Appearing on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria on Sunday alongside Fawaz Gerges and Rami Khouri, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Elliott Abrams said the United States needs to decide which side of the Syrian conflict it will stand on: the winning side with the Syrian opposition or the losing side with Bashar al-Assad.
“The question now, really, is who is going to win - the Russian, Chinese, Iranian side backing Hezbollah, backing Assad? Or the other side, which includes the Saudis, the Turks, the Europeans, the Arab League, the GCC and us?,” said Abrams.
Abrams argued for the U.S. financing and arming the Syrian opposition as in Libya, because those are “two things they need right now.”
The discussion continued:
ZAKARIA: Elliott, when you confront a double veto from the Russians and Chinese, which effectively means the U.N. Security Council is not going to be able to authorize these actions, which we - you know, which we all understand provide legitimacy, provide cover, allowed a lot of regional players to get involved. What do you do at that stage? Would - do you think that the United States should be moving down a unilateral path here?
ABRAMS: Well, it wouldn’t be unilateral. I think we would be consulting with the Arab League, with the Turks, with the GCC, the Gulf Corporation Council countries, because, in fact, there is a very large amount of support against the Assad regime. It doesn’t happen to include Iran, Russia and China.
The question now, really, is who is going to win - the Russian, Chinese, Iranian side backing Hezbollah, backing Assad? Or the other side, which includes the Saudis, the Turks, the Europeans, the Arab League, the GCC, and us?
Now, Assad is willing to kill to prevent himself from being ousted from power, and the question really is are we going to back the other side, along with the Arabs? Are we going to back them with words, or, you know, to back them with something a little bit more tangible?
ZAKARIA: What would that more tangible thing be, Elliott?
ABRAMS: More tangible thing would be the kind of support that was given initially in Libya. That is, I would give them money, and I would give them arms. That’s both of the two things they need right now.
They don’t need American airplanes. But they do need what would, from our point of view, be covert support. I would hope that it would come from Arab countries rather than directly from the United States. But they’re being slaughtered, and they have rifles, and we should not watch that happen and sit by. We should give them help, concrete help.
ZAKARIA: Fawaz, would that expand this incipient civil war?
GERGES: That’s a terrible advice, Fareed, because the worst thing that can happen to the uprising, the awakening, is the militarization of the Intifada, because that would exactly play into the Assad’s basically worldview, and the United States has been correct saying that the most effective means to basically dislodge Assad is to have a tipping point.
What we need to understand, Fareed, in the last 10 months, there has been a war being waged against the Assad regime by Adanese (ph). You have a financial war, economic war, psychological war. The squeeze is amazing, and I mentioned I just came back. How much - I mean, the Syrian people, and the Syrian economy is being hurt.
Because if we do arm the opposition, if we try to go that particular road, Syria will descend into all-out civil war. Already Syria is on the verge, on the brink. We should struggle very hard to convince the opposition to remain a political - and help the (ph) opposition, because the tipping point, Fareed, I believe the social balance of forces inside Syria.
Once the middle class fully joins the uprising, Assad is a goner, I believe.
ABRAMS: Here is - if I could just -
ABRAMS: Here is the problem with that, I think. The longer this fighting goes on - and this is a war of the regime against the people. The longer this regime fights the people, kills the people, kills a Sunni majority population, the harder it’s going - it is going to be at the end to pull the pieces back together to avoid revenge and to get reconciliation.
If this goes on for another nine or 12 months, there will be too much blood will have been shed. That’s why it’s important, I think, to bring it to an end sooner.