International relations experts debate strike on Syria

On Tuesday evening, a group of international relations experts — from left, Mohammed Elfayoumy, Emma Sky, Hassan Barari, Charles Hill and Ellen Lust — discussed the situation in Syria.
On Tuesday evening, a group of international relations experts — from left, Mohammed Elfayoumy, Emma Sky, Hassan Barari, Charles Hill and Ellen Lust — discussed the situation in Syria. Photo by Joyce Xi.

A group of international relations experts discussed the effects a possible U.S. military strike on Syria could have on the political climate of the Middle East and U.S. global supremacy at a Tuesday evening panel.

At the talk, the panelists — Yale World Fellow and Egyptian diplomat Mohammed Elfayoumy, University of Jordan professor Hassan Barari, political science professor Ellen Lust, history professor Charles Hill and Jackson Institute senior fellow Emma Sky — said the United States must be careful in its negotiations with Syria. Recently, the United States has been debating taking military action in Syria following a discovery that the country’s government allegedly used chemical weapons on the civilian population. The panelists discussed ways that the United States can maintain its role as an international police force without disrupting the political balance in the Middle East and causing uprisings from insurgent groups.

“We [in the Middle East] have an intrinsic skepticism towards any U.S. attempt to intervene in the region,” Elfayoumy said. “We are just doing [accepting aid] out of despair.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are set to meet in Geneva on Sept. 12. The United States insists that Syria must create a plan for the transfer and destruction of its chemical weapons, while Putin says Russia will only facilitate the turnover of the weapons if the United States agrees not to use force.

Hill said U.S. withdrawal from the region would leave a vacuum of influence that countries such as China and Russia could fill.

Lust said President Barack Obama’s stated position that there will be “no U.S. boots on the ground [in Syria]” is too limited a strategy to have a lasting effect on the region.

The effect of half-hearted intervention in Syria could result in a shift in the balance of power in the region toward countries such as Iran that are hostile toward the United States and Israel, panelists agreed.

“If deterrents work for a short period of time, it’s a message to Iran that Americans aren’t serious about deterrence and they will start with nuclear weapons,” Barari said. “Israel cannot stand aside and watch Iranians develop nuclear capability. Maybe acting now could avert another big problem in the Middle East.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the Syrian government said it is willing to reveal the location of their chemical weapons to Russian and United Nations officials. During the panel, Hill read a top-secret internal message to Russian President Vladamir Putin leaked by Edward Snowden earlier on Tuesday. In the message, a Russian diplomat said if Syria released information to Russia instead of the United States, it could potentially damage the United States’ influence on the international community.

“The U.S. is close to locking itself into a state of permanent ineffectiveness,” the diplomat said. “The country is politically fragmented and Obama is regarded as confused and vulnerable.”

Sarika Padrangi ’17 said she found the discussion informative because it incorporated voices from both the United States and the Middle East.

“It’s important that we try to assess the effects and implications of U.S. intervention not only from the American perspective, but also from the Syrian perspective and that of the entire Middle East,” Padrangi said.

On Sept. 4, Obama asked for Congressional approval for a drone strike on Syria.

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