By Pete Zamplas-U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows warns if the United States aids terrorist-linked rebels in Syria’s two-year-old civil war, it could result in Islamic extremists seizing control as they have recently in other Middle East nations.
Meadows spoke to The Tribune at halftime of North Henderson’s football win at Hendersonville Friday. That was the first high school football game he and wife Debbie attended, since his serving the local 11th District in Congress starting this year. He admires fans’ “passion” for their schools, and the “great family atmosphere.”
There has been much less harmony in the Middle East for centuries. The latest crisis, Rep. Meadows said, is if this nation backs the worst of two evils in the rebels. He said Islamic extremists among them and their terrorist associates could steer a new government in Syria, as in Egypt and Libya this decade after running Iraq for over three decades and jockeying for power in post-war Iraq.
“There’s a good likelihood that’d happen like in Syria, if there is a power void,” he said. He questions whether the Obama administration has thought through its pro-rebel policy in Syria, and repercussions of clamping down too severely on Pres. Bashar al-Assad. Meadows opposes U.S. military intervention there.
The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, led by its Pres. Ahmed Jarba, was recognized by more than 100 nations as Syrians’ “legitimate representative.” If the U.S. did so, too, it could lead to an enemy Islamic state, Meadows warned. The tide is turning in Egypt, where the army-backed interim government two weeks ago dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood that oppressed people with hardline Sharia law.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs member Meadows gained insight on Syria last week, as among those meeting for two days in Washington with an ambassador of its opposition. “He estimated only 10 to 20 percent of the opposition are radical Muslims,” Rep. Meadows said. “He insisted that most are moderates. Of course, that’s very hard to verify.” Opposition leaders have insisted to the United Nations Security Council they are pro-democracy and oppose extremism.
Meadows doubts radicals are so few. So do many of our allies, concerned rebel jihadists such as in the Nusra Front and Syrian Islamic Front are linked to al-Qaeda and hell-bound to form an Islamic state and destroy Israel and the U.S.
Rather than to destroy or severely weaken the secular Assad regime through military strikes or rebel support, Meadows said, it makes more sense to pressure that regime to reform its internal policies to try to appease the masses that Assad claims support him. And he thinks the Obama administration might go for that.
“We should help create a more humanitarian government there,” Meadows suggested.
This could include Assad welcoming radical elements and others more into power, if not a coalition government such as in Iraq, Meadows said. Hope would be such a faction does not usurp power.
This angle goes beyond the focus of Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s proposal, for curbing Syria’s chemical weapons. Syrian security forces reportedly used them on dissidents. More than 100,000 estimated casualties have resulted in the civil war. Two decades ago when the U.S. was searching for Iraq’s chemical weapons detected earlier, there was speculation they were shifted to Syria and its ally Iran. Iran has been a radical Islamic state, since overthrowing its U.S.-backed shah in 1979.
Assad, 48, is the son of dictator Hafez al-Assad, a Soviet Cold War puppet in much of his quarter-century reign. When he died in 2000, his son took over and was elected to the first of two seven-year terms as president. The next election is due next year and could guide Syria’s future. Assad has been an ally of Russia and Putin, who negotiated with the U.S. to remove Syria’s chemical weapons but keep Assad in power. Assad told U.S. media he will not step aside, and has public support.
Yet Assad broke promises for political reform and economic modernization. He allowed political opposition for his first year in power, before re-instilling marshal law-like arrests. Both Assads called for Israel to return all occupied land. Syria occupied Lebanon for 29 years and has backed Hezbollah militants based there which reportedly now help fight dissidents in Syria.