Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) Monday called on President Obama to immediately set up an advisory panel made up of former Secretaries of State, ambassadors, statesmen and senior military officers to assist his administration in dealing with the situation in Syria.Wolf said former Secretaries of State Jim Baker and Madeline Albright, former Ambassadors Edward Djerejian, Theodore Kattouf and Ryan Crocker and Generals John Abizaid, Anthony Zinny and David Barno would all be good candidates to serve on what he calls the Syria Advisory Group.
Wolf, the author of the legislation creating the Iraq Study Group, said the group could be used as strategic envoys and negotiators in Damascus and elsewhere and would provide a dual-track approach to what the Obama Administration pursues.
“I do not pretend to think that a Syria Advisory Group is the key to a just and lasting peace in a land where much blood has been spilt,” Wolf wrote in a letter to the president today. “But I see little downside in enlisting their aid and venture that a war-weary nation would embrace such an approach.”
Wolf traveled to the region earlier this year and met with Syrian refugees in Lebanon about the horrific violence taking place, the vulnerability of religious minorities and the influx of foreign jihadist fighters into the country. Click here for a copy of his trip report.
In addition to sending the letter, Wolf said he remains deeply concerned about any U.S. military action in Syria and, if a vote were held today, he would vote against a strike. He raised concern about whether such a move would empower radical Al-Qaeda connected jihadists and if a U.S. strike would result in a retaliatory strike on the United States or American interests abroad.
Below is the complete text of Wolf’s letter:
September 2, 2013
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Few things are weightier for elected officials than matters of national security involving war and peace. These issues come to the fore as your administration has asked Congress to consider military intervention in Syria. I welcome your decision to seek congressional authorization before committing U.S. military assets in Syria as I believe this is not only a constitutionally sound course of action but, as you noted in your remarks this past weekend, our “country will be stronger” having had this debate.
The war in Syria cannot be understood outside of the broader context of regional sectarian violence. Whatever happens in Syria will have a direct impact on the Sunni-Shia divide, the future of Christians and other ancient religious minorities who are increasingly imperiled in that part of the world, the stability of strategic neighbors, including Lebanon and Jordan, and the fate of our critical ally Israel. Furthermore, it is safe to assume that the Iranian regime and terrorist elements throughout the region that have clearly stated murderous aims are carefully watching as events unfold.
In fact, respected counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman warns: “Indeed, Core Al Qaeda’s attraction to Syria is nothing less than irresistible. After Al Qaeda missed the opportunities to intervene or assert itself in the seismic events that initiated the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia and Egypt in early 2011 and saw itself relegated to only a supporting role in Libya, al-Zawahiri doubtless regards the Syrian civil war as a key opportunity with which to burnish Al Qaeda’s credentials and demonstrate its relevance. Even more so, Syria’s geographic proximity to both neighboring Jordan and Israel realizes a Core Al Qaeda dream: bringing it to the borders of precisely the pro-Western, insufficiently Islamic Arab monarchy that the organization has long despised in Jordan and to the very gates of its most detested foe, Israel.” In short, the stakes could not be higher.
That said, in all candor, I continue to have deep reservations about any U.S military action in Syria. While I deplore the use of chemical weapons, and have been grieved by the images out of Syria, especially those involving innocent children, I remain concerned that any U.S. military action could embolden – and even strategically aid – the radical Al Qaeda-connected jihadist element that is increasingly present among the legitimate Syrian opposition. Further, additional civilian casualties must be weighed along with the catalyzing effect that the images of these casualties will most assuredly have on individuals and groups throughout the Middle East who already possess deep animosity toward our nation.
In light of the complexity of the situation, and our moral obligation to ensure that every diplomatic avenue has been exhausted, I urge you to pull together what I will call the Syria Advisory Group, comprised of internationally recognized diplomats, statesmen and military officers to provide consultation to yourself and senior members of your administration and to be utilized as strategic envoys and negotiators in Damascus and elsewhere. The individuals I have in mind have decades of diplomatic experience, relationships in the region and are above the national political fray.
From the diplomatic arena you could bring in former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who has extensive experience in the Middle East and served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group; former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; Ambassador Edward Djerejian who served as U.S ambassador to Syria and Israel and has a distinguished record of service in eight administrations; Ambassador Theodore Kattouf who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2001-2003; Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who immediately preceded Kattouf in Syria from 1999-2001 and also served as U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait and Lebanon. Statesmen could include former Congressman Lee Hamilton who served as chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in addition to serving alongside Baker as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) and former Senator Chuck Robb who also served on the ISG. In the military realm you could invite seasoned individuals like Generals John Abizaid, Anthony Zinny and David Barno.
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch. There may be other names that come to mind not to mention unconventional, but potentially strategic actors, like the Vatican. The Syria Advisory Group would simply buttress the work already being done by your administration working closely with you, Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who in addition to having served as ambassador to Jordan was also U.S. ambassador to Russia, a nation with clearly stated interests in Syria which could prove to be a more willing partner outside of the United Nations framework. Ultimately the aim of these diplomatic overtures would be to bring the relevant parties to the table in Geneva. Convening the Syria Advisory Group would not slow the pace of congressional consideration of military action; this would be a dual-track approach over the next two weeks until Congress votes on the resolution.
I travelled to the region in February and spent time with Syrian refugees in Lebanon hearing firsthand their accounts of the horrific civil war that was ripping apart their nation. I also heard, even then, of the influx of foreign jihadist fighters from place likes Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt. To be sure there was a yearning for help, for humanitarian aid and refuge, but there were also cautionary words urging that America be clear-eyed about who the rebels are and what their vision is for a new Syria. Many months have passed since then. Thousands more have perished. And yet, serious questions remain about what a power vacuum in Syria might produce and how complex U.S. interests are best served.
I do not pretend to think that a Syria Advisory Group alone will lead to a just and lasting peace in a land where much blood has been spilt. But I see little downside in enlisting their aid and venture that a war-weary nation would embrace such an approach.
Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress