Members of the HWS faculty held a panel discussion titled, “Syria: America’s Response?” on Thursday, Sept. 12. Organized and moderated by Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Craig Rimmerman, the discussion featured faculty from across academic disciplines, including: Associate Professor of Political Science Kevin Dunn, Professor of Philosophy Steven Lee, Professor of History Derek Linton, Professor of Political Science David Ost, and Professor of Media and Society Linda Robertson.
An article about the panel discussion that appeared in the Finger Lakes Times noted much had evolved in Syria since Rimmerman began organizing the event.
“I did change my notes after this roller-coaster week we’ve been through,” Robertson is quoted.
The article covered the vast opinions expressed by faculty during the event.
The full text follows.
Finger Lakes Times
HWS panel debates U.S.-Syria ‘roller coaster’
Julie Anderson • September 13, 2013
GENEVA – The diplomatic and military debate over Syria evolved so fast over the past week that Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ panel had to work hard to keep up.
“I did change my notes after this roller-coaster week we’ve been through,” said professor Linda Robertson, who joined four colleagues to discuss the situation Thursday night.
Held in Albright Auditorium, the forum featured arguments for and against U.S. intervention along with analysis of the situation.
Robertson said she sees less bumbling on the part of President Barack Obama and his administration than many commentators have suggested. She thinks his threat to use weapons was meant to show Russia the United States is serious.
“Assad’s on a leash, and that leash goes to Russia,” she said
By the same token, she sees Secretary of State John Kerry’s abrupt offer of a diplomatic solution as a trial balloon rather than a blooper – one that may have found success when Syria seemingly agreed to turn its chemical weapons over to Russia.
The forum came days after President Barack Obama argued for intervention but asked Congress to delay its vote because of that proposal. That possibility, along with public opposition to bombing Syria, left several panelists convinced that the United States will almost certainly not attack. That comes as good news to professor Kevin Dunn, who said air strikes would just make the U.S. feel better about the times it has not acted to stop atrocities abroad.
“I don’t really think inflicting violence through air strikes is going to stop violence on the ground,” he said. “I know it doesn’t.”
Dunn said he also thinks the situation is more complex than has been portrayed and that he does not trust the government’s version of events.
“They are now trying to sell us a solution,” he said. “They are in fact the problem.”
Professor Derek Linton at least partially disagreed. He believes the U.S. does have an interest in seeing Assad overthrown, for both policy and humanitarian reasons.
“He is a brutal dictator,” Linton said. “He has killed approximately 100,000 of his own people. He has engaged in massive uses of torture.”
Linton said the U.S. should support and arm the Free Syrian Army and aid the refugees. It should also act to counter Assad’s use of chemical weapons, even if that effort is belated.
“I do think we need to keep at least the possibility of air strikes against air fields and direct military targets on
the table while these negotiations over eliminating these chemical weapons take place,” he said.
The panelists also addressed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New York Times opinion piece urging the U.S. to respect international law and decrying the idea of American exceptionalism.
Robertson said she was still trying to figure it out.
“Clearly Putin is damn scared that we’re going to bomb his client state, and he’s appealing to people who are worried about doing that.”
Professor Craig Rimmerman moderated the discussion. The panel also included professors Steven Lee and David Ost.
Some panelists blasted U.S. policy and Obama’s response to the crisis as inept and inconsistent. Ost did not.
“I think this is in some respects President Obama’s finest hour,” Ost said, citing the president’s willingness to put his anguish over the decision on public display. “Precisely in portraying that doubt, that anguish, the difficulty of this, I think that’s a profound and very valuable lesson.”