Boston University students and a panel of political science professors gathered Thursday to discuss issues relevant to the United States’ involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Professor Graham Wilson, chair of BU’s political science department, said he organized the panel in response to increasing interest in the conflict in Syria as well as the response of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.
During the discussion, both students and professors argued the implications of U.S. actions in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his own people.
“We have got this tremendous power in the world, whether we use it or we make a decision not to use it,” Wilson said. “We always face a choice in the United States because we have the capacity to do something.”
Political Science professors Rosella Cappella, Douglas Kriner, David Mayers and Neta Crawford provided different views on the Syrian conflict. While Capella and Crawford specialize in international relations issues, Kriner has knowledge on American politics and Meyers has a more historical perspective of diplomatic issues, Wilson said.
“Perhaps the future historian will see more calculation and reason in the White House than is apparent to many of us today, unable as we are to see past the blur of fast-breaking events,” Mayers said during the panel. “… The Syrian civil war is not a problem that the U.S. can solve. At best, it is a condition that merely can be managed.”
He also said U.S. officials may do more harm than good by stepping in.
“The United States can aggravate the tragic Syrian condition by, in effect, throwing gasoline on a raging fire which, in turn, would not burn out until after taking an unpredictable and even more dangerous course than it is now running,” Mayers said.
Wilson was pleased by the quality of discussion, he said.
“I was thrilled by the turnout,” he said. “People asked great questions. I thought the fact that so many people came on a beautiful Thursday evening and asked such great questions says wonderful things about BU undergraduates.”
Kriner said he also enjoyed the discussion fostered by the panel.
“I was blown away by the number of students that were here, the level of engagement, the quality of the questions, the breadth of the discussion,” he said.
Because the panelists were of varying academic backgrounds, each brought something different to the table, Kriner said.
“I can’t think of a better group of people to give widely varying perspectives on the issues that we faced today,” he said.
He said it is important for the American public to form an opinion on issues surrounding the conflict in Syria because the U.S. remains a global superpower.
“If we aren’t talking about it at an elite institution of higher learning, where are the opinion leaders going to be?” he said. “Where are they going to come from? I think everyone should be talking about it.”
CAS junior Katrina Castner, an international relations major, said she enjoyed the varying points of view provided by the professors.
“It [the panel] was a really well-rounded group,” she said. “I assumed everyone would take more or less the same stance, and I really like the diversity of their answers.”
Castner said while the panel didn’t change her mind on any specific issues, it broadened her view on implications of the Syrian conflict for the rest of the world.
“It [the discussion] wasn’t only about Syria,” she said. “We were also able to pull in the other international ramifications of either Russia’s actions, our actions or Syria’s actions.”
CAS sophomore Julie George, a political science major, said the discussion was worthwhile and insightful.
“It was great that they [the professors on the panel] could come out and say their opinions so freely, especially with our questions about Syria, the legitimacy of the removal of chemical weapons, and their opinions about the civilians that are protesting and the violence that’s occurring right now,” she said.
George also said the varying backgrounds of each panelist added to the conversation.
“It definitely opened up my mind to a world of perspectives, especially with our IR and political science perspectives,” she said. “So it was great to see different points of views.”