U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement today at a Joint Subcommittee hearing on the Syrian conflict. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"I thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Bass for jointly holding this hearing today.
Now in its third year, the Syrian conflict has caused unspeakable damage to the people of Syria; it has placed a heavy burden on Syria's neighbors -- like our ally Jordan, which has taken in over 600,000 refugees even though it strains the Kingdom's security and economic situation, and Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.
It has also seriously jeopardized the safety of our friend and ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel.
This humanitarian tragedy has resulted in the deaths of at least 100,000 over the last two years and has forced more than 2.2 million Syrians -- around 10 percent of the population of the country -- to flee to neighboring countries, and over five million Syrians are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
This situation remains bleak and continues to get only worse with each passing day. Disease outbreaks are rampant in Syria, with Polio, Measles, Typhoid and Hepatitis A all on the rise. Children are malnourished, they are not getting an education, and they can be easily radicalized by those extremists who prey upon those most susceptible.
Anti-American attitudes are being spread by extremists, as refugee camps become breeding grounds for terrorist groups to spread their radical ideologies and recruit young people to join their ranks. The harsh living conditions in these camps also leave women vulnerable to exploitation by sex traffickers, where girls are forced into "short-term marriages" for money to help support their families.
Christian communities in Syria have taken a huge toll in this conflict, as Christians are being targeted for kidnapping, torture and murder by radical Islamists who hate them just for being Christians, and many of their homes, churches and neighborhoods have been destroyed. And there is no end in sight.
Yet this Administration, whose foreign policy has been plagued with inconsistencies and paralyzed by indecision, has not moved to take decisive action. And not just in Syria, but across the region -- in Egypt, in Iran and elsewhere.
Time and time again the Administration takes half-measures or no measures, and its indecision has eroded our credibility in the region, has greatly reduced our leverage over some of these nations, and it has severely strained our relations with many of our allies. And it has done so all for what?
Assad still remains in power even after he used chemical weapons to murder hundreds of his own people; extremists still roam the country targeting those who do not share their strict view of Islam, and yet the Administration thinks it would be a good idea to provide arms to these people who hate us as much as they do Assad.
So we have sacrificed our standing in the region for the possibility of eliminating chemical weapons, but we still leave the ruthless dictator in power. And no one has been made accountable -- not for the chemical weapons use, not for the deaths of over 100,000 Syrians, not for the targeted attacks on Christians or other religious and ethnic minority groups.
President Obama took quite some time to get around to the idea that Assad must be removed from office, but now after the chemical weapons use and the U.S.-Russian Framework agreement, it seems the Administration's position is now that Assad can stay as long as he plays nice on chemical weapons.
We took a back seat to Moscow when it has been Russia who has been backing Assad and giving him the supplies and weapons he needs to continue to murder his own people. This is the same Russia that blocked every effort we tried to make at the UN to hold Assad accountable for his actions, and stonewalls our attempts to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable.
And now we expect Russia to take the lead and really hold Assad's feet to the fire over his transgressions. What kind of message does this send to the people of Syria who are being slaughtered and forced to flee or to our enemies, and most importantly, to our allies?
Assad must be held accountable -- but when it comes to the Syrian War Crimes Tribunal, we must ensure that those behind these atrocities are held accountable without placing our brave men and women in jeopardy and out of our jurisdiction."