Hearing of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee - "A Crisis Mismanaged: Obama's Failed Syria Policy"


By:  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Date: June 5, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

It's been over two years since the popular uprisings sparked up across Syria against
al-Assad and his murderous regime. Amidst the backdrop of the Arab Spring,
thousands of Syrians demonstrated against Assad calling for the despotic ruler to
step down, to release political prisoners, and institute democratic reforms. These
protesters were met swiftly with the harsh hand of Assad as he unleashed his police
who doled out brutal beatings upon the demonstrators, resulting in many deaths.

Now as we enter our third year of this conflict, the Assad regime has been
responsible for the murder of over 80,000 Syrians, and over 1.5 million people
have fled seeking refuge in other countries. This Administration had an
opportunity to support the demonstrators from the beginning who took to the
streets demanding that Assad step down. Yet, just like it failed to voice a full
throated support for the demonstrators in Iran after the 2009 elections, it was
deafeningly silent and failed to advance the cause for democratic reform.

Instead of supporting the popular uprisings from the onset and immediately calling
for Assad to step down, President Obama waited five months to publically call for
his removal. The delayed response also allowed for extremist groups and al-Qaeda
affiliates to move in and co-opt the movement, setting up the bloody conflict that
we see every day.

There are tens of thousands dead, millions who have been displaced, and the
conflict continues to spiral out of control. It has placed an incredible burden on our
allies in the region, like Jordan which takes in thousands of Syrian refugees daily
and rightfully fears what might come next should the fighting spillover into its own

But I understand that there are no perfect solutions to this crisis. Each option
before us has its risks, but I firmly believe that what we need is a political solution
in Syria -- we cannot shoot our way out of this mess.

We need to work with our allies in the region who fear the repercussions of a protracted conflict in Syria, and we need to address the serious issue of Moscow continuing to arm the regime. An influx of Russian arms into Syria has escalated this battle and has helped prop up Assad.

If Moscow does not cease arming the regime, the United States should reevaluate
our relationship with Russia. Together with my colleague Brad Sherman, I
introduced H.R. 893 -- the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation
Accountability Act -- that would address this issue head on.

I have always, and will continue to believe we should not arm the rebels. There is
just no way of guaranteeing that they will remain loyal to the U.S. and would be
willing to promote democratic principles and respect human rights post-Assad. The
opposition is too fractured and too convoluted to be able to ensure that the arms
don't eventually end up in the wrong hands that may one day turn these weapons
against us or our allies like Israel.

What we should be focusing on is breaking the Iran-Hezbollah-Assad link, because
if Assad falls today, I fear what will happen tomorrow. Syria is the lynchpin that
holds Iran's strategic influence into the greater Middle East. Should Assad fall,
Iran and Hezbollah might quickly move to fill the power vacuum;

And should Iran and Hezbollah get a hold of Syria's chemical weapons, not only
would this cause greater tensions in the region and seriously endanger our friend
and ally, Israel, but it could spark an even greater conflict.

The President had repeatedly warned that the utilization or the moving around of
chemical weapons in Syria would change his calculus, and is a red line that should
not be passed. Reports suggest that chemical weapons have been used on a hand
full of occasions, yet the United States has balked at calling it so.

In doing so it sent a message - not just to Assad and the opposition, but to other
countries such as Iran, Egypt and North Korea, who seek to test our will - that we
will not indeed hold our line in the sand.

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