The U.S. strategy for regime change in Syria amounts to “We will topple Assad, yadda yadda yadda, there will be democracy in Syria,” a former special advisor to the Obama State Department said Thursday.
“I call it the ‘Yadda Yadda Yadda’ Doctrine,” said Jeremy Shapiro — referencing a popular “Seinfeld” episode — who returned to the liberal Brookings Institute after a stint on State’s policy planning staff, at a panel of Washington specialists hosted by Brookings.
“They yadda yadda yadda’d the most important part, which is how to bring stability to Syria,” Shapiro said.
All five panelists expressed uncertainty over the general strategy being pursued by the Obama administration. Most believed no real plan exists.
“The president has to answer the question of how this fits into a broader strategy,” said Michael Doran, the director of President George W. Bush’s National Security Council and the panel’s sole supporter of the upcoming American attack on Syria.
Doran said the United States has no choice but to launch a military attack on Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “I think we absolutely have to do this,” he said, “because our credibility across the board is on the line.”
“[President Obama] has got to act whether he gets Congressional authorization or doesn’t,” he continued, “not only to have a military effect on the ground, but to transmit our intention and put skin in the game with our allies so we can start consulting with them.”
But the other experts strongly disagreed with Doran’s position.
Bruce Riedel, a 30-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency with vast counter-terrorism experience, said that action taken to “degrade” Assad’s military capabilities will “inevitably” benefit Islamic extremists now fighting the regime.
“The more we weaken Bashar al-Assad, the more we’re going to have a bigger al-Qaida problem in the future,” he said. “What [President Obama] does will determine the vector and strength of al-Qaida for the next decade.”
Shapiro, who in the Hillary Clinton State Department worked on U.S. policy in North Africa and the Levant, dismissed the credibility argument.
“When I look at U.S. practice over the last 20 years of the use of force, I don’t see a reputation of a country that is unwilling to use force,” he told the audience. “I don’t see a reputation of a culture that is timid as a political culture.”
“Empires don’t typically fall because they are timid in their use of military power,” Shapiro said. “They fall because they are reckless and overuse their military power, and I think we should take that into account.”
“It’s wonderful for many of our allies to want us to jump in and use our resources in order to advance their own individual, self-interested agendas,” said Suzanne Maloney, another State Department alum. “It’s another thing for the president to be able to chart a path forward that gets us what we want without leaving us with a big problem.”
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Maloney added.
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