Offering singular praise for the reform efforts being enacted by Syria’s embattled leader, President Bashar Assad, noted anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich urged the United States and the rest of the international community to lift economic sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Rep. Kucinich’s comments were made to reporters during a visit to the Syrian capital of Damascus. There, Kucinich chastised the media for overly “dramatizing” the chaotic events transpiring in the country. According to Kucinich, Assad was “highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians,” adding that those opposing him were still free to speak their minds.
It should be noted that when his remarks appeared in the Syrian paper Al-Watan, Kucinich was quick to state he had been misquoted, saying the report contained “a number of mistranslations and mischaracterized statements. It is unfortunate that translation errors can create such problems.”
Of course, there was confusion as to why Kucinich happened to find himself in Damascus in the first place. While Kucinich said he was on a “fact-finding mission” on behalf of his constituents, Al-Watan pointed out his visit was organized by the Syrian embassy “as part of a campaign intended to relieve external pressure on the regime, and allow it to present its situation.”
In any case, whether he was misquoted or not, Kucinich has demonstrated a soft spot for the Syrian despot. In a recent interview with an American newspaper, Kucinich said he thought Assad “will move in a direction of democratic reforms. He has already made that commitment from what I can see.”
To speed that reformist commitment, Kucinich has now urged the United States and the rest of the international community to lift the economic sanctions they have imposed against the Syrian regime. Those US sanctions – which have frozen assets of selected Syrian officials – were first slapped on Syria in May 2011 by the Obama administration.
The European Union soon followed with its own sanctions, which included a travel ban and the freezing of assets for 30 additional Syrian officials. Ironically, Kucinich’s plea came on the same day the US announced a new set of US sanctions that would be placed on additional Syrian individuals and entities.
While many have viewed the sanctions as nothing more than symbolic gestures, the Syrian economy has nevertheless been undergoing some very difficult times. In May, a report by the Institute of International Finance forecast a shrink of 3 percent to Syria’s $52 billion economy this year.
Additionally, Syria’s $18 billion in reserves have been falling at a rate of $70-80 million a week. Underlying the financial insecurity, the current spate of political unrest has hindered foreign investment, leading to high unemployment and inflation.
Despite Kucinich’s belief in Assad’s Jeffersonian impulse, it’s a view not shared by many Syrians these days. To illustrate that point, in Assad’s last public speech on June 20, he trotted out his latest reform plank, which included a move towards multi-party democracy, a crackdown on government corruption, and a reduction of the political role of his Baath party.