Matthew RJ Brodsky and Hillary Mann Leverett, Professor at American University joined anchor Mike Walter for a heated debate on whether U.S. military action in Syria would be legitimate or a grave mistake. Brodsky and Leverett both believed that it would be a mistake to embrace the current plan being discussed by the Obama administration. That was their only point of agreement.
Leverett said that a military strike on Syria would be "a strategic mistake just like the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses and here, there's a rush to judgement… It has no international legitimacy… This will be another illegal war, which will cost the United States strategically in its position, its influence, its power, and its credibility and will be deeply damaging." Brodsky explained that if the Obama administration is considering military intervention then what they are currently discussing would not be strong enough and could backfire. Such a strike "could send the wrong message and embolden the regime and it wouldn't really do anything to make Assad change his risk calculus," which appears to be the point of U.S. action at the end of the day, according to the White House.
The conversation then turned to the efficacy of using military action. Leverett suggested that American credibility is diminished "in every instance" the U.S. uses precision military strikes because things go wrong "every single time," such as Clinton's attack on Sudan's only pharmaceutical factory claiming then that it was used for chemical weapons with no evidence. America's "record is very, very, very, very poor" and it affects U.S. standing and its ability to influence political outcomes when we really care about them. Brodsky countered that past strikes that have caused collateral damage "are regrettable instances" that now must be weighed on one hand versus the systematic use and continued use of chemical weapons on the other. He explained, "Assad has already killed over 100,000 people. His plan since the beginning was to keep testing what the international reaction would be. To start with sniper fire, to escalate to tanks and artillery, to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft" and facing no external consequence, chemical weapons was the natural escalation and left unchecked, would continue.
Regarding the evidence indicating that chemical weapons were used, Leverett claimed, "there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever... None," and said that there is far less evidence here than there was when she worked in the Bush administration in the run up to the 2003 war in Iraq. Brodsky countered that the White House just released very compelling evidence that included intercepted communications between Syrian commanders on the field and senior regime leaders. He said there is no way there was this kind of evidence in Iraq where there wasn't firsthand reporting, YouTube videos, and this kind of access to the site of an actual chemical weapons attack.
Leverett goes on to say that if the U.S. attacks the Assad regime "the consequences are potentially going to be even graver here if it was Jabhat al-Nusra that used chemical weapons, and we take away the constraint of the Assad government, and we let an openly al-Qaeda affiliated group gas people and then we're going to be shocked when they gas us? This is real strategic malfeasance." Brodsky responded that "there's not a chance that it was Jabhat al-Nusra or any of the other terrorist organizations they are alleging and that just flies in the face against what is actually happening militarily on the ground… Jabhat al-Nusra was not in the neighborhood at that time. The information that we have goes against" that possibility.
According to Leverett, the U.S. is ignoring other intelligence reports "because people here don't like the Russians or, pardon me, don't like so many people from China either." She claimed a Russian report found homemade not industrial or military grade rockets at the site of the attack. Of course, since the site of the attack was rebel-held territory in Damascus, it would stand to reason that some of the rockets found in that neighborhood would be homemade since the rebels don't have wide-scale access to the regime's military equipment and the U.S. hasn't supplied them with arms.
Brodsky clarified that the U.S. and most Western nations have had evidence that the regime was using chemical weapons since at least April when those reports began to surface publicly. Still, he doesn't believe American involvement in Syria should be based on chemical weapons alone. The Obama administration should have been involved long ago, before Syria became a gathering ground for al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign jihadists. "It only turned into Jihad Central as the war dragged on, and then Hezbollah joined in the fray, and the ebb and flow of the war has gone back and forth."
In summation, Brodsky contended that "the United States needs to get involved. If it is going to do it, it needs to do it right. If not, don't do it at all. The current plans are to do something that would backfire. What it needs to do is actually make the regime feel it. It should target the Assad regime in addition to the military assets that are there. That would send the appropriate message."