We Think: Decide on Assad

April 23, 2017.

It is not every day that Loudoun County politicians weigh in on international affairs, much less on geo-political considerations like the civil war in Syria.

That war has splintered Syria, and there’s no end or predictable outcome in sight. U.S. foreign policy in the Obama Administration was lacking in both unified purpose and projection. Even the Trump Administration’s retaliatory missile strike, while bold, was taken without any apparent semblance of a strategy or even common talking points.

Syria is ground zero for so many things.

  • The well-documented use of chemical weapons by forces of president Bashar al-Assad to kill opponents and civilians — even before the recent episode that some have questioned.
  • The competition of the U.S. and Russia for influence in the Middle East — a chess game that may decide a new sphere of influence and bolster president Vladimir Putin’s dream of Russian hegemony, or not.
  • The record number of refugees, by some estimates nearly five million of whom have fled Syria for nations around the world, with millions more displaced. On this America is divided on whether we should accept them and, if so, how many and on what terms.
  • The insidious efforts of Iran to project its influence by fomenting and funding terrorism in Syria and throughout the world.
  • And ISIS and its acolytes. This is Al-Qaeda 2.0 with the same viciousness, perversion of Islam and internet savvy, but a lot more money. While ISIS appears to be in retreat in Iraq (for now), it’s still in a position to wreak havoc in Syria and gain influence as a result of the nation’s civil war.

All this in a nation of 18 million people that’s the size of Oklahoma and surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. No wonder American politicians and policymakers should pay close attention, even those here in Virginia whose voices may make a difference.

As Virginians, we should expect U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to opine. We should expect the same from Rep. Barbara Comstock and other members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, though most have said little. This is important stuff, and goes to the heart of why the federal government exists: to protect the security of the United States.

Oddly, the political figure from Virginia who has been most outspoken about Syria is not one of those, but rather state Sen. Richard H. “Dick” Black of Loudoun County, an unabashed conservative and supporter of Assad whose letter on the topic was recently published by the Tribune.

We think Senator Black has an extraordinary life story. We admire his military service and fearlessness as a champion for those things he holds dear. But we’re not persuaded by his position on Assad, though we give him credit for spurring the conversation.

Any discussion about Syria and American foreign policy must be conducted with one’s eyes wide open. Putin is not a good guy, as president Trump is now appreciating. And any world leader who holds on to power by using barrel bombs and chemical weapons against his own people — whether enemies or civilians caught up in the lethal collateral damage — is nothing less than a monster.

If Assad is such a leader, then his behavior is not only in contravention to international law and civilized behavior, it’s also the behavior of a well-educated and experienced political figure who knows the consequences of what he’s doing and does it anyhow.

So either the Trump Administration, the U.S. military and others around the world are grossly misguided about Assad, or it is Assad and his Russian puppetmasters who are trying to deceive the rest of us.

We’ve come to expect disinformation from Putin and from despots on the ropes. History is full of examples, and Saddam’s Iraq comes to mind. We rightfully hold American politicians to a higher standard, expecting them to eschew disinformation and convenient rationalizations, and to deal only with facts.

Until proven otherwise, we’re siding with the Administration when it comes to Assad, and we urge Sen. Black to press for unequivocal evidence that supports or refutes his point of view.

The American people are owed all the facts as the new Administration sets its policy on Syria.