Middle East experts discuss U.S. action in Syria

Damascus, Syria photographed in 2013.
Damascus, Syria photographed in 2013. (© stock.adobe.com)

One week after the U.S. launched strikes in Syria, experts weighed in on the role of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East during Yale’s inaugural Arab conference, “Amalna: Paving the Road Ahead.”

Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, was at the Pentagon on April 14 when the mission was carried out. She discussed the development of the plan for U.S. military action, which was in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It started out with the mission to cripple the regime and send a message. It began with eight targets. By the end the number had decreased to three. A number of targets were cut because the U.S. did not want to cause any civilian casualties,” said Youssef. 

Two former U.S. ambassadors — Robert Ford and Ryan Crocker — joined Youssef for the panel moderated by Emma Sky, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute and director of the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program. The event took place in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on April 21.

Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, approved of the decision to strike. He said he thinks it will deter Syrian President Assad in the short-term, but in order to produce a long-term result the United States will have to strike again.

I suspect we’ll have to do this four, five, six times until Assad gets the message,” said Ford.

Youssef said, “When you look at what actually happened this time, it was a little more than what happened in the strikes [carried out by the U.S.] last year. If you are saying there’s a red line, what is the red line? What is the measure for which the United States does strikes again?”

One difference from last year’s strikes, noted the panelists, is this time there was international coordination with the United Kingdom and France. As the Syrian civil war enters its seventh year, other countries are solidifying their grip in the region, like Russia and Iran.

Crocker, who served as ambassador to Syria among other countries in the Middle East, said Assad is “good friends” with the Russians and Iranians. Due to this alliance, “Assad isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.” 

When Sky asked if it is time for the U.S. to leave the Middle East alone, Crocker argued that America has enduring interests in the Middle East, particularly oil and security.

The flow of oil is important to U.S. interests; though the U.S. does not import oil from the Middle East, its allies do,” said Crocker. “We have a broad interest in Middle East security. Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Middle East doesn’t always stay there.”

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Emily L. Judd: [email protected], 203-432-1333