White House ‘wall’ repels Syrian rebel leaders

The Washington Times | Gracy Howard | Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Almost every quote below is misquote, or taken out of context. But, for the “historical record of things,” here it is.  

Syrian opposition leaders fear President Obama’s re-election campaign has taken precedence over their country’s humanitarian crisis, according to a delegation that visited Washington, D.C., last week.

Representatives from the Syrian National Council, Syria’s largest rebel alliance, and Kurdish opposition leaders met members of Congress and the State Department, but say they hit a “wall” at the White House.Syria’s freedom fighters face continued slaughter and potential genocide at the hands of President Bashar Assad. They have expressed a desperate need for U.S. aid but say Mr. Obama seems to have sidelined the humanitarian crisis in Syria while he focuses on his re-election campaign and Russian diplomatic tensions.

“There has been a definite pushback from Obama’s administration,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist and author who coordinated the delegation’s trip. Mr. Abdulhamid described the current White House administration as a “black box” of secrecy. Mr. Abdulhamid said he sent an email to the White House to request a meeting but never heard back. He blamed that on a technical glitch rather than purposeful negligence, but also noted the administration’s policy of noninterference in Syria.

“They are not considering seriously enough the lives of Syrians lost every day,” said Molham Aldrobi, a representative of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

Kurdish delegate Djengizkhan Hasso described U.S. apathy as “extraordinary” considering the security interests at stake. Without U.S. financial or military aid,
Mr. Hasso said, rebels will likely turn to Muslim extremists for support. Al Qaeda or Hezbollah could use Syria to advance their own interests, he said, or even traffic weapons of mass destruction into neighboring countries.

The Syrian opposition also worries that Assad’s brutal tactics have a genocidal purpose. The recent massacres at Houla and Qatar, as well as the military crackdown in Homs, are not just an escalation of civil war: Mr. Abdulhamid believes Assad is attempting to ethnically cleanse Syria of Sunni Muslims. In the latest massacres, more than 186 Sunnis were shot, stabbed and torched to death. The Syrian death toll on Friday alone approached 200.

The five Syrian delegates said their meetings with Congress and the State Department were characterized by distance and evasiveness. While Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has offered his wholehearted support to the rebels, other Republicans have opposed any military intervention in Syria. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, hosted the delegation’s visit to the Senate but did not join the meeting himself.

Some U.S. politicians have cited discord among Syria’s freedom fighters as a reason to withhold support – but delegate Bassam Al-kuwatli said that is merely an excuse meant to delay a substantive decision on the Syrian situation.

The SNC represents various opposition movements. The delegates visiting Washington last week included a liberal, two Kurds and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The SNC says it has also established firm ties with the Free Syrian Army, a formation of Syrian soldiers and officers who defected to defend protesters from state violence.

“That is why I brought them here,” said Mr. Abdulhamid. “I wanted the U.S. to see that the Kurds, Muslim Brotherhood and liberals could sit together and work together.”

The SNC wants to form a government that offers safety and equality to Syria’s minority population, which comprises 45 percent of the country. They plan to create a completely secular federal state modeled after the United States. In support of the plan, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood drafted a resolution affirming the rights of all ethnicities and religions, and women, too.

The council’s leader is Kurdish, representing one of Syria’s most prevalent minority groups. Mr. Abdulhamid believes the Kurds will be the “gel” that holds Syria together: they are strongly unified, and can project assurance to other minority groups.

In addition, the council believes Western backing would allay the fears of minorities and prevent Syria from becoming a tool in the hands of neighboring countries. But without U.S. aid, they said, freedom fighters could not overthrow Assad or establish control in Syria.

Mr. Abdulhamid fears that the Obama administration has prioritized Iran nuclear concerns over Syria, and will not risk fallout with Russia by aiding the rebels.
Mr. Aldrobi credits the president’s dithering to the “constraints of an election year.”

Whatever the reason, the delegation’s last day in Washington was marked by collective disappointment and desperation.

“Time is not on our side – it has never been on our side,” Mr. Abdulhamid said Friday.