U.S. lawmakers are closely following recent events in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power appears to be slipping. Both Democrats and Republicans are expressing guarded optimism that the recent upheaval in Damascus will become a turning point in the 18-month-old conflict spelling the end of Assad’s regime.
VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) to get their assessment of the situation.
Below are highlights of their responses. Check the sound files on the bottom of this post for a fuller version of the interviews.
On Assad’s future
Graham: [Assad] is going to go. Someone is going to replace him. And the United States will need to get [into] a relationship with that group.
Cardin: In my mind, Assad will not be able to maintain his position in Syria. It’s just a matter of time. Recent events give us hope that this may occur sooner rather than later.
On steps, expectations after possible Assad fall
Graham: The United States needs to help the Syrian people get back on their feet. We need to provide them support, we need to provide them expertise, we need to respond to their requests, we need to try to help form a coalition with the Alawites who are left in Syria [to make them feel] like the have a future. And why I wanted to be involved early on is because when these dictators fall, it’s not always good for our country….
Cardin: Well, I think the expectation is that Syria will have a government that is responsive to the needs of their own citizens, that the citizens will have a right to determine their government and we expect that the rights of all Syrian people will be protected, and that Syria will join the international community in fighting extremists and terrorists. That, I think, is our expectation.
On US posture
Graham: We’re late to the game, but the game is not over. If we aggressively got involved now with the upping of the supply of weapons and creating a no-fly and no-drive zone, we’d save thousands of lives and I think we’d be in a better position with the future leaders of Syria… I’m a believer in that the United States should not observe history; it should shape history.
Cardin: I think it has been very clear from day one that the Obama administration indicated that President Assad had lost his legitimacy and [that] he had to go. So, I think, they were pretty clear as to whose side we are on…. The Obama administration has looked for opportunities to be helpful. They did not want to be counter-productive. You have to work with the international community and you have to be effective. There are limited options, but I think the Obama administration has weighed those carefully. I do hope that we can find aggressive and effective ways to assist the opposition and to accelerate Assad’s leaving of power.
Listen to more of Senator Graham’s remarks (2:26):
Listen to more of Senator Cardin’s remarks (1:48):
Middle East Voices is a unique social journalism project powered by Voice of America. The site, as a supplement to VOANews.com, is designed to present news, views and conversation to stimulate dialogue and understanding within, without and across man-made borders. On our platform, among other content, you will finds expert insights and community-submitted viewpoints on pressing political, economic, social and religious issues reshaping the Middle East and our world.