Friday, March 2, 2012
COMMITTEE STATEMENT OF SENATOR LUGAR: THE CRISIS IN SYRIA!
COMMITTEE STATEMENT OF SENATOR LUGAR
Lugar Opening Statement at Hearing on Syria: The Crisis and Its Implications
Thursday, March 1, 2012
I join the Chairman in welcoming Assistant Secretary Feltman and Ambassador Ford to the Committee. We appreciate their leadership as events in Syria have proceeded. Ambassador Ford and his team on the ground in Syria deserve great credit for documenting evidence of the Syrian government’s aggression against its people, despite substantial personal risk.
Our hearing today takes place amidst the deadly violence, gross human rights violations, and degradations that the Assad regime continues to inflict on the Syrian people. Since our last hearing on Syria in November, the death toll in this 11-month conflict has risen dramatically. We are confronted by horrific images of the depths to which Assad will go to preserve his power, including targeting civilians, journalists, doctors, aid workers, and women and children.
I welcomed the meeting in Tunis last week of the Friends of the Syrian People that brought together 60 nations and international organizations. We should continue to focus attention on humanitarian needs in Syria. The absence of Russia and China from the meeting was an abrogation of their responsibilities as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
Events in Syria will impact U.S. national security and the interests of our close ally Israel. The outcome in Syria will have deep implications for the internal politics of neighboring countries, ethnic conflicts in the Middle East, and broader strategic issues. Terrorist groups are likely to attempt to take advantage of political instability, and inter-sectarian violence could spill over Syria’s borders as groups settle old scores or defend brethren from attacks. In the midst of this upheaval, we know Syria has substantial stockpiles of chemical and conventional weapons that could directly threaten peace and stability throughout the region. Our government must be focusing intelligence and counter-proliferation assets on containing this threat.
The development of a definable opposition that speaks for most Syrians would improve chances that the damage to the Syrian people and risks to regional stability could be contained. Some constructive opposition voices are attempting to emerge.
But at present, the Syrian opposition lacks cohesion and a sufficiently defined political agenda. As a practical matter, it also lacks the physical space and technical means to mature, overcome its internal differences, and develop a plan for a democratic transition. Deep sectarian divisions, outside influences from Iran and elsewhere, and the lack of a democratic political culture weigh heavily against the short-term emergence of a unified opposition on which to base a tolerant democracy.
This presents the United States with limited options. Clearly, we must oppose the Assad regime’s aggression against its own people and support international humanitarian efforts. We should also work with willing states to limit any spill-over effect generated by violence in Syria. But we should not overestimate our influence to shape events in the country. Further, attempts by the United States or the West to closely manage the opposition could backfire in an environment where the government blames outside influences for Syria’s troubles.
While not taking any options off the table, we should be extremely skeptical about actions that could commit the United States to a military intervention in Syria. Under the Constitution, any decision placing us as a party to armed conflict in Syria rests with the Congress. As you and others in the Administration consider a way forward together with our international partners, I encourage you to work closely with Congress as plans evolve, particularly as the situation becomes more complex. I look forward to your testimony.
Posted by Eileen at 8:37 PM