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Syria: Should the United States Do More?

[backgroundmusic]
KurtVolker:TheMcCainInstituteisallaboutaction.We'readotank.Inthebest
Americantraditionofopeninquiry,spiriteddiscussion,andpracticalaction,wehave
reintroducedthepracticeofholdingstructured,timeddebatesaboutthecriticalchoices
ourcountryfaces.
Webringtogetherseasonedexpertsandprofessionalmoderators.Webringoutdifferent
pointsofviewtohelpinformyou,thepublic,aboutthechoicesourcountryneedsto
make.
TheMcCainInstitute'sDebateandDecisionSeriesoffersafrank,informed,and
distinctlynonpartisanexaminationofcriticalchallengesinourworldtoday.Ourtimely
debateshavetackledissuesfacingcountrieslikeSyria.
AaronDavidMiller:ThetragedyofSyria,itseemstome,isthis.Somuchbloodhas
flowedthatitisimpossibletoimagineanegotiatedtransitionnow.
RobertKagan:ArewegoingtogetaperfectoutcomeinSyria?Absolutelynot.It'llbe
farfromperfect.ThequestionthatLeonandIkeepaskingyouis"Whatistheoutcome
thatwe'regoingtogetwhenwedonothing?"
Kurt:Afghanistan.
StevenClemons:Therewasapointatwhichthis,themissionofthis,likesomany
missionsabroad,becamestatebuilding,becamehumanrights,manyofthemlaudable
goals,butinmyview,usingthePentagontoachievethoseobjectiveswaswherethings
wentwrong.
FrederickKagan:Wemaybewearyofthiswar,butthiswarisnotwearyofus.The
wardoesn'tendjustbecausewedecidewedon'tfeellikeplayinganymore.
Kurt:Iran.
RobertWexler:Ifallofthesethingsdonotwork,andthat'sthebigif,iftheyalldonot
work,thenPresidentObamaisinafardifferentsetofcircumstancesthanunfortunately
wewereinwhenPresidentBushwenttowarinIraq.
DaniellePletka:It'sgoingtobeadangerousoperationforwhoeverundertakesit.It'snot
goingtobeanendtotheIraniannuclearprogram.Idon'tthinkwe'refooledaboutthatat
all.

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Kurt:AndRussia.
DavidKramer:TheWestcannotsimplysitbyandengageinabusinessasusualkind
ofapproach.Wehavetogivemeaningtotheword"unacceptable."IfwesayRussian
actionsareunacceptable,whatarewegoingtodosoasnottoacceptit?
ThomasGraham:IthinkwewouldallliketoseeRussiabeafullbloodeddemocratic
societythatprofessedWesternvalues.Itisn't.Itisn'tgoingtogetthereforalongtime.
Thequestionis"Whatcanoutsidersdo,thatispositiveandconstructiveinthatprocess?"
Kurt:TheDebateandDecisionSeriesofferstheaudiencetopratemoderatorswho
guidethedebatersanddiscussionbyaskingprobingquestionsandsteeringthedebate
intolivelydiscourse.
EliseLabott:IshisRussiaonthewrongsideofhistory,aweakpowerthatwill
eventuallysuccumbtothegreaterforcesofthe21stcentury,orisPutinmakinghistory?
JuanWilliams:It'slegitimatetouseittokillpeopleforanimminentthreattothe
UnitedStates.It'sjustthatyouwantitmoreclearlydefined.
JessicaYellin:Whatwouldyouprescribeasthebestmeansofgettingtheoutcomeyou
want?
Kurt:TheMcCainInstitute'sDebateandDecisionSeriesbuildsadeeperunderstanding
inWashington,mutualrespect,politicalcivility,anddecisiveaction.Withourseasoned
expertpanels,wehavetackledissuesandseriousUSforeignpolicypositionssuchasthe
Irannucleardeal.
BretStephens:Aregimethatiscapableoftakingastoneinonehandandstoninga
womantodeath,whohasbeenalreadyburieduptoherwaist,shouldnotbeallowedto
getanywherenearhavingtheabilitytotakeanuclearweaponinitsotherhandanddo
likewisewithitsneighbors.
ReuelGerecht:LookatthewaytheIranianregimehandlesinternalpolitics.Lookhow
theydealwitheachother.Lookhowtheydealwithforeigners,andthenletthemhave
someoftheirownmedicine.
KarimSadjadpour:BecauseIthinkonceyoudohaveamorerepresentative
governmentinIran,whichfollowsIran'snationalinterests,thisantipathytoward
America,theantipathytowardIsrael,thisnonsensicalnuclearprogramdon'tmakealot
ofsense.
RobertEinhorn:Itwouldbeaterrible,terriblethingforIrantogetnuclearweapons.
Weshouldgotogreatlengthstostopthem,includinguseofmilitaryforce.
Kurt:Droneusageinwarfare.

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DaphneEviatar:Dronescreatetheriskthatyouwillexpandthiswartoanywhereyou
feellikegettingsomeguythatyouthinkisabadguyorthatyou'vebeentellingpeopleis
abadguy,butyou'renotwillingtoriskyourowntroops.You'renotwillingtoengagein
anarmedconflictthere.
SpiderMarks:We'vemadeadeterminationthatthisindividual,basedonwhatheorshe
hasdone,isonalist.Thatpersonneedstogoaway.Whatisavailableforustogo
accomplishthattask?That'swhereIam,rightnow,inthedebate.Boom.
CameronMunter:Dronesareaweaponthatcanbe,ifusedproperly,averyhumane
weapon,averypreciseweapon,aweaponthatcandothingsthatotherweaponscannot.
GregoryMcNeal:WhatwouldwethinkiftheRussiansdidit?IftheRussiansare
indiscriminatelybombingcivilians,it'sverydifferentthanwherewearepurposelynot
tryingtoharmciviliansandwe'repurposelygoingafteralegitimateenemy.
Kurt:Withagenuinedialogueamongdecisionmakersandexpertsfromdifferent
politicalstances,wehopetobridgetheideasandtheorieswithapolicyoutcomethatwill
resolvethebigquestionsofthedaythatarestuckinastatusquo.
CindyMcCain:Thisisaverytimelydiscussiontonight.Thisisaverytimelydebate.
Moreimportantly,wearelookingforwardtointeractionfromeveryone,inathoughtful
andkindmanner.
JohnMcCain:Thedebateanddiscussionthatyouareabouttoobserveisexactlywhat's
goingtohappenontheflooroftheUnitedStatesSenateandintheHouseof
Representatives.ThisisanissuethatneedstobedecidedbythePresidentandthe
Congress,andit'saseriousone.Thatisit'sgotalottodowithhowtheUnitedStatesuses
itspowerandunderwhatcircumstances.
Kurt:Ourdebatesarefreeandopentothepublic.Youcanwatchthemlive.Youcan
watchthemonourwebsite,mccaininstitute.org.YoucansignuptoreceiveourDecision
Noteseventrecap.YoucanseeallofourdebatesonourYouTubechannel.
Ourgoalwastocreateasafe,openenvironmentforspiriteddebateoverthechoicesour
countryneedstomake.Wehopeyoucanjoinusforournextdebate,hereinWashington,
DC.
Thankyou,everyone,forcoming.Goodevening.Myname'sKurtVolker.I'mthe
ExecutiveDirectoroftheMcCainInstitute.I'vehadthehonorofintroducingmanyofthe
debateshere,asyou'vejustseeninthiswaytoolongvideo.
[laughter]
Kurt:Weareveryproudtobewithyouagaintonighttopresentafollowupdebate.
McCainInstitutewasfoundedtopromotecharacterdrivenleadership,toadvancecauses

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inhumanitarianwork,humanrights,nationalsecurity.We'vedonealotofworkinthe
areaofhumantrafficking.
Oneoftheareaswewantedtofocusonwasrestoringthiscultureofdebateoverthe
choicesourcountryhastomake,asyou'vejustseen.Twoyearsago,welaunchedthis
DebateandDecisionSerieswithadebateaboutSyria.ShouldtheUnitedStatessave
Syria?Shouldweintervenemilitarilytotrytodothat?
Twoyearsago,wehadtwoofthesamepaneliststhatwehaveheretonight.Wehadtwo
othersarguingthosecases.Tonight,we'regoingtorevisitsomeofthosesamequestions
againandlookahead.Whatcanwedonow?Shouldwedomorethanwearecurrently
doing?
Beforeweturntothedebate,I'dliketojustshowafewofthekeyargumentsthatwere
madeatthattimesothatwerefreshourthinkingofwherewewere,andthenwe'regoing
tobelookingforwardfortherestoftheevening.Toourothervideo.
[videostarts]
[music]
John:Ithinkit'sveryfittingthatthefirstdiscussioninthisinstitutebeconcerningthe
issueofSyria.ThereareverydifferingviewsonwhatactiontheUnitedStatesof
Americaandouralliesshouldtake.
Elise:TheSyrianpeoplehavecalledformoreUShelp.Theregionislookingformore
Americanleadership.IntheUnitedStates,thereisarobustdebateonwhethertheUScan
andshouldsaveSyria.
JoshuaLandis:Thequestionheretonightis"CanAmericasaveSyria?"Onlythe
SyrianscansaveSyria.AmericacannotnationbuildintheMiddleEastandshouldnot
getinthemiddleofasectarianandethnicwar.We'vetriedtodothattwiceintheMiddle
East,andit'sendedintears.
Robert:Letmestipulatefirstofall.LeonandIbothstipulatethattheUnitedStates
cannotdoeverything,everywhere.Wecannotinvolveourselves,unfortunately,even
whentherearehumanitariancrises.Thequestionreallyis"DoesSyriarisetothelevel
thatdoesrequireourattention?"Ourassertionisthatitis.
Aaron:It'snotaquestionofsavingSyria.It'snotaquestionofshouldweorcouldwe.
Thetruthisevenifwecould,weshouldn'tbecausetheexpenditureofresourcesthatwe
wouldneedtoputintothisenterprisewouldfarexceed,inmyjudgment,ourcapacityto
actuallysucceed.Wedon'twantownanotherArabcountry.
LeonWieseltier:NobodyissuggestingthattheUnitedStatesgocreateanewSyriaor
createanewIran,buttherearepeople,inallthesecountries,whodeserveourhelpand

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who,inthelongterm,secularly,astheeconomistsliketosay,itwouldbeinourstrategic
interesttohelp.
Robert:Ipredict,bytheway,inmyomniscience,thatwewillpursueexactlythepolicy
thatyoubothrecommendandwewillwindupbeingdraggedintoSyriaintheworst
possiblecircumstances.
Joshua:IthinkthatAmericaneedstodoalotmore,butIdon'tthinkthatwecansolve
orsaveSyria.
[applause]
[videoends]
Kurt:Thereweare,draggedintoSyriaintheworstpossiblecircumstances.
[laughter]
Kurt:Iwanttojustmakeafewhousekeepingannouncementsfirst.Feelfreetotweet,to
useyourcellphonesforthat,butputthemonvibrate.Let'snothavethemringing,butdo
havethemonvibrate.Dousesocialmedia.Docommentonthis.Thehashtagforthis
debateis#MIDebateSyria.We'llbestartingonadialoguewiththatinparallelwiththe
discussionhere.
IwanttothankmanyofthepeopleIseeintheroom,formerdebatersofours.Iseea
coupleofambassadors.IseesomeoftheSyrianAmericancommunity,someprofessors,
andsomeformercolleaguesofthestatedepartment.It'sgreattohaveallofyouhere.
Wearehonoredtonighttohaveforthethirdtime,oneofthebestmoderatorswe'veseen
dothissortofthing,EliseLabott,whoisnowtheglobalaffairscorrespondentatCNN.
Shewillintroducethedebaters.Wehopetohaveaverylivelydiscussion.Thankyou.
[applause]
Elise:Thankyou,Kurtandthankyoueverybodyagainforcomingtodebatethisvexing
problemofSyria.Aswesawtwoyearsago,wemettotalkabouttheSyrianCivilWar.It
wasthenabouttwoyearsold.Atthattimetherewereabout60,000Syriansdead,
hundredsandthousandsofrefugeesfleeingtoneighboringTurkey,Lebanon,Jordanand
IraqandtwomillionpeopledisplacedinsideSyria.
Todaythoseestimatesareabout200,000Syrianskilled.Thehumanitariancrisisonce
thoughtunimaginableisstaggering.Onethirdofthecountry's23millionpeopleare
estimatedtohavebeendisplaced,withmorethanthreemillionofthose,refugeesoutside
Syria.
Children,thefutureofthisnation,arehungryandbeingdeprivedaneducation.Nowthe
SyrianoppositionisnotjustbattlingtheregimeofBasharalAssad.Whatstartedasa

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bravestandagainstabrutaldictatormorphedintoasectariancivilwar.Oppositionforces
havebecomeevermoreradicalizedandinfiltratedbyextremistforces.
TheSyrianpeoplecontinuetobevictimizedandneedmoreinternationalhelp.
Unfortunately,internationalefforts,albeitmoreconsiderablethantwoyearsago,are
almostsolelygearedtowardseliminatingtheterroristthreat,bleedingintoneighboring
Iraq.
Indeed,evencurrentaidforthearmedoppositionisdirectedattrainingtherebelsintoa
fightingforcetocombatISISforces.FouryearsagotheAmericanadministrationcalled
forPresidentAssadtostepdown.Heisstillhere.ShouldregimechangestillgovernUS
policyoriseliminatingtheextremistthreatmoreimportantthancurbingthebloodshedof
Assad'sforces?
Whatmorecanandshouldbedonetohelptheopposition?Howdoesthecampaignfor
ISISfitin?IsenoughbeingdonetodefeatISIS?Indeed,canISISbedefeatedwithout
stoppingtheSyrianCivilWar?Thesearesomeofthetopicswe'lladdresstoday.We're
guaranteedtohavealivelydiscussion,onceagain.
Ithinkyouknowthefourgentlemenbeforeyoucouldnotbemorequalifiedtodebate
thisissue.EachofthemhaswrittenextensivelyonSyriaandIrelyonthemfor
thoughtfulanalysisinmyownworkonthiscomplexissue.
JoshuaLandisisthedirectoroftheCenterforMiddleEastStudies,anassociateprofessor
attheUniversityofOklahoma.Hewritessyriacomment.com,adailynewsletteron
Syrianpolicythatattractsome200,000paidreadsamonth.It'sreallyoneofthemost
thoughtfulblogsouttheretodaythatdelvesintotheSyriancrisis.
AaronDavidMilleriscurrentlythevicepresidentforNewInitiativesandadistinguished
scholarattheWoodrowWilsonInstitute,aninternationalcenterforscholarsin
Washington.Hisnewbookisentitled"CanAmericaHaveAnotherGreatPresident?"
FornearlytwodecadesAaronhasservedmorethanahalvedozenSecretariesofState
andadvisorsintheMiddleEastBureauoftheStateDepartmentnegotiatingMiddleEast
peace,whichwecandefinitelydoinanothertopic.Aaronisoneofthemostthoughtful
writersoutthereandwespeakdailyontheseissues.
AndrewTablerisaseniorfellowattheprogramonArabpoliticsattheWashington
Institute,wherehefocusesonSyrianUSpolicyintheLevant.Heisthecofounderand
formereditorandchiefofSyriatoday,Syria'sfirstprivatesectorinthislanguage
magazine,andsomeonewhoI'mreallyindailycontactwithabouttheeventsinSyria.
OneofthestrongestvoicesoutthereontheneedfortheUSandinternationalcommunity
todomorefortheSyrianpeople.
MichaelDoranisaseniorfellowattheHudsonInstitutewherehespecializesin
MiddleEastsecurityissues.MichaelservedintheBushadministrationasSeniorDirector

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intheNationalSecurityCouncil,wherehewasresponsibleforhelpingtodeviseand
coordinateUSstrategiesonvariousMiddleEastissues,includingArabIsraelirelations
andeffortstocontainIranandSyria.He'salsoservedinvariousincarnationsoftheState
DepartmentandSecretaryofDefenseandtravelsfrequentlytotheregion.
Thisishowthisdebateisgoingtogo.Theopeningargumentwillbethreeminutesfor
eachteam.AndrewandMichaelwillkickusoffwiththeirargumentaboutwhymore
shouldbedoneinSyria.Thenwe'llhearfromJoshandAaronandtheirargumentonwhy
enoughisbeingdoneandeffortstogofurthershouldbecarefullyconsidered.
Eachteamwillhaveanopportunitytorebuteachother'sarguments,firmlybut
respectfully,fortwominutes.ThenI'llasksomequestionswitheachteam,havingtwo
minutesmaximumtoreply.
We'regoingtotakequestionsfromyou.Weespeciallywanttohearfrom
SyrianAmericansintheaudience.WealsohavescholarsfromtheUniversityofArizona.
ThenIwillclosethedebatebyaskingeachpanelistforabottomlinerecommendation
andthey'llhaveaminuteforthat.
ThoseofyouwhohavebeenherewithmebeforeknowsI'mprettymuchasticklerfor
time.Ifyou'regoingtogoover,you'renotgoingtohearinyourearlikeIdo,awrap,but
attheNavyMemorial,sosomeoneinuniformmayescortyouout.
[laughter]
Elise:Let'sgettoitwithAndrewandMichaelaboutwhymoreshouldbedoneinSyria.
MichaelDoran:Thanks.I'mgoingtoleadoff.Thanksverymuch,Eliseandthanksto
allofyouforcoming.AndrewandIbelievethattheUnitedStatesshoulddomorein
Syria.I'llgettothespecificsofwhatmoremeansinjustamoment.Butletmefirststart
withanevenmorebasicquestion.
Whatisourgoal?Ourprimaryaim,everyonenowseemstoagree,istodefeattheIslamic
State.ToachievethataimtheObamaadministrationisfollowingwhat'sbeingcalledan
IraqFirstStrategy.
Theadministration'splanistofocusnowonaidingtheIraqigovernmentwhile
postponingmajoroperationsinSyriauntillater.Let'sbeclear.ThisstrategybenefitsIran.
InIraqitisShiitesmilitiasthatarespearheadingthemilitaryeffortsontheground.
ItisIranwhoistraining,equipping,andsometimesleadingthosemilitias.InSyria,with
eachpassingday,theUnitedStatesgrowsmorecloselyalignedwithIran'sclient,Bashar
alAssad.AnAmericanofficialtoldthe"NewYorkTimes"recentlythatUSairstrikesin
SyriawerefreeingupAssad'sforcessothattheycouldmoreeasilydestroythemoderate
opposition.
EssentiallytheofficialsaidandIquote,"We'veallowedtheSyrianforcestoperforman

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economyofforce.Theydon'thavetobefocusedalloverthecountry,justonthose
enemieswhothreatentheirpopulationcenters."Thispolicyismisguided.Assadhas
provedadeptatonething,massmurder.Hehasdestroyedmajorcities,gassed,tortured
andrapedonanindustrialscale.Hehasnot,however,impededtheIslamicState.
Onthecontrary,hismurdermachineisthegreatestrecruitingtoolthattheIslamicState
possesses.AssadandtheIslamicStateworktogetherinanevilsymbiosis.Theyare
dismemberingSyrialikejackals.Theymayeventuallyfightoverthecarcass,butthey're
bringingdowntheirpreytogether.Ifwestrengthenonejackal,wewillnotsavethe
victim.
Moreover,Assad'smassmurderissectarianinnature.Hisvictimsareoverwhelmingly
SunniMuslins.TodefeattheIslamicStateweneedSunniallies.WeneedSunnitroops
ontheground,insideSyria,andweneedSunnistatestosupportthemfromoutsidethe
country.
OuralignmentwithIranhoweverhasalienatedourtraditionalallies.Theyhavemadeit
clearthattheywillnotgiveustheirfullsupport,untilweadoptaregimechangepolicyin
Syria.ForcingAssadtostepasidehasbeenourstatedpolicy,anditshouldremainso,but
weneedtobemorededicatedtohelpingAssadfindadoor.
ThisdoesnotmeanlaunchingadirectAmericanintervention,butitdoesmean
organizingacoalitiontofightAssad.Theironcladlogicpointingusinthedirectionof
suchapolicyhasbeenobvioustothenationalsecuritybureaucracy,butnottotheWhite
House,foryears.
In2012,theprinciplemembersoftheNationalSecurityCouncilunanimouslyagreed,
"Armtheopposition."PresidentObamasaid"No."Thefollowingyear,however,he
camearound,oratleastheseemedto.Heapprovedaninitiativetotrainandequipthe
Syrianrebels,butthenhefailedtofollowthrough.Lastsummerheannouncedan
expansionofthatinitiative,butthenhefailedtofollowthrough.
WhatdoesdoingmoreinSyriamean?Itmeansfollowingthrough.Itmeans
implementingthepolicythatalreadyexistsonpaper.Thankyou.
Elise:Thatwasveryclosetothreeminutes.Verygood.Aaron,you'regoingtostart?
Aaron:JoshandIaregoingtosplitupthethreeminutes.I'mgoingtotrytodominein
60seconds.
First,toMcCainInstitute,thankyousomuch.I'veworkedforRs&Ds,andI'vevoted
forRs&Ds.I'vepersuadedthedividinglineforAmericanforeignpolicy.Itshouldn'tbe
betweenleftandright,liberalorconservative,orrepublicananddemocrat.Itshould
betweendumbononehand,andsmartontheother.TheMcCainInstituteaffordsthe
spaceandtimetohavetheseissuesdebated
Second,Mike,Iagreewithjustabouteverythingthatyousaid.Letmemakeafewpoints.

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ThelasttimewedebatedshouldwesaveSyria.Myanswerthenwaswecouldn't,we
shouldn't,andwewouldn't.Aboutthelast,Iwasabsolutelycorrect.
Tonight,it'ssomethingelse.It'scanwedomore?Myansweris,absolutely.Itwasnever,
andisnotnow,aquestionofnoddingononehand,orallinontheother.Thereisa
balance,andwecandomore,butmoretowardoneend.That'sthekey,andMike
identifiedtheissue.
Whatisthestrategy?Isittoeliminatetheregime?IsittodefeatISIS?Isittotransform
thenatureoftheoppositionintoonethatwecansupportandthatsharesourvalues?Isit
tostopIran?Isittoendthecivilwar?IsittorebuildSyria,orisitalloftheabove?
Myviewbottomlineisforgettransformations.Thisisaregionthathasproblemswithout
solutions.Thinkoutcome,andthinktransactionalobjectives,containment,
counterterrorism,particularly,withrespecttoISIS,supportingtheopposition,mobilizing
ourallies,andgettingthemtodomore,ceasefires,ifnecessary,andkeepISISatbay.
Lastpoint,evenifwewantedtodomore,inthisaudience,thispresidentisriskaverse,
andcapacitynotwithstanding,isn'tinterestedindoingmore.Thatrealityisonewe're
goingtohavetolivewithforthenext18months.
Elise:YoujustateupallofJosh'stime.Goahead.
Joshua:Ithinkweneedtoputthisinahistoricalcontext.Whatwe'reseeinginthe
MiddleEasttoday,isagreatsortingout,muchlikethesortingoutthathappenedin
centralEuropeduringtheSecondWorldWar.StatesbuiltatthesametimeoftheParis
PeaceConference,1919,borderssurroundingmultiethnicandmultireligiouspeople.
Poland,beforeWorldWarTwowas64percentPolsandtherestminorities.Theywere
allgonebytheendofWorldWarII.Czechoslovakia,33percentminoritieswipedout
duringWorldWarII.
Homogenousstates,nationstatesandthenationbuildingprocesswerecreatedthrough
terriblebloodletting,ethniccleansing,andwar.We'veseenitinYugoslavia,most
recently,andnowgoingoninUkraine,tofinishoutthisEuropeansortingout.Eleven
statesaregoingthroughthesameprocess,multiethnic,multireligiousstates.
Americacannotadjudicatethisgreatsortingout.WetriedtodoitintheArabIsraeli
conflict,failed.Iraq.IfwewentintoIraqandtriedtothrowtheSunnisout,andputthe
Shiitesontop,whichisexactlywhatMichael'saskingustodo,inreverse,inSyria.
Itfailedmiserably.15ofthe20topleadersofISIS,today,areSunniBaathistwhogot
angry.AlmostallofthemhavebeeninAmericanjailsforalongperiodoftime.InIraq
theyweretheuniversitiesofISIS.Wecreatedaholymessintheregionbytryingto
jigglearoundethnicbalanceandgetinthemiddleofthisgreatsortingout.Weshouldnot
doit.Wecannotdoit.Weshouldtrytohelp.

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Elise:Thanks,Josh.NowteamMichaelandAndrewwillhavetwominutetorebut.
Michael:Thankyou,Elise,andthanksfortheinvitationtobeheretoday.First,thereisa
greattransformationgoingonintheFertileCrescent.AtfirstitstartedinSyria,inmany
ways,butwhat'sgoingoninsideofSyria,andunfortunatelySyriaisalotlikeVegas
here.Itdoesn'tstayinSyria,andithasn't.ContainmentoftheSyriancrisis,dealingwith
thesymptomsandnotthekeycomponentsofthediseaseitself,hasjustmadetheworlda
muchlesssafeplace.
Canwedomore?Yes.Probablyallofusagreeonthat.Thequestioniswhat,when,and
how.Duringthisprocess,thedebateoverthisprocessisaboutwhattheUnitedStates
shoulddo,Ithinkit'snotsomuchaboutwhethertheUSshouldgivealittlemore
humanitarianassistanceormorecareforrefugees.Ithinkweallcanagreeonthat.
Butthosearejustthesymptoms.Thequestioniscanwegetinvolvedinside,atacertain
time,atakeymomentinside,andtipthebalance,orasJoshhasoftentalkedabout,
tippingthescalesandputtingyourthumbonthescales,onewayoranother,atakey
moment.
We'veheldofffromdoingthatoverthelastthreeplusyears,evenattheexpenseofthe
projectionofAmericanpowerwiththenonstrikeincidentof2013,themostfamous
redlinethatwasdrawnandthennotenforced.
Theideawithnotputtingyourthumbonthescalewasverysimple,andthatis,thatby
notgettinginvolved,bynotintervening,bynotprobingatthatkeymoment,that
somehowwewouldn'townit,thatifwedidn'tdoanything,wewouldn'townit.
IthinktheattacksthatnotonlydidweseeinFrance,butalsothebeheadingsofanumber
offriendsofmine,andcommonfriendshereintheaudience,showusthatevenifwe
stoodbyanddidnothing,westillownit.Wemightownitalittlebitless,butwestill
ownit.
ThethreatsthatarecomingoutofwhathasbecometheIslamicStateandit'sevil
symbiosis,fightingtheIranianforcesinsideofSyriaandIraq,we'regoingtobe
generatingmoreterrorismthanIthinkwe'veeverseen.Toleaveituptolawenforcement
onlyisagravemistake.
InordertoheadoffputtingbootsonthegroundinSyria,takingoverthoseareas
controlledbyISIS,wheretheAssadregimecannotandwillnotgo,anytimesoon,we
needtoactnow,inanassertivefashion,bysupportingtheoppositionandsupportingthe
overalleffortagainstISIS.Thankyouverymuch.
Elise:Let'sgotoJosh.
Joshua:I'mgoingtotaketherebuttal.Today,ISISownsonethirdofallSyria.Nusra
ownsanother10percent,butitdominatesalmostalloftheothermilitias.Themilitias

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thatAmericahaswonitssupportprobablyhaveonepercent,maybelessthanone
percent,ofSyria.Toturnthemintowinnersisgoingtocostahundredmilliondollars,
notthreemillion.
IfAmericaisnotwillingtospendthiskindofmoney,itshouldn'tgetintothefight.
Today,theUnitedStatescannottransformthatlandscape.ISISandNusradominatethe
Syrianscene.IfwetrytotakeouttheAssadregime,whoisgoingtotakeDamascus?It's
goingtobeNusraandISIS.That'swhytheUnitedStateshasrefusedTurkey'sandSaudi
Arabia'srequestforustoattackAssadatthesametimeasweattackISIS.
IfDamascusweretofall,andthemajorpopulationcenters,theywouldbewipedcleanof
minorities.TheIslamicfront,ZahranAlloush,hascalledfortheimpuritiesof[inaudible
00:28:59]andthefilthyShiitestobecleanedoutofgreaterSyria.AlQaidaandISIS,we
knowwheretheystand.Ifwegetintothemiddleofthisethnicfightandwetakedown
theAssadregime,anditisabrutal,horribleregime,thereisgoingtobemajorethnic
cleansing.
TherearethreemillionAlawites.ThereareeightpercentChristians,Druze.Theywillbe
wipedout.AmericadoesnotwanttogetintotheMiddleEast.Sure,Sunnisarebeing
killedtodayingreatnumbers,buttheUnitedStatescan'tfireupthatethnicbattle,andit
shouldn'tthrowarmsintoaterriblesituation.
Elise:I'dlikeyoustartoffontheideaofshouldwebehavingapolicydesigned,should
thepolicybeaboutISIS,orshouldthepolicybetochangethebalanceofpoweragainst
Assadfirst?
Today,Aaronhadaverytimelypieceentitled"WhytheUSprefersAssadtoSyria,
saying,"IndeedtheadministrationhasidentifiedISISasaneminentthreatfarmorelikely
tostrikeUSinterestthanisMr.Assad."Aaron,whydon'tyoustarttheargumentthere?
ShouldwehavethattypeofpolicyagainstAssad,orwhydopreferthatAssadstayin
power?
Aaron:Listeningtothisdiscussion,I'mpuzzled,becauseI'mtryingtoidentifywherethe
fourofusreallydiffer.
Michael:I'llhelpyouwiththat.
[laughter]
Aaron:We'reallinterestedinsupportingtheopposition.We'reallinterestedin
intensifyingthefightagainstISIS.Theissueshereare,areweinterestedinusingair
powerandadirectapplicationoftheAmericanmilitarypoweragainsttheregime,andif
we'renot,areweinterestedincreatingnoflyzones?Areweinterestedinproviding
groundtoairmissilesystemstotheopposition?
Iraisethispoint,youdon'thavetoansweritnow,whereinessencedowefundamentally

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disagree?Weallagreemoreneedstobedone,thequestionistowardwhatend?
Justoneadditionalpoint,Elise.Whetherweshouldorcanarenottheonlyquestions.It's
whetherwewill.Mypiecetodaytriedtolayoutthatyouhaveaveryriskaverse
president,andgoverningisaboutchoosing.Italwaysisondomesticandforeignpolicy.
Youhaveapresidentthatiswillfully,willfullyavoidingmilitarizingtheAmericanrolein
Syria,untilitcoincidedwithanobjectivethathefeltcomfortablewith.Thatobjective
happenedtocoincidesadly,tragicallywiththeriseofISISasathreattoourpositionin
Iraq,inresponsetobeheadingsofAmericans,andinresponsetoChuckHagel's
commentthatISISprovided,thiswasseveralmonthsagoalready,animminentthreatto
theUnitedStates.
It'sacounterterrorismpolicythatthispresidenthaspursued,acontainmentpolicy,nota
nationbuildingpolicy.Isuspectthat'swhythepreferenceisforbalanceofpower
politics.HewouldagreewithJosh,PresidentObama.YouwanttogetridofAssad,fine.
YoutellmewhatistostopISISfromtakingoveritsfirstmajorArabcapital.Whatisto
stopit?ThatinessenceclarifiespartofthedifferencesthatIthinkseparateus.
Elise:Michael,whydon'tyoupickuponthatspecifically,A,doestheUSpreferAssad
andifso,whyshouldn'tthey?Imeanitdoesmakeacompellingpoint.IfUSpolicyis
aboutNationalSecurityinterests,isthethreathereandthethreatspostbyISISorthis
typeofextremistgroupsandthethreatsposttoIraq,doesthatoutweighthethreatpostby
Assad?
Michael:PartaboutwhatAarondidwastopredictwhatPresidentObama...
Elise:Idon'twanttoknowwhathewilldo.Iwanttoknowwhatheshoulddo.
Michael:Let'sforgetaboutthose.Let'stalkaboutwhatweshoulddo.We'vegota
problemfromBaghdadtoAleppo,maybefurtherBaghdadtoBeirut.WehaveJihadistan
there.ThequestioniswhatarewegoingtodoaboutJihadistan?Isanalignmentwithan
IranianproxyinBaghdadandanIranianproxyinDamascusgoingtocontainJihadistan
andmakeitbetterorisitgoingtomakeitworse?
WhatAndrewandIarearguingisthattheverypolicyofaligningwithAssad,whichis
whatJoshproposedtwoyearsagoandwhathe'sstillproposingnow...Irealized,Josh,
youdidn'tsaythat'salignedwithAssad.Yousaid"Let'sjuststayout"whichmeans"Let's
alignwithAssad."
Elise:I'llgiveyoutheextratime.ButwhatJoshsaid,IthinkthatIrememberthisisthat
hesaid,"Listen,ifyougetridofAssad,who'sgoingtobestandingattheend?It'snot
goingtobethedemocraticposition.It'sgoingtobetheguyswiththeguns."
Michael:WhatI'msayinghowdowegetalliestopacifyJihadistan?JihadistanisSunni
territory.Wecan'tpacifyitwithoutSunniallies.Ourcurrentpolicyhasalienatedallthe

p.13

Sunnisintheregion.Theargumentthatyouguyshavetoanswerishowarewegoingto
takeofJihadistanwithnoSunnisonourside?Thatiswhatyouhavetoanswer.
Elise:Josh.
Joshua:IproposedontheFareedZakariashowthatyougetTurkeytooccupyentire
Sunninorth.Yes,andkeepAssadbecauseotherwiseyouhavetogotowaragainstIran
andyouhavetogotowaragainstRussia.
Elise:AretheyreallyinatankforAssadorisittheregimethattheywant?
Joshua:It'sallatone.
Elise:Isit?
Joshua:Yes,itisone.Assadandtheregimeareone.Theregimeisaboutloyaltytothe
men.Ifyoutakethemenoffthetopoftheregime,allthoseAlawitegeneralsbelievethey
canrunthecountrybetterthanAssad.Theyjustcan'tfigureouthowtogetthere.They
willallfighteachotherandtheywillbecomeasdysfunctionalandinterfightingasthe
Sunnishavebecome.
Michael:What'syouranswertoJihadistan?That'sthequestion.
Joshua:Turkeyhastooccupythewholeplace,takeweaponsaway.Theywon'tdoit.
Theywon'tdoitandAmericawon'tdoit.
Elise:Whoa,guys,backinyourcorners.
Joshua:Thepointisthatnobody'sgoingtooccupythatterritory.
Elise:Let'sgetintothealliesinaminute.IwanttocontinueonthisideaofAssadand
thebalanceofpower.Andrew,let'stalkmoreaboutbuildinguptheSyrianopposition.Is
thereaSyrianoppositionthatcouldevengovernSyria?CanSyriaevensurviveasa
state?
AndrewTabler:Thereareorganizedelementstotheopposition.Aretheyorganized
intosomethingtheycouldtakeovertheSyrianstateandtheSunnis'treatyobligations?
No.Ithinktheanswertoalotofthesequestions,weneedtogettoIran'speaceandlook
atthefactintermsofthearmyoftheoppositiontogettoyourquestion.Whydomen
who'ssoreticent,thegreatextractoryoucalledinthelastdebate,Ithink...
[crosstalk]
Elise:ExtractorinChiefs.
Andrew:I'msorry.Iwasreadingundertherest.Hefinallydecidedthathewasgoingto
notjusttrainandequiptherebels,whichhe'sbeendoingcovertlyforafewyears,but

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havetitletenprogram,anofficialprogrambytheUSgovernment,$500millionwhichis
notthelargestprogramintheworld,butstillwhydidhefinallydecidetodothat?
BecausethedynamichadchangedinsideofSyriaandthisisthereasonwhyit'snolonger
justISISversusAssad,although,Icanunderstandwhyyou'relookingatinthepieces
thatway,thetwogreatenemiesoftheUnitedStatesinsideofonecountry.Butbecause
theregimeiscrippled,intheolddays,wewouldsimplyswitchbacktodealingwiththe
Assad.That'swhatwealwaysdo.
I'vewrittenaboutthisquiteinmybookandyoucanseeitovertime.Weconfrontedthe
Assadregime,isolatedit,pressuredit,andthensometimesweconstructivelyengagedit.
Thatwasthepolicythatfellapartatthebeginningoftheuprisings.Thefactis,isthatthe
regimeiscrippled,financially,militarily,andpolitically.Militarily,wecanseehow
muchofthecountryitcontrols.
Joshhaswrittenthispiecerecentlyattheendoftheyear,averycomprehensivepiece,
thattheregimeisnotgoingtobeabletogoandretakethoseareasofSyriathatare
currentlyheldbyISIS.Financially,ofcourse,inverybadshapeduetovarietyoffactors
andpoliticallybankrupted.There'snowaythattheAssadregimeisgoingtobeableto
reform.
Ithasnotbeenabletoreformwhenthingsweregood.It'snotgoingtobeabletoreform
whenthingsnowareverybad.TheSyrianregimedoesn'tcontrolalltheterritory...it
doesn'tcontrolitsterritoryasitdidinthepast.Therefore,weneedamorenuance
strategy.OnethatdealswiththefactthatSyriaisdividedandwillremaindividedforthe
foreseeablefuture.
Thereasonwhyweneedtoarmtheoppositionnowisbecauseweneedthemtobuildup
acoherentforcewithapoliticalstructurethatwouldbeabletotakeoverthe
SunnidominatedareasofSyriafromwhichiscontrolledbyISISandJabhatalNusra
now.Ithinkitreallynowcomesdowntoamatterofsequencing.TheonlywaythatIsee
thepiecesofSyriagoingbacktogetheragainiswithPresidentAssad'sdepartureandhis
cousins,theMakhlouf's.
Elise:Aaron,aretheattacksonISISenoughtogetridofAssadorisithelpinghimstay
inpower,orisgettingridofAssadactuallynecessarytodefeatISIS?
Aaron:Icomebacktothisstunningrealitythatjustpervadesmyentireviewofthis
region.It'sintheprocessofafundamentaltransformation.
Elise:ButdoyouneedAssadtogototransform?
Aaron:Infact,theyhaven'tevencalledforwhichiswhatIwasanticipating,whichisa
willfulapplicationofAmericanmilitarypower.IfyouwantedtogetridofAssadandthe
Alawiteregime,youcoulddoit.Inthreemonths,youcouldprobablydoitbystriking
leadershiptargets,airassets.Imean,comeon,themilitarydoesthisstuffincrediblywell.

p.15

It'sthepoliticsandthedayafterproblemthatwedon'tdowell.Thispresidentlookingat
thesetrilliondollarssocialscienceexperimentscalled...no,it'snotfunnybecauseit
involvedthedeathsofthousandsof,nottomentiontheIraqisandtheAfghans,thedeaths
ofthousandsofAmericansinapolicywhichdemonstratedthatevenwith140,000
forces,trillionsofdollarsexpended,andwhatremainsofAmericancredibility,wehave
fundamentallyfailedtoachievewhatitiswewantedtodo.
Mike,justtoanticipate,I'mnothammeringBush43forwhomIworkedforgettingus
intothisandI'mnothammeringBarackObamawhomayhaveheadedfortheexitstoo
quickly.Butneitherofthemthoughtthesethingsthrough.Thatismypoint.
Ifyouguysarepredicatingapolicy,whichinvolvestheapplicationofAmericanmilitary
forceinamajorway,whichneitherofyouhaveevenidentifiedwhichissomethingI
don'tunderstandbecauseifyouwantAssadgone,ifyouwanttoputyourfingeronthe
scale,yourthumbsonthescales,Andrew,thenlet'shaveitoutnowbecausewecoulddo
it.
Elise:Mike,quickrebuttalandthenIwanttomoveontoIran.
Michael:Threepoints.First,theissueisn'ttakingdownAssad.Theissueisbuildinga
neworderinJihadistan.WhenIlistenedtoyouguystalk,it'sasifwedidn'thavethelast
sixmonthsintheMiddleEast.Thepresidentisatwaragain.UnitedStatesisatwaragain
inIraqandinSyria.
Elise:ButdoyouneedtogetridofAssadtodothat?
Michael:WecannotmobilizeSunnialliestobuildaneworderinthisunsettledregion
fromBaghdadtoAleppowithoutSunniallies.Aslongaswe'reinalignmentwithIran,
wehavenoalliesfordoingthis.Yourpolicyofsteppingbackisonethatgivesusonly
theunilateralmilitaryoption.That'sit.
Ifwewantothersonthegroundtodoourworkforus,toshouldersomeoftheburdens,
andtolookafterourinterestontheground,thenwehavetotakeintoconsiderationtheir
worldview,theirconsideration,theirinterest,andwehavetoalignourpolicywiththeir
interest.
Iwantallies.Idon'twantmultitrilliondollarinvasions,unilateralinvasionsbythe
UnitedStates.Iwantallies.ThealliesthatBarackObamahaschosen,thealliesthatyou
guysaresayingweshouldchoosewithoutadmittingthechoiceareIranandAssad.The
donothingpolicyisanIranbenefitpolicyanditwon'twork.Itsimplywillnotwork.
Aaron:Right.Justconsideroneotherpoint.Thispresidenthasanotherpriority.
Michael:Forgetabouthim.We'redone.
Aaron:No,butthisisthepoint.

p.16

Michael:He'sgotnothingtodowiththis.
Aaron:YoulooktoanalyzeregionalrealitieswithoutconsideringWashingtonrealities.
Michael:Intwoyears,there'sgoingtobeanewreality.We'relayingthebasistothe
newrealityrighthere.
Aaron:Untilitisconclusivelydemonstrated,andyou'lllovethisone,thattheP5+1and
Irancannotreachanagreementonthenuclearissue,thispresidentisnotgoingto
fundamentallychallengetheIraniansinSyria.
Joshua:LetmejustjumpontheSunniquestion.
Elise:Justveryquickly.IreallywanttomoveontosomemoreoftheIranissue.
Joshua:YourargumentisthatwehavetohurtIranandhelptheSaudis.Wehaveto
balance.Thosearebothverysectarianpowers.Wecannotchooseoneovertheother.We
havetobalancethem.
Elise:Josh,letmeaskyou.IstherealfightherewithIranandnotISIS?Shouldwemore
bemovingtowardsweakeningIran'sreachintheMiddleEastorcanweevenchoose
betweenthesefights,IranandISIS?
Joshua:ThereareShiitesandSunnisfightingeachotherinBahrain,inYemen,allover
theplace.Wecannotpicksidesinthisethnicbattle.
Michael:YoupickedSunnis.YoupickedAssad.
Joshua:No,Ididn't.
Michael:Youdid.
[crosstalk]
Elise:Lethimtalk,Michael.Michael,lethimtalk.
Michael:Theneutralchoicedoesn'texist.
Joshua:Letmefinish.SubhiSamarai,theteacherandmentorofthenewcaliphofISIS,
trainedinSaudiArabia.TheGrandMuftiofSaudiArabiasaidhewasoneofthegreatest
mindsinIraq.Thisguy'staughtinmostofthebiguniversitiesinSaudiArabia.Heisthe
mentorofISIS,veryantiShiite.HespearheadedthewholenotionoftheRawafedand
howthey'reterribletoShiites.Youaretryingtomartialupapowerthat'sspreadingthis
antiShiitestuffandsay,"Goatthem.We'regoingtogiveyouguns,gokillthem."
Elise:Yousaywe'retakingsidesinthis.

p.17

Joshua:Wedon'twantto.Wewanttobalance.Thesearetwoverysectarianparties.
YoucannotbeantiIranorproSaudiArabia.Youhavetobalancethetwo.Thereare
ShiitesandSunnisintheMiddleEast.Youcan'tjustwipeoneout.
Elise:Michael,doyouwanttoquickly...?
Michael:Youcan'tjustwipeoneout.Thepolicyofdoingnothingledtothedislocation
ofnearlyother50percentofthepopulationofSyria,whichisSunniMuslim.I'mtalking
aboutrestoringabalance.I'mtalkingaboutworkingwiththepowerthattiedoffacordin
Lebanon.SaudiArabia...
Elise:Yeah,butlisten.TheSaudis...
[laughter]
Michael:Elise,who'ssideareyouon?
[laughter]
Elise:I'manequalopportunityoffender.
Michael:Youputyourthumbon...
Elise:No,I'manequalopportunityoffenderhere.Let'sbehonest.TheSaudisand...why
dotheSunnis...?
Michael:IrememberCandyCrowleyandPresidentObamaandthedebateinLondon.
Elise:WhydotheSunniswanttheUS,theywanttousetheUSasaproxyagainstIran?
It'snotonlyaboutaltruismtotheSyrianpeoplehere.
Michael:No,sure.
Elise:ShouldweletthemuseustogetintowarwithIran?
Michael:No,itdoesn'tmeanthey'reusingus.Weknowwhattheirintentionsareandwe
knowwhattheAssadregimewants.TheAssadregimewantsustosaystayout,goaway,
leaveitalone,don'tgetinthissectarianmesswhichisaproShiiteposition.Joshis
pretendingthatthere'ssomekindofneutralpositionwherewecanbewhiteinaworldof
colors.Wecan't.Wehavetodecidewhatourinterestsare.
Wehavetolookatthepowersthatareatplayandwehavetofastenthecoursethatwill
allowustosecureourinterest.WhatI'msayingisthatourinterestistodestroythe
Islamicstate,can'tbedonewithoutSunnialliesanddoingnothing,whichiswhatwedid
forthelasttwoyears,didn'twork.WhenthepresidentturnedaroundandISIStook
Mosul,thatwasthemomentwhenyourpolicyproposalfailed.Now,weneedanew
strategy.

p.18

Elise:Andrew,let'srestarttheclock.CanwedealwithSyriawithoutdealingwiththe
wholeissuesofIraq,theKurds,TurkeyandIranandtheLebanon,allofthismultitudeof
issues?IsitreallyjustaboutSyriaandtheCivilWarordoweneedtobethinkingbigger
here?
Andrew:No,wehavetothinkbeyondthatbecausetheSyriahasnotbeenaboutSyria
foracoupleofyears.It'sprettyclearoneofmycolleagueshereintheaudiencehere
tracksJihadis.Wecanseealreadyhowthedifferentpieceshavebeenmovingaroundthe
region.HassanNasrallah'sdramaticspeechconcerningQuasarandHezbollah's
interventioninsideofSyriaagainstanotherArabcountryledtoahugefightinJihadis
comingintothecountry.
ThenwiththeattackonMosul,thewithdrawofIraqimilitiasbacktoIraqtodefendthose
areasledtoregimelossesinSyria.Here'swhereitallcomestogether.Assad'scomeback
inSyriahasbeenheavilysupportedbytheIslamicRepublicofIran.It'sundeniable.What
itmeansstrategically,whereyouwanttogowithit,that'sanotherdebate.
Butitisundeniable,thelevelofIRGCinvolvement,theirtrainingofthenationaldefense
forceswhonowmakeupalionshareofdeathsofthosekilledinsideofSyriawhoare
armedonthisregimeside,plusthedeploymentofHezbollahinunprecedentednumbers.
Atthemoment,wehaveunitsseizingAleppo,ahugeSunnicity,withShiafrom
Uzbekistan,Afghanistan,fromthroughouttheregion.Thiswouldallmakessense,right?
Thisseemslikeagreatcoinstrategyandwe'vedonelotsofcoin.
Elise:Notsuccessfully.
Andrew:Notnecessarilysuccessfully.Whataboutwhenthenumbersarereallyheavily
skewedagainstyou?We'renottalkingaboutabalancehere.Syriaisnot50percentShia
and50percentSunni.It's7075percentSunni,16percentShia,andthenwehaveothers.
Thisiswhereitgetstotheheartofquestion.Inaway,itseemsverysafetogiveAssada
freepass,allowhimtocarryouthisactivities.
Butinaway,itnotonlykillsmoreandmoreSyriansandmakesthesituationmuch
worse.ButthiscrisisdrawsinmoreJihadisandthensetsoffthisregionalconfiguration,
theonethatwe'retryingtodealwith.We'renotgoingtobeabletodealwithituntilwe
dealwiththeheartofthatcrisis.It'stherewhereweneedtounderstandthatwe'renot
balancingSunnisandShiahere.IranintervenedinsideofSyrialongago.Itisundeniable.
TheproblemwehadisSunnisocietyhasresponded.WeneedSunnistatesandourallies
torespond.Theonlywaywecandothat,andtheareaiscontrolledbyISIS,istotrain
andequipmembersoftheSyrianoppositionandintroducethembackinsideofSyriaina
shorttermeventuallyleadingtoapoliticalsettlementinSyria.Hopefully,thatwouldsee
thedepartureoftheAssadregime.Howyougetthere,gettingtoAaron'spoints,could
involvedmilitaryforce.
Elise:Aaron,doyouwantto...?

p.19

Aaron:I'mlookingforhonestyandclarityhereandthisentiredebateisn'tproducingit.I
meanyouwantAssadgoneandyourroadtodothatistomakethiscoalitionofthe
unwilling,thesemiinterested,thedisabledintoacoalitionofthewilling.
Youarerelyingonstatesthatinherentlyhavetheirowninterestsandtheirownnarrow
agendasincludingtheTurksandtheSaudiswhowouldlovenothingmorethantodragus
intoanopenendedmilitaryconfrontationwiththeregime,andintheprocesshaveus
ownSyria.Frankly,Idon'tthinkthatisinournationalinterest.
Elise:Becauseyou'vewrittenalotaboutthis,IwanttotalkaboutIranandISIS.Can
youchoosebetweenthesefights?Areyoufightingboth?IstherealfightherewithIran
andnotISIS?
Aaron:I'llsayitagain,everypresidentconfrontsthis.Governingisaboutchoosing.
ThispresidenthasidentifiedanuclearagreementwithIranasacriticallyimportantpiece.
Elise:IsthatmoreimportantthattheJihadistthreatthough?
Aaron:No.IwouldargueBarackObamaisbasicallypursuingtworatherdiscretelines
ofpolicy.OneisdoingcounterterrorismagainstISIS.Maybeit'snoteffective.The
secondispursuinganegotiatedsolution.I'mnotsurehe'sgoingtogettherewiththe
Iraniansonthenuclearissue.Whathe'snotdoingisembracingthecoursethatMichael
andAndrewwantingtoembrace.
Elise:Everyonewantstoweighinonthispoint.Thesearetwoseparateanddistinct
policies.Youdon'twanttotalkreallywithIranaboutISISbecauseyoureallywanttheir
acquiescenceonanucleardeal.
Aaron:Thatcouldcome.Look,I'mnotpushingthispoint,butitcouldcome.
Michael:Iwanttoaskhimtoclarify.IfIunderstoodyoucorrectly,areyousayingthat
PresidentObamaiscarryingouta,forallintentsandpurposes,proIranpolicyinSyriaso
astowooIranonthenucleardeal?Isthatwhatyou'resaying?
Aaron:No.
Michael:Ijustwanttounderstandyou.I'mnottryingtomakeanargument.Iwantto
understandhowyouunderstandthecrosscurrentsbetweenthetwo.
Aaron:Therearethreepieceshere.
Andrew:Andhowdoesheunderstandthecrosscurrents?
Aaron:I'vegotthegreat,theextracatorinchiefwho'swillfullyavoidedmilitarizingthe
AmericanroleinSyriabasicallystartedtomilitarizeit.Notinresponsetothesufferings
oftheSyrianpeople.NotinresponsetoAssad'satrocities,butinresponsetothefactthat

p.20

ISISemergedtothreatenAmericanequitiesinIraqanditstartedbeheadingAmericans.
YouhadChuckHagelandthechairmanoftheJointChiefs,notmorethantwomonths
ago,talkaboutISISasthenewimminentthreattothehomeland.Thatpieceiswhat
energizedthispresidentontheissueofmilitarizing.Nowhehasn'tdoneitthewayyou
guyswanthimtodoit.Buthe'smilitarizedourroleinSyria.
Second,he'spursuingapolicythatwantstopreemptandisreadilystrikeandpreventan
Americanonebeforeheleavesoffice.Bothofthoseobjectivesarebeingpursuedin
parallellines.
Elise:IwanttogiveJoshtherestofthetime.
Joshua:Firstofall,we'renotpursuingaproIranPolicy.We'vegotcrashingsanctions
onAssadRegime.Wehavegivenalmost$3billiontotheSyrianopposition,training
themandequippingthemtokillAssadRegimepeople.WearesanctioningIran.Weare
againstIran.WearenotwithIran.Idon'tunderstandwherethatcomesfrom.
Secondly,whoarewegoingtoarmamongsttheSyrianopposition?Everybodyhasbeen
sayingweshouldarmtheSyrianopposition.AndrewwrotealongarticleinForeign
AffairsaboutayearandahalfagosayingAgidiisourmanbecausepeoplesaidname
onepersonyoucouldarm.TheproblemistheSyrianoppositionhasbeensofragmented
andsoinlittlepiecesthatthereisn'tawaytogetthemtogether.
ClintoncutherteethontryingtogetthefriendsofSyriaandgetthemtounite.Wefailed.
Wecouldnotdoit.Agidi,whoAndrewsaidweshouldgivehim.We'dgivenhimallof
ournonlethalaid.Weshouldgivehimourlethalaid.HewastheheadguyinAleppo
underthesuprememilitarycommand,Idris.AgidihadbeenontonsofYouTubessaying
AmericaisreallyagainsttheMuslimswhenhewasrecruitingmoneyfromotherMuslim.
ThesearepublishedontheInternet.HesaidAmericaisagainsttoSunnisandthey'reina
secretalliancewiththeShiites,withIran,Hisbala,andthenhesaidevenAssad."Whyare
therenoShiitesinGuantanamo,"hesaid,"WhyaretherenoShiitemaliciousonthe
terroristlist?"HewentdownalistofcomplaintstosaythatAmericawastryingtokill
SunniMuslimsandwassecretlyinalliance.ThisisthepersonthatAndrewadvocated,
makingourpointnowforreceivingthelethalaid.
Elise:OK.
Joshua:Wehavenotfoundthepeoplethatwewanttosupport.TheCIAhasbeentrying
tofindthem,andthey'renotoutthere.
Andrew:Wedidn'tsupportthem.Hemadethosestatementsbefore...
Joshua:After.
Andrew:Hemadethosestatementsalsoafterwedidn'tsupporthim.Itisavery

p.21

complicated.Joshispartiallycorrectthough...
Elise:Hemakesagoodpointthough.Likethereisnoalternative.
Joshua:It'strue,becausepeopleintheMiddleEast,justlikeus,werespondto
consistency.Ifweareinterestedinachievingaplan,weoutlineaplan,westakeitout,
wehavetofollowthroughonthatplan,andwedidn't.Wedidn'tconcerningthe
nonstrikeincidentof2013.Thatwasenormouslydamaging.
Elise:Chemicalwarfare.
Joshua:Exactly.Inthatenvironment,whathappenedvery,andasyoucanallseeJihad's
filledthevacuum,becausenowweownit.Wedo.Theyfilledthatvacuum.
Ifwe'dtrainedupandsupportedthoseunitsbackwhenIwrotethatarticleonforeign
affairs,wouldtherebenoJihadsinSyria?No.I'm'notarguingthat.Wouldtherebeless?
Yes,Ido.Ibelievethat.Ithinkthatpartoftheresponsibilitywasours.Wecan'tfix
Syria,butwedoneedalliestoputthepiecesofthatcountrybacktogetheragain.
Becauseifcontinuetoletitfragment,asithasbeen,we'regoingtohaveaconfiguration
thatnotonlyexplodesinthecenteroftheMiddleEast,butcanspreadthroughoutthe
world.Idon'twanttoseethat.I'vehadtoomanyofmyfriendsdie,overthelastfew
years,towanttoseethatconflictexpand.
Firstofall,Ithinkit'sterrible.Idon'twantanyminoritiestobekilled,butthenumberof
SunnisthathavebeenslaughteredthroughoutSyria,andthiswouldn'tbeaproblem,but
Syriais75percentSunni.That'sahugepoliticalproblem.TheMiddleEast,thecoreof
theMiddleEast,plusturkey,isroughlythesamedemographicsasSyria.Syriaisa
microcosmfortheregion.
WehaveaSunniproblem,ladiesandgentlemen.They'rethemajorityintheregion,and
they'remadashell.It'snotbecauseourforcesarejustintheArabianPeninsula,andit's
notjustbecausewesupportIsrael.They'remadaboutthosethings,too.They'rereally
madbecausewestoodbyanddidlittleornothinginthefaceofhorrificslaughter,and
nowthey'regoingtomakeuspay.
Elise:I'mgoingtoaskonemorequestiontouchinguponthat,andthenwehaveagood
halfhourforaudiencequestions.Josh,whydon'tyoutalkaboutthis,becauseyouare
veryindepthaboutSyria.Ithinkwe'vehavelostsightofthemoralcomponenthere.
HastheInternationalCommunityinthefightagainstISIS,inthiscampaignagainstwhat
MichaelcalledJihadjstan,completelyforgottenthat200,000Syrianshavebeenkilled,3
millionrefugees?Thisseemstobeaboutcold,hardnationalsecuritycalculations,andthe
Syrianpeoplearesuffering.
Joshua:Theyaresuffering.TheyweresufferinginIraqbeforewewentanddestroyed

p.22

theIraqiregimemanymorepeoplesuffered.Youcanmakethingsworse.
Elise:Howcanitbemuchworse?
Joshua:Itcanbetonsworse.Itcanbealotworsethanitisnow,andit'sgoingtoget
worse,unfortunately.America,toarmupthesefragmentedmilitiasisnotgoingtomake
theplacebetter.Everybodyarguesthatifwe'djustmovedquickly,Syriawouldhave
beenbetter.Thatisafalsenotion.WemovedquicklyinIraq.WedestroyedtheIraqi
stateandSudan'sarmybeforetheoppositionhadtoshootashot.
Whathappened,withintwoyearsalQaidawascrawlingalloverthecountry,andit's
expandedintoSyria.LookatLibya.WewipedoutKaddafilikethat.Whathappened?
Diddemocratstakeoverandtheliberalstakeover?No.theliberalsgotchasedoutof
town,andnowyou'vegottonsoflittlemilitiasthatarefightingagainsteachother,and
it'saracetothebottom.
Syriaisaracetothebottom.NotbecauseAmericadidn'tcomeinandgivearmstoAgidi
orsomebodyelse.It'sbecausetheSyriansdon'thaveanationalcohesion.Unfortunately,
themilitiasareorganizedtownbytownbasis,aclanbyclanbasisandthey'reall
fightingeachotherforpower.Americacouldnothavegiventhemthatcohesion.They're
goingtohavetofinditthemselves.
Elise:Allright.Guys,let'sresettheclock.Youguysfigureitout.Michael,youmight
wanttosaysomething.
Michael:IthinkIshouldtakeaminute,50seconds,andyou10.
[laughter]
Michael:Goahead.I'lltakeaminute,youtakeaminute.
Andrew:Firstofall,ingeneralAgidiisanexampleofasuprememilitarycouncil,
whichwasorganizedbyourgovernment,covertly,withourallies,andthatstructurewas
notbacked.
Ithinkit'sverydifficulttodemonstrateonaphysicalplanofrealitythatifwe'ddone
more,orless,inSyriawewouldhavebeenworse,orwhatever.Therearethingsthat
couldhavehappened.Theydidn'thappen.Ithinkthatgiventheseunitsareonindividual,
townbytown,regionbyregion,Ithinkthatwecouldhavebroughtthemovertowards
theUnitedStatesandtowardourallies,andawayfromtheJihadis.
Thatdidn'thappennowwehavetodealwiththatreality.Istilldon'tunderstandwho
defeatsISIS.That'stheproblembecausetheregimecan't.Ifweletuponit,andwehave
acoupleofceasefires,there'sbeenaveryfamousarticlewrittenbya[inaudible01:01:51]
,55pages,outliningwhattheregime'sbeenputtingforwardoverthelastfewyears.Not
always,butinpart,thattheideawastohavesomelocalceasefires,havesomeraw

p.23

autonomy,andthere'dbegradualreform.
That'snotgoingtohappen.That'snotgoingtowork.It'sonlygoingtoworkoverpartsof
thecountrywheretheregimeisstrong.TherestofthecountrywhereISISexists,the
regimeisnotgoingtobeinapositiontogointothoseareas.That'stheproblemwehave.
Togetbacktomyoriginalpointthat,andthisgetsbacktothearticlethatJoshquoted,we
needtodealwithSyriaasadividedcountry,toworktowardstheprocessthatputsthe
piecesofthecountrybacktogetheragainattheend.We'reyearsawayfromthat.Inthe
meantimewe'regoingtosufferfromalotofdeathanddestructionintheMiddleEastand
ahellofalotofterrorism.
Michael:Youtookaminute50.
Elise:Michael,youaregoingtofollowup,andthenAaron.Andthenwearemovingon
totheaudience.
Michael:Yourargumentcomesdowntoavery,verysimpleargument.Yourargument
isifwedonothingthat'sthebestwaytodealwiththeIslamicstateinSyria.That'swhat
yourargumentcomesdownto.
Elise:Hisquestionisaboutthemoreopen...
[crosstalk]
Andrew:Whomadethatargument?
[crosstalk]
Michael:Yeah,that'swhatyouaresaying.
Josh:WhoeversaidaboutdoingnothingagainstISIS,Iwouldactuallyintensify.
Michael:Letmeanswerthemoralargument.Securitycomesbeforemorality.Wehave
moralsandwecareaboutthem.They'reveryimportant.Alleviatingthesufferingof
Syriansisextremelyimportant,butwe'renotgoingtodoanythingonapurelymoral
basisifitisn'twithinaframeworkthatlooksafterourcoresecurityinterests.Solet'sstart
withthat,andthenwe'lltalkaboutthemorality.
Aaron:Iammuchtougheronthis,onthemoralityargumentsthanyouare.Ourpolicyis
notimmoral.It'samoral.It'sanamoralpolicy,becauseitallows...
Michael:AsAndrewsaid,Istillhaven'theardwhatyourideaisfordefeatingISIS.How
hangingbackfromSyriaallowsustodefeatISISinSyria?Howdoesthatplayitselfout?
Aaron:Thepresidenttalksabout,ultimatelydefeatingISIS.

p.24

Michael:Iamaskingyou,notBarackObama.
Aaron:No.Imentionedtoyouguysearlier,thatifinfact,ourownintelestablishesthe
connectionbetweenAQAPandtheParisattacks,ifinfacttheydo,andithasnotyetbeen
done,itwillvalidatearealitythatcontradictsthewholenotionof"defeating"these
groups.
Weare15yearsalmostinwakeof9/11,andanAlQaedaaffiliatemayhaveundertaken
theworstterroristattackagainstEuropein10years,since2005,youcavalierlytalkabout
"defeating"thesegroups.Wehaven'teventakecareofoldbusinessyet,withrespectto
AlQaeda.
Michael:Howdoweprotectourselveschasingthebalanceofpoweragainstit?Canwe
leaveanAlQaedasafehavenintheheartoftheArabworldandwejustleaveitalone?
Aaron:Youaregoingtohavetocontinuetodocounterterrorism,andcontainmentfor...
Elise:Containmentofagroupthat'srunningacountry?
Aaron:It'sagenerationalproposition,whatwilldefeatAlQaedaorISISinIraq,isgood
governanceonbothsidesoftheIraqiSyrianborder.Ifyouthinkthatweareanywhere
closetocreatingthekindofsecurity,cohesion,equitabledistributionofpowerin
SyrianIraqorfundthemorweaken...
Michael:Howdowemakethathappen?
Elise:Wearegoingtoopenituptotheaudience.Ifyouhaveaquestion...
Aaron:[inaudible01:05:45].
[laughter]
Elise:I'dliketoopenituptotheaudience,areminderthatwearetweetingthisevent,
thehashtagisMiDebateSyria,andifyouhaveaquestion,I'dlikeyoutoannounceyour
nameandaffiliation.Andpleasekeepittoaquestion,notapontification,andwe'lltryto
getasmanyaswecan.I'dliketohearfromsomeSyrianAmericansintheroom,and...
[laughter]
Elise:OK.Iamgoingtogorighthere,butagain,wearegoingtokeepitshort,andeach
teamwillhavetwominutestorespond.
Michael:Thisguy'saringerforJosh.
MohammadAlAbdallah:No.Iamintherefor[inaudible01:06:33].Mynameis
MohammadAlAbdallah,IamaformerprisonerinSyria.Iamactivist,Iamdirectorof
SyriaJustice&AccountabilityCenter,[inaudible01:06:39].Youwanted[inaudible

p.25

01:06:41]Syria,theSouthernSyria,there'sSunnidominantagain,yougetIdlib,Hama,
Homs,Damascussuburbs,Connaitra,andDamascus.
WhatwillpreventtheSunnisintheseSouthernSyria,keepingyourfriendAssadthere,
whytheynotgoingtorebelagainstthisguyagain?TotheSunnithinghere,theproblem
withIraq,wegotISISinIraq,wegotKhalifathere,hisnameOmaralBaghdadi,don't
knowiftheysharethelastname.
WewerenotabletodefeatthemtillwebringtheSahwa,theSunnistofightthem.And
when,JaishalMujahideendefeatedISISinDecember2013,andJanuary2014,allthe
SunnifightersdefeatedISIS,andkickedthemout.TheytakingflagofISIS,andputting
therevolutionflagbackinIdlibsuburb,[inaudible01:07:27].HowyoucandefeatISIS
withoutthosepeople?
That'sanevidenceactually,wedocumentthisinourworld.That'sanevidencethatthe
SunniintheseareasareactuallyworkingtodefeatISIS,iftheyhavesomebodytohelp
themontheground.Andthedrone,Iamsorry,youcannotdothis.WetriedtodoinIraq,
andwefailedasAmerican.
TheJihadinIraqcamebecauseofIranandSyria,wehavethousandsofdocuments,
showingtheirJihadishipmentfromSyriatoIraq.Andweallknowthis,andIamsorryto
saythis,tobehonesthere,bydescribingthepolicyoftheUS,notproIranpolicy,that
favoringtheShiaandignoringwhattheyaredoing.
YoucriticizeAgidi,whichisavalidpoint,butyouwanthisgovernmentsupportinghim
Turkey,togooutsideandinvadeSyria.Oneline,wecannotignorethatAgidiwas
fightingagainstISISwiththecourtsin[inaudible01:08:26]usingtheTurkishsupport,
andtheUSairsupport.
Elise:OK.Josh.Twominutes.
Joshua:ThereasonIsuggestedthisdivisionofSyriaisnotbecauseit'sjust.It'sbecause,
intheory,thiswholestatethatISIShascreated,stretchingfromBaghdadtoAleppo,
shouldbe...Ithasmeaning,becausepeopleembracedISIS,becausetheywerepressedby
twosectarianregimes,andallthoseSunnisarecaughtinavicegripbetweensectarian
Shiaregimes.
TheyembracedISIS.AmericashouldnotbebombingISIStosplititback.Ifyouwere
goingtohaveajustarea,youwouldallowallthoseSunnistocreateastate,stretching
fromAleppotoBaghdad.Wearenotgoingtodoit,becausewebelieveinthosestate
lines,andnobodywantstosplittheSunnisfromIraq.Sowecan'tdoit.
That'swhatshouldhappen.TheclosestthingthatIthoughtcouldhappen,wasto
encouragetheTurkstocomeinandtakethetop.Thatwayyoudon'tgotowaragainst
IranandRussia.IranandRussiawouldprobablybehappytohaveTurkeyandtheSunnis
owningthetop,iftheywouldn'tinvadethem.

p.26

Theyareexhausted.Theydon'thavemoremoney.TheShiitesareterrifiedthattheyare
goingtogetwipedout.Ifyoucangivethemateenybitofanassurance,they'llprobably
say,"Taketherestofthecountry,becausewearenevergoingtobeabletoreconquer
it."
TheRussianswouldpressureAssad.TheIranianswouldtoo,becausetheydon'thave
moneytokeeponfightingthiswar.Itwouldgiveeverybodysomething.Itwouldn'tgive
themenough,anditwouldn'tbecompletejustice.Butitwasawaytostopthekilling.
TurkeyisnevergoingtogoinandinvadeSyria,becauseSyriais90percentbelowthe
povertyline.It'sgotnomoney,theeducationsystemisbroken.EverythinginSyriais
broken.Nobodywantstogointhere,nobodyisgoingtospendadimeonSyria.And
that'stheterribletruth,isthatnooneisgoingtofixSyria,becausetheyarenotstupid.
It'sexpensive,andtheSyriansarenotunified.So,therearegoingtobestuckinsidea
country,atcivilwaruntiltheycomposetheirowndifferences.That'stheterriblereality,
andwecanpontificateaboutit,butthat'swhatisgoingtohappen.
Elise:OK.Thanks,Josh.Andrew,doyouwanttorespond?
Andrew:No.
[laughter]
Andrew:Iamtryingtothink.Thatwasalongquestionandalongresponse.
MohammadAlAbdallah:[inaudible01:10:59].
Elise:Wegottomoveon...
Andrew:Let'smovetothenextquestion.
Elise:Mike,quickly.
Michael:No.Let'sgotoanotherquestion.Iagreewiththegentleman.Ithoughthe
was...
Elise:Wearegoingtogotothiswomanrighthere,andthenwearegoingrighthere.
AudienceMember:Thankyoueveryoneforsuchaninterestingdebate,Iam[inaudible
01:11:18].IamaSyrianactivist,andIamapoliticalrefugeeintheUS,becauseofthis
regime.Iworkcurrently,attheWashingtoninstitute.Myquestionisactually,toMr.
Landis.YoumentionedthattheUSgovernmentgoingquicklyintotheregionmeaning
wecan'tdothatorwecan'taffordthatanymore,andyouareactuallyreferencingtoboots
ontheground.
Ihavealwaysbeenagainstarmingtherebelsormovingtowardshavingbootsonthe

p.27

ground,becauseIknowthatthisisgoingtobecausingmorebloodshed.Butisanybody
talkingaboutnoflyzone?IsanybodyconsideringthatwewaitedsolonghereintheUS
torespondtotheSyriancrisis?Also,anotherpoint,isanybodytalkingabouttheAlawite
divisioninthecommunity?
Sorry,butAssadisnothavingafullsupportwithinhisowncommunityandIwroteabout
thisinForeignAffairsaswell.TheAlawitecommunityisverydividedrightnow,and
thisguyisstandingalone.Thisisverycrucialissueactuallytoconsiderandtotalkabout.
Thankyouverymuch.
Joshua:TheAlawitecommunityisdivided.There'snodoubtaboutit.Peoplearesick
andtiredofthiswar.Over40,000Alawitesoldiershavebeenkilledandmanyother.
Theywouldlovetostop.Theydon'tknowhowtostop.Becausethemajorpowers,Sunni
powersontheground,theydon'ttrustthemtostopbecausethey'vecalled...theybelieve
they'regoingtobewipedout.Thatmaybefaultsandtheymayhavejustawrongnotion.
Butunfortunately,theysupportAssad,notbecausetheylovehimbutbecausethey're
terrifiedoftheenemy.TheybelievethatiftheyturnagainstAssad,they'regoingtoget
wipedout.Theymaybewrong,butunfortunatelythat'swhereweareinSyriaand
withoutsomekindofsafety.Thisiswhyyou'dneedaninternationalcommunityto
occupySyriaandtakethearmiesaway.Justarminguponesideisnotgoingtostopthe
bloodshed.
AudienceMember:[inaudible01:13:25].
Joshua:Iknowyoudo.
Elise:Michael,doyouwanttorespond?
Michael:No,that'sfine.
Elise:Andrew?
Andrew:No,that'sgreat.
MohammadGhanem:MynameisMohammadGhanem.I'mthedirectorof
governmentrelationswiththeSyrianAmericanCouncil.I'malsoaformerprofessorat
theUniversityofDamascus,livedtherefor28years.IhaveaquestionforJosh.
YousaidthatFSAcontrolsaboutlessthanonepercentoraboutonepercentinSyria.
That'sactuallyfactuallynotcorrectbecausealargerSyriancoalitionisinthesouth.It
controlsmoreoftheprovinceofDaraathanAssad.They'reabout35kilometers,but
that'snotthequestion.
Thequestionisthefollowing.In2012,whentherebelscontrolledabout50percentof
Syria,youhadthesameopposition.Yousaidyoushouldnotsupporttherebels.Now,
you'resayingthey'reonlycontrolledaboutonepercentagesoitcan'tmakethemwinners.

p.28

Theopposition,whentherebelscontrolledmorethan50percentmainstreamrebels,
morethan50percentofSyriaremainsinthenorthandeast,isthesameasitisnow.I
thinkthatadvocatinghandsofapproachtoSyrialedtoISIScapturingeastinSyria,
crossingtheborderintoMosul,andthatledtoamassexodusofChristians.Theypainted
alltheirhouseswith"Nun."ThatmeansNasarahorChristians.The"let'sdonothing"
aboutSyriaactuallyledtothiscrisisof...
Elise:What'syourquestion?
MohammadGhanem:Thequestionisdon'tyouthinkthatdoingthesamethingagain
andagain,advocatingthesamethingagainandagain,althoughIhaveseentheresults,is
likedoingthesamethingoverandoveragainexpectingdifferentresultsisadefinitionof
insanity?Thanks.
[laughter]
Joshua:AmericadestroyedtheIraqiregimeanditdestroyedtheLibyanregime.Wegot
chaosandwegotwhatwehaveinSyriatoday.That'stheinsane.It'stryingtodothis.It's
destroyedtheSyrianregimeandexpectstheSyrianstocomposetheirdifferencesand
stopfighting.
Idon'tthinktheywill.IthinkthatAmericashouldnotassistinthateffort.Already,two
yearsagowhentheIslamicfrontwasformedanditisyourmainstreamrebel,theleaders
oftheIslamicfrontcalledforethnicallycleansingalltheShiitesfromSyria.That'swhyI
didn'twanttoarmthembecause...
[offmicquestion]
Joshua:Hisspeechesarealreadyin2012.HewentinLebaneseTVandsaid,Zahran
Alloush,"Idon'tbelieveindemocracy.It'sarusebythewestforthestrongto...
MohammadGhanem:Whatdidhesayfromprison?
Joshua:Whoreleasedit?Baghdadifromprison.WholeavesallISISfromprison?
Americans.Yes,Assadreleasedthemfromprison.It'strue.Whoaskedforhimtobe
releasedfromprison?You,thehumanrightsworkersaskedforhimbecausehewas
illegally...hewasapoliticalprisoner.
[laughter]
MohammadGhanem:You'rebeingdishonest.
Joshua:No,I'mnotbeingdishonest.
MohammadGhanem:Youarebeingdishonest.Withallduerespect,from...Iremember
IwrotetoyouonFacebook.Youwroteabadarticleinthesecondweekcalled"Deeply
Sectarian"thatstillhanginyourblogatthesecondweek.YouwrotetoTimeMagazine

p.29

sayingAssadwasshovedatthelevelofthebrutalityofhisintelligence.That'syour
articleinTimeMagazine.Wehaveaccountability.Youguysatthelectureshouldhold
accountablefor...
Joshua:Isaiditwasdeeplysectarian.ItwasgoingtobecomeDeeplySectarian.
Everyonesaid,"Don'tsaythat.It'snotgoingto...that'snottrue."
Elise:Let'skeepitrespectfulandcivil.
Joshua:Ithasbecomedeeplysectarian.
MohammadGhanem:[inaudible01:17:03].
Elise:We'regoingtokeepitrespectfulandcivilandweallappreciateeachother's
opinions,andweappreciateyourscertainly,OK.
MohammadGhanem:Thankyou.
Elise:Now,Michael.
Michael:JoshkeepsreferringbacktotheIraqwarandtopplingSaddamsaying,"We
don'twanttorepeatthatagain."Theissueofmakingregimechangeorpolicyisnotto
rushinandtogotoppleAssad.Aaron,youaskedaboutwhatkindofmilitaryforceyou
wanttouse.Ithinkthefirststepistheconceptualstep.It'stheparadigmstep.
UnderstandingwhatyouguysareadvocatingisinfactaproIranian,proAssadposition
whetheryoucallitthatornotanditwilljustleadtomoreofthesamethatwehaveseen.
Wehavetohavearegimechangepolicyinasensethatwehadaregimechangepolicy
againsttheSovietUnionfor40years.Itdoesn'tmeanwerushourmilitarytotopplethe
SovietUnion.
Regimechangeistheprinciplethatweuseinordertoorganizetheforcesthatexistin
thatregionandtodirecttheminwaysthatwillbemorebeneficialtoeverybodyinthe
regionandtoourselves.Wewanttomobilizetheenergy,theresources,andtheinterests
ofthemajorpowersaroundSyria.Wecannotdothatsolongasweareperceivedas
havingapolicythatisbeneficialtoAssad.
Wehavetochangethatperception.Now,asfaraswhatwedomilitarily,thepresident
candecidetodo...hecouldhaveregimechangelightandhecouldhaveregimechange
heavy.WhenIsayheavy,hecouldgoinwithnoflyzonesandamoremuscularuseof
Americanforceorhecouldgolight.Hecouldsimplyorganizethecoalition.Hecould
organizetheSyrianunits.
Hecouldprovidelogisticsandintelligenceandsoon.Butthekeyfirstistheconceptual
one,tounderstandthataslongasweareinthisalignmentthatwe'rein,theproblemis
goingtogetworse.Youguysstillhaven'targuedhowyourfavoredpolicyworkstoa
morebeneficialsituationfortheUnitedStates.Idon'tseeit.Idon'tseemoreofthesame

p.30

aslookingatthroughour...
Elise:Thisiswhatwe'regoingtodo.We'regoingtodothreeveryquickquestions.I'm
goingtotakethemallatonceandthenwe'regoingtogiveeachteamtwominutesto
respond,andthenwe'regoingtowrapitupwithoneminute.Whowasitrighthere?
Wehaveawomanwhohasmicrophonerighthere.No,I'msorry.Ipromisethiswoman
righthere.Sorry.Thiswomanrighthereraisingherhand,I'msorry.Thenwe'regoingto
gotothisgentlemanandwe'regoingtoendonFarahAttasiandwe'regoingtokeepit
shortpleasebecausewe'rereallyrunningtight.
LeeTucker:Mefirst?
Elise:Yes.
Lee:Thankyousomuch.MynameisLeeTucker.IworkwiththeSyriaJusticeand
AccountabilityCenter.Myquestionistoallofthepanelists.Iamsurprisedactuallythat
thisconversationaboutshouldtheUSdomorehassofaronlyfocusedontheuseof
militaryforceespeciallywiththetwonewinitiativesthatarerightnowcirclingaroundin
currenteventsforothertypesofpressuretochangethesituation.
Wecanlookbackinthepastandsaythatdependingontheinformationyouhaveaccess
to,theUSeither[inaudible01:20:47]orplaythiscircuitousgameallowingallofthe
neighboringcountriesinvolvedinthisconflictmeddleintheSyriancrisiscreatingthe
conditionsforISISandfortheatrocitiesthatwe'veseenoverthepastseveralyears.
Myquestionis,ismilitaryforcetheonlytoolinourtoolboxthatwecouldbeusing?Can
andshouldtheUSbedoingotherthingstochangethesituationinSyria?
Elise:That'sareallygoodpoint.Thankyouforraisingthat.OK,veryshort.
RavinPasha:RavinPasha,IraqiAmerican,anduntilrecentlywiththeUSgovernment.
Actually,Iwanttobuilduponthatandaskyouabriefandblasphemousquestion.Taken
astepbacktoISISandextremist,howdowebeatthemattheirowngame?Bythat,I
meanlet'sfaceit.We'vefiguredoutmoreorlesshowtheArab'sbraincomponent
workedandithasbeensuccessfulinaboutoneandahalfcountries.
InSyria,it'snotaveryuniquesituation.Youhaveextremists.Youhavearegimeissue.
Youhaveextremiststhatarebuildingontwocomponentsthatarefightingthisonvery
dirtyandthey'regainingsupportfrompeople,socialservices,andpropaganda.The
informationandthesocialservicesissomethingthatwehavefailedtoaddresssofar.
It'snotjustahumanitarianissue.It'saNationalSecurityissueandIwouldliketohear
fromyouhowwecanactuallygetatthemfromthegroundup,notjustcominginfrom
themilitaryorpolicycomponent,butbuildingorratherattackingthebasebasedonthe
socialservicesandinformation.

p.31

Elise:Thankyou.That'sbuildingonthatpoint.Farah,youreallygottokeepitshort.
FarahAttasi:Thankyou,Elise.Thelastofthebest.FarahAttasi,Presidentofthe
NationalSyrianWomanAssociationandpoliticalactivist.Ijustwouldliketoaskthe
audienceandbecausewehearthisforthelastfouryears,whatisthealternativeto
Assad?Honestly,Ithinkthisisthebiggestinsultfor20millionSyrianinsideSyriaand
20millionSyriansoutsideSyriatosaythattherearenoalternativesotherthanAssadand
histhoughts.
Thiscompletelycontradictstheactualproposalorcommunicationwhenwewentto
Genevaandwehavetoput,asSyrians,allourpain.Hundredsofthousandskilled,many
intheSyrianprisons,allthosedisplacedinternallyandtherefugee.Weaccepttogoand
negotiateapoliticalsettlementwiththeregimerightinGenevawhereastheregime,all
whatwewantedtotalkaboutterrorismandhethinkshimselfthesolelyrulerofthisland.
I'dliketoaskyou,Josh,ifhepassedawaytomorrowbyanaturaldisasteroranatural
heartattack,doyouthinkSyriawillcollapse?ThealternativeisanationalSyrianunity
evenwithpeoplewithintheregimerightnow.TheSyrianoppositionandtheSyrian
freedomfighterandtheSyrianrebelswhoareopentonegotiateapoliticalsettlement
withaparticipationofpeoplewithintheregime,withinthesystem,withinthestatewho
didnotcommitcrimesagainsttheSyrianpeople.Thereisanalternative.It'snotan
excuseforthisnopolicytosaythatthereisnoalternativetoAssad.
Elise:ThanksFarah.
[applause]
Elise:ThankyouforsomanySyriansandSyrianAmericansforbeinghereandfor
havingyourvoicesheard.Ithinkalotofthattouchesonthesamething.We'vetalkeda
lotaboutISISandthemilitary,buthere,isthemilitarytheonlytool?Shouldwebedoing
moreonthegroundtobuilduptheselowLCCs,thecommunitygroups?
Shouldtherebemorepolitical?HowdowebeatISISattheirowngamewithsocial
services?Howdowedevelopthepoliticaloppositiontocreatetheconditionsonthe
groundwhereifthereisamilitarydefeatofAssadthatthatcouldbetakenadvantageof?
Twominutes,Aaron.
Aaron:Isthistheend,basically?
Elise:No,we'regoingtohaveoneminutebutyou'refreetohavetwominutes.
Aaron:IhavetodealwithDoraninsomeotherforumbecauseI'mtiredforthelastfour
times,ofhearinghimsaythat...
Elise:OK,butthisisbitingintoyourtime.

p.32

Aaron:Whatwe'rerecommendingisaproIranian,proAssadpolicy.Firstofall,Josh
andI...
Elise:Butthat'snotthequestion.We'retalkingaboutthepolicy.
Aaron:No,no,buthe'sgottenawaywiththisatleast10times.
Elise:Youcandealwiththatinyoursummation.
Aaron:Allright,fine.
Elise:Youcandealwiththatinyoursummation.
Aaron:Allright.ForgivemeforwhatI'mabouttosaytoallofyou.Iwonderifwe're
lookingatthesameregion,sometimes.Since2011wehavewatchedtheArabSpring
developintosomethingquiteextraordinary,andquiteextraordinarilynegative.20percent
oftheArabworldiseitherinfullscaledissolution,civilwar,orahighdegreeof
decentralization;Libya,Yemen,Iraq,andSyria.
What'simplicitinallofthesequestions,andwe'renotapottedplant.Wearethemost
consequentialpoweronearth,butwhat'simplicitinallofthesequestionsisthat
somehowwecanfundamentallyaffectthecurrentsofpoliticalchangeinthisregion,and
I'veonlyidentifiedtwoexampleswithrespecttoourallies,threeifyoucountSaudi
Arabia.
TwobillionbucksayearinEgypthasnotgiventheUnitedStatesthekindofleverage
thatitneedstoaffectpoliciesinEgyptthatreallyarevitaltoournationalinterests,
includingthepromotionofgenderequality,greatertransparency,respectforhuman
rights,anddemocracy.
TheIsraelisgoabouttheirbusinesswithrespecttosettlementactivity,andwemayhave
leveragebutwechoosenottouseit.Implicitinallofthesequestionsisthatsomehowwe
havethecapacityandthewilltodealwiththesituation.Buildingfromthebottomup?
WhatexactlydoesthatmeaninacountrylikeYemenorLibya?Iraq,wehaveassets,
intelligence,proxies,andinfluencemaybe.NotinSyria.
Elise:OK,Aaron.Thanks.
[laughter]
Elise:Pointwellheard.MikeorAndrew,whowantstowrapupthatpoint?
Andrew:DoyouwantmetorespondtoAaron,oronthequestion?
Elise:Andrew,whydon'tyourespondonthepolitical...?
Andrew:OK.

p.33

Michael:I'mgoingtohavetwopointsattheend.
Andrew:OK.Toyourquestions,andIthinkthey'reverygoodones,Isaidthat
obviouslytherearemanythingsthatcouldbedone.TheUnitedStateshasactually
extendedatremendousamountofhumanitarianandotherkindsofassistanceintoSyria,
andintoSyrianoppositionareas.Ithinkthatobviouslyisagoodthing.
Thereasonwhywe'rehavingthediscussionthatwe'rehavingnow,Ithink,without
coordinating,wehaven'treallyonthis,isthatweareatacriticalmomenthere,because
themilitaryaspecthasnotlargelybeentriedwiththeexceptionoftheIranians.The
IranianshaveintervenedinSyria,that'strue,andtheShiamilitia.That'strue.Butwe're
reachingacrossroadsbecauseofISIS,andwe'rebombinginSyria.
Now,ourpolicyinSyriaconcerningourinterventionthereiscalled"uncoordinated
deconfliction."ItmeansthatwearrangeeverythingwiththeIraqis...Joshpredictedthis,
bytheway,acouplemonthsago,beforeitallbrokeout.
WearrangeeverythingwiththeIraqis,theygooverandtalktoAssad,andweflyour
planesoverSyria,andhedoesn'tshootatus.Wecantakehimout.Wecantakeouthis
airdefense.It'snotevenhard,theIsraelisdoitallthetime.Butit'salittleeasier,alittle
cheaper.
Now,somethingmajorisaboutreadytohappen.We'reaboutreadytotrainandequip
troops,andputthembackintoSyria,notinactuallytooshortatime,dependingon
recruitmentandsoon.Thequestionis,whatdoesPresidentAssaddowhenwedothat?
Becausesuddenlythere'sanalternative.ItmightnotbethemajorityofSyriansand
whatever,butthere'sanalternative.
It'souralternative,andwe'reresponsibleforit.Whatwillhappenatthatpoint,when
thosetroopsareintroduced,andthey'reattackedbytheregimeorISIS?Willwedefend
thosetroops?Arewegoingtodothat?That'sthewaythisisgoingtounfold,andatthat
pointthecontradictionsinthispolicyaregoingtobecomefullyvisibletoallofus.That's
somethingthatpolicymakersaretryingtoworkoutatthemoment.
Obviously,themilitarycomponentofthisispartofthepoliticalsignalingthatElisewas
askingaboutandyouwerereferringto,thatcanhelpustrytoshowanddemonstratethat
weareindeedonthesideoftheopposition.Aaron's...
Elise:No,no,no,no,no,no.We'reovertwominutes,andwe'rerunninglate.I'msorry,
we'regoingtowrapup.IfyouhaveanyremainingthoughtsI'dliketoaskaprescriptive,
not"Whatwillhedo?Whathasn'thedone?"WhatshouldtheUSbedoinginSyria?
Aaron,oneminute.
AudienceMember:Beforethat,wehaveoneSyrianAmerican,butI'mtheonlySyrian.
[inaudible01:29:47].

p.34

Elise:You'vegottoaskyourexecutivedirector.Kurt?
AudienceMember:Amatterofonequestion.
Elise:Short,onequestion.
AudienceMember:Inparticular...
Elise:No,butlet'snotgoon.Let'skeepittoashortquestion,OK?
AudienceMember:Justtwolines.Microphone?
[laughter]
Andrew:Youdon'tneedone.
[audiencechatter]
AudienceMember:Asyoulike.In1950,Syria[inaudible01:30:13]masterofSyria.
WouldyoucomeoutwithanewtheorythattellsusaboutthefutureofSyriaafterAssad?
Ifsomeonelikeme,apreviousgovernmentalemployeeforalmosteightyearsforthe
Syriangovernment,whoworkedfortheSyriangovernmentforalmosteightyears,if
someonelikemetellsyouthattherearemorethan1,700,000officialgovernmental
employeesinSyria,morethanallAlawitesinSyria,wouldyoucomeupwithanew
theorytospeakaboutthefutureofSyriaafterAssad?That'smyquestion.
Elise:OK,Josh.
Joshua:Letmerespondto...Iforgottoaskthisquestion...
Elise:Andalsorespondtothegentlemanhere.
Joshua:OK.Ididn'tunderstandhisquestion,really.
Elise:Basicallywhathe'ssayingisthatheisaformeremployeroftheregime,andthat
himselfandthereareplentyofSyrianswhoarereadytohelpbuildthecountryandmake
afutureforthecountry,andthatthereisanalternative.
Joshua:No,Iknowthere'san...
Elise:He'ssaying,assumingthereisanalternative,whatisyourtheoryforthefuture?
Joshua:TherearemanycapableSyrians.Thetroubleisthattheyhavenotunified.This
regime,comingoutofthecountrysideandtakingtheAlawitesandDruzeandothers,are
thecountrybumpkinswhothrewoutFarahAtassi'sparentsandgrandparentsfrom
power.

p.35

TheAtassis,manytimepresidentsofSyria,theyweredividedandthatwastheirAchilles
heel.WhentheSunninotables,whowereverywelleducated,tookoverSyriaafter
Franceleft,theybegantofightamongstthemselves.
Quwatli,thePresident,aDamascian,wouldnotlettheAtassishavepower.Theyall
belongedtotheAleppoPartyinthenorth.AndQuwatlicalledthemtraitorsbecausethey
wereproIraqi.Herefused.Hecalledthearmyintothestreetstobreaktheirheadsand
puttheminjail.ThatwasZa'im,HusniZa'im.Hetookoverandwe'vehadmilitarycoups
eversince.
ThathappenedbecausetheSunnielitewerebickeringandfightinginthesamewaythat
they'redoingtodayintheSyrianNationalCounselandinmanyothermilitias.America
cannotforcethosepeopleandfindaunity,whentheSyrianscan'tfinditthemselves.If
theSyriansandyourgrandfathershadn'tunified,theAlawitesandtheotherbumpkins
wouldneverhavecometopower.
Elise:OK,OK.
Joshua:...andtheywouldn'thavehadmilitaryrule.
Elise:Michael,doyouhaveaclosingthoughtonthat?
Michael:Aclosing...?
Elise:Aboutthefuture.
Michael:Aclosing...forthefuture.
Joshua:He'saskingmeaquestion.
Michael:Iagreewithhim.
Elise:Hemakesapoint.
Michael:Iagree,asIwassaying,wecannotorganizetheenergies,theinterests,andthe
visionsofthepeopleoftheMiddleEastwhenwehangbackthewaywe'redoing.There
isalotofmaterialtoworkwithinsideSyria,andoutsideSyria.
ThethingabouttheMiddleEast,Joshmakesonepointthat'sabsolutelyright.The
MiddleEastwillnotputitselftogether,absenttheUnitedStatesputtingtogetheralarger
visionfortheregionandbringingthemajorpowerstogether,andgettingthemto...all
puttingtheiroarsinthesamedirection.
TheUnitedStateshasabdicatedtheleadershipposition.Itdoesn'thavetobenecessarily
completelyamilitaryvision,butitstartswiththemilitarystrategy.Thepoliticalvision
hastobebuiltontopofthat.Andthenthere'sanenormousamountofenergiesofpeople
toworkwith.Butwehavehungbackandwehaveletthisthingjustexplode.

p.36

Elise:OK.Andrew,oneminute.WhatshouldtheUSbedoing?
Andrew:Oh,OK.Foursteps.
Stepone,acceptSyriaasadividedcountryandafailedstate,akintoSaddamHussein's
regimeinthe'90s.Steptwo,thegoalshouldbenottostrengthentheAssadregimeatthis
point,orletitoffthehook,buttoweakenbothAssadandthejihadistsbyencouraging
fightsbetweenthetwo.IfAssadwantstofightextremism,andhebragsaboutitallthe
time,weshouldlethimandintheprocessweakenhim.
Stepthree,helptheSyrianmoderateoppositionconsolidatetheirlinesofcontrol.The
trainandequipprogramwillbekeytothis,andwillcontinuetobekeytoit.Four,atthe
endremoveAssadfrompowerviadiplomacyandothermeanstosupporttheopposition
forces,andhopefullyeventuallyputthepiecesofSyriabacktogetheragain.Regime
changeinSyriadoesn'thavetomeanregimecollapse.Itcouldmeanregime
transformationofsometype.
Lastbutnotleast,andgettingtoAaron'spoint,thebiggestproblemwehave...Ilived15
yearsintheMiddleEast.Ihadagreattime.PeopleintheMiddleEastarewonderful.
They'rejustlikeyouandIandeveryoneelseintheUnitedStates.Theyrespondto
consistencyandhonestly.
Whenyousayyou'regoingtodosomething,youfollowthroughanddoit.Ifyoudon't
intendonfollowingthroughanddoit,thendon'tlaydowntheredlineinthefirstplace,
becausethatunderminesyourcredibility.
[applause]
Michael:That'sforsure.
Elise:Josh.
[offmicremarkfromaudience]
Elise:OK.
Andrew:Heactuallysaidhehadtostepaside.
Elise:Hesaiditfouryearsago.Josh,oneminute.
Joshua:Idon'tthinkwehavegoodpartnersintheMiddleEast.SaudiArabiaisnot
goingtohelpfixSyria.Turkey,Erdoan,hisownpolicetriedtostoptrucksofarmsand
hissecretpolicehadtostopthem.TheyweregoingtoAlQaeda.
Wedon'tknowwhotoarminSyria.Wedon'tknowhowtoorganize.TheMiddleEastis
meltingdownrightnow.WetriedtheDoranpolicy,whichistogoinstrongwithan
organizingprincipleinIraq.Itcostusathousanddollars.Wedidhelpcreatean

p.37

alternativegovernment,butit'snotsomethingwe'regoingtodoagain.
TheUnitedStatesdoesnothaveagoodpolicyforSyria.ItcannotfixSyria.It'sterrible
andseemsinhumanetostandonthesidelineandtowatchtheSyrianwarunfoldtheway
itis,butIdon'tthinkthatitisinAmerica'spowertostopit.
Atthispoint,theMiddleEastisgoingthroughthisupheavalandwearecaught,ina
sense,onthesidelines,watching.Ithinkthatifwedon'tsendmorearmsinit'sgoingto
endsooner,withlessbloodshed,eventhoughthere'sbeenatremendousamount,thanif
westartshovelingarmsintotheMiddleEast.
Elise:OK,thanks.Aaron,oneminute.
Aaron:Thesepositionswereincorrectlyframedasallinornotin,andJoshandI
disagreeonthis.
Elise:WhatshouldtheUSbedoing,Aaron?
Aaron:There'sabalancehere.Yeah,weshouldintensifyourmilitaryattacksagainst
ISIS,bothinIraqandSyria.Weshouldsupportamoderateopposition,trainandequip.
Fairenough.Seemslikeareasonableprogram.IfweknewmoreaboutSunnitribeswe
coulddealwiththem,butI'mnotsurewedo.
AllofthesepoliciesIthinkarecredible,defensible,butultimatelythey'renotgoingto
workforpreciselythereasonJoshhasidentified.Wearestuckinaregionwecannot
transformandwecannotleave.
Weneedagood,sensiblemiddletransactionalgroundthattakescareofAmerican
interests,notnationbuildingandnotoverextendingourselvesaswedidinthetwo
longestwarsinAmericanhistory,whichhavebroughtincredibledisaster,bothtothose
countries,toourcredibility,andtoourpoliticalandmilitarycapacity.
ItisnotaproIranianpolicy.ItisnotaproAssadpolicy.It'sreal,andit'llbeuptothe
nextPresident,lastpoint.ThenextPresident,RorD,tofindthebalancebetweenGeorge
W.Bush'sriskreadinessononehand,andBarackObama'sriskaversionontheother.
Elise:Allright.We'regoingtohavetocometoaclose.Wecouldgoforanotherhourat
least.AndIjustwanttosaythatIreallyappreciatethepassioninthisroom,bothfrom
ourpanelistsandfromthepeoplewhohadtheirquestions.
I'msorrywedidn'thavetimeformoreofthem,butparticularlytheSyriansandthe
SyrianAmericanswhohavefamiliesbackhomeandpeoplearesuffering.Ihopethatwe
wereabletonotlosesightofthefactthatwe'retalkingaboutpoliticsandmilitaryand
terrorismandeverything,butthisisaboutpeople.
Ihopethatsomelawmakersanddecisionmakersandpeoplethatareinapositiontodo
anythinghavetakengoodfoodforthoughtfromtoday.ThankyoutotheMcCain

p.38

Institute,andtoKurt.
[applause]
[music]
Kurt:Letmesaythankyouverymuchtoourfabulousmoderator,EliseLabott.
[applause]
Kurt:Doesanawesomejobatthis,anabsolutelyawesomejob.Thankyoufortaking
partandparticipatingintonight'sdebate.StickwiththeMcCainInstitute,lookusup
online,mccaininstitute.org.Getonourmailinglists.Forthoseinclinedtodonate,feel
free.
[laughter]
Kurt:OurnextdebatewillbeonAmerica'sopeningtoCuba.DidCubawin?February
26,hereinthisauditorium,pleasemarkyourcalendars,pleasestickwithus.Thankyou
verymuchforcoming.
[applause]
[music]

TranscriptionbyCastingWords