Getting serious on Syria: Can we close the Assad era without opening a can of worms?
With a keynote address by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.)

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Post Event Summary
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a keynote address to a packed house at AEI on Monday, calling for the U.S. to direct a military coalition to liberate Syria from President Bashar al Assad. McCain accused the Obama administration of placing its bets on the Russian government successfully pushing Assad out of power. He argued that claiming the Obama administration is "leading" from behind is too generous — in reality, the administration is simply behind.

This failure to act, however, could lead Syria to become a failed Middle Eastern state ravaged by violence and sectarian bloodshed, said McCain. Ammar Abdulhamid of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies stressed that time is not on America's side. The U.S. could have had a better chance at stopping Syria's genocide if the Obama administration had acted earlier, but now, the stability of the region is at stake.

Brian Fishman of the New America Foundation then argued that the U.S. should be wary of establishing safe zones in Syria as this poses the risk of mission creep and might encourage the Assad regime to lash out in an unpredictable manner. David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted that the longer the fight in Syria continues, the more negative trends will emerge and the more radicalization becomes a possibility.

Lee Smith of the Weekly Standard concluded that Syria represents Hezbollah's strategic depth, contending that Hezbollah would suffer greatly if it lost its Syrian ally.

--Alex Della Rocchetta

Event Description

As the Syrian uprising approaches its sixteenth month, any remaining hope that Assad will end the bloodshed has evaporated. Neither international condemnation nor the dispatching of United Nations monitors has reduced violence in the country. Moreover, Russia and Iran continue to arm the regime.

While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that the “Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end,” neither she nor the White House has outlined a strategy to meet that goal. While the Obama administration invoked a “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine to justify military action in Libya, it has pointedly refused to do so in Syria. 

Do any options short of military force remain to end bloodshed in Syria? Is the Syrian opposition ready to govern, or would Assad’s fall unleash a sectarian and ethnic civil war? What would regime change in Syria mean for Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the U.S.? Join a panel of seasoned Syria experts as they debate these issues and more.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will open the discussion with a keynote address.

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