Ex-Bush Official Warns the Administration: Don’t Rush on the Road to Damascus

Flynt L. Leverett
Flynt L. Leverett Senior Fellow, The Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings

March 31, 2005

AMY GOODMAN: “The sudden end of the regime headed by Bashar al-Assad would not necessarily advance American interests. Syrian society is at least as fractious as Iraq’s or Lebanon’s. The most likely near-term consequence of Mr. Assad’s departure would be chaos; the most likely political order to emerge from that chaos would be heavily Islamist. In the end, the most promising (if gradual) course for promoting reform in Syria is to engage and empower Mr. Assad, not to isolate and overthrow him.”

AMY GOODMAN: Those are the next—those are the words of our next guest, Flynt Leverett, Senior—he was the Senior Director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council from March 2002 to March 2003. He was involved in developing President Bush’s positions on the Israel/Palestine situation and advised the President and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on relations with Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Prior to joining the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett was the Middle East and counterterrorism expert on the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. Before that, he was senior C.I.A. analyst on Syria and Middle East Affairs. Flynt Leverett is currently a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute and author of the forthcoming book Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial By Fire . We welcome you to Democracy Now!

FLYNT LEVERETT: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s continue on what you were writing, that op-ed piece about Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon. What are you concerned about?

FLYNT LEVERETT: I’m concerned about a number of things. As your quote highlighted, I’m particularly concerned that what is going to happen is we are going to end up empowering Hezbollah without any real mitigation of Hezbollah’s paramilitary or terrorist identities. Hezbollah is a very multi-faceted organization. It is, in many ways, a legitimate Lebanese political movement. It is the largest single party in the Lebanese parliament, and that has to be acknowledged as part of Lebanon’s contemporary political reality. At the same time though, Hezbollah is the terrorist organization that before September 11th had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group in the world. Today it maintains an international terrorist network that is more capable of harming American interests than al Qaeda is; and I believe that the course we’re embarked on could very well result in a situation in which Hezbollah’s political influence, political stature, political standing in Lebanon and in the region is increased, but we’re not going to get Hezbollah’s disarmament or any constraint on Hezbollah’s paramilitary and terrorist activities.

Read and listen to the complete interview at