Mr. Kucinich goes to Damascus
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich goes where seasoned diplomats and Middle East experts fear to tread. Is that a wise move?
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Saying the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is "running out of time" she placed the blame for the country's violence squarely on the president and his supporters.
"We regret the loss of life and we regret the violence, but this choice is up to the Syrian government," Clinton told reporters. "And, right now, we're looking for action not words and we haven't seen enough of that."
Mr. Assad has ruled Syria since 2000, when his father Hafez died. The elder Mr. Assad took power in 1971, strengthening one-party rule in his time in office and expanding the surveillance and repression of Syria's citizenry. Bashar has carried on the family tradition, notwithstanding the fact that many in the West praised him as a likely "reformer." At least 1,500 Syrians have died in the government's ongoing crackdown against demands for political change and Assad has shown no signs of giving in. It's hard to see why he would, since a truly open political system would almost certainly spell the end for the power and privilege of his friends and family.
But at least one man continues to hold out hope that Assad will find his inner reformer: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio. Though a Democrat, he's been sharply out of step with the Obama administration. He criticized US participation in the NATO air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and has said on multiple occasions that he has hope that Assad will bow to demands for political change.
His visit to Damascus this week got off to a predictable start. After meeting with a group of hand-picked local journalists earlier this week, the state news agency quoted Mr. Kucinich as saying Assad "is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians" and that Assad "cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this."
Kucinich responded by issuing a statement that he was "misquoted" and it's certainly hard to imagine the "highly loved" comment having come out of his mouth, whatever his political views. But he has frequently in recent months expressed confidence in Assad, and even after having words put in his mouth by what amounts to a regime mouthpiece, he is willing to give Assad the benefit of the doubt.
"Arab-speaking friends accompanying me have explained that the problem may have come from a mistranslation as well as the degree of appreciation and affection their state-sponsored media has for President Assad," his statement says. "It is up to the people of Syria to decide the future of their government. There is a process of national dialogue beginning and this process is important. It is important that the Assad government listen carefully to the just demands and act positively to fulfill the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria."
In May, he made it clear in an interview with The Plain Dealer of Cleveland that he doesn't see Assad as the sole problem in Syria and shifted some of the blame for the violence on to the country's protesters. "We also understand that there's very serious questions raised about the conduct of the Syrian police, but we also know the Syrian police were fired upon and that many police were murdered," Kucinich told the paper. "I've read where President Assad has made certain commitments, and I would imagine that when things finally settle down, that President Assad will move in a direction of democratic reforms... He has already made that commitment from what I can see."