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Bashar Assad loses U.S. friends as Kerry, Hagel and Biden take Bush’s stance on Syria
As a bloc on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, President Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Vice President Joseph R. Biden all opposed the George W. Bush administration’s playing tough with Mr. Assad.
“President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had,” Mr. Kerry, as a senator from Massachusetts, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in March 2011. He predicted that Mr. Assad would change for the better.
But that same month, pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in Syria that would lead to a civil war, unmasking Mr. Assad’s brutal tactics, including the Aug. 21 unleashing of nerve gas that killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Mr. Hagel is assembling a small armada in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to launch scores of cruise missiles at the Assad regime as punishment for the gas attack. Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are lobbying allies and Congress to approve an attack.
When Mr. Assad succeeded his late father, Hafez, as dictator in July 2000, there was hope in Washington that the young ophthalmologist who was trained in London would shift the country from its brutal ways in neighboring Lebanon and its deep association with Iran and terrorism.
But in the Bush administration’s view, Mr. Assad proved as devious as his father. He increased ties to Hezbollah and Hamas, two U.S.-designated terrorist groups backed by Iran, and grew even closer to Iran, which used Syria to pass rockets to terrorists.
By that year, Mr. Assad had begun helping al Qaeda by opening his country to jihadists who passed through the Damascus airport on their way to safe houses and then across the border into Iraq, where they killed U.S. troops.
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