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

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Friday, August 9, 2013 in Aspen, CO

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.

  • Falkenrath 90px


    Richard Falkenrath

    Principal, The Chertoff Group & Former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor

  • Graham-Allison 90px


    Graham Allison

    Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans

  • Nicholas-Burns-90px


    R. Nicholas Burns

    Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

  • NigelSheinwald-90px


    Sir Nigel Sheinwald

    Former British Ambassador to the United States

    • Moderator Image


      John Donvan

      Author & Correspondent for ABC News

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Falkenrath 90px

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.S. counterterrorism efforts. The principal author of the National Strategy for Homeland Security, he served as Senior Director of Policy and Plans within the Office of Homeland Security after 9/11. From 2006 to 2010, he served as the New York City Police Department's Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism, where he strengthened the city's overall effort to prevent, prepare for, and respond to terrorist attacks. Falkenrath is now Principal at The Chertoff Group, a global security and risk-management advisory firm; an adjunct senior fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations; and a contributing editor at Bloomberg News.

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Graham-Allison 90px

For The Motion

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 School, where he served as the founding dean from 1977 to 1989. Allison served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense under President Reagan and as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans under President Clinton, coordinating DOD strategy and policy towards Russia, Ukraine, and the other states of the former Soviet Union. He has the sole distinction of having twice been awarded the DOD's highest civilian award, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. He served as a member of the Defense Policy Board for Secretaries Weinberger, Carlucci, Cheney, Aspin, Perry and Cohen. He has authored five books, including his first, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (1971), which was released in a revised second edition (1999) and ranks among the all-time bestsellers.

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Against The Motion

R. Nicholas Burns

Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Nicholas Burns, a career foreign service officer, is Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is Faculty Chair of the school’s Middle East Initiative, India & South Asia Program, and is the director of the Future of Diplomacy Project. After 27 years of service in the U.S. Foreign Service, he retired in April 2008 as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third-ranking official in the State Department. Prior to that, he was Ambassador to NATO (2001-2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997-2001), State Department Spokesman (1995-1997), and worked on the National Security Council staff (1990-1997). Currently, Burns is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group and a senior counselor at the Cohen Group. He also writes a bi-weekly foreign affairs column for the Boston Globe and is a senior foreign affairs columnist for GlobalPost.

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Against The Motion

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 to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Head of the Cabinet Office’s Defence and Overseas Secretariat (2003-2007), as UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Union (2000 to 2003), and as Europe Director in the Foreign Office (1998-2000). He also served in Moscow and as Foreign Office Press Secretary. In March 2012, Sheinwald retired from the Diplomatic Service and is currently a non-executive director at Shell, a senior adviser to the Universal Music Group, and a visiting professor in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

Online Voting

Voting Breakdown:

59% voted the same way in BOTH pre- and post-debate votes (36% voted FOR twice, 19% voted AGAINST twice, 5% voted UNDECIDED twice). 41% changed their minds (4% voted FOR then changed to AGAINST, 1% voted FOR then changed to UNDECIDED, 9% voted AGAINST then changed to FOR, 1% voted AGAINST then changed to UNDECIDED, 15% voted UNDECIDED then changed to FOR, 11% voted UNDECIDED then changed to AGAINST)*breakdowns do not add up to 59% and 41% due to rounding | Breakdown Graphic

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    • Comment Link Concerned Saturday, 07 December 2013 22:47 posted by Concerned

      This is a debate between a group of Harvard-educated white American men about what they think they their country should do in another country. Without allowing even one Syrian national to take part in the conversation. Tell me what these men know more than a Syrian national?

    • Comment Link Randall Bemis Monday, 18 November 2013 09:19 posted by Randall Bemis

      there are many ideas a man can think but if he thinks it twice he thought about another idea which makes his idea nonsense...

    • Comment Link Andrew Thursday, 05 September 2013 23:35 posted by Andrew

      Let's think about the potential unintended consequences of even a *limited* strike:

      - Assad retaliates against Israel/Turkey/Jordan and ignites an even WORSE regional conflict.
      - Assad retaliates against his own people with the chemical weapons our strikes failed to destroy.
      - Assad's regime is weaker than we expected and our strikes allow the rebels to overwhelm and slaughter the regime and its supporters (and establish a repressive Islamist theocracy)
      - Russia, Iran, or Hezbollah make a rash decision to protect their interest in maintaining the Assad regime through military force.

      Are these possibilities really counterbalanced by our interest in sending a symbolic message that we do not condone the use of chemical weapons? If our actions cause the deaths of thousands or tens of thousands more people, I doubt they'll be grateful to us that it was a bomb or a bullet instead of Sarin.

    • Comment Link dennis Friday, 30 August 2013 11:33 posted by dennis

      This is a bad idea. We can't bomb the chemical weapons depot for fear of spreading the chemicals. So bombing anything else doesn't stop them from using the chemicals against us in the future. Taken from the Las Vegas TV ads "what happens in Syria, stays in Syria" is the right approach.

    • Comment Link Sir Richard Friday, 09 August 2013 23:28 posted by Sir Richard

      Syria, just as Egypt and Libya and soon to be Jordan are to be controlled by the muslim brotherhood. Obama/ soros/bush/clinton/NWO have been running America and Europe for a long time. Obama sent the "Organizer Forum", started by Wade Raftke to Egypt to assist in taking over Egypt just as Acorn and obama did in the former united. States. Obama and the muslim brotherhood are one in the same. Want to see what really happened in Bengahzi? Go to U-tube and type in "Obama/Botched Kidnapping". I would like to give my thanks to Vladimir Putin for protecting Assad and Snowden. Good work Vladi!

    • Comment Link Frank Corry Friday, 09 August 2013 21:47 posted by Frank Corry

      My concern relates to the effect on Israel. The fight is between the US, and others, on one side,and Russia and Iran on the other. If Assad and the second group win, and they will, unless the free world is the couinter weight, Israel loses. The Jews are too much of our back bone to let that happen. ,

    • Comment Link Don Graham Friday, 09 August 2013 21:23 posted by Don Graham

      It's a conflict "unbelievers" can never win. Alms, not arms, through the UN, particularly for those in Jordan.

    • Comment Link Stephen Friday, 09 August 2013 21:06 posted by Stephen

      I think there was a poor definition of “dog in the fight”. If Syria dropped off the face of the planet today it would affect the US in no way. Period. Should we care? Yes – from a humanitarian perspective the atrocities must be stopped, and the victims assisted. Though that does not win the debate of ”does the US have a dog in the fight?’. Probably a poor analogy, but for what it’s worth: If I see my daughter being assaulted, do I have a dog in the fight? Yes. If I see a stranger’s daughter getting assaulted, do I have a dog in the fight? No. Should I do something to intervene? EMPHATIC yes! The question isn't should the US participate in humanitarian efforts, but if the US had a “dog in the fight” – to me, the answer is no.

    • Comment Link Robert Friday, 02 August 2013 19:52 posted by Robert

      this is not our fight, we should sit back and watch for once. president Assad says he is fighting terrorists in his country, why is that so hard to believe? We can not align ourselves with al Nusra front and al Qaeda. Do you really think they will lay down their weapons and start cherishing democracy if they should win in Syria?We arm them, train them than later we will end up fighting them. we can not allow companies such as Haliburton dictate our foreign policy for their benefit.

    • Comment Link linda Friday, 02 August 2013 18:12 posted by linda

      Unless there is a secular, moderate, democratically minded, non-military figure that shows up and can convince like-minded Syrians who want to live peacefully that he is the guy who will do the job....... we have no business wasting ever more money and lives going in there with no clue who we are fighting for or fighting against.

    • Comment Link mani Monday, 29 July 2013 12:29 posted by mani

      @Bruce K
      the complication is

      if US backs rebels then the secular government of Assad (which has allied itself with the Iranians) will go down , and salafis extremist WILL take the power , if US backs Assad (I am not saying that's an option , but US can just do nothing and let Assad win) then Iranians and Hezbollah in Lebanon will get stronger.

      The problem is , war in Syria is not between moderates and extremists or dictators and the believers in democracy , rebels are already trying to implement sharia law in the areas they have under their control.

      situation is like the 90's in Afghanistan , when US backed Taliban and other extremist groups to debilitate Soviets. (And in the end same groups became more hostile and irrational than the soviets)

      P.S. Bashar Assad's regime is not an Islamic government (They are alawid seculars)

    • Comment Link Hugh Grindstaff Tuesday, 23 July 2013 22:18 posted by Hugh Grindstaff

      I am against the motion because I think it is time to act. However, it must be a united coalition using multinational forces. Russia and China's position must be neutralized and the two countries need to be shamed for their interference to keep Assad in power. As stated today on CBS News, the cost of intervening would be about $1,000,000,000.00 a month. Also our troops even though they are the best in the world are now getting tired of two wars. This must be a joint effort if it is a go.

    • Comment Link oscar.the.owch Tuesday, 23 July 2013 18:07 posted by oscar.the.owch

      Recent estimates say the cost of any measures worth taking in Syria could be $1 billion a day.

      Akin to the costs and none of the returns of:

      a: stupid waste of resources in manned space travel to Mars or

      b: the valuable beyond estimation hope of reengineering the Missisippi for hydropower to fight global warming and bring more and better water to the Southeast.

      Truth be told, what does it say about America that we could bully the war issue but not recreate livable sustainble ecosystems?

    • Comment Link Bruce K Tuesday, 23 July 2013 16:14 posted by Bruce K

      I think the US and the West, in general, does have a dog in a Syrian outcome. Anything that puts pressure on radical Islam, Iran that changes or leads to internal change or stress that can move forward an agenda of reform to these Islamic states is positive.

      Especially if it is not all out war and it goes in the general direction of fragmenting and removing them from the influence of Russia and China. This is my thought going into the debate ... let's see if someone can change my mind?

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