Hussein Malla/AP
Syrian citizens who live in Lebanon shout slogans and carry a big portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as they walk towards the Syrian embassy to vote in the presidential election, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, May 28, 2014. A Virginia state senator praised Assad and his army for protecting Syria's Christians and the small Jewish community in Damascus.

Syria's Assad, an American hero? One Virginia politician thinks so.

In a two-page letter, a Virginia state senator praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for, among other things, taking on America’s ‘arch-enemy’ Al Qaeda. Mr. Assad posted the letter on his Facebook page.

Bashar al-Assad, an American hero?

A Virginia state senator thinks so – to the point where he recently wrote a two-page letter of praise to the Syrian president for his “heroic” defense of religious minorities and for taking on America’s “arch-enemy” Al Qaeda.

Evidently thrilled with the adulation from unexpected quarters, Mr. Assad – more frequently referred to in the West these days as the butcher of Damascus for his regime’s indiscriminate bombing and blasting of the Syrian civilian population – posted the letter on his Facebook page. 

And why not? President Obama might still believe that he “must go,” and other Western leaders and international human rights institutions blame Assad for the bulk of the 150,000 largely civilian deaths tallied in the three-year-old conflict. But here was at least one American seeing the Syrian civil war as Assad does – as a merciless fight pitting order and secular power against jihadist terrorists.

Richard Black, a Republican representing northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, heaps praise on Assad and his army for protecting Syria’s Christians and the small Jewish community in Damascus. Senator Black says he is “grateful” to Assad for “following the practice of your father” and allowing Syria’s Christians and Jews to practice their faith.

But the focus of the Virginia politician’s letter is on Assad’s valiant and “misunderstood” battle against jihadist fighters carrying the flag of Al Qaeda. He claims that Americans who believe Assad is resisting a moderate and democratic opposition have been “tricked” into supporting the same terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Black tells Assad that only he stands in the way of jihadists who would “turn airliners into fireballs” at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

“I pray that the Syrian armed forces will continue to exhibit extraordinary gallantry in the war against terrorists,” he concludes.

The letter, dated April 1, was posted Sunday on Assad’s Facebook page.

Black stands apart from the more typical Republican view on Syria. Most on the right consider that there is a valid moderate opposition fighting Assad – but that President Obama has failed to provide rebel fighters with the arms they need to defeat the Syrian ruler.

If anything, Mr. Obama is faulted for excessive timidity as a result of his concern that US-provided arms could fall into the “wrong hands” – specifically, the extremist and in some cases Al Qaeda-affiliated groups that Black is talking about.

Black’s letter has raised eyebrows in Washington and in Richmond, Va., where at least one of Black’s Democratic colleagues called the missive “bizarre” and advised the state legislator to stick to Virginia’s business.

Some Middle East experts have noted that, following Black’s reasoning, President Bush would have left Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq, because under him Iraq’s Christians lived peacefully and faced little threat even as Mr. Hussein ruthlessly subdued the country’s Shiite majority. A few say Black has a point, and they cite Afghanistan, where the United States supported “freedom fighters” in the 1980s who ended up harboring Al Qaeda and the 9/11 masterminds.

In any case, Black is not apologizing for his ode to Assad or for reducing the range of Syrian opposition groups to Al Qaeda. In an interview Wednesday with Washington radio station WAMU, the retired Marine colonel said Americans have already forgotten the lessons of 9/11 and are allowing their government to aid jihadists against a civilized defender of religious freedom.

“Americans have fought against Al Qaeda for 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Black said. “I find it abhorrent that we train and equip those same men to fight against American interests in Syria.”

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