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The U.S. Has No Dog In The Fight In Syria

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Live Transcript
  • Burns: Three Vital US Interests At Stake in Syria

    Clip: Diplomat and foreign affairs expert Nicholas Burns cites three vital reasons the Syrian conflict should matter to every American.

  • Falkenrath: No Syrian Opposition for the US to Support

    Clip: Former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Richard Falkenrath asks how the U.S. can have a dog in the fight with Syria when there is no dog to support adding America has no clear allies on the ground in the Syrian Civil War.

  • What Is the Ideal Strategy for the US in Syria?

    Clip: Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison and former British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald debate why the ideal outcome in Syria hinges on either the U.S further engaging itself in the conflict or maintaining the status quo.

  • Who are the Opposition? Should US Recognize, Support?

    Clip: Debaters discuss the nature of the opposition forces in Syria. Quoting the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey, Graham Allison argues that the U.S. has a "very opaque understanding of the opposition."

  • Under What Circumstances is Military Action Appropriate?

    Clip: Nick Burns, Graham Allison, and Nigel Sheinwald attempt to answer under what circumstances U.S. military action would be appropriate in the Syrian Civil War.

Debate Details

There are certain international crises that on their face demand the immediate and urgent attention of presidents. We all know them when we see them—and so does the man in the White House. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait comes to mind—an easy call. But there are other situations where the call may be tougher to make. Bosnia got a president's attention; Rwanda did not. And what about Syria—now in the midst of a civil war and humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions. Certainly there are U.S. interests at stake, but are they vital interests? And what of President Obama's response so far: it has been deliberately limited, but should he go further, and with what sorts of options? Military intervention? Something else? Something less? One thing is certain: Syria is not one of those easy calls. It's what we're debating in Aspen, when we take on the topic: The U.S. has no dog in the fight in Syria.

The Debaters

For the motion

Richard Falkenrath

Principal, The Chertoff Group & Former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor

Richard Falkenrath, Deputy Assistant to President Bush and former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, has held a range of leadership positions in U... Read More

Graham Allison

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans

Graham Allison is Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy... Read More

Against the motion

R. Nicholas Burns

Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs & Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

Nicholas Burns, a career foreign service officer, is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School... Read More

Sir Nigel Sheinwald

Former British Ambassador to the U.S.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald was British Ambassador to the United States for five years (2007-2012). Previously, he served as Foreign Policy and Defence Adviser... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • There are no vital American interests in this conflict.
  • The opposition is a fractured group that is becoming increasingly radical Islamist.
  • U.S. aid would almost certainly backfire in the future.
  • Any military intervention by the U.S. will lead to an escalation in what has become a regional proxy war.
Against The Motion
  • The U.S. cannot afford to allow the conflict to further destabilize the region.
  • A win for Assad will be a win for Iran and Hezbollah.
  • The security of Syria's chemical weapons, the largest stockpile in the Middle East, is at risk of falling into the hands of terrorists.
  • The death toll has topped 100,000 and the number of refugees is in the millions—the U.S. has a responsibility to act during this humanitarian crisis.


  • Live Audience
  • Online Audience
  • Results
  • Breakdown

The Research

The Research

Syria's Crisis and the Global Response

Jonathan Masters
May 8, 2013

CFR’s backgrounder on the Syrian conflict.

Syria: The Need for Decisive U.S. Action

Anthony Cordesman
June 14, 2013

The grim reality is that the Syrian civil war is part of a far broader power struggle that now ties the Levant and Gulf together, can greatly aid Iran, can further divide Islam between Sunnis and minorities like Shi’ites and Alewites, and affects every U.S. friend and ally in the region.

Syria's Hard Landing

March Lynch
February 1, 2013

Neither arming the rebels nor air strikes is likely to produce a rapid victory for the Syrian opposition or to transform the underlying political and strategic realities.

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