[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
A CRISIS MISMANAGED:
OBAMA'S FAILED SYRIA POLICY
THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
JUNE 5, 2013
Serial No. 113-32
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio BRAD SHERMAN, California
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
TED POE, Texas GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
MATT SALMON, Arizona THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina KAREN BASS, California
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
MO BROOKS, Alabama DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
TOM COTTON, Arkansas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
PAUL COOK, California JUAN VARGAS, California
GEORGE HOLDING, North Carolina BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
SCOTT PERRY, Pennsylvania Massachusetts
STEVE STOCKMAN, Texas AMI BERA, California
RON DeSANTIS, Florida ALAN S. LOWENTHAL, California
TREY RADEL, Florida GRACE MENG, New York
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina TULSI GABBARD, Hawaii
TED S. YOHO, Florida JOAQUIN CASTRO, Texas
LUKE MESSER, Indiana
Amy Porter, Chief of Staff Thomas Sheehy, Staff Director
Jason Steinbaum, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida, Chairman
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
JOE WILSON, South Carolina GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
TOM COTTON, Arkansas DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
RANDY K. WEBER SR., Texas ALAN GRAYSON, Florida
RON DeSANTIS, Florida JUAN VARGAS, California
TREY RADEL, Florida BRADLEY S. SCHNEIDER, Illinois
DOUG COLLINS, Georgia JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III,
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina Massachusetts
TED S. YOHO, Florida GRACE MENG, New York
LUKE MESSER, Indiana LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
C O N T E N T S
Mr. Tony Badran, research fellow, Foundation for Defense of
Ms. Danielle Pletka, vice president, Foreign and Defense Policy
Studies, American Enterprise Institute......................... 19
Jon Alterman, Ph.D., director, Middle East Program, Center for
Strategic and International Studies............................ 26
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
Mr. Tony Badran: Prepared statement.............................. 11
Ms. Danielle Pletka: Prepared statement.......................... 21
Jon Alterman, Ph.D.: Prepared statement.......................... 28
Hearing notice................................................... 62
Hearing minutes.................................................. 63
A CRISIS MISMANAGED: OBAMA'S FAILED SYRIA POLICY
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5, 2013
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:08 a.m., in
room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Ileana Ros-
Lehtinen (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. The subcommittee will come to order.
Before I give my remarks, I wanted to point out that Mr.
Connolly was kind enough to point out that the title of our
hearing was a little prejudgmental. So we will be careful with
the prejudgmental titles of hearings, although my statement
will not follow that caveat.
After recognizing myself and Ranking Member Deutch for 5
minutes each for our opening statements, we will then recognize
other members seeking recognition for 1 minute each. We will
hear from our witnesses.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
And without objection, all of your written statements will
be made a part of the record and members may have 5 days to
insert statements or questions for the record, subject to the
length limitation in the rules. And the Chair now recognizes
herself for 5 minutes.
It has been over 2 years since the popular uprising sparked
up across Syria against al-Assad and his murderous regime.
Amidst the backdrop of the Arab Spring, thousands of Syrians
demonstrated against Assad, calling for the despotic ruler to
step down, to release political prisoners, and institute
democratic reforms. These protesters were met swiftly with the
harsh hand of Assad as he unleashed his police who doled out
brutal beatings upon the demonstrators resulting in many
Now as we enter the third year of this conflict, the Assad
regime has been responsible for the murder of over 80,000
Syrians, and over 1.5 million people have fled seeking refuge
in other countries. And this administration had an opportunity
to support the demonstrators from the beginning who took to the
streets demanding that Assad step down.
Yet just like it failed to voice a full throated support
for the demonstrators in Iran after the 2009 elections, it was
deafeningly silent and failed to advance the cause for
democratic reform. Instead of supporting the popular uprisings
from the onset and immediately calling for Assad to step down,
President Obama waited 5 months to publicly call for his
removal. The delayed response also allowed for extremist groups
and al-Qaeda affiliates to move in to coopt the movement,
setting up the bloody conflict that we see every day.
There are tens of thousands dead, millions who have been
displaced, and the conflict continues to spiral out of control.
It has placed an incredible burden on our allies in the region,
like Jordan, which takes in thousands of Syrian refugees daily,
and rightfully fears what might come next should the violence
spill over into its own area.
But I understand that there are no perfect solutions for
this crisis. Each option before us has its risks, and I firmly
believe that what we need is a political solution in Syria. We
cannot shoot our way out of this mess. We need to work with our
allies in the region who fear the repercussions of a protracted
conflict in Syria.
And we need to address the serious issue of Moscow
continuing to arm the regime. An influx of Russian arms into
Syria has escalated this battle and has helped to prop up
Assad. If Moscow does not cease arming the regime, the United
States should re-evaluate its relationship with Russia.
Together with my colleague Brad Sherman, I introduced H.R.
893, the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation
Accountability Act, that would address this issue head on. I
have always and will continue to believe that we should not arm
the rebels. There is just no way of guaranteeing that they will
remain loyal to the United States and would be willing to
promote democratic principles and respect human rights post-
Assad. The opposition is too fractured, too convoluted to be
able to ensure that the arms don't eventually end up in the
wrong hands that may one day turn these weapons against us or
our allies, like Israel.
What we should be focusing on is breaking the Iran-
Hezbollah-Assad link because if Assad falls today, I fear what
will happen tomorrow: Syria is the linchpin that holds Iran's
strategic influence into the greater Middle East. Should Assad
fall, Iran and Hezbollah might quickly move to fill the power
vacuum. And should Iran and Hezbollah get ahold of Syria's
chemical weapons, not only would this cause greater tensions in
the region and seriously endanger our friend and ally Israel,
but it could spark an even greater conflict.
The President has repeatedly warned that the utilization or
the moving around of chemical weapons in Syria would change his
calculus, and it is a red line that should not be passed.
Reports suggest that chemical weapons have been used on a
handful of occasions, yet the United States has balked at
calling it so. In doing so, it sent the message, not just to
Assad but to the opposition and to other countries in the
region, such as Iran, Egypt, and North Korea, who seek to test
our will, that we will not indeed hold our line in the sand.
And with that, I yield for his opening statement to Mr.
Deutch, my Florida colleague.
Mr. Deutch. Thank you, Chairman Ros-Lehtinen for holding
today's hearing. Syria continues to be one of the most pressing
issues before us. I thank our witnesses as well for appearing
here today. I hope today will be a productive discussion on how
we can move U.S. policy toward Syria forward and,
notwithstanding the title of the hearing, that it does not
devolve into 2 hours of political grandstanding.
Let me be clear from the outset, there are no easy answers,
and there have been miscalculations in the world's approach
thus far. But there are no easy or painless solutions. It
should of course be the policy of the United States to pursue a
negotiated settlement. Yet even with the seeming endorsement of
the Russians, peace talks are proving a long way from reality.
It has now been nearly 27 months since the uprising in
Syria began. Over 80,000 lives have been lost. There are 1.6
million refugees officially registered with the U.N., with that
number likely substantially higher. There are 4 million
internally displaced people. These staggering numbers will only
rise more quickly as this conflict worsens. We have talked
about the effects of potential spillover in the region, which
unfortunately is becoming a reality. There were attacks from
Syria on Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon last week and mortars
fired in the Golan Heights.
Iran has fully dug in, sending every kind of support
imaginable to Assad. We cannot overlook the seriousness of
Syria's impact on the entire Middle East. As I said back in
March, when the full committee held a hearing on Syria, the
decisions we have to make are difficult; but as I said then,
just because they are difficult doesn't mean that we shouldn't
be making them. None of us want to see the United States
embroiled in another conflict. But I do believe that there are
ways the United States can be involved in Syria without putting
American soldiers' lives at risk.
For those that argue a more serious strategic U.S. response
is needed, one that includes providing lethal assistance to
opposition groups, I would say that the fractured coalition we
saw last week in Istanbul should warn us that the opposition
lacks organization and coherent leadership. Our assistance
should be used as a tool to encourage the opposition leadership
to get its act together.
But beyond the discussions of whether to arm, who to arm
and how to do it, there are real steps that we can take now to
address the humanitarian crisis. The United States has pledged
$510 million of humanitarian assistance to those affected by
the violence in Syria, committed to providing $250 million in
transition support to the Syrian opposition council. We
continue to talk about creating a humanitarian corridor, which
would have a significant impact on our ability to provide aid
to those in need. There are real steps we can take to help our
allies, who are sheltering hundreds of thousands of refugees,
including pushing international donors to fulfill their pledges
to countries in need.
And in the immediate term, there are very real steps we
could take to let our friends in the region know that we will
not tolerate efforts to undermine U.S. interests in Syria. Our
strategic relationship with our allies in the Gulf is crucial
to ensuring their security and regional stability. Reports
yesterday indicate the United States will send a Patriot
missile battery and F-16 fighters to Jordan for a drill and may
keep them there. We have already stationed a patriot battery in
There must be an understanding that it is in all of our
interests to ensure that we are supporting the opposition
groups that share our mutual security goals. I would urge the
administration to use every bit of leverage with Turkey and
Qatar to prevent the arming of extremist groups and to work
together with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to identify and
support moderate opposition forces.
Should the U.S. and Western allies choose to move ahead
with the no-fly zone, the Arab League must provide support for
these efforts. And Russia cannot obstruct these efforts or for
that matter any other efforts to end Assad's reign of terror.
Madam Chairman, I appreciate you calling this hearing today
because I agree that the U.S. policy toward Syria has not yet
yielded an end to the conflict, but I would caution that there
is no magic bullet, there is no quick fix. Our focus now must
be on deciding the best course of action to prevent the
continued slaughter of the Syrian people, to ensure our own
national security, and to prevent the conflict from
destabilizing the region.
And I yield back the balance of my time.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much for an excellent
I will now recognize members for 1 minute opening
statements, starting with Mr. Steve Chabot of Ohio, who is the
chairman of our Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you for calling this important and timely hearing
Let's face it, the situation continues to deteriorate in
Syria. The list of innocent victims slaughtered by the Assad
regime grows daily. And the Obama administration's Syria policy
continues to remain murky at best.
I look forward to hearing from our excellent panel of
witnesses here this morning. And I hope they can address a
couple of issues of particular concern to me. First, the role
of Hezbollah and its future in a post-Assad era: Will it remain
the powerful force that it is today? And will its role in
neighboring Lebanon, for example, be affected? And how would
the fall of Assad affect the future role of Iran in the region?
I am also concerned about how the growing turmoil in the
region might affect the stability of Jordan. It is reported
that nearly \1/2\ million Syrian refugees have registered in
Jordan to date, that one camp alone currently has more than
So I look forward to hearing from our panel and hope that
our witnesses today can address some of these important issues.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Chabot.
Now we will hear from Mr. Connolly from Virginia.
Mr. Connolly. Thank you so much, Madam Chairman.
And thank you for your sensitivity on the title of this
hearing because it presupposes there is something for us to
manage. And I would contend that there are no easy choices for
the United States in Syria. And to suggest otherwise is itself
misleading. I do think we have four very important concerns,
sets of concerns. One is, who do we support? And you have very
ably laid out some of the difficulties in that question
yourself, Madam Chairman.
Secondly our concern of the spread of the conflict
regionally. It is already sucking in Hezbollah from Lebanon,
Iran, and of concern obviously to Turkey in terms of cross-
Thirdly, there is Russia's role in blatantly arming the
Assad regime. And that has to be a concern in our bilateral
relationship and the future of it.
And finally, there is the arsenal of chemical weapons and
their possible utilization and deployment as the conflict
matures. Those are legitimate concerns I hope we will address
in today's hearing.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Connolly.
Mr. Kinzinger of Illinois recognized.
Mr. Kinzinger. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I am just
disappointed in everything that is going on. I mean, I think if
you talk to our allies, if you look around the world, people
are just asking, what is the United States' position? What are
I am a big believer that when the America retreats from the
world, chaos ensues. And so when we see America ceding its role
of leadership around the globe, we see what is occurring in the
Middle East, which is nobody knows where anybody is at; nobody
knows where the United States stands at. And I think this is an
extension of something that was coined a little bit ago, a year
or 2 ago, the ``lead from behind'' strategy, which to me is a
shocking secession of American leadership around the globe.
I am very concerned with what is going on in Syria. But I
am more concerned with the perception that the United States
has given up on the Middle East and that the United States is
looking for the easy way out. So I look forward to the panel
and your discussion and your insight into what is going on.
I yield back the rest of my time.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much, sir.
Mr. Schneider of Illinois is recognized.
Mr. Schneider. Thank you, Madam Chairman, for the time.
Thank you to the witnesses.
The current conflict in Syria has created an untenable
situation which threatens the existence of a future, a unified
state, while also compounding the concerns over how this civil
war will ultimately be resolved. Many have speculated over the
future of Syria and its viability moving forward as an intact
Our national strategy must embrace both certain core
principles in evaluating additional engagement in Syria.
First, I believe we have to identify, isolate, and secure
the weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological.
Second, I think we have to diligently act to make sure that
we support our allies in the region--Jordan, Turkey, Israel,
the Gulf States--to make sure that the situation in Syria
doesn't bring them down.
And third, I think we have to seek a viable State with a
functional government that maintains the geographical
continuity of Syria and avoids the class of the State which
would threaten our allies in the region.
These core principles provide a template for evaluating the
potential path forward in Syria. I look forward to hearing from
the witnesses on their perspective in addressing these critical
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, sir.
Next, we will hear from Dr. Yoho, my Florida colleague.
Mr. Yoho. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Good morning. I look forward to hearing your testimonies
today. And I look forward to hearing feedback from you guys and
thinking outside of the box of how we can fix this situation or
help to fix this situation and what role the United States
Government has in this so that we don't repeat the errors of
our foreign policies over the last 30 years. And so I look
forward to hearing that. Thank you.
I yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Kennedy of Massachusetts is recognized.
Mr. Kennedy. Thank you, Madam Chair, for calling this
hearing. I want to thank the ranking member as well and thank
our panelists, our witnesses for coming in and look forward to
your testimony. I, too, like all of the members have indicated,
am very concerned over recent developments, continued support
and increasing support for the Assad regime, Russia's recent
sale of advanced weapons, and Hezbollah's flood of fighters
into the region as well. I think that brings two large
questions in terms of the millions of refugees and internally
displaced persons and the prospects for wider war in the
I know that the United States and Secretary Kerry I believe
has done an admirable job trying to bring regional powers to
one table. That is going to come in the coming days. And I
would be eager to hear about your opinion about prospects for
any sort of negotiations that are going to take place in
Geneva, and what are going to be the ramifications of that
depending on how fruitful those discussions are. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Messer of Indiana is recognized.
Mr. Messer. Thank you, Madam Chairman, for this
I want to thank both you and the ranking member for your
foresight in having this hearing. I think the American people
see the challenges in Syria as a mess with no clear answers.
And probably the most cogent analysis that I have heard of what
is happened there was a take on the famous Las Vegas line that
what happens in Syria won't stay in Syria. That much is clear.
And I look forward to your insights today in helping us figure
out what the appropriate policy is for our Nation. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, sir.
Congresswoman Meng of New York.
Ms. Meng. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and thank you Mr.
Ranking Member for holding this important hearing.
I look forward to hearing from our panelists today about
possible new avenues for addressing this conflict. In
particular, I would like to explore how renewed efforts in
Europe to curtail Hezbollah financing might affect the
organization. This presents an interesting opportunity, as
Hezbollah will be stretching itself thin both politically and
financially by engaging in Syria.
And I would also like to explore our relationship with the
Kurds in the Syrian context. The Kurds are organized, well
financed, and relatively pro-American. In northeast Syria, they
are maintaining control of their territory and battling al-
The Kurds are not a panacea to the Syrian problem, but I
wonder whether we could be doing more with them, particularly
in light of recently improved Turkish and Kurdish relations.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, ma'am.
Mr. Higgins of New York is recognized.
Mr. Higgins. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I just also want to caution people not to fall into the
trap of believing that there are absolutes here, and everything
is black and white. There is a lot of gray. And it is not a
question of beating the Assad regime and handing it over to the
good guys. They may be a little bit better. They may be a lot
worse. And this is the problem that we run into. The opposition
is made up of at least eight different groups. In many of the
transitions that have occurred there, you have had three
different leaders of the opposition in the past 4 weeks alone.
Syria is going to have to figure this out. You know, all
nation building, unfortunately, in human history requires some
degree of civil war. During the American Civil War, in 1860,
the population of America was 34 million people, and there were
over 600,000 deaths. In Syria, a nation of 24 million people,
you have 100,000 deaths. Not that we want to tolerate that, but
we can't get involved in every civil war in the Middle East.
That would be number three.
And the lack of an American presence is not radicalizing
Syria. Syria is radicalized. And keep in mind, in Iraq, we went
in there, took out Saddam Hussein, dissolved the Army and the
Ba'ath party, and then, after that, Iraq became radicalized. So
oftentimes, the hard reality of this is that these nations have
to figure this out. We can't always nation build in the Middle
East. We have to build the middle class right here in America.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, sir.
Mr. Cicilline of Rhode Island.
Mr. Cicilline. Thank you, Chairman Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking
Member Deutch for holding today's hearing on this important
conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria.
I thank the witnesses for being here and look forward to
The question before our subcommittee today is how and
whether the United States should involve itself in the ongoing
civil war in Syria, both our own and with our partners in the
region and around the world. And it is a very complicated
question. But one thing is clear, I believe the global
community must respond.
In the last 2 years, as he has tried to maintain his
tenuous grip on power, President Bashar al-Assad and his
government have brutally and indiscriminately attacked rebel
forces and civilians within Syria. Hundreds of thousands of
Syrians have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring
countries or have been displaced internally. By deploying air
and artillery assaults in residential areas, Bashar al-Assad
has brutally targeted and murdered thousands of civilians. I
hope we will focus today on our response to the ongoing
situation in Syria that provides humanitarian aid, addresses
what has become a serious refugee crisis in the region,
incorporates a global comprehensive strategy to end the
violence, and promotes stability in this important region in
I look forward to hearing the perspectives of the witnesses
that we have assembled here today to discuss this important
I thank the chair, and I yield back.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much.
And seeing no further requests for time, the Chair is
pleased to introduce our distinguished panelists.
First, we welcome Tony Badran, a research fellow at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He focuses on Lebanon,
Syria, and Hezbollah as an expert on U.S. foreign policy toward
Syria and nonstate actors and terrorist groups. Mr. Badran has
written extensively on Hezbollah and has testified before
Congress and the European Parliament.
Next, we welcome Ms. Danielle Pletka, the vice president
for foreign and defense policy studies at the American
Enterprise Institute. Prior to this, she served for 10 years as
a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South
Asia Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ms. Pletka has written extensively on the Middle East,
democracy, and terrorism and has testified before our committee
on these issues several times.
Welcome back, Danielle.
Third, Dr. Jon Alterman is the director of the Middle East
Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Prior to this, he served as a member of the policy planning
staff at the Department of State and as a Special Assistant to
the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. In
addition to his policy work, he has had a long career in
academia, having taught at Johns Hopkins University, George
Washington University, and Harvard.
Thank you very much.
And we will begin with you, Mr. Badran.
STATEMENT OF MR. TONY BADRAN, RESEARCH FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR
DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES
Mr. Badran. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman and Ranking Member
Deutch and distinguished members of the committee.
I thank you again for inviting me here today to testify on
today's very important hearing. As the United States has
struggled to define its Syria policy over the past 2 years, the
Syrian war has metastasized regrettably along very predictable
lines. The debate in Washington about U.S. policy has been
largely framed in terms of either staying out of the conflict
or an Iraq style intervention.
Before we discuss specific tactics, I suggest that we
should start by asking, what are our strategic goals in Syria?
The primary problem with Washington's current policy is not
that it has been too reluctant to get involved; it has been
that it is reading the strategic map incorrectly.
As it stands today, Syria is effectively divided. The
rebels are in control of much of the north and the east, with
some regime pockets in those areas. And the regime meanwhile
controls the coastal mountains in the northwest, much of
central city of Homs and most of the capital of Damascus.
Recently, the regime, with direct support from Iran and
Hezbollah, launched a campaign to secure the corridor from Homs
to Damascus and to recapture the strategic town of al-Qusayr on
the Lebanese border. News this morning actually is that the
town has fallen into their hands.
The plan is of consolidating the regime in a reduced but
clearly defined enclave. And this is Assad's plan B in Syria,
but it is also Iran's plan B in Syria. Iran has signaled very
clearly that it considers the toppling of the Assad regime to
be a red line that it will spare no expense to prevent from
happening. Therefore, to safeguard its core interests, Iran
seeks to ensure the regime's continuity in the reinforced
canton, with access to the Mediterranean and territorial
contiguity with Tehran subsidiary in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
This explains the battle for al-Qusayr as you can see on
the map, the town lies across the border from Hezbollah's north
stronghold in northeastern Lebanon. Securing al-Qusayr aims to
protect the corridor along Lebanon's eastern border down to
Damascus and also secures the land bridge from the Syrian ports
on the Mediterranean as well as from the Damascus airport
further south and to ensure supplies to Hezbollah-controlled
territory in the Bekaa. This enclave is a vital island of
influence for the IRGC on the Mediterranean, adjoined and
flanked by Hezbollah and Lebanon.
In effect this is what the Assad regime today is, an IRGC
protectorate. Assad is relying on the Iranians for funds, arms,
hardware and personnel. Hezbollah is spearheading operations on
various fronts. And other Iranian assets from the pro-Iranian-
Iraqi militias are as well deployed in Damascus and elsewhere.
Iran views the battle for Syria in strategic terms.
Unfortunately, current U.S. policy does not, and that is the
problem. More than 2 years after the Syrian uprising, the U.S.
policy remains unclear.
What is our primary interest in Syria? Do we want to see
the Assad regime toppled or not? Washington's position is
ambiguous. If the regime in Tehran is our principal foe--and I
submit that it is--then U.S. policy should proceed from this
basic starting point. We should begin by clearly and credibly
defining the goal of U.S. policy to be the removal not just of
Assad personally but of his regime. U.S. policy should
explicitly state that the maintenance of the structures of
Iranian influence in Syria is antithetical to U.S. interests.
Currently, the policy seems more focused on the faith of
Assad himself but that misses the larger strategic context.
Worse still, the perception in Damascus is that in contrast
with Iran's commitment to the survival of the regime, the U.S.
lacks such commitment and such strategic clarity.
The current U.S. posture is not cost-free, both on the
moral and strategic level. Aside from the horrific toll in
human life, the policy as it stands now is on course to preside
over the division of Syria into an IRGC island in possession of
chemical weapons and advanced Russian strategic weapons system
in one part of the country and a patchwork of militias in the
rest. The U.S. must devise a twofold strategy: Prioritizing the
threat to be first to break the Iranian archipelago of
influence in the Mediterranean.
To deny the Iranian victory, the U.S. must target the
avenues of Iranian support to the Syrian regime. That would
mean striking the Damascus airport and various airfields in
western Syria using standoff weapons, if necessary, to achieve
In tandem with this measure, the U.S. should exercise
leadership, bringing together allies that have been eager from
the beginning for more robust action, and use their resources
and their intelligence channels to the various rebel groups,
using a two-pronged position approach. One on the border with
Turkey in the north, using Turkey's excellent relations with
some of the rebel groups fighting there, and a similar policy
in Jordan in the south.
To conclude, openly stating that handing Iran a strategic
defeat in Syria is a priority for the U.S. is where it must all
start. Exercising credible U.S. leadership to rally already
eager allies around that stated objective should follow and the
rest will flow from there. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Badran follows:]
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Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you Mr. Badran.
STATEMENT OF MS. DANIELLE PLETKA, VICE PRESIDENT, FOREIGN AND
DEFENSE POLICY STUDIES, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
Ms. Pletka. Thank you, Madam Chairman and Mr. Deutch.
I am honored to be back before the committee. And I thank
you for holding this enormously important hearing. I think we
have gone over a lot of the history behind how we have got to
this moment in Syria.
What we see right now on the ground is the Iranian forces
that Tony talked about, not just IRGC, but also Iranian ground
troops. We see Hezbollahis fighting on the ground. We see al-
Qaeda forces fighting on the ground. We see Russia. We see
Qatar. We see Saudi Arabia. We see Iran. We see all these
countries in the mix.
And of course, the one country or the group of countries
that you don't see are Western democratic nations. That means
that anybody who shares our values, our ambitions on the ground
is disarmed, under-armed, and under-represented. Basically,
everybody else is coming to the fight, and we have not.
That is my view, and I do believe that we have a firm
interest, not simply because Syria is a linchpin for Iran, as
you said, Madam Chairman, not simply because this is Iran's
most important ally, but because we have a humanitarian, a
moral, and a strategic interest in Syria.
I think what we need to do is pretty straightforward. It
has been said time and again, and I think there are reasonably
good arguments to make for how we can step forward. We
shouldn't forget that upwards of 80,000, perhaps even as many
as 120,000 people have been killed. If you have seen the
pictures of the children that were killed over this last
weekend, buried in mass graves along the Syrian coast, I can
assure you that the notion that we somehow have no interest
would be abhorrent to us.
We also have an interest because of the credibility of the
President of the United States. We may like him. We may not
like him. We may agree with him. We may not agree with him. We
may have voted for him, and we may not. That doesn't matter.
He is the President of the United States. He said that
Assad should step down. Assad hasn't stepped down. He said that
chemical weapons were a red line for his administration, a
``game-changer.'' He said it. In fact, chemical weapons have
been used. The U.N. confirmed that it believes they have been
used. France and England have both suggested they believe, as
have our intelligence community.
In fact, if this was a red line, what does this say about
the credibility of the President of the United States? Forget
about Syria. Let's assert that we don't care about Syria. What
does this say to the Iranian Government about our credibility
on its nuclear program if in fact on the question of Syria we
are not serious? It suggests to the world that the United
States is, in fact, a paper tiger, and I believe we are
behaving as one.
What we need to do is vet and arm those rebels who embrace
democratic norms, have a demonstrated distance from al-Qaeda
and related groups, and who have committed to turning over
Assad's illegal weaponry, chemical weapons, missiles, and other
weapons of mass destruction. We should use standoff weaponry,
such as the Tomahawk missile to disable Syrian airfields and
render inoperable the Syrian air force and its resupply hubs
that are now facilitating Assad's advance.
We should consider with our allies in NATO and in the Arab
League the imposition of a no-fly zone. I don't believe that
this is the demanding exercise that some have suggested. In
fact, Syria's Russian-supplied air defenses are probably at
less than 50 percent. Some have suggested even at 10 percent
capacity. They have not been used. The notion that we could not
take those out, we, the United States, could not take those out
is almost unthinkable.
And we should immediately impose new sanctions on
Hezbollah, including broad travel sanctions, freezing accounts
of Hezbollah-owned companies, related banks, isolating
families, and supporters of Hezbollah. We should ban the entry
into the United States of all Hezbollah officials, their
immediate families, officers, and relatives of banks and
companies with substantial Hezbollah holdings.
Without his air force, Assad will be far more vulnerable;
without Hezbollah on the ground or at least if Hezbollah is
hobbled, Assad's forces will be far more vulnerable.
The reason we need to tip the balance should be pretty
obvious. What should we do once Assad falls? Also a vital
question. And we need to answer that question now and not
dither tactically while groups alien to us take over. What do
we support? What do we support? Democratic rule, equal rights,
secularism, the protection of minorities, women's rights, and
Throughout the Middle East, countries have moved away from
these values, and we have done nothing.
Throughout the countries of the Arab Spring, we have seen
as each of these countries has moved away, and we have
continued to give aid a pace. We have not emphasized these
values. We haven't rewarded people who share those values.
You, this committee, Members of Congress, have an enormous
say in how we give our taxpayer dollars to these countries, to
these governments, and to NGOs. And we have to change the way
that we administer our assistance.
Just a last word, for those who ask why America should
care, remember, when we allow extremism and tyranny to flourish
without counterbalancing it, we pay a heavy, heavy price. We
may not pay that price immediately, but we will ultimately. We
have an important strategic choice. We have an important moral
choice. And we should do the right thing. If the President
doesn't want to put a strategy in place, I suggest that you
[The prepared statement of Ms. Pletka follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much. Thank you.
STATEMENT OF JON ALTERMAN, PH.D., DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST
PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
Mr. Alterman. Madam Chair, Ranking Member Deutch,
distinguished members, it is an honor and a pleasure to appear
before you again today, this time to talk about U.S. policy
toward Syria. It is hard for anyone to look at Syria and be
satisfied, least of all U.S. Government officials. There is an
important different though between being dissatisfied with
conditions in Syria and terming U.S. policy a failure. There is
an even bigger difference between being dissatisfied with
policy and implementing one that will actually work better.
As we discovered all too well in Iraq, not all alternatives
to a troubled policy are an improvement. Indeed, from George
H.W. Bush's policy of engagement with Iraq in the late 1980s to
a policy of diplomacy in the 1990s to a policy of invasion and
reconstruction in the 2000s, we have seen several decades of
U.S. policies that have failed to meet even modest expectations
set for them.
Iraq is a reminder of our limited ability to shape outcomes
in complex and polarized situations and a reminder that the
quality of outcomes sometimes has only a distant relationship
to the level of effort and resources that we put into them.
Six years ago, the full Foreign Affairs Committee held a
hearing with a somewhat more sober title than the present
hearing entitled, ``Iraq: Is The Escalation Working?''
Madam Chair, at that hearing, you quite correctly said,
``Before writing off Iraq as lost, we must ask ourselves what
alternative policy there is and what are the consequences for
the safety of our troops and for the United States' strategic
interests in predetermining defeat.''
I totally agree. And it is that constructive spirit that
you brought to the task then that I would like to bring to the
As you suggested at the time, the proper measure of a
policy is the prospect of its alternatives. In order to judge
that, one must first decide one's interest that the policy is
seeking to preserve and the tools at hand to protect those
To me, the starting point is that Syria is strategically
important because of its effects on its neighbors and
neighborhood. By both geography and design, Syria is a hub
state. All five, all five, of Syria's neighbors are important
to the United States.
The second aspect that needs attention is the rise of
jihadi groups in Syria who feed on the conflict to recruit
The third aspect is the malign efforts of Iran, Russia, and
others to shape a status quo in the Middle East that is deeply
unfavorable to American interests.
The written testimony goes into considerably more detail
than I could do so here, but I have five basic recommendations
for U.S. policy going forward, which represent modifications of
our current policy rather than its abandonment.
The first is safe havens. I share the American public's
caution about committing troops to Syria, and I fear that we
could be drawn into actions that we neither intend nor desire.
But the first point I made about the fragility of neighboring
states straining under the flow of refugees needs attention. It
seems to me we should be actively considering the creation of
safe havens. The key is to have limited objectives in doing so
and not to provide a base for people in those areas to try to
overthrow the regime because ultimately, that just puts us into
Second is weapons. I see wisdom in providing limited
weapons for self-defense with the desire of helping civilians
protect their homes, rather than with the hope that weapons can
tip the balance in the war.
And diplomacy, as many of you have said, we have been
pursuing diplomacy with friends and foes alike. But from the
outside, it looks to me like there is too much agreeing to
disagree. We can't care about everything, but we should care
deeply about the diplomacy surrounding Syria and make clear
that it affects the core of our relationships. This is true for
our allies. This is true for our relations with Russia. And I
think that we have to be more creative as we deal with Russia,
finding potential future courses of policy that are more
agreeable to us than they are to the Russians.
And intelligence, the jihadi networks are notoriously hard
to penetrate, but given the fact that they have to recruit so
much, this should be a bonanza for friendly services to
infiltrate al-Qaeda and its affiliate networks and try to
understand them. We should also look for ways to share
intelligence with carefully vetted fighting groups in order to
help compensate the superior aerial coverage of the Assad
In terms of a settlement, I agree with you, Madam Chair,
that as odious as the Assad regime is, there is little question
that even more odious characters lurk in Syria. A settlement
that arises from a negotiated transfer of power stands a far
greater chance of improving Syrians' lives than building from
the ashes of even deeper sectarian killings and ethnic
I don't suggest this path because it is a perfect one but
because it seems to me to be the best out of a series of really
bad choices. We could clearly dislodge Basahr al-Assad with
enough time, money, and lives, but it is unclear we want to pay
that price or how we might shape the aftermath. There isn't a
simple solution to the problem of Syria and even with a
commitment of much greater funds, the battle is likely to last
for many more years.
When I worked on the Hill myself with Congressman Connolly,
the U.S. Government supported decade-long insurgencies in
Afghanistan and Nicaragua and helped defend the Government of
El Salvador in its own decade of war. Regardless of what
happens to Bashar tomorrow, the problems of Syria will be with
us for years to come.
We all have hopes for Syria, and I would argue that
sentiment in the United States is relatively unified as to what
a positive outcome in Syria would look like. Yet, rather than
focus on our hopes, we have to focus on our needs. We must
pursue a policy that meets those needs for Syria while being
attendant to the other demands placed on our military and our
Government. Our interests call for focus and not for hopes.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Alterman follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much for three excellent
I wanted to ask on two issues. The use of chemical weapons
and the role Russia. You have all referred to that.
In April, as you pointed out, Ms. Pletka, the White House
sent a letter to Congress that said that intelligence agencies
assessed chemical weapons had been used in Syria with varying
degrees of confidence. And yesterday, as you said, France and
Britain announced that they have confirmed that sarin had been
used several times in the Syrian conflict. What should the
United States and other responsible nations do to ensure that
Assad's chemical weapons aren't used further, if these reports
are true? How can we prevent the theft or transfer by or to
terrorist groups? How can we approach the difficult task of
securing and safely dismantling the stockpile? How can we
receive assurances from the opposition forces to allow us to do
this if they succeed in ousting Assad? And turning to Russia,
as we know, Russian arms have helped lead to the escalation of
violence and bombings. And the addition of Russian weapons,
whether they have been used totally or not to the theater,
heightens tensions across the region, fearing that these
advanced weapons systems could fall into the wrong hands, and
be turned against the U.S. or Israel.
Russia clearly has a financial interest in arming Syria,
has no interest in seeming to stop selling arms to Assad, and
the latest sales announcement not only caused harm in Syria but
harms the diplomatic relations between U.S. and Russia to try
to broker a peace between the warring parties. How can we
leverage our power to convince Russia to stop arming Assad and
his forces, to stop its support for the regime, to try to
negotiate a peaceful settlement that will bring this bloody
conflict to an end? And if Russia continues to arm Assad
despite our best efforts to get Moscow to stop, would sanctions
against Russia be an effective tool in our diplomatic toolbox
to facilitate this? We will start with Mr. Badran. If you would
keep the answers brief, so we can get to the three of you.
Mr. Badran. Thank you. With regard to the Russian weapons
system, it is important to understand what that means for
Russia. On the one hand, the Russian position on Syria has not
changed. They have an interest in the survival of this regime.
It is a foothold for them in the region, and it is an
opportunity to sabotage U.S. interests as well. But now what
happened also is that they are giving these advanced strategic
weapons, be they the S-300 anti-aircraft or the anti-naval
missiles that they gave, those things now are effectively in
the hands of an IRGC base on the Mediterranean. And this is
something that we have to look at, when we look at Israel's
reaction to these things, it is important to draw the lesson
from their actions.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Let me just interrupt you and just get to
the other two because we only have 2 minutes.
Mr. Badran. Sure.
Ms. Pletka. So, briefly, on the question of chemical
weapons, there is no way to secure those chemical weapons
through any of the steps that I advocated. A no-fly zone is not
going to secure chemical weapons, neither is taking out Assad's
air power, neither is arming the opposition. The only way to
secure chemical weapons 100 percent is if we put troops on the
ground and we take them ourselves. And we don't want to do
that. None of us have recommended it. I didn't hear anybody on
the dais recommend it either. Nobody thinks this is a good
That means that if you preclude that option, you require
somebody on the ground to win. Assad wins. Iran, as Tony said,
Iran, Assad have these weapons. Of course, they have had them
all along. It didn't concern us this much 2 years ago. If the
opposition wins, if the wrong guys in the opposition continue
to prevail--and they are right now the best armed--when you
talk about arms getting into the hands of bad guys, let me
promise you, arms are already in the hands of bad guys. Arms
are in the hands of the worst guys. It is the better--and I
appreciate Jon's statement because of course there is no good
here. But the better guys are the least well armed. The bad
guys are the best armed. The only way that we can secure these
is to look for an outcome in which we can work with a party
that is responsible and committed to the same or similar ideals
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you.
Let me just give the last 30 seconds to Dr. Alterman.
Mr. Alterman. Madam Chair, on the Russia issue, as I said,
I think we have to, first, as we negotiate with the Russians
over this, we have to find alternative future courses of policy
they like less than what we are doing. Appealing to their
higher sensibilities I think isn't going to work. There are
things we can offer that are will make the Russians unhappy.
There are things we can probably offer to make them happy. The
Russians have a serious concern with terrorism and jihadism in
the Caucasus. We may have things we can help them with. And I
think that ultimately we have to be negotiating better, not
appealing to their higher instincts but to their interests, and
understanding what those interests are.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Mr. Deutch.
Mr. Deutch. Thank you, Madam Chair.
And thanks to the panel for excellent testimony.
Dr. Alterman, I will start with you. I continue to be
frustrated with the actions of our allies that continue to
undermine our security in the region. The United States shares
security responsibilities for the Gulf with our allies. In
fact, the United States spends a lot of money and sells a lot
of arms to ensure that security. And while some have been
supportive, there are those that continue to strengthen
extremist groups. What leverage do we have to convince Qatar
and Turkey, for example, that supporting extremist elements
ultimately threatens regional security?
Mr. Alterman. Thank you very much for that question.
It is hard to say what we should be doing that we are not
doing, and it is hard to figure out exactly what we are doing.
The emir of Qatar was just here. I don't know the nature of
those conversations. I don't know the extent to which the
President spoke to him, quite frankly, about it. I think the
nature of our deep relationships with these countries means
that there are things we can both hold at risk and things we
can reward. And there are many, many common interests that we
should bring to bear. I think the key issue is elevating it,
making it clear that this is very important to us, that there
are things that we will not continue to do, things we will do
less of because we can't have people undermining what we
consider a vital interest.
Mr. Deutch. What are those things, Dr. Alterman?
Mr. Alterman. Well, we have a very active air base at Al
Udeid. The Qataris remind us all the time that this is their
sovereign territory. They make sure that we respect that. There
are many places we could put an air base in the Gulf. And we
have other air bases in the Gulf. I think one of the things
that I would suggest that we talk with the Qataris about if we
haven't already is that our reliance on Al Udeid so heavily may
be something we have to reconsider.
Mr. Deutch. Ms. Pletka, you are nodding?
Ms. Pletka. I couldn't agree more. I think Jon is exactly
right. I think the Qataris have basically been allowed cost-
free to play both sides. They do the same thing with Iran. They
do the same thing with the Salafi groups. And the fact that
that has continued is because they play both sides with us as
well. On the one side, we have Al Udeid and they use that as
leverage over us. We need to take that leverage away, and we
need to ensure that they are more isolated. I think the Saudis
to a slightly lesser to extent are also at fault here. Any time
you subcontract your foreign policy to the likes of Saudi
Arabia and Qatar--which is what we have done in Syria--you end
up with an outcome that isn't very happy. Look at Afghanistan.
Mr. Deutch. Mr. Badran?
Mr. Badran. I actually disagree on that last point. Because
Saudi effort in arming the rebels through Jordan has been
through groups that have been very much vetted and the United
States has been actually quite pleased with those types of
groups. They have a great close working relationship with
Jordanian intelligence. The thing you will have to keep in
mind, though, is that the reason why these groups, the more
hardcore groups thrive, these hardcore groups thrive when there
is especially a sectarian environment where you see an Iranian
explicitly Shiite offensive happening, and there is nobody else
coming to the aid. So they pose as a vanguard to help the
Syrian people. To deny them that ability is I think what should
be the U.S. role in Syria.
Mr. Deutch. Just looking ahead, let's assume that there is
a willingness on the part of the Russians to engage in a
meaningful peace process. Let's assume that all of the parties
that would need to participate would be willing to participate.
Ultimately, what does a resolution look like in Syria? And I
guess the fundamental question is, do the borders remain the
same? Number one. If not, what would a breakup of Syria or a
redrawing of the boundaries look like? And is that something
that we should even be entertaining?
Mr. Alterman. The borders in the Middle East, given that
they were sort of drawn rather artificially on a map, have
proved remarkably resilient. The only two places they have
moved are in the Arab-Israeli conflict and in the two Yemens
uniting. And otherwise, all these other countries that were
just put together have been pretty durable. My guess is that de
jure, the borders of Syria will remain in tact. De facto there
may be some diffusion of power, the government may not either
care to exercise control or be able to exercise control over
the whole country. I think what we are looking at either way is
a multi-year effort. And the biggest mistake we can make about
Geneva is assuming that Geneva is going to have a solution. And
if it doesn't have a solution, it is a failure, and we will
have to find something else to do.
We are going to have to work on a process of dealing with
the issues in Syria. When I was at the Zaatari refugee camp in
Jordan a couple of weeks ago, the assumption there was that
they would have a large multi-hundred-thousand refugee problem
in Jordan for at least 2 more years, and that is if the problem
gets solved tomorrow.
Mr. Deutch. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Deutch.
Great questions. Mr. Chabot is recognized for his time for
Mr. Chabot. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I had mentioned in my opening statement a couple questions
that I had. And those are the ones I wanted to go into. One was
about Hezbollah, its growing role, and what difference it is
making, and what sort of role do you think it will play once
this whole thing plays out, whatever it might be. And I will
open it up to any of the witnesses that might like to speak on
Mr. Badran. Thank you. Yeah.
As I mentioned, Hezbollah's role right now in Syria is
really as the shock troops for the Assad regime. I mean, they
are very much leading on all major critical functions. They are
the ones who took the al-Qusayr down. They have been deployed
there for several weeks now. They have taken losses, though,
losses that they didn't expect. And the ratio is very high. So
I think if they continue to be stretched this thin along other
fronts in Syria, they may encounter problems. But the thing is,
they have a State, like Iran, that is banging them with
material and everything, whereas the other side is pretty much,
they can put up a fight for a while, but then they have to pull
Mr. Chabot. Okay. Thank you. Yes?
Ms. Pletka. I am curious whether anybody thinks that there
has been any additional price imposed upon Hezbollah for the
role that it is playing in Syria or whether there has been any
additional price that has been imposed on Hezbollah for the
escalation and the quality and quantity of armaments that have
been transferred to them via Syria for use in Syria and for use
on the Lebanese-Israeli border. I am not aware of any effort to
impose any additional meaningful sanctions. There have been
some few on the edges.
But that is it. There is a Hezbollah-backed government in
Lebanon. We continue to provide assistance to Lebanon. Tony and
I can probably fight this one out afterwards about whether this
is a good thing or a bad thing. Nonetheless, these are options
that remain for us. I sat here at this table and I said that
Hezbollah was the best armed, most sophisticated, most
dangerous terrorist group in the world. And I take that, fully
understanding the capabilities of al-Qaeda. And the truth is we
don't take them seriously in any way.
This is meaningful, even if you couldn't give a darn about
Syria. If you care about what is going to happen in Iran if you
care about maintaining a military option, the fact that we are
uninterested in de-fanging Iran's most important proxy that
exists around the world and raises millions of dollars here in
the United States every year is a problem. We need to do
something about it.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you very much.
Mr. Alterman. If there is a small silver lining, it is that
the more Hezbollah does things that are away from its core
principles, the more Hezbollah weakens its legitimacy inside
Lebanon. All right? Hezbollah was used to fight other Lebanese;
that took them down a notch. Hezbollah is being used as the
shock troops of Bashar al-Assad in Syria against Syrians. That
is not what Hezbollah is supposed to be for. I think that there
is a possibility playing the diplomacy the right way to help
use this episode to discredit Hezbollah in Lebanon, which could
ultimately help to serve American interests.
Mr. Badran. Instead of just discrediting, I would say to
use this episode to help beat Hezbollah in Syria as well.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you.
And also on stability in Jordan--and King Abdullah was here
recently. What impact would you say this is having on his reign
and reforms there and the rest?
Mr. Alterman. Jordan is under tremendous pressure. I think
what I worry about is not Jordan this month but Jordan for the
next several years dealing with another huge refugee
population. I was talking to somebody yesterday who speculated
that more than half the population of Jordan is now refugees of
one kind or another. It is a horrible not only financial
problem, but also an intelligence problem, a law enforcement
problem, an infrastructure problem. The Zaatari refugee camp,
which has somewhere between 120,000 and 170,000 residents,
depending on who you are listening to--the Jordanians tend to
give larger numbers. It is all electrified. I saw hardware
stores with electric fans and all kinds of things. All the
electricity is stolen. They have people who wire into the
electrical grid, and the camp had electricity shut off because
there was a $1 million unpaid electrical bill. Well, the guys
from the U.N. said we have to find electricity or people become
totally unruly. But somebody has to pay the Jordanians for the
electricity. Just on the water and electrical problems, it is a
huge pressure on the country in terms of employment, in terms
of food, a huge set of problems for Jordan. As I say, not this
month; this is going to be going on for a while.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you.
Ms. Pletka, did you want to say something?
Ms. Pletka. It is the reason, what Jon just outlined is a
danger to the regime and to the government in Jordan I think is
something that isn't talked about often enough. We all look at
Syria in a vacuum, as if it is somehow an island on the moon.
Consider the countries that are around Syria--Turkey, Israel,
Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq. Maybe we don't care about what is
happening in Syria--I do, but maybe we don't writ large. If you
consider that the governments in each of these countries could
be destabilized to the point of falling, that war could be
taken to Israel, these are things that are going to embroil the
United States, whether we want it or not.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. Thank you, Mr. Chabot.
Mr. Connolly is recognized.
Mr. Connolly. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and thank you to
Mr. Badran, you showed us a map. Were you implying or
stating that we should understand from that map that the Assad
regime has already conceded large swaths of territory and in
the future intends to concentrate on that swath in red you
Mr. Badran. I believe that if they could take the other
parts back, they would. The thing is they have limits in their
manpower and hardware that prevents them from doing so.
However, what they have done with these other parts that have
fallen out of their control is use Skud missiles and their air
power to deny the rise of an alternative government, which a
lot of people, especially like Ambassador Frederic Hof says
after leaving government, has advocated the no fly option
precisely so that we can start an alternative government in
Mr. Connolly. And in your view, were they to do what you
suggest they are probably going to do, and this morning's fall
lends some credence to your theory, is it your view that they
could make that viable?
Mr. Badran. I think if they can consolidate in that area
with the Hezbollah, Iraqi militias and Iranian personnel on the
ground, Russian weapons systems and chemical weapons, they can
pretty much deter people from trying to storm it. And look at
what the world, the United States is offering them in return, a
negotiated settlement, a negotiated settlement that allows them
to consolidate this ground, not firepower to the other side to
be able to challenge it.
Mr. Connolly. I listened to your testimony, and I
particularly listened to Ms. Pletka's testimony.
You will forgive me, Ms. Pletka, but hearing you, I hear
echoes of NeoCon arguments about Iraq not a decade ago, and I
want to give you an opportunity, but you use phrases like ``we
have done absolutely nothing.'' I beg to differ. The United
States most clearly has done something in the Arab Spring with
limited options, but it is hard to argue we did nothing in
Libya. I know for a fact, having been there, that we have been
pretty engaged in Egypt. I know we have been supportive of the
very values you extol in Tunisia.
But I would suggest one must not confuse the limited
ability to influence events with therefore construing it as
doing nothing. I wonder if you would comment.
Ms. Pletka. I am a big supporter of the Iraq war. This
Mr. Connolly. I guessed that.
Ms. Pletka. You are very astute. I am a big supporter of
the Iraq war. I think the Iraqi people are pretty grateful to
have been liberated.
But I want to remind this committee and you, sir, of
something that happened in 1991. At the encouragement of
President George H.W. Bush, the Iraqi people rose up against
Saddam Hussein. We had a choice before us at that moment. We
could have supported them, and we never would have entered Iraq
at all. We chose not to do so, and ultimately, we went to war.
Whether you like it or not, the fact is we did go to war. Had
we thought differently about it at the outset, perhaps things
would have ended differently.
I am suggesting that on the question of Syria, we have a
proxy military, people who are willing to fight and die in
order to oust Bashar al-Assad, not American soldiers, not
American men and women. We should be supporting those people--
Mr. Connolly. And it is very clear in your mind who those
people are. And we can single them out, and we can disaggregate
providing weapons to them from providing weapons to extremists
Ms. Pletka. Of course, I would always defer to the
President and his officers in making those decisions, but
certainly the CIA has suggested and is already vetting people
on the ground, and they believe that that is a capability that
Does that mean that we can distinguish perfectly among
them? Our track record isn't ideal. But I would also suggest to
you that had we been a little bit more proactive at the outset,
none of these groups would have been present on the ground.
They entered into Syria when Syria spiralled out of control. A
little bit of proactive thinking is a good policy for America.
Mr. Connolly. I thank you. And that proactive thinking has
certainly arguably not paid off for us in Iraq either. You say
people feel liberated. Well, there are lots of other much more
complex aspects to our involvement in Iraq, and I am not sure
all of the outcomes that we see in Iraq are to our liking.
Mr. Alterman, did you want to comment?
Mr. Alterman. One of the very troubling things I find about
Syria, I think it is useful to remind the committee, is that
not all Syrians want the end of the Assad regime. It is partly
for sectarian reasons but also for class reasons. For many
Syrians, especially the middle class and upper class in cities,
they look at the rebels as Vandals coming in and eating the
organs of government troops on YouTube and all sorts of things.
There is a part of this, as we look toward a solution, that
we don't have unanimity of the people that the regime has to
go. As we look at options, we have to take seriously the view
that Syria remains a divided population, not a unified
population rising up against a tyrant.
Mr. Chabot [presiding]. Thank you, the gentleman's time has
The gentleman is recognized for 30 additional seconds.
Mr. Connolly. I was simply going to concur with Dr.
Alterman that that is an important piece to this very complex
puzzle. I can tell you in my own district, Syrian minorities
have very mixed feelings about what is unfolding in Syria. It
is not the Manichean world Ms. Pletka would have us see. Thank
Mr. Chabot. Thank you. The gentleman's time has expired.
The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger, is recognized
for 5 minutes.
Mr. Kinzinger. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was just shocked
by the last 5 minutes of what I have heard. So I guess
evidently the new thing is when America stands up for oppressed
minorities, when America stands up for freedom, when we see
80,000 innocent people murdered by a regime that is supported
by Iran, the new argument is to say, well, if you support doing
something, then you are an extension of NeoCon arguments.
And I didn't hear anywhere in Ms. Pletka's testimony,
which, by the way, was to me an incredible 5 minutes of what we
need to do, I heard nowhere in there you say that we should
send 150,000 troops in. I heard nowhere in there did you
believe that--did you even compare that to any activity that we
did in Iran. But yet being involved to stand for an oppressed
minority or an oppressed people by a regime supported by Iran
has now become a new NeoCon argument. Shocking to me.
And this is the bigger problem. The bigger problem is we
have now accepted that since we went through a decade of war,
part of which was brought on in Afghanistan by somebody that
killed thousands of American people, innocent American people,
since we are now a little fatigued, we can't do anything around
the globe now but retreat and not be involved. That is what I
am hearing, and it is actually pretty scary to me.
So I didn't intend to go off into that minute and a half,
but let me--and first off, I would love for those who are
saying that America is already very so involved in Syria,
please tell that to our allies, because our allies have begged
us to get involved in Syria.
The Turks, you know, other allies around the region have
begged us to be involved. They say we need American leadership.
So, please, if you think we are already involved enough in
Syria, tell them because they need to hear that then.
All right. There we go. Let me just say I was actually a
supporter of the President's policy in Libya. I was one of six
Republicans to vote for it because I believe that a strong
United States is a stabilizing force around the globe.
But I believe now we have two messages that are coming out
of the administration. There is the message that is domestic,
which says, hey, just trust us, you know, we are actually doing
something in Syria, but we can't really talk about it. And, by
the way, if we do anything we can't control the outcome anyway.
I mean, it is just a fait accompli. And then, again, there is
the international message where the international community is
bewildered because for the first time in history, America has
done absolutely nothing really in a big situation like this.
My question is, and it was to Ms. Pletka's statement, I
think one of the biggest issues--basically the last 10 years
has almost been a proxy war to some level against Iran. Iran is
the big issue in the area. What message, especially when it
comes to the issue of denuclearization that we are going to be
very concerned with, what message has the United States policy
in Syria sent in a larger case to Iran? I want total start with
you, Ms. Pletka. I will let the other two answer, but please
keep it short because I have a whole bunch of other stuff.
Ms. Pletka. I think I said in my statement, and thank you
for defending the values that I think we should stand for, by
the way, the message that we send to Iran is very clear and the
inference that the Iranians have drawn is very clear. The
United States is not serious. We are not serious about our red
lines. We are not serious about imposing our will and that we
will not in fact do what it takes to stop them from proceeding
toward a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Kinzinger. Let me add to that, the red line situation.
Look, what should we do if chemical weapons are used, I am not
going to advocate one way or another right now. But I will say
if you are the President of the United States and you ever,
ever utter the word ``red line,'' I don't care if you are in
the middle of a campaign, I don't care if you are in the middle
of a crowded theater on fire and the only way to evacuate it is
to say the word ``red line,'' you never use that unless you
even intend to follow through, because you are the President of
the United States. And when you need to use a red line now,
like in Iran, they are going to laugh. And you actually make
war much more likely when you give the impression that you are
not going to stand behind your word, because your enemies don't
take you seriously.
Dr. Alterman, about the message we are sending to Iran
Mr. Alterman. I think the Iranians are looking at a lot of
things. They are looking at what we are doing in North Korea.
They are looking at a whole series of issues. I think the
Iranians, quite frankly, are looking at our budget situation.
And I would argue that the greatest threat to our standing in
the world is not an individual policy or two; it is the fact
that we seem unable to make decisions about what our priorities
are. We are unable to rebalance what our commitments are. And I
would argue that distinguished members of this committee and
this House need to take seriously the fact that how we resource
what we do in the world will determine what we can do in the
world and what people think----
Mr. Kinzinger. Let me cut you off there. I agree with you.
I don't disagree at all. I am sorry, sir, I don't have enough
time to give you an opportunity.
But let me just say, we snatched--I am worried that we
snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq. I am worried
that we are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in
Afghanistan. And I look at this administration's policy in
Syria, and I wonder if we are about to make the same mistake.
I thank you, and I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chabot. Thank you.
The gentleman's time has expired.
The gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Schneider, is recognized
for 5 minutes.
Mr. Schneider. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Alterman, you referred to Syria as a hub state,
critical to the entire region, its bordering countries, and as
I have talked about this, I see it as a corkscrew. Whether we
turn left or we turn right, we risk bringing all the states
around it into the conflict.
Ms. Pletka, you talked about forces on the ground, and I am
interested to know are you aware of any of the states in the
region that have forces on the ground, Ms. Pletka?
Ms. Pletka. Forgive me, I apologize, I was talking to my
colleague, and I thought you were directing a question to Mr.
Alterman. Forces on the ground?
Mr. Schneider. I was talking about hub states--the Syria
being a hub state in the region. Are any of the bordering
states to Syria, do they have currently forces on the ground?
You said there were foreign troops on the ground.
Ms. Pletka. Yes. In fact, one of the most interesting and
troubling things that we have seen, we, AEI, together with the
Institute for the Study of War, just put out a paper on Iranian
activities in Syria, and one of the things that we saw is that
the Iranians are not just arming and supporting or----
Mr. Schneider. I am aware of the Iranian troops on the
ground. I am talking about our allies.
Ms. Pletka. Oh, our allies on the ground? There have been
reports that we have Special Forces. I can't confirm,
obviously. There are reports that there are the other troops
there covertly even from the Gulf. I am not aware of any. I
haven't seen them on the ground.
The point I wanted to make to you, though, that is very
interesting, and I hope you will appreciate it, is that the
Iranians don't just have IRGC on the ground----
Mr. Schneider. I understand. But you had said in your
opening remarks there are forces on the ground, fighting,
supporting the rebels. I am not aware of that. So I was
Ms. Pletka. There are forces on the ground? I am sorry----
Mr. Schneider. You said evidence of foreign troops.
Ms. Pletka. There are Iranians on the ground.
Mr. Schneider. But not foreign troops fighting the Assad
Ms. Pletka. Oh, foreign troops fighting the Assad regime?
There are certainly foreigners affiliated with al-Qaeda who
have entered the conflict.
Mr. Schneider. We have got al-Nusra. We have got al-Qaeda.
We have got the rebels----
Ms. Pletka. Forgive me for misunderstanding you.
Mr. Schneider. But as we look to the foreign troops coming
in fighting the regime, they are not troops that we would look
long-term strategically to be allies of the United States or
our allies in the region.
Ms. Pletka. No, those are the only ones who are being
Mr. Schneider. Let me finish, please. As you advocate
reaching out and arming those rebels who embrace democratic
principles, what rebels are we talking about that embrace these
Ms. Pletka. Well, in fact the Free Syrian Army embraces
those democratic principles. Those are the forces on the ground
with whom we have been working already, but we are not arming
aggressively. Those are the forces who hold out some prospect
for a better future for the Syrian people. They are not working
with Jabhat al-Nusra. They have explicitly rejected working
with Jabhat al-Nusra and with any other group that swears
fealty to al-Qaeda.
Mr. Schneider. But what I have seen is that rebels are
fighting each other as well. To your point that the Free Syrian
Army and al-Nusra are as much in conflict with each other as
they are with the Assad regime, long term, and this is to all
of the witnesses, to topple the Assad regime without a plan and
then to have the rebels fighting each other, whether we arm the
Free Syrian Army or not, if we put arms in, and then they then
lose those arms to al-Nusra, the consequence to our allies are
the same, isn't it?
Mr. Badran. This is why, Congressman, I mentioned that we
work with this two-pronged approach, with Turkish intelligence,
which has excellent intelligence penetration in the north, and
Jordanian and Saudi intelligence, which have excellent
penetration in the south, to use them as the conduit to set up
these local forces, and therefore, you can have an intelligence
channel to these guys, and you know who they are, and you know
how to deal with them.
Second, sir, sending arms isn't just sending any type of
arms. Not everything can be found on the black market. There
are certain things, there are certain very specific tactical
systems that you can send for very specific tactical missions
and you control the flow of ammo, and that way, you can
control--you can mitigate against unwanted outcomes.
Mr. Schneider. Dr. Alterman?
Mr. Alterman. Is there a specific part of that question?
Mr. Schneider. Well, you talked about arming people to
defend their homes, but the other conversation we heard before
you was that we should arm the rebels.
Mr. Alterman. We have seen this game before. I mean, when
there are lots of weapons floating around, people have a
temporary loyalty to us. They will tell us what they know we
need to hear or what we want to hear. And then situations
change, and they have forgotten their loyalty. We used to arm
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan. Now we fight Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar. We had Stingers come out of Afghanistan. We had
MANPADS come out of Libya. I mean, we have seen this time and
time and time again.
Mr. Schneider. My time is limited so I am going to ask one
quick question. Do you see a scenario where we can arm rebels
that we won't see that scenario, or is arming the rebels going
to lead to the same story over again?
Mr. Alterman. It depends on what we arm them with.
Certainly, if there are more rifles or smaller things I am less
worried than large sophisticated systems that can harm
infrastructure, airplanes and those kinds of things.
Mr. Chabot. The gentleman's time has expired.
The gentleman from Arkansas, Mr. Cotton, is recognized for
Mr. Cotton. Thank you.
Thank you all for your time and coming today and for your
efforts to you put into your testimony. I want to thank Ms.
Pletka as well in particular for her defense of freedom. I
don't know whether you consider yourself a NeoCon or not. I am
quite sure that you are not a socialist who grew up in New York
City in the 1940s and 1950s, which some of the historically
limited knowledge colleagues of ours might not know is the
original term for neoconservatives. I could call you a Reagan
Republican, or I could call you a Truman Democrat or a Kennedy
Democrat, but I will just let you define yourself as you
I am worried that the two most likely outcomes in Syria
right now are both highly unacceptable to the West and the
United States: Assad remaining in power or an al-Nusra-led
rebel front toppling Assad and taking power. Could we just go
down the row and get your assessment of which one of those two
is more likely and which one would be worse for U.S. and
Western interests? Mr. Badran.
Mr. Badran. Thank you so much. The idea of no good guys in
Syria I think is unhelpful. In the past the United states, in
World War II, for example----
Mr. Cotton. No, I am aware that there are good guys, and I
wish that we had supported the good guys earlier, but given the
state of play right now----
Mr. Badran. In terms of strategic prioritization, I think
the defeat of Assad and all the structures of Iranian influence
in Syria is a top priority. Then you develop another strategy
to mitigate against whatever other undesirables that can
emerge. I do believe that the inherent fissures in the Syria
Sunni community, its regionalism and its internal divisions are
going to mitigate against the ability of Nusra to take over in
the sense that we consider it would.
Mr. Cotton. Is that assessment where the Gulf states stand?
Let's topple Syria, let's deal Iran a blow, and we will worry
about what happens afterwards?
Mr. Badran. Yes, sir, and I think that they also have their
own channels, not to al-Nusra, they have a multiple to the
tribes, to businessmen and so on and so forth, that I think to
just sort of condense everything to Jabhat al-Nusra is
Mr. Cotton. Ms. Pletka, what is more likely, what is worse?
Ms. Pletka. First, Mr. Cotton, thank you. I like to refer
to myself as an American.
What is worse is clearly Assad's return to power. I think
that the balance has tipped slightly toward him in the last few
weeks and that is very worrisome. The problem is that I think
that the premise that many bring to this is that somehow we can
get back to status quo ante; Assad looks a lot better now that
we see what the possible outcome is. And the answer is there is
never going to be another solid Syria under Assad, whether you
liked it or not.
We need to get rid of him, and we need to have a follow-on
policy. It is that that worries me most, frankly. We can talk a
lot about arming, who to arm, whether we can vet. But what we
do after Assad fall is going to be decisive. If we abdicate our
responsibility, if we forget about places, as we have forgotten
about parts of Libya, frankly, then we end up with a situation
in which bad guys control half the country, and we cannot allow
that to happen.
Mr. Cotton. Dr. Alterman.
Mr. Alterman. I think there is a possibility of some sort
of midpoint where Assad has control over part of the country;
other forces have control over another part of the country. We
try to make the other parts of the country successful.
I think the key to me is not thinking about this as a
moment of decision, not thinking about this as the point in
which we decide whether this is going to be won or lost, but
the changes in the Arab world are going to take more than a
decade to work themselves out. The changes in Syria are going
to take themselves more than a decade to work out.
I think we have to take a more incremental approach,
preserving our interests, trying to keep radicals from seizing
more control, putting ourselves in a better position so that
when changes continue to work through the Arab world, we can
continue to try to use them to an advantage to further American
values, American interests, and, very importantly, the
interests of the very vulnerable neighbors, who are all allies
of the United States.
Mr. Cotton. Ms. Pletka, I want to discuss now an op-ed that
you and General Keane have written about a no-fly zone. Most
people when they think about a no-fly zone think about what we
had in Iraq in the 1990s or elsewhere, where aircraft are
fighting aircraft if they are in the air. There are also
effective ways of making a no-fly zone, for example, destroying
airfields or support facilities.
Can you estimate how many airfields Syria has today, not a
precise number, but are we talking dozens, scores, hundreds?
Mr. Badran. I think the total is 25 or so, but a lot of
them are decommissioned, a lot of them are outside the control
of the Assad regime.
Mr. Cotton. There are 25 airfields in all of Syria?
Mr. Badran. Between civilian and military, something
approximately around that number. But a lot of them are in the
east and the north of the country. They have fallen outside the
regime's control or have been decommissioned even in the past.
Mr. Cotton. So 25, even if you say it was 50, that is both
airfields that Syria's fixed-wing aircraft would have to use,
but also any fixed-wing aircraft coming in from Iran for
resupply as well.
Ms. Pletka. As well as Russia.
Mr. Cotton. As well as Russia. And can you estimate if it
would take the United States military with our NATO allies
minutes or hours to destroy those airfields?
Ms. Pletka. I never want to put myself forward as a
military expert. You of all people should know that I am not
General Keane, working with him and discussing with people
whom have done serious analysis, believe that this is a
matter--that this is an operation that would certainly take not
more than days. But we need to underscore that the Syrians will
be able to repair these airfields. This is something we will
need to keep at. If we make a commitment, we will need to keep
at it. It won't be cost-free. And we do have the best
capabilities in the region. Yes, the Arab League should join
us; yes, NATO, especially Turkey, should join us. At the end of
the day, however, we do still at this moment have the best
Mr. Cotton. Thank you all for your time and your insights.
Mr. Chabot. The gentleman's time has expired.
The gentleman from California, Mr. Vargas, is recognized
for 5 minutes.
Mr. Vargas. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the
opportunity to speak.
And also I want to thank the people who are testifying
When I think of the region, I do think of a good guy. I
think of Israel. They are good guys. They have our values. They
are great allies, and I do see them as good guys. But I imagine
like most Americans, I am listening to the discussion here
trying to find the good guys here. I mean, you find the
victims, you find the people who are being killed, the
internally displaced people, the refugees, but then it just
seems like all bad guys. I mean, the other guys--these are the
guys that it seems like if you arm them, they are going to turn
around and use the weapons against the good guys in the region.
And that is my concern. I have been trying to pick sides here
and done a lot of reading, and they all seem like pretty bad
guys to me.
So how do we pick? Who do we want to end up there? Do you
want to deal a blow to Iran and Hezbollah, and I think that
that is great, but then who do you end up with? Do you end up
with people that are going to start lobbing bombs into Israel?
I mean, who do you end up with?
Ms. Pletka. Sir, you ask a very hard question, and it is
not one that any of us will be able to answer to your complete
satisfaction. You know, in World War II,we worked with Stalin's
Russia, Stalin's Soviet Union, to defeat the Nazis. I can
assure you that Stalin was not a nice man, for those who have
forgotten. And these are the choices that face us in the Middle
East as well.
You are right, there is only one good guy. Israel is a good
guy, and it has many, many enemies. And if we are a friend to
Israel, we won't abandon them to the predations of the
countries around them and say, you know what? I can't decide
who is a better guy and who is a worse guy. I am just going to
let them all kill each other and hope for the best.
We have an opportunity to help, not to resolve an outcome,
but to help to secure a better outcome that will help our ally
Israel. It is going to be a difficult decision.
Mr. Badran. I think that the Israelis themselves have given
us a very important indication as to how they calculate the
situation. They have made three incursions into Syria, strikes.
They all have been against Iranian targets. Because the way I
was recently there and an official there told me that the way
they prioritize the threat is Iran is the existential threat;
Hezbollah is a strategic threat; and whatever Islamist groups
that may emerge in Syria are a tactical threat.
Israel's number one priority is to prevent Iran from
deploying strategic weapon systems on its borders. Now Syria,
by becoming an IRGC base, in addition to Hezbollah, armed with
Russian strategic weapons, is going to be precisely the outcome
that Israel has been striving to prevent.
Mr. Vargas. Dr. Alterman.
Mr. Alterman. One of the problems with these long-ranging
military insurgencies is the people who tend to win at the end
are the people who fought the most, and the people whole fought
the most are not the nice guys. They are not democrats. They
think that they won their spoils, and now it is time to rule.
One of the certainly daunting prospects is that you have a
future government in Syria which does not have the experience
of having been deterred by the Israelis the way the Assad
government has, because for all the Assad government shoots its
mouth off about Israel, the fact is the Assad government knows
exactly what Israeli capabilities are and is very cautious
about challenging Israel.
One of the things we have to consider is the possibility
that a future Government of Syria would have to be re-deterred
by the Israelis. That is not a reason to not work for a
different government in Syria. That, I think, is one of the
reasons why we might want a more extended process of transition
But certainly when you talk to Israeli intelligence and
military people, as I have, they are not euphoric about the
fall of the person who tries to portray himself as Israel's
greatest foe in the region because he is a foe that they are
not particularly worried about.
Mr. Vargas. Thank you very much.
Speaking out of school, we heard something very similar
very recently also that in fact Syria doesn't seem to be much
of a threat to Israel as it is today, but the threat could come
about. Thank you again.
I guess I am like most Americans. It is hard to keep score
on this one. It is hard to keep score when everyone is the bad
guy on one side and you have a great guy and friend on the
other side, so how do you protect that friend. I guess that is
what I am looking for, and again, Israel being that great
friend. Thank you.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen [presiding]. Thank you very much, Mr.
Mr. Weber of Texas.
Mr. Weber. Thank you.
I have got 5 minutes. I am going to give my time to you
all. Three things that America can do to change this.
Prioritize them for me.
Mr. Badran, start.
Mr. Badran. I think the first thing that we should do is to
take out the supply lines that the Iranians are bringing to the
regime because that is really the core of his ability to
continue this war. That means the airfields, specifically
Damascus airport being a priority. Once you take those things
out, work with the Turkish and Jordanian intelligence and Saudi
intelligence in Jordan to start working with the local groups
on their borders and start making incremental assaults to deny
the ability of the regime to consolidate itself in a little
IRGC base in western Syria.
Mr. Weber. That was two. That was take out the supply
lines, work with the Turks, Jordanians and Saudis. You have got
Mr. Badran. And make sure that we state openly that the
idea of a managed political transition is a fantasy, that this
thing is not going to end until the regime is out.
Mr. Weber. Okay.
Ms. Pletka. Both Jon and Chairman Ros-Lehtinen said that
there has to be a political solution. And I agree, there does
have to be, at the end of this, finally some political
solution. No one is going to be amenable to a political
Mr. Weber. And you said we needed to vet. Let me just give
you a little bit of a--to vet pro-American forces, how do you
Ms. Pletka. Well, first of all you are not going to get rid
of bad guys unless the other side thinks they are winning. So I
do think we need to pick winners, and I am a big believer. How
do we vet them? That is the job of the CIA and our Special
Forces. That is what they are supposedly doing on the ground.
That is what they told the Congress they are capable of doing.
Mr. Weber. Pick the least onerous.
Point number two.
Ms. Pletka. We need to impose costs on those who are aiding
and abetting bad guys.
Mr. Weber. Get world opinion to work against Iran.
Ms. Pletka. Iran, Russia, Qatar.
Mr. Weber. Point number three.
Ms. Pletka. We need to have a policy. We need to have an
actual policy that desires an outcome----
Mr. Weber. Have you applied at the White House?
Ms. Pletka. I haven't, and I suspect I am ineligible in
their eyes. But having a policy and seeing it through, not just
for now but for post-Assad and for the region, will be very
Mr. Weber. Okay.
Mr. Alterman. Very quickly, we have to pay an awful lot of
attention to our allies, both protecting our good allies, and
making sure other allies are not undermining us.
Second, we have to be attendant to the jihadi threat in
Syria. That could be with us for years and years and years to
come. It could affect a whole range of allies from Europe and
Asia and beyond.
Third, we have to be focused on Iran, but not over think
the issue on Iran. One of the problems that we have fighting
Iran in this scope is that in many ways, this is their home
turf because they are used to fighting asymmetrically, and we
are used to fighting symmetrically. And we have to be more
creative about limiting Iranian influence, Iranian efforts to
disrupt. And in many ways, this is where they feel they have a
comparative advantage. We have to deny the comparative
Mr. Weber. Do you think the Iranians are a credible serious
threat to Israel's continued exist fence?
Mr. Alterman. I think the Iranians are a potential threat
to Israel's existence. They are not currently a likely threat.
And it is unclear how that might unfold. But Israel has, in
terms of conventional forces, in terms of unconventional
forces, Iran is a relatively weak country that can create lots
of mischief. And we have to be sure we don't make Iran into
something it is not, because actually that makes it easier for
the Iranians to succeed, because even when they get a tiny
victory, they can----
Mr. Weber. Let me interrupt. I am running out of time. So
without Iranian support, does the Assad regime stay atop the
government in Syria?
Mr. Alterman. I think with Russian support----
Mr. Weber. No, without Iranian support.
Mr. Alterman. Without Iranian support, provided there is
continued Russian support, I suspect that because of Russian
help in the U.N., preventing international action, and Russian
weapons and money, I think they probably could.
Mr. Weber. So Assad stays in power without Iranian support
in your opinion, if they just completely withdrew support?
Ms. Pletka. I don't think so.
Mr. Alterman. Okay, in my judgment, Russian support is
Mr. Weber. Okay. And earlier, you said in your comments
that this is a scenario that will play out in 10 years, right?
What do you mean by that? You have got 15 seconds.
Mr. Alterman. I don't have 10 years. This is not about a
Mr. Weber. You think he stays in power 10 more years?
Mr. Alterman. I am not sure he stays in power. I think
there will be elements of the regime that will have large
influence in Syria----
Mr. Weber. A divided country?
Mr. Alterman. Certainly de facto, if not de jure.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen. You have made excellent points in those 5
minutes and got great answers. Thank you.
Mr. Higgins of New York.
Mr. Higgins. Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would just say that I think it is a fair question to
raise, that is Syria the way it is because Assad is the way he
is, or is Assad the way he is because Syria is the way it is?
Syria clearly contains a volatile mix of ethnic groups and
sects. And you know the best we can hope for in any American
military intervention is to provide, as we did in the latter
stages of Iraq, provide a breathing space from which the
various factions within these countries, be it Iraq, be it
Syria, can reconcile politically and form some kind of
functioning government toward a constitution and toward some
kind of civil existence.
I would say that in Egypt, on January 25th, 2011, an 18-day
protest that was very organic was lodged against a brutal
dictator in Egypt. The greatest influence in that was a retired
English professor living in his apartment in north Boston,
Massachusetts, by the name of Eugene Sharp. He wrote a book 20
years ago called, ``From Dictatorship to Democracy.'' And
because of the power of the Internet, and the two most powerful
forces in the Middle East today are youth and technology, that
book was taken, translated into 20 different languages,
including Arabic. And in the last days of the protest in Tahrir
Square, 8 million people were on the streets of Egypt, the
largest pro-democracy demonstration in the history of the
I think there is a lot of emphasis today at this hearing,
which I think is disappointing, about whether or not we should
intervene militarily. I think that smart power is needed. I
think strong diplomacy is needed. Meaningful sanctions are
needed, and the exportation, the exportation of the American
idea. And that is based on a strong prosperous America that
takes care of its own people, because the Internet and social
media today are used not only effectively for organizational
purposes in places where demonstrations could never take place
before, but because of these great tools of collaboration we
have, they can now, but also, also, in addition to
organizational purposes, aspirational purposes, because the
young people in that part of the world see how Westerners live.
They want the same freedoms that we enjoy for our people.
Ms. Pletka, you had said that the U.S. has done nothing: $2
trillion out of the American economy, $160 billion in interest
payments, because of course the two wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan were deficit financed, that is not nothing; 2,235
U.S. casualties in Afghanistan; 4,486 U.S. casualties in Iraq,
that is not nothing.
It is very, very important to remember here that the United
States does in fact have a role. The humanitarian disasters
that are taking place in that part of the world collectively
and individually are of a great concern to us, and as a
government, as a country, I think we are doing a lot.
But there always is, there always is limitations to a super
power and what it is we can impose on a certain people. There
has to be a balance between what we can do to help them achieve
what they want and what they truly want for themselves.
And as I said at the outset, this is really not about the
good guys and the bad guys. These are about a lot of people
whose motivations are highly questionable, and what these
places will become, not tomorrow or next year, but in the next
5 to 10 years as well.
I yield back.
Mr. Weber [presiding]. Thank you, Mr. Higgins.
We will now turn to Mr. Yoho of Florida. He is recognized
for 5 minutes.
Mr. Yoho. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate your input here today. It has been interesting
to hear talks on both sides here. And I agree with both of
them, Mr. Connolly talking about our interference as NeoCon,
and I heard Mr. Kinzinger, and I agree with him, too.
Dr. Alterman, I would like to start with you because you
were talking about our willingness to intervene is unclear, and
it is because of our policies and what policies we should
pursue and that we have created a paper tiger.
And I agree with you, Ms. Pletka.
But I think the reason that we have this kind of confusion
is because we are not following this book here, and this book
is the Constitution of the United States of America. And I
don't believe anywhere in there it says about a foreign
intervention, and I believe our Founding Fathers said honest
and open trade and commerce with all nations, honest and true
friendship with all nations, intermingling with none.
Unfortunately, our policies of the last 50 to 100 years
have gotten away from this.
Ms. Pletka, you kind of scare me in your willingness to say
that we just need to do a fly-over. We did that in Libya. Libya
didn't have an advanced air force. Syria has a more advanced
air force backed by the Russian Army.
I look around this room, and I see these young men and
women in here, and for us to do that, can you guarantee me that
it won't open up to an all-out war with Iran and Russia
involved, maybe China, to bring in other people into this
Because I would like for you to come to the House Chambers
after we get done voting and look at the young men and women
there that are the wounded warriors that have gone to
Afghanistan and have gone to Iraq.
And you say we have done nothing, and I agree with the
gentleman down here. America has paid a heck of a price for the
conflicts we have had, and yet you talk about the freedom and
liberation in Iraq. But yet we have to fight for our air space
over Iraq, but Iran can fly over-over Iraq. And we have paid a
serious price. And I think our interventionist policies have
been a dangerous thing, and what I am hearing is the same
And I have asked you to discuss things outside of the box,
and I think as the gentleman talked about building and sending
information about freedoms and the ideals of America are the
things we need to talk about.
But it scares me to think that we just take it flippantly
to say we will just do a fly-over. Because if somebody did that
to this country and did a fly-over, I think we would all view
this as an act of aggression, if not an act of war. Are we not
doing the same thing over there?
I would just like to hear you guys' thoughts because I
don't like the solutions I am hearing here, and that we are
going to have to vote on some appropriations down the road. So
I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
Ms. Pletka. May I? If I may go first, I believe our
Constitution was written by people who believed in the
principles that animate our country and that they believed that
those principles were not simply for Americans alone and that
we have something to stand for in this world and that we do
right by standing by it. So I think that if our Founders were
sitting here today, they would agree.
Mr. Yoho. I disagree with that, but you can have your
Ms. Pletka. I realize that, and you made that very clear.
Second of all, yes, I think I can guarantee to you that if
we create a no-fly zone or arm the rebels in Syria, that we
will not be involved in a regional war with Iran, China and
Russia. I think I am willing to go out on that limb there, yes.
As far as our wounded soldiers, I want to defer to Mr.
Cotton, who fought in Iraq and I think can speak for the people
who he saw on the ground there. He knows much better than I do
how our men and women in uniform feel about defending the
values and principles that bring us all here today.
Mr. Yoho. Dr. Alterman.
Mr. Alterman. Sir, I agree that the Constitution has to
animate it. The Constitution, of course, provides for Congress
to declare war, and sometimes we do have to fight wars.
As I suggested, I don't think this is a time when we should
be fighting a war. So I think we are in agreement there.
I wish that this were a simple matter of providing some
pamphlets and books to a civil uprising that would end an
odious regime. I don't think we are there. We may have been
there 2 years ago. I don't think we are at that point now. I
don't think it would work.
My reading of what happened in Egypt is not simply that
some people read Gene Sharp and it inspired them and the regime
fell. I think what happened was the military made a decision.
It was the military that decided Hosni Mubarak was gone.
And one of the things that has puzzled me, quite frankly,
and that I was wrong about when I testified about Syria before
the Senate a year ago is that the military hasn't risen up
against Bashar al-Assad. The government has not split, despite
But the idea that we can simply get a mass movement and get
a dictator with blood on his hands to step down is I think
sadly wishful thinking.
Mr. Yoho. My time has expired.
Mr. Weber. Thank you, Mr. Yoho.
We will now turn to Mr. Cicilline for 5 minutes.
Mr. Cicilline. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to begin by saying I am disappointed in the title of
this hearing because I think it does a serious injustice to the
seriousness of this question and particularly the complicated
nature of this civil war in Syria.
Of course, from listening to some of the discussion this
morning you might think this is a choice between being fully
engaged in civil war in Syria, which entitles you to describe
yourself as a patriot and as an American and someone whole
cherishes American values, versus people who are weak,
interested in retreat and undermining American values.
Of course, that is not the question.
This is a complicated question about a very difficult
region of the world and the best way that the United States can
both protect our national security interests and honor our
values as a Nation.
The question is whether the United States should make
considerable financial investments and investments of U.S.
military personnel to advance the national security interests
of the United States over an indefinite period of time at the
same time that we are drawing down from our involvement in
Afghanistan and earlier from Iraq.
These are hard and complicated questions.
And I must say that I was equally disappointed to hear Ms.
Pletka say that we have done nothing in response to
authoritarian rule or antidemocratic actions. We have just
spent over $100 billion after more than a decade of war, lost
thousands of American heroes.
I have had the honor of meeting families who have lost
loved ones in those conflicts, thousands, tens of thousands of
Americans who have been maimed by war.
And I have my own view on both the war in Iraq and
Afghanistan, but there is no question that our brave men and
women were told the same things, they were defending American
And I think the notion that America has done nothing to
vindicate those values does great offense to the families who
have been impacted by those conflicts.
The administration in response to the civil war in Syria
began first by denouncing the regime, expanding U.S. sanctions
against government officials, insisting that the Assad
government embrace reform, ultimately as the repression
continue, called for Assad's resignation, has been working in a
multilateral way in the U.N. to sanction the regime, to reach a
cease-fire, to endorse a political transition plan, to expand
humanitarian and refugee assistance, and to providing limited
nonlethal assistance to the opposition.
So I think the question is, what more should the U.S. do or
can do that will effectively protect the national security
interests of the United States and help bring stability to that
region of the world?
And I had hoped we would spend time on that, rather than
challenging each other about who is really a patriot and who is
So what I would like you to focus on specifically is the
suggestion--your first suggestion, Ms. Pletka, is to vet and
arm the rebels. It seems like it would be a sensible thing to
do. If the world were so simple, we could pick out the good
guys and bad guys and cheer the good guys on and give them
tools to win.
The most recent report I have seen, which was May 13th, in
an article in the Washington Post reported that there were a
few hundred armed groups currently fighting in Syria. So my
first question really is, is arming the resistance, vetting
them, as you say, practical? And it is not enough to simply
say, oh, the CIA can do that. I am asking this panel whether or
not that is a sensible policy to pursue. Do we have the ability
to actually vet several hundred armed groups? And then even if
we are able to do that, do we have the capacity to provide
enough resources so that they prevail, and then after they
prevail, to be sure they remain in a post-Syria Government?
Because without those assurances, we are back to the same
question of do we simply invest additional American resources
or potentially American personnel without any reasonable
assurance that we will be successful at the end?
I apologize, I only have 45 seconds, but do your best.
Ms. Pletka. I would like to answer your question about
vetting, and I know my colleagues would as well, but I do want
to take issue with something you said about something I said.
First of all, when I said we have done nothing, I was
referring to Syria, not referring to tyranny and dictatorship.
And while I didn't interrupt or correct any of the previous
members who suggested that I had made that statement, I think
it is time that I do so now because I made no such statement
and I resent the implication that I did. So there we start.
On vetting, absolutely. The choice is we either don't arm
the rebels and do nothing; in other words, we don't support a
proxy that wishes to overthrow Assad, a goal that the President
has articulated for himself. Okay, we don't have to do that, or
we arm the rebels. If we want to arm the rebels, I would
suggest that it is important that we figure out who they are. I
do believe it is within our capacity. I trust the CIA when they
say we can do it. We should have done it when we armed the
rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and I believe we can do it
Mr. Badran. I think this is why I mentioned having this
two-pronged approach, working with regional allies to do that,
to help us do that, and I don't think that is necessarily going
to be a major sort of costly operation on the one hand.
On the other hand, I mean, what kind of weapons are we
talking about? We are talking about a very specific--there has
to be an integrated mission here. And this is something where
we tell them that these are the very specific weapons they are
going to get for very specific missions, two words, squeezing
the regime out of the areas that they are operating in, in the
north and the south, while, for instance, targeted strikes on
the ports of entry of resupply for the regime from the Iranians
will diminish its ability to continue fighting, and it becomes
an incremental policy toward that end. So it is without much
resource commitment at all, as a matter of fact.
Mr. Cicilline. I yield back.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Weber. Mr. Alterman, did you want a brief time to
respond to that?
Mr. Alterman. No.
Mr. Weber. Okay, thank you.
We will now turn to Congresswoman Frankel from Florida for
Ms. Frankel. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the
I had the privilege of joining Mr. Joe Wilson this past
week and some of my colleagues on a CODEL, where we went to a
few countries, but one of the stops we made was at the Combined
Air Operations Center in Doha. And one of the opportunities I
had was they took us to an area where they had a screen where
we were told there was a tracking of the missiles being fired
within Syria every single day. I mean, lots. And one of the
things that was most concerning was how close that they would
be coming, for example, to Turkey.
My question to you is, and I think you might have touched
on this before, but what do you think is the risk of the
conflict, which now we consider a civil conflict, expanding to
Turkey or Jordan, which might cause the United States more
pressure to be involved in the conflict?
Mr. Badran. I mean, the Turks have suffered, as you
mentioned, not just these kind of shellings but also terror
operations in Turkey sponsored by assets of the Assad regime
that are operating in Turkey as well.
But it is not just a civil conflict anymore. When you have
Hezbollah leading the fight on the ground on behalf of the
regime with pro-Iranian Shi'a militia from Iraq, for instance,
this is no longer a civil conflict. This is a foreign state
that is coming to defend its strategic interests in Syria.
So the question is not just whether this is going to spill
over, let's say, into the neighboring countries, which
potentially it could happen. I am not sure if it is going to
escalate to the extent that is being suggested. But the problem
is that if you leave the Iranians to win at the end of it, then
what is going to be the repercussion on all of our allies that
are around Syria? What will be Turkey's position then? What
will be Jordan's position then? What will be Israel's position
then when you have an IRGC-controlled base on the Mediterranean
in possession of strategic Russian weapons systems, for
I mean, we talk a lot about weapons not falling into the
wrong hands of the rebels, and we are talking about RPGs and
really tactical weapons. Here we are talking about strategic
weapons systems, and are we suggesting that the Assad regime
and IRGC are the right hands? I don't think that is right.
Mr. Alterman. We have already seen fighting spilling over
into Lebanon. We have seen violence in Turkey. I think there
are two ways in which this violence could spread. One is that
either regime elements or elements friendly to the regime carry
out attacks against people fighting the regime across borders.
As I say, we have seen that in Lebanon. We have seen that at
least against civilian targets in Turkey.
The other possibility is that foreign fighters who have
networked and trained in Syria go back to their homes of origin
and continue a jihad against whatever target. And that could
affect a whole range of countries, not necessarily bordering,
but it may affect most of the countries bordering Syria. And
either one of those events would be tremendously destabilizing,
polarizing, and for, especially I think the most vulnerable and
small countries, Lebanon and Jordan, over the next 5 to 10
years, that could prove to be a existential threat.
Ms. Frankel. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Weber. Thank you.
Mr. DeSantis. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thanks to the witnesses. I really appreciate you guys
Just as kind of a way of background just so I can put what
you have said in context, can you just tell me real quick, and
I am going to insist on some quick answers, Egypt. Do you think
that Egypt is better off today than under Mubarak? Do you think
that Egypt is better in terms of our strategic interests in the
region and in terms of Israel's security?
I will start with you, Mr. Badran, and go down.
Mr. Badran. I think Egypt's problems would have been just
as terrible had it been under Mubarak or now because they are
in a terrible economic situation that I don't think either
administration could have solved.
But I do think in terms of the strategic positioning of
Egypt, I don't think much has changed, to be perfectly honest
with you. So the idea of the liberties of the Egyptian people
domestically, how have these things changed for the Egyptians,
I am not so sure. I think there is much more robust
Mr. DeSantis. What about Islamist influence in the
government? Greater or less than under Mubarak, do you think?
Mr. Badran. Clearly greater, of course.
Mr. DeSantis. Ms. Pletka?
Ms. Pletka. I think the Islamists have more influence as
well. Do I think it is better for the United States? I think,
ultimately, it probably will be better for the United States,
but I think right now we are facing a very difficult situation
in Egypt, internal problems, as Tony suggested, and also
growing problems in ungoverned areas of Egypt that are going to
have implications for Egypt's neighbors.
Mr. DeSantis. Camp David Accords, more secure, less secure?
Ms. Pletka. The Camp David Accords remain secure in my
Mr. DeSantis. Doctor?
Mr. Alterman. I think Egypt is probably in the worst
condition now that it has been in its modern history. The
question is whether it can use this to bounce into a more
resilient place, and I think the jury is out. I certainly have
been troubled by many of the things that the government has
done, but I don't think the game is over in Egypt.
Mr. DeSantis. And I don't necessarily think so either. I
don't mean to cut you off, but I want to go and then just
basically kind of the same thing about Libya. You know, you
look and after Gadaffi fell, a lot of these weapons have gone
with Islamic fighters. There is a lot of jihadism in North
Africa. And I guess is North Africa a safer place now that
Gadaffi is gone or not? Because I am concerned with what I have
seen there. Whoever wants to take it.
Ms. Pletka. Thank you both for throwing me under the bus on
that one. Remember what Gadaffi did, PanAm 103, so Gadaffi was
not a nice man. The arms that have been in Libya have
absolutely traveled outside of Libya. And I think a big part of
the problem is that the United States sees the conflict as an
isolated incident that doesn't require further management.
Would we have been able to stop it? I am not certain we
would have. On the other hand, I think we need to remember that
Gadaffi was a very destabilizing influence in Africa, spent a
lot of time working to destabilize other countries and to
support--and money, absolutely, to destabilize other countries.
And right now, what we see is that there is a more democratic
government in Libya, but they do not fully control all of the
territory of Libya, and that remains a threat to the region and
Mr. DeSantis. Anyone else on that? Okay.
I appreciate that.
So I guess a lot of people would look at Syria and would
say, well, obviously Assad is not somebody who we like,
Hezbollah, Iran. You guys articulated that well, the problems
But on the other side, you see a lot of Sunni supremacist
fighters, a lot of Islamic fighters, foreign fighters.
You mentioned the foreign fighters coming in to support
Assad. There are also foreign fighters coming in to support the
other side and to wage jihad. These are people who were
fighting us in Iraq. So I guess people look at that and say,
why do we want to referee that? Neither of those outcomes would
be good if either of those--one of those sides were to
ultimately win. They are basically fighting each other and
weakening each other. Why would we want to then go in and then
become kind of the focus of them? Because I think most of them
are not going to be pro-American, even the people who are not
as Islamist. You know, they may want our aid now, but the idea
they are going to be pro-American, I am certainly not convinced
of that. So what would you say to that kind of argument?
Mr. Alterman. First, I would just reinforce your point. The
French estimate is perhaps 400 French citizens are fighting in
Syria right now. It is terrifying if you are a French security
person thinking about the security of France into the future,
especially a few weeks after two bloody attacks in London and
Paris on military personnel.
That is not to say, though, that we have no stake in how
these battles are resolved. I understand there are evil forces
on both sides. They are not all evil forces, and I think what
we have to do is find a way, consistent with our interests and
our resources, to try to influence these movements in positive
ways. They are not all negative on the rebel side. There may be
some people affiliated with the regime who we may be able to
work with. And the question is whether we can, over time, work
toward some better place which is less threatening to us, the
immediate allies and even more broadly our allies in Europe and
Asia and elsewhere and ultimately at home as well.
Mr. DeSantis. My time has expired.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Weber. Thank you, Mr. DeSantis.
We will now move to Mr. Meadows.
Mr. Meadows. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank each one of you for being here on this critical
topic. I want to give a little bit of opportunity I guess for a
few of you to expand on some of the things we have already
talked about, one of those being the arming of rebels and
specifically how do you think--what is the best way for us to
identify those rebels that would not have extremist views, and
how do we come about that? I know that is a complex question.
It is not something that is easily answered. This is a complex
What is the best way for us to do that and as Members of
Congress or the administration or the State Department,
whomever, how do we give the tools to make sure that that gets
done properly? So you threw him under the bus.
Mr. Badran. The United States has been sending nonlethal
aid. And some of it has some military function. So if we are
capable of vetting people that we are sending that type of
assistance to, I think we can look to other groups that we can
send tactical weapons to. And it is important here to also
remember that we are not talking here about scud missiles or
nuclear weapons. We are talking about tactical weaponries, you
know--rifles, rocket launchers, mortars, very basic things to
Mr. Meadows. So things that can't come back against us in a
real and powerful way.
Mr. Badran. I don't think it alters the balance of power in
the region in any way. But also, I mentioned in my testimony
that we should harness sort of the resources of allies in the
region. We have very close working relationships with some of
these groups, be they the Turks, be they the Jordanians, be
they the Saudis, be they the Qataris. And then you can look.
But the idea that we cannot give weapons to any Islamists
of any shade is unrealistic, I think. There are various
Islamists. Some of them are one shade; some of them the other.
Some of them are Islamists and are fighting--Jabhat al-Nusra,
for instance. They are also Islamists. But more the al-Qaeda
end of the spectrum.
So I think that shouldn't be a constraint. We should
acknowledge there are people--this is a sectarian war. A lot of
people take on the religious identity precisely because of the
nature of the fight, especially when they see an onslaught of
sectarianism from the other side, from the Iranians, purely
Shiite sectarian force that is fighting them. So we have to
take all of this into consideration I think.
Ms. Pletka. I fully agree with how Tony laid that out. And
I think it is very astute. You are right, and all the other
members who have suggested that there are no angels fighting in
Syria, they are all right. But despite the fact that there are
no angels, there will be an outcome.
Mr. Meadows. Sure.
Ms. Pletka. And somebody will prevail. There may be a long-
term, low-intensity conflict but somebody will come out on top.
There will ultimately be a government, and we do have an
interest in trying to ensure that the better among them do
As for vetting, I think a number of members have fixated on
this idea. And while none of us should downplay the notion that
we will be lied to, people do absolutely don the mantle of pro-
Westernism or secularism when they are neither. On the other
hand, we do this everywhere. We give billions of dollars to
Egypt. We vet who that goes to. We give millions of dollars,
tens of millions and have given billions to Lebanon. We make
sure that they do not go to the many terrorist groups that are
part of the Lebanese Government. We do that everywhere. We do
it in Russia. We do it everywhere in the Middle East----
Mr. Meadows. So how effective do you think we are at that?
And on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most effective,
are we a 7 or an 8? Where are we on that?
Ms. Pletka. I think we are a five.
Mr. Meadows. Okay. So we are missing it half the time?
Ms. Pletka. We are not great at it. And it is hard, and it
is challenging, and we don't have a lot of people. We need to
work with allies on the ground for their help. They are going
to know better.
The point here is, this is a binary sword. We either do
something, or we don't do something.
Mr. Meadows. I am one running out of time so let me finish
in with this last question because we had in this very room
Ambassador Sherman here talking about a number of things as it
deals with Iran. We talked a little bit about Russia and Iran
in that plight. Can the role of sanctions, ramping up those
sanctions on Iran, play a more critical role on the influence
of Iran in Syria with regards to their support?
Mr. Badran. Unfortunately, I don't think the sanctions have
deterred Iran from putting in all its weight in Syria. I mean,
they have been sending----
Mr. Meadows. I guess my question is, can we, if we ramp it
Mr. Badran. I think definitely anything that hurts the
Iranians is good, but I think also we have to think a little
bit outside that box and look on the battlefield in Syria. If
the Iranians are playing an asymmetric game, let's play the
asymmetric game. There are assets on the ground that we can
use. Hezbollah was dealt a very severe blow in Syria. It
sustained a really serious casualty rate. Why not help the
rebels to defeat what we consider the number one terrorist
group in the world?
Mr. Meadows. Okay. I thank the chair's indulgence, and with
that, I yield back. Thank you.
Mr. Weber. Thank you, Mr. Meadows.
That concludes this hearing of the Subcommittee on the
Middle East and North Africa.
We are adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 2:06 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
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