Tales from the Trail

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

June 30, 2011

One of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich — an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict — sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

Kucinich said he made the trip, which also included a stop in   Lebanon, on his own accord after being requested to go by his constituents.

“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,” Kucinich said in a statement on his official website .

Kucinich’s statement came one day after the Washington Post’s editorial board accused him of “taking the side of Syria’s murderous dictator” in an editorial that blasted him as being too quick to believe Assad’s vague promises of reform.

“The only people who take the regime’s rhetoric seriously are those who wish to defend it, who excuse its horrendous crimes and who oppose genuine democracy in Syria. Mr. Kucinich has just made himself one of the more conspicuous members of that camp,” the Post said.

Kucinich said the Post was using “demonizing prose” to whip up fresh conflict.

“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,” he said.

One organization that is staying out of the fray is the U.S. State Department, where officials say they had little warning ahead of Kucinich’s trip. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford — who has not himself been able to score a meeting with Assad — briefed Kucinich before his tete-a-tete with the president, but has had no formal readout from the congressman.

“We certainly are open to his views but we’ve not received any indication that he’s willing to do that,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday, adding that he hoped Kucinich had echoed the official State Department view that Assad must either implement reforms in Syria or get out of the way.

“It’s important that we all deliver a coherent message,” he said.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jim Young (U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) steps off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, March 15, 2010)

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