Prof. Matthew Evangelista, government, sparked discussion about whether the United States should be involved in the Syrian Civil War at a debate in Anabel Taylor Hall Tuesday.
Evangelista — who was the director of Cornell’s Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies from 2008 to 2011 — described the conflict between the rebels and the Syrian government, saying the United States is providing weapons for small rebel groups in Syria to defeat the dictator Bashar al-Assad. However, he stressed that some of the groups who oppose al-Assad also oppose the U.S.
The old adage — “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — is not applicable in this case because some of the groups who believe the U.S. must defeat al-Assad are considered terrorists as well, Evangelista said, referencing the Kurds in Turkey as an example.
“The U.S. wants to support Kurdish fighters as most effective in combatting ISIS, but that complicates relations with its NATO ally Turkey, whose government considers the Kurds terrorists,” he said.
Evangelista added that the U.S.’s primary goal should be to “first do no harm.”
“My view is that the United States should not be bombing a sovereign country without a declaration of war, funneling weapons without knowing where they end up and engaging in warfare without having a realistic long-term plan or idea of how the situation will be resolved,” he said.
While there are diplomatic and humanitarian causes for the United States to advance in Syria, Evangelista explained that, overall, the U.S. is doing “more harm than good” in the region.
Instead, Evangelista said he believes the U.S. should pursue alternative solutions, such as working with Russia and the United Nations Security Council to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. He added that the U.S. has a “moral obligation to accept Syrian refugees.”
Students and members of the Cornell Political Union — who hosted the debate — engaged in a spirited debate about the issue, offering a variety of viewpoints.
Some students argued that the U.S. should pull out of Syria; others insisted that the absence of an external presence in the region would only deepen the conflict.
The Cornell Political Union promised to create a resolution based on the results of the debate. The vote ended in a tie, with 22 students supporting Evangelista’s stance and 22 students opposed to it. The Cornell Political Union will publish the resolution on their website tonight.