Zakaria: Syria regime change won't end civil war
September 3rd, 2013
09:54 AM ET

Zakaria: Syria regime change won't end civil war

Fareed speaks with CNN about the situation in Syria, the Obama administration's response to the crisis, and what could happen if Bashar al-Assad's regime falls.

You wrote a strong column in which you said the Obama administration's handling of Syria was, in your words, a case study of “how not to do foreign policy.”

Well, the president has tried to have it both ways. For two years, he has been resiliently resisting calls to jump into the cauldron that is Syria. In my opinion, wisely. Syria is a very deep, complex, largely internal, largely sectarian struggle. I'm not sure what U.S. military intervention can do. But at the same time, the president has wanted to seem to be doing something or seem to be setting up these red lines which he talked about far too casually.

And, you know, he strived to, at the same time, be a realist and be a humanitarian. And it's a little difficult to do. And it's perhaps easier to do in Syria. But right now what you're seeing is the fruit of that because a lot of what U.S. foreign policy over the last six months has been is devoted to trying to make sure the president's red line language doesn't appear to be an empty threat. And so, he might have spoken carelessly. We are now in danger of using military force carelessly to make sure that there isn't hypocrisy there.

If you're going to draw a red line and they go over the red line, you have got to be ready for it.

And then, you are in this awkward position. As I said, for two years, you've said, "Well, American core national interests aren't involved." And now, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and the president are going around saying, "No. No. No. They are involved because 1,400 people out of 100,000 dead have just been killed by chemical weapons." Maybe there's a case to be made. But you see the tension, which is you've been steering one course for two years and now you're suddenly steering another.

Do you have any sense of which way this is moving because it could go either way.

It sets a strange precedent. This is supposed to be a cruise missile strike as far as we can tell. He said there was going to be a shot across the bow, somewhat symbolic. If for this, the president of the United States needs to go to Congress, this is changing our conception of executive power over the last 30 or 40 years. It has been settled by both parties that because of the nature of America's responsibilities in the world, the president does have the leeway to act in situations like this that are not really a full-scale war without some ...

There have been so many examples of American presidents using military force without congressional authorization. You remember when Ronald Reagan was president, Gadhafi was accused of bombing a discotheque in Germany killing some American soldiers. He sent planes in to Tripoli and whatever, killed a whole bunch of people including some relatives of Gadhafi…You were just in Turkey. Do you think the Turkish regime, the Turkish government would use military equipment, their NATO ally to bomb targets in Syria?

I very much doubt it. They actually lost a plane. The Syrians shot a Turkish plane and they didn't even respond to that. So, all our allies are very anxious to have sustained military strikes against Syria, just ones that they don't have to do.

Just the United States…

The Americans should do all the work. They're happy to support us from way behind.

Do you think it's possible to make al-Assad pay for using chemical weapons?

I think you can make him pay a price for sure. I think that whether or not you can get regime change is more difficult, but I would urge that we remember regime change won't end the civil war. It will just change its composition, because let's say we topple al-Assad in this air strike. The next thing that's going to happen is going to be the massacre of the Alawites.

Remember the Alawites are 14 percent. They've ruled Iraq. We've seen this movie. When the Sunnis were displaced in Iraq, what happens is the next thing is a wave of fighting where they fight back. So, the Alawites will then become the insurgency. The Sunni groups perhaps will take over the government and you'll have a ferocious civil war, perhaps the massacre of the Alawites and then the Sunnis will fight amongst themselves…The Turks, very much on the side of intervention, very much against al-Assad, had been trying for two years to create a Syrian government in exile, a Syrian opposition. And they haven't been able to do it because there were about a thousand militias in Syria, they don't talk to one another, there isn't a political leadership and, most clearly, there isn't a moderate democratically minded one.

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Topics: Civil War • Syria • Turkey

soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Bob

    EA Marco Polo, I think you read too many Jihadi books published by the brainless Iranian Mullahs. Iranian people hate all aspects of Islamic rules as much as the Iraqis and Syrians, that's why their government rules by fear, terrorism and oppression. Syrian must defeat Assad, he is a murderer and a servant to the Mullahs, his rule must end a step stone for peace in the ME.

    September 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Reply
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