I have read the long 35,000-word script of the hearing on the nomination of Senator John Kerry to be the next U.S. Secretary of State.
The hearing was held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in order for us to understand the personality of the new secretary of state, whose appointment will be unanimously approved, we should know that he had already testified before such a committee more than 40 years ago as a soldier returning from the Vietnam War.
So Kerry is a veteran and experienced politician who is well-informed about our region to the extent that he had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad six times. This means that Kerry knows our region and leaders very well.
But despite all that, I am concerned about what I have read because Kerry did not show clear positions on fundamental issues, specifically Syria and Iran.
Senator John McCain urged Kerry to take a clear position that goes in line with moral concepts and the national interest by opposing the actions of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. McCain said: “We are sowing the wind in Syria, and we're going to reap the whirlwind. And that whirlwind will be the increased presence of al-Qaeda and Islamist groups, which are now flooding into Syria, as you know. Sixty thousand dead and counting, and the fall of Assad is, quote, "inevitable." You know that Assad is thinking about Plan B, and that's going to the coast and doing some ethnic cleansing and having Alawites there.”
McCain added in his address to Kerry: “We've had a lot of hearings. We haven't done anything. And we've got, again, 60,000 dead and -- after 22 months, and all I get, frankly, from the administration is, the fall of Assad is, quote, inevitable…I hope that -- and I know that, from our previous conversations -- that you will make this your highest priority.”
Nevertheless, Kerry did not clearly reply to McCain; he spoke about his hope in collaborating with the Russians, and McCain responded saying Russians will cooperate. However, they provided the regime with arms. Kerry replied to McCain saying that “whatever judgments you make, they have to pass the test of whether or not, if you do them, they're actually going to make things better…And you have to make a test of a cost analysis in doing that. And I mean all kinds of cost, human life cost, treasure, effect on other countries.”
U.S. failure in Syria
It was a long discussion and it was not limited to reviewing Kerry's positions regarding Syria, but rather, it raised questions about many issues around the world, mainly of importance to superpower states.
I realize the importance of other issues in this wide and troubled world, from Iran to North Korea, China and Latin America, but the Syrian situation is the key and immediate issue now. Ten months earlier, al-Qaeda had not yet participated in the war in Syria, but today it became among the forces that are involved in the conflict, because of international hesitation to act as no one has prevented Assad's regime from killing and destroying the country and terrorizing the peoples of the region.
The U.S. failure to positively intervene in Syria has ruined all what has been achieved with great difficulty in the war on extremist ideology and terrorist groups. A campaign launched over the past 10 years against armed groups and al-Qaeda succeeded specifically at the grassroots and elites’ level, but here we are unfortunately returning to square one. I believe that Kerry, as a future secretary of state, is able to understand the nature of the conflict and the risks of Obama administration’s indifference over the past two years.
The fall of the Syrian regime will cause the Iranians to lose their right hand in the implementation of their terror policies, especially if we were able to help the Syrian people establish a regime of their choice through a free vote. If al-Assad fled Damascus, and this is inevitable as McCain said, we will witness jihadists’ extremism on one side and thousands of al-Assad’s Shabiha on the another side doing ethnic cleansing in the coast areas. This would be the outcome of allowing powers like al-Qaeda and Iran operate freely in Syria.
This article was first published in Asharq Alawsat on Jan. 26, 2013.
Abdelrahman AlRashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq Al- Awsat where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq Al-Awsat’s sister publication, Al Majalla. Throughout his career, AlRashed has interviewed several world-leaders whilst his articles provoked worldwide recognition and has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly-regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.