CNN speaks with Fareed and Sebastian Junger, journalist and author of ‘War,’ about Syria’s civil war and whether U.S. military intervention is the best response to its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Sebastian, you wrote a very provocative, important article in the Washington Post. Referring to Syria you wrote "At some point pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death and isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It's not a matter of how we're going to explain this to the Syrians. It's a matter of how we're going to explain this to our kids."
You're saying that war actually may be the answer to what's going on in Syria right now. Explain.
My first war was in Bosnia and every war that I've covered since then has been ended or drastically reduced by U.S. military action, by NATO military action. I think a true anti-war position doesn't just mean ignoring a civil war like we did in Rwanda. It means eventually after all diplomatic efforts have failed to use military threat and eventually military action. In Bosnia, a two-week NATO campaign ended a genocide. Amazingly, in the United States, the only people I knew who are against that were my fellow liberals and pacifists who thought that there was never a reason to use violence. And I think that's wrong. Certainly looking back on World War II, imagine had we not entered that war what the results would have been for the world.
And you speak as a war correspondent. Fareed, what do you think about that?
Zakaria: I think the question really is it's not enough to be outraged by what's happening in Syria, because there's all the reason in the world to be outraged, but how would an American military intervention stop the suffering?
As I can see it, American military intervention, even if it is successful, would depose Assad. We know what would happen. Assad and the Alawites and supporters of that regime would fight back as insurgents, as guerillas. That would be phase two of the civil war in which the Sunni militias that are currently opposed to Assad would go on a rampage and slaughter the Alawites and their supporters. And then there would be infighting among them.
We've seen this movie before. This is exactly what happened in Iraq. So I'm perplexed by Sebastian's point that American military intervention has always stopped and solved wars. I'm thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm even thinking of Vietnam – you can think of lots of cases. We can always pick one's history to prove one's point, but let's stick with this particular case.
If the United States deposes Assad, if anyone could explain to me how the civil war in Syria, which is really a deep sectarian struggle, would end, I'd be much more comfortable with it. I think what is more likely to happen is, frankly, it would escalate and you would then have a bloodbath between the two sides with the Assad regime fighting back as guerillas and insurgents, the Sunni militias each trying to take power and simultaneously rid the country of the Alawites. It strikes me as a fairly messy situation.
Junger: Well, I was speaking very specifically about civil wars that we intervened in. I was completely against invading Iraq. These humanitarian crises started in the '90s after the fall of the Berlin wall. And we did end war after war – Sierra Leone, Liberia. It was pretty amazing how effective NATO was.
In terms of Syria, our president is not saying that we're going to intervene to end the war and depose Assad. In fact, he's specifically saying that he's not trying to do that. His point, as I understand it, is that when weapons of mass destruction are used against citizens, against civilians, it's contrary to humanitarian law, it's a crime against humanity. And if we let this pass, in some sense it's not even about the Syrians, it's about the future of the world. If this passes, the next time someone does this it might be even worse. Then we have to draw a line that there are certain crimes against humanity that cannot occur without some kind of consequence for the government that perpetrates them.
Zakaria: Sebastian, I agree with you. I agree with what the presidents doing.
I agree with what the president is doing and I very much support the idea of taking the chemical weapons out. All I'm pointing out is it won't end the civil war.
Junger: I don't think anyone is suggesting it will.
I'm sure they are hiding some of these. But I still hold out hope for the deal.
Here's why. If you are concerned about these chemical weapons and the precedent it sets and the dangers, and I think Sebastian and I both agree that this is a real problem, then anything we can do to secure some large part of this arsenal and potentially destroy it is a good thing. Remember, the military strikes don't do that. The military strikes are purely punishment. You don't ever attack a chemical weapons depot because that would actually release the toxins into the atmosphere.
So the negotiated strategy with the threat of force of actually securing them is a more effective way of actually dealing with the problem of chemical weapons. We won't get 100 percent of that. I'm absolutely sure the Syrians will cheat. But if you look at the Iraq example, the inspectors actually got most of the chemical weapons out of Iraq, which is why when we invaded, we found nothing in there.
I believe that the threat of military force does act to coerce people into good behavior. It's why police carry guns. But I think if you're going to do that, by the same token, you also have to reward good behavior. And if the Iranians are asking for a negotiation, as long as this country and the world community is very, very strict about what they deem acceptable behavior, I think you have to sort of take it on good faith that at least it's the start of a dialogue.