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James Zogby: 'There Are No Good Options for Syria'

Tuesday, 27 Aug 2013 04:35 PM

By Cathy Burke and John Bachman

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Neither a limited military strike nor a massive ground invasion of Syria would be a "game-changer" in the civil war-torn country, but a message - even a "punishing blow" - has to be sent in the wake of the suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians, Arab American Institute head James Zogby said Tuesday.

"Will it alter the situation on the ground?" Zogby asked in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV. "I don't really think so and I don't think we have an intention of doing that.

"Whatever we do is not going to be enough to be a game-changer in the country."

Story continues below video.



The Obama administration Tuesday readied for an expected strike against Syria, assembling allied backing and collecting an important Arab endorsement of its view that Syrian President Bashar Assad is almost certainly to blame for an alleged mass gassing of civilians.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday, the influential Arab League blamed the Syrian government for the deadly attack near Damascus and called for those behind it to be brought to international justice.

And though Zogby feels President Barack Obama is committed to a limited military strike, he said it’s unlikely it will turn into a "military adventure."

"All signs indicate to me that's what will happen, but it will not engage America in the long term in a military adventure in Syria because I don't think the American people want it, I don't think Syria will be better off with a long-term military engagement, and I certainly don't think America will be better off," he said.

From the Arab world's perspective, the time for the United States to act is now, Zogby said.

"The president went out and spoke a year ago about a red line," Zogby said. "Red line's been crossed. [The] president said Assad has to go. He's still there.

"Maybe we shouldn't have said those things, but we did. Once said, people are looking at … what [we] will do … to stand up for what we maintain."

"Something horrible happened," Zogby added. "… if they have proof that [Assad] used [chemical weapons], then some form of message that is sent to him to say, 'Do not do this again; there are serious consequences,' is absolutely essential. And that's what we're going to see happen."

There are risks, he said, for a unilateral strike.

"It would be better if the U.N. were to endorse this but, on the other hand, I don't know of any regime, other than Saddam Hussein, that so outwore its welcome in the world as this Syrian regime has done," he said. "So, in some ways, the president will face criticism because he acts unilaterally or acts without…," noting that Obama has previously insisted he would not act unilaterally and "operate in the same way as the Bush administration did."

But Zogby said the United States is building consensus for a strike.

"Obviously the drums are beating and there's every indication ... there will be some military action," he said, noting Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby's condemnation of the chemical weapons attack this week was "one more sign of it."

"The United States is building support with the Arab League," he said. "They're probably going to be trying to get an endorsement from NATO. There will not be a U.N. endorsement forthcoming — the Russians and Chinese will not sign off on it. So what we're doing is building the kind of coalition that President Clinton did in advance of the attacks on Serbia back in the '90s; it looks very much like that's the scenario that's playing out."

He cautioned, however, there doesn't appear to be an exit plan if the United States was to engage in a military intervention.

"If we actually did a massive military intervention and won … would we not end up in Syria like we are in Iraq or in Afghanistan 10 years later saying, 'How did we get into this mess and how do we get out of it?'" he questioned. "I want to know when we go into something what we're going to get, how we're going to get out of it, and actually what the terms of engagement are. I don't think that's clear."

Zogby praised Secretary of State John Kerry for his role in the Arab world so far.

"Clearly in some parts of the Arab world he has a real profile," Zogby said. "Certainly in Syria he does… he's called [foreign minister] Walid al-Moallem about the chemical weapons … This is somebody with whom John Kerry has a personal relationship … John Kerry is somebody who's known, who comes with stature, and so when he speaks, it matters."

But at this point, Zogby said, neither Moallem nor Syria have very good options.

"Walid is a faithful servant… selling a really bad product," Zogby said. "The score is still not in about Syria. I don't know what happened… but what I do know is that this regime has committed crimes before and will commit crimes in the future, and has behaved brutally and very badly toward its own people.

"I do not see an easy way forward for Syria. The opposition is not ready to govern and I don't see America occupying or any other power occupying and creating a system of governance," Zogby said. "There are no good options for Syria."

And in the United States, Obama's decisions will affect his own political future — and his legacy.

"The American people just got out of Iraq, are fed up with Afghanistan, and our economy still has not recovered. And so the question is, what responsibility do we have here to make a compelling enough case to say we can do this, we can come out of this OK, and the situation is going to be better after we do it than if we don't do it," he said.

"That is something that the president has to struggle with before he commits American military force."


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