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Former U.S. Ambassador Cautions Against Attack on Syria


As we said earlier, 11 G-20 member nations signed a resolution yesterday supporting a strong international response to the use of chemical weapons. Nine, including Russia, China and Germany, did not sign. They're calling instead for a diplomatic response.

Today, European Union foreign ministers endorsed a clear and strong response in Syria, but they urged the U.S. to hold off until the U.N. inspectors report the findings of evidence they collected near Damascus.

We're going to hear from two former U.S. diplomats, both of whom have had to weigh the consequences of American power in foreign conflicts. First, Peter Galbraith.

PETER GALBRAITH: By not going to the U.N. and by not waiting for the U.N. report on the use of chemical weapons, frankly, President Obama begins to sound a lot like President Bush did in 2003 before the Iraq invasion.

LYDEN: Galbraith was the U.S. ambassador to Croatia during the height of the U.N. intervention in Balkans. In the past, he's often been a vocal proponent of U.S.-led military intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. He told us that on Syria, he's taken a different stance.

GALBRAITH: In each of those cases, we had partners on the ground whose agenda we were comfortable with. And the problem is we will, in essence, be striking in support of a Syrian opposition that we actually may not wish to have when the opposition has no support from Syrian minorities - not from the Alawites, the Christians and the Kurds, each of whom are about 11 to 12 percent of Syria's population. The Alawites fear that if Assad falls that they will be victims of genocide, and they fear with good reason.

In this case, the airstrikes are not going to topple the regime. And I don't think there is a military solution to Syria's civil war. You need an inclusive solution, and my guess is that Assad will have to be part of it.

LYDEN: So tell me, what is the alternative here to military action?

GALBRAITH: Well, there is an alternative, and the model is what the Bush administration did in 2003. They went to the U.N., they got a unanimous resolution warning Iraq of serious consequences if it did not readmit the inspectors. And Saddam Hussein capitulated.

LYDEN: You don't think China and Russia would block even that resolution?

GALBRAITH: I would guess that if the Obama administration went to the U.N. with a resolution that said there'd be serious consequences for any further use of chemical weapons that the Russians and the Chinese would go along, precisely because they would prefer that resolution and a warning to U.S. military strikes.

LYDEN: If China and Russia, given their opposition in the U.N. Security Council, were to block some specific warning, what other options would there be for the U.N. to engage in Syria?

GALBRAITH: That might then be a time when the administration could consider unilateral action. The experience in 2002 was that the Chinese and Russians were willing to go along with a warning because they very much preferred that to authorizing force. Incidentally, one of the countries that joined that warning was Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.