- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2013

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee believes the Obama administration has been “adrift” for the past two years in its policy toward Syria, but he realizes the White House has “no good options” in the civil war between President Bashar Assad and rebels with a strong Islamic jihadist element.

Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican, complained that President Obama first treated Mr. Assad as a reformer until his troops struck back violently against peaceful protests against his regime.

“Once the revolt started, [the administration] backed feckless U.N. diplomacy and then bet on Moscow to play a constructive role,” Mr. Royce said when he opened a committee hearing last week with Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, as his main witness.

“We are now two years into the Syrian uprising, and for two bloody years U.S. policy has been adrift.”

Mr. Ford has watched the country deteriorate after arriving in Damascus in January 2011, about two months before the revolt broke out. The fighting has claimed about 70,000 lives, according to U.N. estimates.

“Syrians face a new level of ruthlessness from the Assad regime, which is raining Scud missiles down on residential neighborhoods, destroying hospitals and schools, and sending its thugs rampaging through the streets to terrorize their fellow citizens,” Mr. Ford told the committee. “The carnage is appalling.”

Mr. Royce noted that one benefit in overthrowing Mr. Assad would be the removal of a regime that supports anti-Israel terrorists and serves as Iran’s only major Arab ally.

However, he added, the rebels are being infiltrated by jihadist fighters, who could become a bigger threat to the region if they gained control of a post-Assad government and grabbed Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons.

Mr. Ford also expressed doubts about Syrian government claims that the rebels launched a chemical weapons attack March 19. The White House has no evidence that either side has used chemicals weapons, he said.

Mr. Royce, although critical of Mr. Obama, also recognized the president’s dilemma.

“It has been said that the U.S. has no good options in Syria. That is probably true,” he said. “Stay away, as we mainly have, and bad things are guaranteed to happen. Get more involved, as some are calling for, and good things might happen. All of it is incredibly unpredictable.”

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Monday

• Bulent Aras, director of the Center for Strategic Research at the Turkish Foreign Ministry. He addresses the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Tuesday

• Vitor Gaspar, Portugal’s minister of state and finance. He addresses the Brookings Institution on the economic crisis in Europe.

Thursday

• Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. He joins a Brookings Institution panel discussion about President Obama’s Middle East trip.

• Cristian Larroulet, primary adviser to President Sebastian Pinera of Chile. He addresses the Heritage Foundation.

Friday

• Presidents Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, and Macky Sall of Senegal and Prime Minister Pereira Neves of Cape Verde. They discuss democratic developments in Africa at a briefing at the United States Institute of Peace.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.