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Senator Richard Black About His Letter Thanking Assad (Part 2)
Senator Richard Black, Virginia Senate, sent a letter to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to thank him for fighting al-Qaeda and other terror groups. The following is the Second Part of an interview Senator Black gave to nsnbc’s Turkish partner newspaper Aydinlik.
Şafak Terzi (ST): The Syrian intelligence uncovered Jeffrey Feltman’s plan to destroy Syria…
Sen. Richard Black (RB): I don’t know about Feltman. But I do know that we were involved in planning the Syrian operation from a very very early time. Particularly the logistics of supporting the war; and it is my impression from the things that I have read, that the motivation for the attack on Libya was to capture the arsenal of weapons that Gaddafi had, and to free them, so that they could be transshipped…
At the time they were being transshipped both to Lebanon and to Turkey, and than funneled into Syria. Since then, since the victory that the Syrians had at the Qalamoun mountain range, they no longer are able to bring those weapons through Lebanon. So they now have to bring them all through Turkey, or bring them in by air flights out of various countries.
ST: How do you evaluate Turkey’s role in Syria? Is Turkey moving independently of Washington’s politics?
RB: I think that Turkey is not following a very positive policy. If I were the PM of Turkey, -(Laughing) which of course I’m not- but my biggest concern would be with the tremendous influx of refugees coming into the country. Because that potentially could be a very disruptive element over the years.
What I would want to do is to see peace restored to Syria and I would want to make an agreement with president Assad that he would accept the balk of the refugees back into Syria, so that they could clear out of Turkey and Turkey could be normalized.
ST: This is not what Erdoğan is doing…
RB: On March the 21st the Turkish military assisted Al Nusra in organizing and launching a massive attack across the border from Turkey, where they penetrated the border in five locations. The attack was led by Al Nusra and they used Tow anti-tank missiles provided by the United States.
They broke through Syrian lines and eventually they were able to overwhelm the Armenian Christian town of Kessab. Most of the Christians had been evacuated from Kessab, but there were elderly people there and its reported that 80 of them were slaughtered, 13 were beheaded. And many of those who remained were kidnapped and taken to Homs, or somewhere around Homs and eventually those people were released as part of the agreement in Homs…
But I think it is a terrible mistake for Turkey to be assisting the rebels in undermining Syria. Because, -you know- if you go back to, what I think was sort of the heyday of Turkey, when they had really achieved great international respect with the policies of Ataturk; I think there has been this perception that Turkey is becoming increasingly radicalized and now they’re taking a very war-like stance against Syria.
And it makes no sense, because if you want to deal with the problem of the enormous influx of refugees, you want to see the war in Syria end and you want to see those people return back to their homes. That’ll take enormous pressure off of Turkey and do tremendous things for the economy and for the unity of the Turkish people.
The last thing that you want is to have a huge and violent block of foreigners permanently settled in your country and than you have to deal with them for generations afterwards.
ST: Turkey-Qatar-Saudis-Britain-France and the US were working together in the Syrian conflict like in Libya… Aren’t the Turkish policies in harmony with the USA?
RB: Yes… What Turkey is doing is, it has been working in cooperation with the United States, with Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, with the United Kingdom. But at the same time I don’t believe it is helpful to Turkey. I think that it really harms the long-range interests of Turkey to do this.
ST: If we look at the war in Syria. Do you think that Assad has won?
RB: I believe that he is very close to winning. The Syrian people clearly have grown weary of the war. I was reading reports on the presidential elections, and I was quiet surprised that the tremendous out pouring of people, the expatriates in Lebanon and different countries who were mobbing the election places wanting to vote… And they had interviews with one of the fellows was just a big fan of President Assad, the other one I found more interesting.
He said, well he didn’t especially like President Assad but he really had turned against the savage, barbaric conduct of the rebels and he wanted them gone. And I think that is probably a very strong feeling, particularly in the north, where I don’t think people were as pro-Assad. But now that they have seen Al Nusra and they have seen ISIL, I think they look and say: “anything is better than this. We just don’t want to live under that type of radical domination”…
ST: And has the US and the West, together with Turkey of course lost in Syria?
RB: I do believe that Turkey and the West have begun to come to grips with the reality that the war has been lost. I’m not saying that all elements, -you know governments are very big things and there are lots of people-, so not everyone has given up but I know some people are saying, “look lets begin to look beyond the war and lets begin to think ‘what is the next step, what should the policies be’ ”… The same counts for Turkey…
If I were PM Erdogan, I would be saying “OK, regardless of what I wanted, it looks like the war is lost and what I want to do is; I want to figure away to get all of these refugees off the books, so that I can get my country back to normal”.
The same thing with Jordan, Jordan has this vast number of refugees and Lebanon also. I would think all of them would be saying, “look, if I can make a deal with President Assad, -he may be able to take millions of people back overnight, because Syria has been absolutely destroyed- but we can have an agreement that over time he will take a continuing flow of refugees and returning them to their homes and reintegrate them into Syria.
ST: What could be the next step for Washington? If we consider that the US policy has lost, what could be Washington’s next step in the Middle East or in Foreign Policy in general?
RB: You know, I think the United States is gradually trying to pull back from the Middle East. We’re recognizing that some of what we’ve done has been counter productive. I would like to see us operate much more on a diplomatic level and much less on a military level.
I really believe that our goal should be stability in the Middle East. We need to get away from the idea that we need to inspire Arab Springs and revolutions and overthrow governments. I think we need to be looking at stability and allowing people to rebuild their countries, rebuild their infrastructure, move forward and allow the people to prosper without our necessary military influence.
ST: Are your opinions shared by other Senators or some parts of the Obama administration?
RB: I think the opinions are shared. Really, I seem to have opened a debate over Syria in ways that no one else has, and I think that is a positive thing. I’m glad that people are beginning to look and say, “OK, let’s perhaps take a new look, let’s consider, have we been on the right course or not?”. That remains to be seen, we’ll see how the debate turns out.
Senator Richard Black About His Letter Thanking Assad (Part 1)
Senator Richard Black, Virginia Senate, sent a letter to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to thank him for fighting al-Qaeda and other terror groups. The following is the First Part of an interview Senator Black gave to nsnbc’s Turkish partner newspaper Aydinlik.
Şafak Terzi, Aydınlık Newspaper: What was your main motivation in writing this letter to Bashar Assad?
Sen. Richard Black: There are two purposes in the letter. First was to thank the Syrian Army for its heroic rescue of the Christians in the Kalamoun mountain range. The Christians had been very brutally dealt with the Jihadist who came across the border and they had essentially been under their control for a couple of years and I made a point of thanking Assad for, or thanking the Syrian Army for the skillful rescue of the thirteen nuns who had been kidnapped at Yarmouk. So that was the first thing, to thank him for his treatment of Christians and other religious minorities which include the Alawites all of these different groups there.
The other thing is that I expressed my very deep concern that we are helping Al Qaeda with our actions in Syria. The true principal groups who seemed to leaved all of the fighting over there, Al Nusra, and the other group ISIL which operates out of the Anbar province and has swept into northern Syria. Those were the two things. My concern about assisting Al Qaeda’s affiliates and thanking the Syrian Army for its heroic rescue of the Christians.
ŞT: Was your letter also a message to Washington?
RB: Well, in a sense yes… There has been relatively a little debate about merits of what we’re doing in Syria. With a single exception, when the United States very nearly attacked Syria with guided missile cruisers the United States attempted to form a coalition of nations to support it. PM Cameron went before the British Parliament and had them vote to approve war and they overwhelmingly voted against war. And that was a tremendous setback which I think has hurt PM Cameron to this day. As you know he had a tremendous setback with the elections just last week.
In this country at the same time when President Obama was unable to get the support of the British, he went to the congress to seek authorisation for war with Syria. Both the Republicans and the Democrats, the leadership appeared to support the war very strongly, but there were many of us who lobbied against it. And in the end the President did not have the votes to support an attack and he was forced to stand down, that was the point where he accepted the Russian proposal that Syria would give up its stocks of poison gas in exchange basically resolving the dispute.
Meanwhile the United States has funneled weapons from Libya into Turkey, and then Turkey funnels them into Syria. So that’s one thing that we did. The other thing that we do is, we train about 250 Jihadists in Syria every month and those Jihadists cross the border into Syria and attack principally in the region around Damascus. I just found out, the other we’re also training foreign Jihadists in Qatar and -you know- they have been tremendous financial supporters for the rebellion just as Saudi Arabia has.
ŞT: Is there a dichotomy within the US on foreign policy? Are there two different wings, who are thinking in a different way…
RB: I believe that there is. And I think that there are elements pulling the President in two directions. It’s my impression that the state department is pulling in towards war and the department of defence is urging caution. Because they understand that if we supply rebels with advanced weapons, that the same weapons can just as easily be used to shoot down civilian airliners or to make other terrorist attacks.
ŞT: How were the reactions in Washington to your letter? Did you come in for any criticism in Washington?
RB: Well I have not heard from the Obama administration. But I was very interested in Obama’s foreign policy statement at West Point yesterday and the Republicans and the other War Hawks dismissed it and they said that there was nothing under the value.
But I read it and actually I found two very brief things. That I think are very pertinent to Syria.
And I will read them, it says President Obama said “direct actions must conform with US values”.
Here is the quote: “That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.”
ŞT: Are there also other Senators who think like you? Or are there people in the Obama administration who share your opinion?
RB: I feel certainly there are, but let me read you the second thing that he said, because if you read the first one, “That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat…”
Well Syria obviously is no threat to the United States, never has been a threat so that this does not meet with the first criteria. And the second criteria is that we must not create more enemies and we take off the battlefield and this is very important I think and not only for the United States but for the coalition of nations that are supporting the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, United States and the UK, all of them face a very severe threat and that once war winds down in Syria, Syrian rebels will be the world’s best trained urban warfare experts. Nothing will compare to them because they have fought for years in the most fierce urban warfare imaginable. They will go back to their home countries whether its to Turkey, whether its to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan and whether to United Kingdom or America and they will know how to work with explosives, how to make suicide bombs and they will continue to make mayhem in their home countries.
ŞT: Senator John Mccain went to Syria to meet the Jihadists in Syria. He also went to meet the Neo Nazi leaders in Ukraine. Do you agree with his actions? Is this Washington’s main policy?
RB: Senator Mccain likes war. There is never a conflict that he does not support. If it would be up to him we would be fighting war against everyone. I totally disagree with his views on foreign policy. I don’t think that they are intelligent, I don’t think that they reflect good judgement.
ŞT: So what McCain tries to do is not Washington’s main policy…
RB: No, Mccain does not reflect the position of the Obama administration. However he keeps constant pressure on them to do things that are warlike. And I believe that Senator Mccain keeps President Obama under constant pressure to be more aggressive than he normally would, if it were not for Mccain.
ŞT: Syrian state sources claim that Washington sent an unofficial envoy to Damascus to address themselves to Assad… Is there any truth to this? Has the United States started to negotiate with Assad?
RB: I really don’t know anything about that. I would hope that we have people talking with him. If we do, we need someone who is balanced. We had Ambassador Ford there. And when the first uprisings began, Ambassador Ford worked with diplomatic protocol, he took the French ambassador and they went and told the rioters that they had America’s complete support, which I think fanned the flames of the revolution. We had no business doing that, you know diplomats are guests of the countries and I think they’re obliged to behave responsibly and I don’t consider that the a responsible way for a diplomat to act.