let's face it. Getting more involved in Iraq or getting more involved in Afghanistan did not produce less bloodshed. It produced more. It widens the war.
Fareed Zakaria: It certainly would.
John King: I want you to listen here. I asked the Republican candidates for president last night what they would do differently from the current president. Here's what Mitt Romney said.
Mitt Romney: With Assad in trouble, we need to communicate to the Alawites, his friends, his ethnic group, to say, look, you have a future if you'll abandon that guy Assad. We need to work with Saudi Arabia and with Turkey to say, 'You guys provide the kind of weaponry that's needed to help the rebels inside Syria.' This is a critical time for us. If we can turn Syria and Lebanon away from Iran, we finally have the capacity to get Iran to pull back.
John King: A reasonable answer?
Fareed Zakaria: Yes, I thought it was actually a very intelligent answer.
You're used to hearing such, frankly, nonsense on the campaign trail, because people just make wild accusations. That was a sensible, thoughtful, sophisticated answer.
In an odd sense, of course, what Mitt Romney is suggesting is a version of Barack Obama's strategy in Libya. In Libya, we let the Europeans take the lead and we said we will support what you do, but you guys have to be out in front. What he's suggesting is Turkey and Saudi Arabia should take the lead and we would support it.
I'm sure he's not going to call it leading from behind, but that's sort of what he's suggesting.