How the U.S. and the international community, including the media, assess the crisis in Syria will affect whether Syria experiences a transformation to democracy, or whether it becomes the flash point for a new war in the Middle East.
Too many people have already died in Syria. It is imperative to act to end further deaths. During a time when matters of such grave consequence are underway, it is essential that the media analyze the political dynamics, and understand that lurking beneath the surface of the already abominable violence in Syria is a dangerous sectarian push for destabilization and chaos which can readily descend into a civil war threatening the lives of millions more.
The situation in Syria is dire. I don't support the violence, I don't condone the violence and by direct appeal to President Assad and in supporting those who are seeking freedom and serious reforms, I am working to end the violence. I appealed to President Assad to remove his forces from the cities. He told me he would, and today we learned that he has begun to do just that.
This situation does NOT simply involve two players: the government and the opposition. It is an extremely complicated and explosive condition involving, among other elements, a historically closed government with an awful human rights record caught up in demands for democracy sweeping the region, security forces which went out of control killing innocent protestors, sectarian interests which have longed to overthrow a government which has protected religious minorities, violence against minorities, guns flowing across the borders with refugees on the move.
In the middle of this miasma, I talked to many Syrians who said the overthrow of Assad without knowing who would take his place will add to the instability and make things immeasurably worse and they want him to deliver on the reforms.
President Assad has communicated directly to the opposition, and to me personally, that he is prepared to do that, not as a ruse to stay in power but as a step towards the natural path to Syria's progress and development. We must be mindful however of the actions of extremists who are using this time of transition as an opportunity of cover for their own anti-democratic agenda.
Unfortunately, through demonizing prose and a "with us or against us" mindset, the Washington Post Editorial Board rejoins the march of folly that has in the past decade fueled a misguided approach to conflict resolution and democracy building that has left America with thousands of dead young soldiers, over a million dead civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region, trillions of dollars of debt, and a new generation of terrorists.
A new approach is called for. Not one which coddles or gives comfort to those who willfully murder, but an approach in which we are prepared to become involved to promote non-violent conflict resolution coupled with a personal commitment to appeal to those who are in a position to act -- to stop the violence before it escalates further. This is what I have done.
I directly contacted President Assad to ask him to bring an end to the violence by pulling back the security forces. I have also been investigating the political dynamics to determine if reforms can be brought about peacefully without breaking up the nation. I also wanted to determine first-hand whether President Assad was prepared to accept the just demands of the Syrian people for freedoms and reforms.
I traveled to Syria, at the request of my Arab constituents, some of whom have family in Syria and are desperate to learn if the violence can be brought to an end and if democratic reforms are possible. I met with as many parties as I could, including leaders in the opposition, people who are directly involved with trying to bring non-violent change to Syria -- including people who had been imprisoned by the regime. I did not travel at the request of the Syrian government.
While in Damascus, I was asked by international journalists present, including those from CNN, the BBC, SKY News and NPR to share my initial reactions. During my remarks I stressed the importance of the Syrian government fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the people of Syria. I stressed how essential it is for Assad's government to listen carefully to and fulfill the people's just demands.
A process of national dialogue is now beginning. This process is unprecedented in Syria and should not be dismissed as mere window dressing, because until now there has been no window for people to view what democracy in Syria would look like.
The people of Syria must be able to determine their own future openly and free from fear of repression and violence. The Syrian people deserve the thoughtful support of the world as they struggle to win and to keep newfound freedom.