Interview: Senator Richard Black About His Letter Thanking Assad
AD : 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.
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.
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.