Save the Caledonians!

Yesterday evening, I attended a Republican fundraiser in New York City. While there, I chatted with a GOP colleague, who knows that I follow Middle East issues rather closely. He said, "George, I was watching C-SPAN this week and I saw some testimony about Syria and Lebanon. Testifying, there was that Reform Syria guy that you said has major credibility issues, that guy from the near-east policy center who wrote the article you mentioned on your blog recently, then some professor and a former Ambassador." (Farid Ghadry, David Schenker, Marius Deeb, and Ted Kattouf)

I hadn't yet seen the testimony, so I asked him, as an outsider to Middle East issues, what he thought.

"Well, it was just like every other issue in Congress. They hold hearings to set policy, but they just invite people who tell them what they want to hear!"

His main gripe was the fact the Congressman Elliot Engel was asked to testify before the committee on which he serves, and he felt that such a practice should be reconsidered.

We should all bear in mind though, that foreign policy legislation like the Syria Accountability Act offers Republicans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrats like Elliot Engel, on opposite sides in a sharply divided and intensely partisan Congress, the rare chance to work together and agree on a bill.

Joshua Landis at syriacomment discusses the testimony in more detail. He contrasts the prescriptions offered by Ghadry (who just happened to contribute more than $10,000 to some key International Relations Committee members' congressional campaigns) with the analyses provided by Kattouf and Schenker.

The testimony itself is viewable on C-SPAN.

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Ghadry's testimony:
"The Assyrians and Caledonians, in addition to other Christian groups...have been forced to emigrate for lack of opportunity, discrimination, and suppression of their religious rights."
First of all, I must compliment Mr. Ghadry for calling attention to the plight of the Caledonians. Indeed the Syrian government has shown new levels of contempt for human rights by traveling through time and space to oppress this ethnic group indigenous to the British Isles, who inhabited the area of Scotland during the Iron Age several hundred years before Christianity became a mainstream religion there.

What Mr. Ghadry failed to mention is that Syria has actually become a safe haven for Chaldeans fleeing turmoil and forced to emigrate for suppression of their religious rights in Iraq. Indeed, I recall seeing many cars with Nineveh license plates even 3 years ago in Aleppo.

However, the best portion of the proceedings was the questioning of Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman from NY, who asked for numerical answers on a scale of 0 to 10 (10 being best): how well has the Syria Accountability Act thus far produced changes in the Syrian regime's behavior, and if the full menu of sanctions were to be introduced, what would be the impact? Surprisingly, both Schenker and Kattouf gave ratings in the 2-4 range for both questions.

Both Schenker and Kattouf also offered excellent remarks, grounded in realistic assessment of the conditions on the ground. They both named a damning Brammertz report as a precondition for multi-lateral sanctions which they believed would be the preferred course to accomplish a change in Syrian policies.

Overall, the hearings did not seem to produce any solid consensus on the best way forward. Schenker's article from last week illustrated this very same point.

Clearly US policy toward Syria is stagnated, to the frustration of many in DC and beyond. The current approach is not working. It's time for a reevaluation.


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