Stephen Biddle tackles US involvement in Syria

BY MAYA HOFFMAN ’20

Stephen Biddle, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University (GWU), gave a talk on “U.S. Policy and Strategy for Syria and ISIS” on Feb. 23. 

Biddle’s areas of expertise are “U.S. National security policy, military strategy and the conduct of war, technology in modern warfare [and] recent operations in the war on terror,” according to the GWU website. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard University and has been on the GWU faculty since 2012.

The talk was held in Skinner 216 — every seat in the room was taken. Francesca Dell’Acqua ’20, a double major in international relations and romance languages, attended the talk for personal, as well as academic, reasons. “I live in New York City,” said Dell’Acqua. “After 9/11, I feel it’s my duty to be more aware about what happens in the world and be more conscious of my surroundings.”

Biddle discussed why the U.S. is in Syria and Iraq, and whether or not we should be there at all and what we can hope to accomplish by being there. After providing a brief overview of America’s history with Iraq and Syria, he explored the “three vital national security interests” of the United States that have been used as justification for American intervention in these countries.

The first national security interest is to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria,” said Biddle. The second is the threat of foreign terrorism. Biddle devoted significant time to the second issue, discussing the myths and realities of foreign terrorism in the United States. 

He said that “the actual magnitude of the loss of lives and property in the U.S. from foreign actors is incredibly small... terrorism is a serious political management problem, not a problem for American citizens.” 

Susan Khan ’20, a math and economics double major, attended the lecture for information on ISIS. “I liked how he made the comparison of how more people die from road accidents than from foreign terrorists,” said Khan. “It shows how terrorism is not as serious of an issue as it seems right now and does not require as many resources as the ones that are being devoted to it.”

The third topic Biddle discussed was a focus on economics as justification for intervention. Many believe that if the U.S. is less involved in the Middle East, the resulting instability in the global economy would lead to an economic collapse. He believes that the economic concerns were relatively minor compared to the larger context of American economics. He concluded that the justifications were “not a slam dunk for, but not a slam dunk against” American intervention in Syria and Iraq.

Biddle then discussed how the U.S. has prioritized the fate of the Islamic State above all else in their foreign policy, which no other countries have done. 

The disconnect between American foreign policy interests and the interests of other countries’ results in the ineffective use of U.S. aid, Biddle said. Moving forward, he hopes that the U.S. will waste fewer lives, resources and taxes toward American intervention in Syria and Iraq.

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