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2012-03-05

Debate: Attacking Iran, AIPAC, Israel-Palestine and Obama with Rashid Khalidi and Jonathan Tobin

Guests

Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University’s Department of History and the author of several books, including Sowing Crisis: American Dominance and Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine. His latest article is called "What’s Missing from Obama’s AIPAC Speech? Red Lines on Iran and Palestinians." Tobin’s columns have also regularly appeared in the Jerusalem Post and other sources.

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President Obama addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday, assuring the pro-Israel lobbying group he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and reiterating his unwavering support for Israel. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama at the White House today, we host a debate between Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University and Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin. "It is true [Iran does not] have the weapon now, the question is are we going to wait until ... they are one screwdriver away from doing it or not," says Tobin. "[Iran’s] policy has been to forthrightly proclaim it wishes to destroy Israel — to wipe it off the map. Letting it have nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire region." But Khalidi argues that war with Iran "would guarantee that no responsible Iranian leadership in the future would allow Iran to be without a nuclear weapon after it had been attacked in an unprovoked fashion either by the U.S. or Israel." Khalidi adds, "It will be a disaster that would make Iraq and Afghanistan look like tea parties." Tobin and Khalidi also debate the relationship between Iran and Syria. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Sunday, President Obama addressed the influential pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, emphasizing the U.S., quote, "will not hesitate" to use force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In his speech in Washington, D.C., Obama reiterated his unwavering support for Israel and willingness to consider military options against Iran.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions, and yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

AMY GOODMAN: However, President Obama also made clear his preference for diplomacy. He suggested the policy of sanctions set in motion by the United States and Europe remain the most viable way to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues, the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iran government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, protesters with a group called Occupy AIPAC rallied outside the conference, chanting "No war on Iran." One protester, Ty Barry, said he had traveled from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to protest AIPAC.

TY BARRY: We have the President of the United States addressing the most powerful lobbying group in the world, AIPAC, that continues—they’ve pushed us into a war with Iraq, and they’re trying to push us into a war with Iran. We’re saying, free Palestine. We’re saying, negotiate in free—for peace in Palestine, Peace with Iran. We need to stop. We need to get nuclear power out—nuclear weapons out of the Middle East. That includes Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Obama is scheduled to meet today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Addressing reporters in Ottawa, Canada, Netanyahu responded favorably to Obama’s AIPAC speech.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I’ve just had the opportunity to hear the President’s speech. I very much appreciated the fact that President Obama reiterated his position that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and that all options are on the table.

AMY GOODMAN: Although the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, and its sympathizers convene annually, this year’s gathering was especially fraught with significance, given the election-year politics and heightening tensions between Iran and Israel.

During their meeting today, Netanyahu is expected to continue pressuring Obama to adopt a more stringent line on Iran. Specifically, he wants Obama to explicitly state the circumstances under which the U.S. itself would strike Iran. Israeli officials are also demanding Iran halt all enrichment of uranium before the West resumes negotiations with Tehran. However, the White House has rejected this precondition and is sticking to its policy of economic sanctions, with military action as a last resort.

For more on Obama’s position on Iran and Israel, we’re joined now by two guests. From Philadelphia, we’re joined by Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor of Commentary magazine. His latest piece is called "What’s Missing from Obama’s AIPAC Speech? Red Lines on Iran and Palestinians." Tobin’s columns have also regularly appeared in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere.

Here in New York we’re joined by Rashid Khalidi. He’s the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University’s Department of History and the author of several books, including Sowing Crisis: American Dominance and Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood.

Jonathan Tobin, Professor Khalidi, welcome, both, to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Jonathan Tobin. What was your assessment of President Obama’s AIPAC speech, and what did you feel was missing?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, I think the main takeaways from the President’s speech are two things. Number one, place it in the perspective of his four years—his three-plus years in the presidency. His speech yesterday was—what was remarkably absent was mainly the substance of a lot of what his policy towards Israel has been in his first three years, which was pressure, contention over Jerusalem, settlements, the 1967 borders, which was the big dust-up from last year. And all of that was gone. That has pretty much been thrown by the wayside, in part because of the Palestinians’ failure to sort of come to the President’s aid or to pick up on his hints. So that was out, and he moved much closer to the pro-Israel community’s position on the issues. Also, included in it, I should say, is that as much as he was talking about continued diplomacy, he did say that the United States would not countenance a nuclear Iran and, more importantly, that he rejected a policy of containment, which is a lot of what we’ve been hearing from those who wish to back away from a confrontation, saying that we can live with a nuclear Iran. Obama was specifically saying that he didn’t do that, he wouldn’t live with it.

However, where he didn’t go was to state some red lines over which Iran could not go, in terms of its nuclear enrichment, in terms of more progress on its nuclear program—if it went beyond that, what the United States would do. He’s still talking about sanctions and more diplomacy. And I think some people who fear the consequences of a nuclear Iran, which is a group that includes much of the Arab world, many of the Arab governments in the Middle East, and not just Israel—I think there’s the fear that the President is sort of relying too much on the hope of diplomacy and the hope of sanctions, when not too many people are really placing a lot of—a lot of hope in that, because the Iranians seem determined to press ahead no matter what the United States says and no matter what sort of economic pain is presented to them, in addition to the fact that although the President said yesterday that Russia and China are on board with sanctions, that’s not entirely the case, as the Chinese seem—appear to be willing to buy Iranian oil, even in the event of a European and American embargo. So, the fear is that what the ayatollahs are listening to, in his speech, is the idea that they can keep prevaricating, they can kick the can down the road.

And as Les Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote a couple of weeks ago, in that, they may have a common agenda with Obama, because the President does not wish to have a confrontation, certainly until—until November. He doesn’t want to fight a war in an election year or to be seen to be backing away from Iran during this time, because he’s at pains to—he’s really worried about losing the pro-Israel vote and the Jewish vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Khalidi, your response to President Obama’s speech and to what Jonathan Tobin has said?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, President Obama’s speech was an attempt to feed some red meat to this audience, on everything but Iran, because he is convinced, as is every sane, rational person in the U.S. government, that a war with Iran would be catastrophic for the United States, that it wouldn’t serve the purposes that the advocates of war are pushing for, and that it’s completely unnecessary, given that there’s no evidence that the Iranians have a nuclear weapons program. That’s the unanimous opinion of the intelligence community, including, it appears, the Israeli intelligence community, by the way, not just the American. So, the President was pushing back on those issues, even though he did give a little ground.

But by contrast, as Mr. Tobin said, he airbrushed out his differences with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the first two years of his presidency, in order to emphasize the many ways in which the United States has aligned itself with Israel, and he listed them, things like support—

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, let me—

RASHID KHALIDI: No, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: —play what he has to say. This is President Obama making that list during his speech to AIPAC, enumerating the many ways he and his administration have been strong allies with Israel.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I visited with families who have known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. And that’s why, as president, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others. Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles, because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone Report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama speaking yesterday at the AIPAC conference. Professor Rashid Khalidi?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, he went on and on, in fact. You got the meat of it, but he went on and on talking about the things that he had done. The United States would continue to oppose a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and so on and so forth.

I think that the key thing here is not just this issue of Iran, because the hysteria over Iran, the hysteria that a lot of the media, the hysteria that some of the think tanks, the hysteria that one wing of the Israeli government—not a lot of sane Israelis actually support this. There’s a very strong faction in the Israeli military—former generals, serving generals, former intelligence senior officials and some serving officials in Israel—who feel exactly the same way as the entire American intelligence community and military, that this is, A, a very, very dangerous thing to suggest going to war with Iran, and B, that it’s completely unnecessary. In spite of that, there is this extraordinary hysteria which the Republicans are irresponsibly, I think, trying to increase, and that the people—many of the people, at least, at this conference in Washington—I think, are playing a part in.

And I think the President, sadly, instead of forthrightly opposing elements of the narrative that lead us there, has adopted many of them. For example, he talks about Israelis suffering. Well, Israelis obviously have suffered. There’s no mention in his speeches of Palestinians suffering. There’s no mention in his speeches of the fact that he’s facing an Israeli government that has steadfastly refused to budge an inch in terms of issues that presidents going back to Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., have tried to push Israel on—settlements and so on and so forth. The President backed down after his first two years in office on all of these issues. And he’s probably rightly concentrating on this Iran issue, but unfortunately, what he’s in effect done is to throw the Palestinians and, I think, the possibility of serious peacemaking under the bus, at least until this election campaign is over.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Tobin, your response?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, I think there are a couple of things. Number one, in terms of a great diversity of opinion in Israel, I think there is some—obviously, Israel is a lively democracy, and that democracy extends into the military and the former members of the military. However, I think the—it’s somewhat disingenuous to claim that there is a big debate about whether Iran is a nuclear threat. There is a debate, however, how Israel or how the West should attempt to head off or forestall an Iranian nuclear weapon. The most—the foremost opponent of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak, in terms of possibly attacking Iran, is the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan. And his position is not that Iran is not dangerous, not that Iran’s nuclear program is not a deadly, an existential threat, but that he thinks that it’s better countered by covert action rather than an air campaign.

As far the President and the Palestinians, I think it’s also wrong to say that the President has thrown the Palestinians under the bus. It’s the Palestinians who threw him under the bus over the course of his administration, because every time he picked a fight with Netanyahu, when he pressured Israel, the Palestinians didn’t step forward. When Netanyahu finally gave in to Obama and agreed to a settlement freeze for a period of time, the Palestinians didn’t even negotiate then. They haven’t negotiated since they walked away from Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state in the—almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a part of Jerusalem. So, to say that—to say that the President hasn’t tried for the Palestinians, he certainly has. And he’s been rewarded by a rebuff.

As far as the idea that it’s not sane to be concerned about Iran, I think there’s a broad consensus, and a broad consensus even in the region, that—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me get Professor Khalidi’s response to that, who also himself is Palestinian American.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Sure.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, two things. I think it’s perfectly sane to be concerned about Iran. I think it’s insane to think that a war on Iran would not create the problem that it’s supposed to solve. A war on Iran guarantees that Iran will develop nuclear weapons. There’s a very strong possibility that Iran can be prevented from doing that, or has no actual intention of doing so and no capability of doing so in the foreseeable future. So, the issue is to make war on Iran or not; the issue is not would it be a bad thing for a country other than Israel to have nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Yes, it would be bad. In fact, it would be—it is bad to have nuclear weapons in the Middle East, because Israel having nuclear weapons, sooner or later, is going to create a nuclear arms race. The President, very quietly, has said—he should be saying it much more forcefully—that nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East is in the interest of Israelis, Arabs, Iranians and the United States. Israel having this huge nuclear arsenal is the unspoken element in all of this. And Iran is constantly vilified.

The Iranians do a great deal to vilify themselves, let it be said. This is a regime that’s said horrific things and has done bad things. But they are not the existential danger to Israel that they are portrayed. Sane Israelis know that, including most Israeli security managers. They manipulate that fear in this country and in Israel. But the President said, American and Israeli intelligence estimates are that Israel—that Iran does not have a capability or is anywhere near this. That is actually the view of the Israeli intelligence community. That is also the view of most of the Israeli military. And that’s come out in the Israeli press. I mean, yes, there is as great a fear in Iran—sorry, in Israel, about the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons as people make out, but that does not mean that the security managers share that. To some extent, I have to say, I think they’re manipulating that fear.

AMY GOODMAN: And that Palestinians—as Jonathan Tobin said, Palestinians let Obama down?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I mean, that’s a whole—there’s a whole litany of things that have to be addressed there. The Palestinians are divided, let it be said. There is an important division among Palestinians. The President has not helped resolve that problem. What Israel has tried to do is to demonize one wing of the Palestinian national movement: Hamas. In the American—in the United States, that has also succeeded. Without the Palestinians getting their act together, unifying, and deciding how they want to deal with this issue, including via negotiations, and one of the things that Hamas has said is that it is willing to allow the Palestinian Authority to negotiate for a two-state solution. I’m not particularly happy about some of the ideas that may come out of a coalition between the two main Palestinian factions, but the idea that you can deal with one elected faction and leave the other elected faction out is false. People don’t like what Hamas stands for. Let them get into governing, let them get into negotiating, which they will do, if this compromise the Palestinians are working towards is allowed. The President explicitly excluded that in his speech—more red meat thrown to Israel. You cannot make peace with the Palestinians while consciously and seriously working to divide them. Palestinians have to be united if they’re going to figure out how they’re going to deal with these issues that face them. That’s a precondition. And the President, unfortunately, has passed on that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, as well as Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine. We’ll be back with both of them in a minute. We’ll talk about Syria, Iran, Israel, and continue to talk about the Palestinians. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re having a debate on President Obama’s AIPAC address yesterday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Our guests are Rashid Khalidi, professor at Columbia University of Arab studies, Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine. His latest piece is called "What’s Missing from Obama’s AIPAC Speech?"

I’m looking at a piece by Juan Cole that was just posted that says, "Early returns in Iran’s 9th parliamentary election since the 1979 revolution show that Ahmadinejad’s lay populists have taken a drubbing." And talk about a significant quote of Khamenei, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is now in the ascendancy in Iran. A week and a half ago, he said, "The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous." Again, these are the words of Khamenei in his major foreign policy speech just more than a week ago.

Jonathan Tobin, your response, since these parliamentary elections on Friday show that he is in the ascendancy and Ahmadinejad very much was pushed back on Friday?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, I think we have to understand that as much as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been the poster child for Iranian outrageousness, the Supreme Leader has always been the supreme leader in Iran, and he has always been more in control of things than Ahmadinejad. So I think the factional fight in Iran is interesting for those of us who follow Iran, but it is not necessarily that significant in terms of changes in policy. The Supreme Leader may have said that he thinks nuclear weapons are a sin, but his government has been pursuing—has been pursuing a nuclear program, been, you know, enriching uranium in a manner which is highly—which is, at best, highly suspicious, and which has caused the International Atomic Energy Agency to view—to view their policies with great concern, talking about their possible work on weaponization.

The idea that it’s just a myth that they’re working on nuclear weapons is, I think, you know, a mischaracterization of the intelligence. I mean, it’s true they don’t have the weapon now. The question is, are we going to wait until they—all they have to do—or, you know, they’re one screwdriver away from doing it or not? And that is the great fear. This is a government that has not just merely occasionally said bad things, but has—its policy has been to forthrightly proclaim it wishes to destroy Israel, to wipe it off the map. It is a threat to the entire region. Having—letting it have nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire region. And the fear is—and it’s not fear mongering to say that their—you know, their model is North Korea. North Korea prevaricated in negotiations for a decade, and then—you know, then the world had to acknowledge that they had nuclear weapons and there was nothing to be done about it. I think that’s something that President Obama has rightly said he’s not going to tolerate. And that the idea that—the idea that just sanctions alone will do it, I think, is more a matter of, you know, hope than a practical policy. And I think many in the United States government, you know, realize that but don’t want to follow the logic of their conclusions as what they’re going to do. No—you know, very—nobody in Israel wants war. Israel will suffer if there—you know, if there is an attack. But the question is, will it be worse off facing a world with a nuclear Iran?

Israel’s—to raise, as the professor has done, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is, you know, really a misnomer, because, the fact is, Israel has proved for 40 years—you know, for nearly 40 years that its nuclear program is not a threat to the rest of the region, whereas it is the only country that is threatened with extinction by many of its neighbors.

RASHID KHALIDI: Many?

JONATHAN TOBIN: And so, you know, it is—its nuclear deterrent is, I think, reasonable, and the U.S. government has—has agreed that it is reasonable.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor—

JONATHAN TOBIN: The problem is—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me get Professor Khalidi’s response to that. And I also want to broaden this out to what would it mean if the U.S. or if Israel were to attack Iran.

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, let’s start from two things. The first is that the American intelligence community, which was highly politicized under President Bush, has basically tried to go back to serious intelligence work and has come to the conclusion that Israel—sorry, that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program. Now, we can huff and we can puff about what a huge threat it would be if something that our intelligence community has assured us is not happening were to happen, but they and the Israeli intelligence service seem to have determined that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran, that it’s stopped. Yes, they are enriching uranium. Yes, they have a nuclear program. But they have—according to the intelligence service, they don’t have a weapons program. They stopped it, and it’s not started again. So that’s the first thing to say.

What would a war with Iran do? It would guarantee that no Iranian—responsible Iranian leadership in the future would allow Iran to be without a nuclear weapon, after it had been attacked in an unprovoked fashion either by the United States or Israel. So, this would lead, necessarily and inevitably, to the very outcome that people who are advocating a war with Iran claim to want to prevent, which is Iran definitely becoming a nuclear weapons power.

The third thing to talk about is not the damage to Israel that would be done by such a war, whatever—there would undoubtedly be serious damage to Israel in such a war. It would be the damage that would be done all over this region, which is why the U.S. military is steadfastly against a war with Iran. A, we cannot fight it easily. B, it will be a disaster that will make Iraq and Afghanistan look like tea parties. The military know this. They know what will happen in Afghanistan. They know what will happen in Iraq. They know what will happen in terms of terrorism. They know what will happen in the Gulf. They know what will happen to oil prices. A war with Iran would be a catastrophe for the Middle East. It really would make the Iran and Afghanistan—the Iraq and Afghanistan wars look like minor affairs by comparison.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does this mean? I want to shift gears into Syria right now, and Iran and Syria, the relationship between them, but what is happening now in Syria, and what you feel needs to be done. Jonathan Tobin, I want to start with you. In Syria, the latest news we have, something—thousands of Syrians have been killed. Hundreds of Syrian troops have entered the city of Daraa, where the anti-government demonstrations began nearly a year ago. The Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent are still seeking approval from Syrian authorities to enter Baba Amr in Homs, which is totally under siege. What do you think needs to happen there?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, I fear that the optimism voiced by President Obama and much of the chattering classes here in this country about Assad’s imminent fall, I fear that they’re just being very over-optimistic. History teaches us that tyrants fall when they lose their taste for blood, not when they are still very much interested in killing as many people as they need to kill to stay in power. Assad seems to have not lost his taste for blood. He seems determined to hold on. Now, he may—you know, if enough of his intelligence, you know, and security forces defect, perhaps that won’t—you know, perhaps that might deter him, but I think he seems to be willing to go ahead and do anything he needs to do. He’s got the backing of his ally, Iran.

I think the United States needs to, if it truly, you know, wishes to be consistent with what it did in Libya, to step up and to be willing to aid rebels, if they come forward in some coherent fashion. Again, this is one of these—this is one of these problems to which there’s no easy answer. Unless the United States and the West were willing to go in and take out Assad, I’m not quite sure how he gets taken out. I don’t know that the domestic rebels have a chance to do it.

But I do just want to go back to one thing that Professor Khalidi said, the idea that an attack on Iran would guarantee that someday they’ll have nuclear weapons. That is not necessarily the case, and indeed I don’t believe it is. Just as when Iraq’s nuclear reactor was taken out, just as when Syria’s nuclear reactor was taken out in 2007, I think the cost to them of rebuilding their nuclear program would be prohibitive. Indeed, the only way they could do so was if sanctions were lifted, which they wouldn’t be if they continue to do so. So I think that that’s wrong. What some people are contemplating—and, you know, one would hope it doesn’t have to come to that—would be a strike on its nuclear—on its nuclear facilities, not an invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Khalidi?

RASHID KHALIDI: You can knock out facilities. You can’t knock out expertise. This is a country of 80 million people. This is a country with a much larger industrial base and capabilities than either Syria or Iraq had. There’s no real evidence that either of those countries had any serious nuclear weapons program. They had tiny reactors, which were destroyed, if in fact what was going on in Syria was a reactor. Iran is in a different—is in a different class. The Iranians have an extraordinary range of nuclear expertise. If they are attacked, unprovokedly, as is being proposed, I think there is a very, very great likelihood that they will develop nuclear weapons. They’ll feel they have no alternative.

To get back to Syria, which was your original question, I think the situation in Syria is moving towards a bloody impasse, a bloody civil war. A majority of the Syrian people clearly reject this regime. There is, however—and this is something people don’t want to look at, because it’s painful to look at—there is a base of support for this regime, not just among Alawis, not just among minorities. A very large sector of the business class supported it for a very long period of time. Now, that support is frittering away, but it has a much more powerful base, unfortunately, because this is going to prolong this conflict than many people are willing to accept.

I think an attack on Syria by external forces—the United States or whatever—would be the height of irresponsibility. It’s awful to see the Syrian regime pound cities like Hama or Homs or Rastan or Daraa. I was living in Lebanon when they attacked Hama—it was atrocious—back in 1982. What they’re doing is—

AMY GOODMAN: When Hafez al-Assad killed some 10,000 Syrian—

RASHID KHALIDI: When Hafez al-Assad—at least 10,000 people, probably many more. We don’t know. We’ll never know. They destroyed a very large section of the city. They killed enormous numbers of people. They haven’t yet reached that level of barbarity, but it may come. And what they’ve done on a smaller scale is atrocious. Nevertheless, this is a country with quite significant air defenses. This is a country with a military which has not yet broken down. An attack on Syria would be difficult and painful, and would probably unify the support for the regime in some respects. This is not Libya. This is not the open desert and a country that has no capability of defending itself. And this is why not just the United States, but Turkey, other countries that have actively supported the opposition, have not even suggested direct military intervention, which means that there is going to be a human tragedy, because this is a regime that will kill, and has been killing, in order to stay in power. I don’t see a split in the military that might solve the problem. It’s very, very hard to see the opposition—

AMY GOODMAN: Many soldiers defected.

RASHID KHALIDI: Soldiers, but not the high command. A unit—whole units have not yet broken away. And unfortunately, there are enough units that are tightly controlled, with Alawi commanders and so on and so forth, to continue this killing for quite a period, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of the Arab League?

RASHID KHALIDI: Well, there are two things. Most Arab countries have shifted to a position of opposition to this regime. Unfortunately, there is a leadership from Saudi Arabia and from Qatar which has been quite—how shall I say—really, really out front in pushing against the Saudi regime. You can see it on Al Jazeera. You can see it on Al Arabiya.

AMY GOODMAN: Against the Syrian regime.

RASHID KHALIDI: Against the Syrian regime. They’ve taken a very outspoken position against it, which, to some extent, I think, has been irresponsible, because the Arab League has done nothing to really support the uprising against the Syrians or to put real pressure on Syria, not that I think anybody else has done very much. I think it’s a very—it’s a tragic situation. And I don’t think it’s going to be resolved quickly. I agree with Mr. Tobin on this. Whatever the President and others may say, I don’t see this regime falling very quickly, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank Rashid Khalidi, professor at Columbia University of Arab studies, Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor at Commentary magazine.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, BP has reached a settlement with 120,000 victims of the oil spill of 2010. We’ll talk about it. Stay with us.

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