February 24th, 2012
05:30 PM ET

Zakaria: Does Romney want to 'lead from behind' on Syria?

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.

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Topics: From Fareed • Syria

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. iran is evil along with syria

    good for you romeny we need some one like him , stand for those evil in iran and syria and stop murdering the children , women and there own people we must never let HITLER RISE AGAIN, those evil are the new hitler, hizboallah and iranians thugs are killers and the shiia cult is not a faith is a cult of evil worshipers./

    February 24, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  2. almahdi is lusefer

    iran must be attacked, iran is not a muslim country, all the muslims 1 billion are sunni and the shiia are only 150 milions iran 65 millions are not all muslims , they have 10 million sunni and 5 million kurds, and 3 million christeans and jews etc...iran is evil and we dont consider them muslims. teh shiia cult is a devil worship called almahdi he the son of lusefer the devil

    February 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Apparently there's no consensus reached among the opposition since the uprising started 11 months ago. It comes from all walks of life and makes up of various ethnicities and sects. Like in Libya, those who had lived in exil and returned home to set up the opposition have often different views and embrace democratic values. They are met with mistrust by those who have lived all their lives under Assad.

    February 24, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Mitt Romney did admit that Obama's military policy: the low-profile, "leading-from-behind" strategy isn't that bad after all!

      February 25, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  4. theglobalroundhouse

    No! Pople NO! Not Lucifer, not Hitler, not evil and not a "shia cult... of evil worshippers!" They are human beings and while I am really glad there's so much concern for women and children being killed, I don't want men and boys killed either. We've really got o change our language on this.

    That said... we need a strategy and I am not a Romney supporter but I do think he had a clear and thoughtful response, a strategy, for handling the situation in Syria. Whatever response is chosen, it must be a multilateral effort to curtail the bloodshed. "Leading from behind" is a good thing when it is done as a thoughtful strategy. Saudi Arabia and Turkey can be very influential in ways the US cannot. We are looking out for global well being, not individual or even regional interests. Recognizing our interconnectedness and acting on that, leads to more holistic approaches to problem solving. Nations must move forward while retaining legitimacy so they can maintain legitimacy.

    Meanwhile... I just cracked open my well-worn copy of The Future of Freedom, join me!

    February 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  5. George Patton

    Actually, the West has no right to decide who will lead Syria whether it be Bashar al-Assad or the opposition including members of Al Qaeda. The Syrians muct decide their own future!!!

    February 24, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  6. jal

    The situation in Syria is a good example of the human struggle. Idealism is what we are brought up on, and that is necessary, but there is a time when we have to view the world correctly. That time is now, because we actually have an opportunity to make things right again. Right with God. We are lost without our Covenant with God.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  7. david adra

    Romney is on the right track in regard to syria.

    February 24, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • Travis

      Is he really? We need to take a laissez-fairs approach to Syria by letting things take their course there. American interference is the biggest problem around. Back in 1917, we should have stayed out of WW1 too but went in because of Wall Street which had a lot of money invested mainly in Great Britain and France and stood to lose their money if Great Britain lost the war!!! This fact will not be found in any history book in any school!

      February 24, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  8. Rz

    Identify all the acceptable and viable options. Come up with best possible strategies, then push for the best.

    And pray.

    February 25, 2012 at 2:16 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      I already know both the best and only moral option that there is, Rz. Like I said above, just stay out of Syria's civil war and let things take their course but I guess that there a lot of people here too ignorant to buy that and that's a shame!!!

      February 25, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
      • Rz

        Oh I agree GP, I wouldn't even let our boys set foot in the parking lot, let alone enter the arena. Achieving peace through war in Syria does not appear to be a viable option. Making a global humanitarian appeal for Russia and China to help resolve the issue peacefully might be a more reasonable consideration (at least give me credit for my optimism).

        But progress always has a better chance when everyone pushes in the same direction. It's hard to believe that some governments and leaders are still so damn sadistic as to enjoy watching people kill each other Makes me wretch!

        February 25, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  9. Mohammed AlJarad

    You must know here that what we are looking for in Saudi Arabia is not arming the groups we do not know, otherwise we would have initiated a secret so!! But we want to be under the supervision of an international armed opposition, especially from America, by virtue of its experience in the terrorist organizations to avoid arming the opponent may be terrorism groups there !!! So I wish not to link the financing of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, because in truth and we all know that terrorism exists by Bashar al-Assad and his government and there is complicity of the international community towards the defenseless people over there.

    February 25, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply
  10. Hoshi Aga

    Farheed. Your program on GPS with Berzinski was disappointing. This is the same person who was a failure as President Carter's national security advisor. He helped engineer the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. I was there in 1979 with 46000 Americans. He spoke so disdainfully about the Republican candidates. I always look forward to your program on Sundays but last Sunday it was disappointing.

    February 27, 2012 at 10:27 am | Reply
  11. ,,,,,iran=syria=hizboallah=shiia=terrorsists=evil

    attack this evil iranians and get red of those thugs, they are funding every terrorists in the world from afriac to hamas to hizboallah to libyan revolutions to al qayeda, to syrian bashar al asad, to noril al haleki of iraq, to al dawa part in iraq, to al qodos army and mahid militia in iraq to asyeb ahel al haq and to latin america....

    February 29, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  12. IRAN TAKEN SYRIAN PRISONERS ON SHIP AND KILL THEM

    سفن إيرانية تحمل معتقلين سوريين!

    الأخبار السريعة | March 4, 2012

    صفحة الحر السوري وحيد صقر( علوي ) :الى كل الدول التي تمر السفن الحربية الايرانية في مياهها ..!!عليهم بتفتيشها لانها تحمل معتقلين من سوريا الى ايران .هناك حوالي (89789 ) معتقلا حملوا في السفن التي اتت الى طرطوس !هذا النداء من مواطن علوي شريف اتصل بي واخبرني يعمل في المرفأ ولقد رأى ذللك بأم عينه . النشر على مسؤليتي التامة .الأسد وأعوانه يقومون بنقل المعتقلين إلى إيران لاتهام مايسمى بعصابات أرهابية مسلحة باختطافهم وتضليل اللجان العربية والدولية .. وقد تم ذلك عبر البارجتين اللتين وصلتا إلى السواحل السورية منذ عدة أيام فأفرغت ما تحمله وأخذت معتقلين .

    March 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Reply

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