Sunday, August 31, 2014
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Where's the Syria policy??

Growing frustration in Congress with administration policy on Syria - or lack thereof - was in full view at Senate Foreign Relations hearings Thursday - and it was bipartisan.

Where's the Syria policy??

FILE - In this March 5, 2013 file photo, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks in Washington. The murky allegations involving Menendez, one of his top donors and prostitutes in the Dominican Republic have twisted in confusing directions this week. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
FILE - In this March 5, 2013 file photo, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. speaks in Washington. The murky allegations involving Menendez, one of his top donors and prostitutes in the Dominican Republic have twisted in confusing directions this week. (Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Growing frustration in Congress with administration policy on Syria – or lack thereof – was in full view at Senate Foreign Relations hearings Thursday. For a minute, it almost looked like Sen. John McCain (R. AZ) might come to blows with the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. And Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D, NJ got pretty frustrated, too.

McCain grew irate when Ford said that Syrian civilian and military leaders were “grateful” for U.S. aid. Saying he had spoken to those leaders, and to Syrian refugees, McCain said they were bitter at the United States and he understood why.

“We’ve watched as more than 80,000 were massacred and we’ve given them MREs (meals-read-to-eat) with an expiration date of June,” McCain said. He was referring to the administration’s refusal to arm Syrian rebels, while only belatedly deciding to provide them with army rations, and possibly with body armor.

“I can understand why a fighter in Syria are not comforted by the fact they might get a flak jacket when he’s being pounded by SCUD missiles and airpower, or that we might give non-lethal aid while arms flow in from Iran and Russia to prop up Assad.” Ford grimaced and looked like he was gritting his teeth.

The frustration with U.S. policy was bipartisan. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Robert Casey, who just came back from the Turkish border, talked about the growing humanitarian disaster as hundreds of thousands of refugees pour out of Syria, which threatens to stabilize neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Menendez kept trying, with no success, to prod Ford to explain how the administration expected to get a political solution, when the Syrian regime won’t negotiate, and military conflict is stalemated. “What IS the political solution….and the tipping point?” he kept asking. But he never got a clear answer.

Ford talked glowingly about the kind of durable and sustainable peace the White House wants after Assad, but he gave no credible explanation of how the administration believes we can get there.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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