I’m an American history teacher with a university background in Middle East Studies. I am also a former archaeologist and past resident of Syria (summer ’92) who has experienced firsthand the amazing warmth, generosity, and friendship of its people.
For the past few months, I’ve taken a particularly keen interest in the war as it was being fought rather fiercely in the area where I had formerly lived (Tell Nebi Mend, near both Qusayr and Homs).
I’ve made a dedicated effort to educate myself about the conflict – having read numerous articles from multiple sources and compared that information with what I already knew from my time in Syria. I came to the inescapable conclusion that much of what was being reported in mainstream media sources in the West was highly prejudiced and wildly inaccurate.
As a result, I dug deeper and joined a group on Facebook called “The Syrian Revolution; the Untold Story” where I was able to read articles and to exchange views with many well-educated and interested people about the true nature of the conflict.
As it became apparent to me that an effort was underway to increase U.S. involvement in Syria, I did what any patriotic American should do: I contacted all of my elected representatives to share my views with them, adamantly opposing any effort to arm the rebels. I have so far received responses from all of them, except President Obama (nevertheless, I do expect a response from the White House).
The following is a response to an e-mail I had sent several weeks ago to Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator, Bob Casey:
[box type=”shadow”]Dear Unknown L.: (Unknown – nice touch, don’t you think?)
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about Syria. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.
Beginning in March 2011 with demonstrations, the Syrian people have courageously challenged President Bashar al Assad’s repressive regime, demanding basic human rights and greater democratic representation. The Syrian regime has responded with terrible violence against its citizens, including the use of weapons of war, torture, arbitrary executions, sexual violence, and interference with access to medical treatment.
Over the course of the past two years, the Assad regime has unleashed a barrage of unspeakable terror across the country with the sole aim of remaining in power. At least 93,000 people have been killed and countless injured, according to the United Nations. More than one million refugees continue to flee to neighboring countries, taxing the limits of those countries’ capacity and creating a regional crisis. Further an estimated 2.5 million Syrians are internally displaced. The United Nations estimates that more than 4 million Syrians are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. As this devastating crisis continues and the flow of refugees escalates, the need for humanitarian assistance grows even more crucial. I strongly support greater humanitarian and refugee assistance in this deplorable crisis.
This inexcusable brutality of the Assad regime prompted me to call for Assad to step down in August 2011 so that the Syrian people can pursue a peaceful transition to democracy. Earlier that year, I cosponsored a resolution expressing support for peaceful demonstrations and universal freedom in Syria and condemning the human rights violations by the Assad regime. I was proud to chair Ambassador Robert Ford’s confirmation hearing on August 2, 2011. Ambassador Ford has been an outstanding advocate for American interests and values with respect to Syria, and has supported Syrian citizens in their struggle for democratic change. In light of the deteriorating security situation and escalating violence in the country, I also chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs hearing on U.S. policy in Syria on November 9, 2011.
In October 2011, I called for the establishment of a “Friends of the Syrian People” contact group, which could serve as a main point of international engagement for the democratic opposition and the Syrian people. I hoped that the formation of such a group, with the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and other regional countries at its core, would send a clear message of international solidarity in support of democratic change in Syria. On February 24, 2012, this idea was realized when representatives of more than 60 nations and international organizations held a meeting under the auspices of the “Friends of Syria” in Tunisia.
Throughout 2012, I worked to support the Syrian people in their struggle against the Assad regime’s ongoing brutality. In February 2012, I introduced S.Res. 370, a resolution calling for democratic change in Syria. The resolution calls for Assad to step down and voices support for a democratic and inclusive Syrian government that holds accountable those responsible for violations of human rights. The Senate unanimously approved a similar resolution on February 16, 2012. In addition, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing entitled “Syria: The Crisis and Its Implications” on March 1. At the hearing, I emphasized the importance of providing humanitarian and medical assistance to those affected by this conflict.
I have repeatedly called for a more robust U.S. response to the crisis in Syria. Not only should the U.S. be more engaged due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, but also to decrease Iran’s influence in the region. Iran has sought to bolster the regime in Damascus, its only true ally in the region, by providing weapons, logistical support and tactical advice to the Syrian government forces. Iran has also used Syria as a channel for support to Hezbollah, which has substantially increased its arsenal of rockets and missiles after its 2006 war against Israel. As such, degrading the power of Iran and Hezbollah is in the interest of regional security and U.S. national security.
I have also called for a greater effort by the U.S. to better coordinate international support for the moderate Syrian opposition. Increased coordinated efforts and support by the international community can lead to a more cohesive and synchronized opposition movement and strengthen the position of moderate elements within Syria. I believe that a political transition to a government that reflects the will of the Syrian people is in the core interests of the United States in the region. Moreover, this change would align with our values of supporting the democratic process and the basic rights and freedoms that should be enjoyed by all people, regardless of religion, ethnicity or gender.
On March 19, 2013, I chaired a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs hearing titled “Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis.” The hearing focused on the men, women and children who suffer daily, despite the courageous efforts of aid providers. I expressed concerns about the plight of refugees fleeing from the oppressive regime in Syria. While highlighting the constructive and crucial work that the State Department, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implementing partners have done in a difficult situation, I also am concerned that assistance to Syrian refugees is not reaching those who need it most.
In June 2013, the United Nations launched its largest humanitarian aid request in history for approximately $5 billion to assist the increasing number of people affected by the crisis in Syria. The UN estimates that 6.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that fifty percent of the refugees are children under the age of 17; twenty percent are 4 years old or younger; and around thirty percent are women. Many displaced persons remain unregistered, either due to lack of UN capacity or out of fear of discrimination.
The main challenges to providing assistance inside Syria are insecurity and the lack of a UN mandate. Recently, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) began negotiating the delivery of aid across battle lines, from government-controlled to rebel-held areas. The U.S. is providing some assistance directly to international aid organizations, which are crossing the border with only tacit support from the Turkish government. The growing number of refugees also continues to strain the economies and security of neighboring countries.
As the need for greater humanitarian assistance and a stronger U.S. response to the conflict only continues to increase, I proudly introduced S. 617, the Syria Democratic Transition Act of 2013 on March 19 with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. This bill includes a combination of humanitarian assistance, non-lethal equipment and training to the vetted elements of the Free Syrian Army, and sanctions against elements of the regime. Key provisions from this legislation were included as amendments to S. 960, the Syria Transition Support Act. One amendment specifically would require the administration to impose sanctions on entities that provide surface-to-surface or surface-to-air missiles, like the SA20s or S300s, to the Assad regime. Another amendment would authorize the Administration to vote, at the UN or its agencies or other international organizations, in favor of additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria; and would authorize bilateral assistance to countries hosting Syrian refugees (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt).Obama written on a sidewalk in Toronto with chalk.
In April 2013, I was fortunate to visit Turkey where I met with activists and leadership from the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. I discussed the Syrian Democratic Transition Act. I also had the opportunity to visit the Kilis refugee camp on the border with Syria where I met with Syrian refugees and toured the facilities. I was honored to meet with refugees from the crisis in Syria and learn firsthand the terrible impact that the Assad regime has had on its own people. During this visit, I reiterated my call for the U.S. to do more to stop the killing in Syria, including considering using our Patriot missile batteries in Turkey to intercept SCUD missiles in Syria, or take steps to degrade the Syrian air force, which continues to conduct strikes on innocent civilians.
Mounting evidence of chemical weapons underscores the imperative that the U.S. stand with the people of Syria during this critical period. On April 24, I joined a bipartisan group of Senators in asking President Obama whether the Assad regime had used chemical weapons. In June 2013, UN investigators said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals have been used in some attacks in Syria and later that month President Obama confirmed that Assad has crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against his own people.
The United States and Russia reportedly support peace talks on the conflict in Syria to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in the coming months. In a statement issued by the State Department on May 31, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced that the United States has not ruled out including Iran as a partner in these talks. She also stated that it is important that the United States work with their partners to determine who will participate in the negotiations, and confirmed that no decisions about who will participate have been finalized. A second round of preparatory talks, hosted by Lakhdar Brahmini, the UN peace envoy to Syria, were scheduled to take place beginning on June 25. Please be assured that I will have your concerns in mind as I continue to closely monitor the situation in Syria.
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.
For more information on this or other issues, I encourage you to visit my website, http://casey.senate.gov/. I hope you will find this online office a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.
United States Senator[/box]
First of all, you should know that out of all of my elected representative’s responses, Senator Bob Casey’s was the most positive and sympathetic! The others were much less so – so believe me when I say that I’m not picking on Casey! Nevertheless, this is my response to his response:
[box type=”shadow”]Dear Senator Casey,
I am writing this in response to your response that I received today to an e-mail I recently sent regarding the conflict in Syria. First of all, so far as I can tell, you do not seem to support arming the jihadist forces arrayed against the people and government of Syria. For that, I would sincerely like to thank you. Nevertheless, I must question some of the assertions that you made in your response.
First, I have heard many accusations being made by U.S. officials and members of the mainstream media that the Syrian government is primarily responsible for the atrocities and devastation that continue to afflict the Syrian people. Yet, literally every eyewitness account that I have seen regarding these attacks indicate that they are being carried out by the rebels, especially the tens of thousands of foreign jihadists supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Please furnish me with evidence that would convince me that your version of events is indeed the correct one.
Second, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, of the more than 93,000 dead some 43% were backers of the government. That certainly does not seem to indicate a massacre by the Assad regime.
Third, according to a recent NATO study, some 70% of the Syrian population back the Assad regime. Some 20% remain neutral, while only 10% of the people – most of whom are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood – support the rebels.
Fourth, to my knowledge, no credible evidence has been made public supporting the assertion that Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons against anyone, whereas serious questions regarding chemical weapons usage by rebel forces have seemingly been ignored. Russia has recently submitted the results of its own investigations to the U.N. for independent review. Why hasn’t the U.S. and its allies done the same?
Fifth, since when have GCC member states been credible supporters of democratic change anywhere – especially their own countries?
Sixth, what real prospect is there for a democratic state in Syria when significant numbers of rebels, if not an outright majority, are seeking to establish an Islamic Caliphate? If that is so, what interest does the U.S. have in supporting these rebels?
Seventh, I applaud your support of increased humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. However, is not this policy of “degrading the power of Iran and Hezbollah” (which, in my opinion, is what this war is really all about anyway) what’s really responsible for creating them in the first place?
Eighth, is it not true that most of Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities support the government and are fearful of a rebel victory? Don’t most of them feel that they might be slaughtered in retribution for their support?
I have more questions that I could ask, but I will refrain until I get satisfactory responses to these. Suffice it to say that I sincerely hope that you will take these questions seriously, as I certainly do. I look forward to your response.
Jeffrey S. L.[/box]
My point is this: that those of us who are American citizens – or even citizens of other Western democracies – NEED to keep up the pressure on our elected representatives to let them know what we know – and how we really feel about this conflict, and that they will ultimately be held accountable at the ballot box.
The above text was sent to us by a reader from the United States of America on the topic Syria and his activities, research and the correspondence with Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator, Bob Casey. We have shortened the real name of the author.