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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.


12:45 PM

1:00 PM
Keynote Address
John McCain, U.S. Senate (R-Ariz.)

1:30 PM
Ammar Abdulhamid, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
Brian Fishman, New America Foundation
David Schenker, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard

Michael Rubin, AEI

3:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Alex Della Rocchetta at [email protected], 202.862.7152.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Ammar Abdulhamid is a leading Syrian human rights and pro-democracy activist and author. A fellow and member of the Syria Working Group at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Abdulhamid is also the founder and director of the Tharwa Foundation, a grassroots organization that enlists local activists and citizen journalists to report on sociopolitical issues in Syria to break the Assad government’s information blockade. The organization has worked to galvanize grassroots support and generate enthusiasm for change, even as the Syrian government continues its crackdown against its opponents. Abdulhamid was previously a visiting fellow at the Project on U.S. Policy Toward the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution and a co-director of DarEmar, a publishing house and non-governmental organization based in Damascus, Syria.

Brian Fishman is a counterterrorism research fellow at the New America Foundation and a research fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point. He previously served as the CTC’s director of research and was a professor in the Department of Social Sciences at West Point. Fishman was a regular contributor to the CTC’s Harmony Project reports:  “Dysfunction and Decline: Lessons Learned from Inside al-Qa`ida in Iraq” (author), “al-Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records” (co-author) and “Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout: al-Qa`ida’s Road In and Out of Iraq” (editor). Before joining the CTC in 2005, Fishman was the foreign affairs/defense legislative assistant for Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). He has published in the Washington Quarterly, the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and numerous edited volumes.

John McCain is the senior U.S. senator from Arizona. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, McCain spearheaded a reform agenda to reduce federal spending and lower taxes that quickly elevated him to statewide office and the position of U.S. senator in 1986. He is currently the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He is also a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. As the son and grandson of distinguished U.S. Navy admirals, McCain launched a 22-year career as a naval aviator before entering politics. During his notable career, he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations. He is a former editor of Middle East Quarterly and, between 2002 and 2004, worked as a staff adviser for Iran and Iraq in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Rubin is the author of “Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami’s Iran” (Washington Institute, 2001), co-author of “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005) and co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats’ (AEI Press, 2008). In addition, Rubin was the primary drafter of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s 2008 task force report, “Meeting the Challenge: US Policy toward Iranian Nuclear Development.”

David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute. Previously, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Levant country director, the Pentagon’s top policy aide on the Arab countries of the Levant. In that capacity, he was responsible for advising the secretary and other senior Pentagon leadership on the military and political affairs of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. He was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service in 2005.

Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, before which he was a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute. Smith is the author of “The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations” (Doubleday, 2010) and has published articles in The New York Times, The New Republic, GQ Magazine and Talk Magazine.

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