The Debate on Syria

Not too long ago, if one wanted to get into a debate about Syrian politics, there was really only one place to go: Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment blog, where I cut my teeth as a thread-lurker. The site’s comment boards played host to an international fraternity of political junkies: Arab nationalists, SSNP pan-Syrianists, Lebanese resistance supporters and regime haters, Israeli hawks and doves, menhebbakjiyyeh avant la lettre, etc.

Today, Syria Comment is still going strong, but there are so many other places to get into an argument about Syrian politics. There’s an op-ed about Syria in a major newspaper pretty much every day alongside a flood of nonstop coverage on the wires and cable news channels, plus an explosion of personal commentary in the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook. Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about Syria, and the range of opinions and perspectives is dizzying.

The trouble is, the conversation is sounding less and less like a debate, and more like a collection of stump speeches. Twitter’s 140 character limit and Facebook’s “Like” button create a rhetorical economy that rewards ringing slogans and absurd overstatements rather than measured reflections. In this environment, there is less incentive to start a conversation with someone you disagree with, and so the exchanges tend to be full of back-slapping and hear-hear-ing by fellow travelers, rather than serious give-and-take.

I thought I’d try to do something different here. The idea is to cajole several friends and acquaintances who are writing on Syria these days into joining a conversation. These include, but are not limited to: Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, Joshua Landis, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Randa Slim, Bilal Saab, Rime Allaf, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Sharmine Narwani, Andrew Tabler, Emile Hokayem, Michael Young, Andrew Exum, Nadim Shehadi, Bassam Haddad, As`ad Abu Khalil, Blake Hounshell, Sean Lee, Steven Heydemann, Marc Lynch, Mustapha Hamoui, Nick Noe, David Kenner, Maysaloon, Ehsani, Off The Wall, Jiim-Siin, and others. The point of departure will be Foreign Policy‘s recent round-table of articles entitled, “What the Hell Should We Do About Syria?” How convinced are you by any of the solutions/perspectives put forward? What would you have proposed instead? Is there a role for outside powers (the UN, the Arab League, Russia, China, etc.) to play in Syria?

I am not under any illusion that everyone will join this conversation, but if I can convince a half dozen friends who disagree with each other but are willing to do so in a respectful and productive manner, maybe this will be interesting. As people join the conversation, I will paste links to their most recent commentaries below.

Let the games begin!

Commentary by debate participants


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