The Consequences of Inaction in Syria

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A Conversation with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and French Philosopher/Journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy

Moderated by Robert Kagan - The Brookings Institution & Foreign Policy Initiative

Audio | Photographs  | Quotes RUSH Transcript  |  Video



  • On the Possibility of U.S. Direct Intervention in Syria:  “I’ve still not seen any indication that the United States would take the active leadership role that the entire Middle East is crying out for....  I agree that some day Bashar Assad will fall—we’ve been saying that for 20 months. But in the meantime, what carnage will take place between now and then?” —Senator John McCain 
  • On the Possibility of European Direct Intervention in Syria:  “The question is not will Assad fall. He will fall. The question is, will Assad fall with the help of the West? ....  A war is never easy. It is always tragic…but it is more doable in Syria today than it was yesterday in Libya.” —Mr. Bernard-Henri Lévy
  • On the United Nations’ Failure to Halt Atrocities in Syria and Elsewhere:  “About the United Nations, how important it is—of course, it would be great to have the United Nations, it would be better.  But United Nations is so morally corrupted—they accepted so many bloodbaths in the 20th century.  They closed their eyes on Bosnia, they closed their eyes on Rwanda....  There are a lot of people in France, and in America, who are very pleased of these vetoes.  It’s very comfortable to say we would love to go, but there is this moral authority which says no.” —Mr. Bernard-Henri Lévy
  • On How the Syrian Crisis Relates to Iran:  “All of the things that were predicted that would happen [in Syria] if we intervene are now happening [even though the United States hasn’t intervened] and in spades—and again it cries out for American leadership.  But again we must view this situation in Syria within the context of the entire upheaval taking place in the Middle East, and in particular Iran....  We have to look at the effect of the fall of Bashar Assad on Iran....  There are so many moving parts in the region and so much of it can be traced back to the number one spoiler in the region, and that is the Iranian meddling in the Middle East.” —Senator John McCain
  • On the Efficacy of a U.S.-Led No-Fly Zone over Syria:  “Pilots are not going to fly into certain death—I don’t care how brave they are. They may like Bashar Assad but they like life a little more.” —Senator John McCain
  • On the Lessons of Libya for Syria:  “We watched the deterioration in the eastern part of Libya.  We saw the threats to our embassy.  We saw the al-Qaeda elements coming in.  We watched it happen.  Because we didn’t do the things that we knew were necessary [after the fall of Qaddafi] to help them set up the first government that they’ve ever had.  And we obviously paid the price for it.” —Senator John McCain
  • On the Lessons of Libya for Syria:  “And we watched Ambassador Stephens killed in such a savage way—that is linked to what you are saying.” —Mr. Bernard-Henri Lévy
  • On the Need to Keep Focused on the Middle East as America “Rebalances” to Asia:  “I think it’s kind of coincidental the president was in Asia, when obviously Gaza and Israel were on the brink of an all-out conflict.  I would strongly advise the people in our national security administration that we don’t want to pivot, we want to balance…  We’ve got to understand that there’s got to be a world-wide leadership and we can’t focus all of our attention on one region, and I hope that the recent upheaval in the Middle East makes that clear.” —Senator John McCain
  • On Syrian Refugees in Turkey and Elsewhere:  “Their stories are horrific—I wish every American could go to a refugee camp [for displaced Syrians in Turkey] as Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and I did: these stories are just heartbreaking. And I think I’m a tough old guy.” —Senator John McCain
  • On the Long-Term Implications of the Arab Spring:  “I don’t think the Arab Spring is confined to the Middle East....  I think not only is there going to be changes in the Middle East, I think there are going to be changes throughout the world, where people are going to want to assert and obtain their God-given rights.  And I think Putin’s going to have difficulty in Russia.  So I don’t know where it all leads, but I hope in two years we can have this conversation and be looking at a very different world.  And the question is what role the United States and our allies will play in shaping this new world.” —Senator John McCain
  • If You Could Say One Thing to President Obama About Syria, What Would Be?  “It’s time to intervene.  It’s time to lead” —Senator John McCain
  • If You Could Say One Thing to President Obama About Syria, What Would Be?   “Please wake up.” —Mr. Bernard-Henri Lévy


**RUSH** Transcript

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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