WASHINGTON — Sen. John Kerry has held up Syria as a country that could bring peace and stability to the Mideast and predicted that the now-disgraced government of President Bashar Assad would pursue a legitimate relationship with the United States. Those assertions are certain to draw scrutiny at Kerry’s confirmation hearing to be secretary of state as Assad’s brutal crackdown has plunged his country into civil war.
Conservative websites have mocked the relationship as a Kerry-Assad “bromance,” seizing on comments the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman has made in speeches and during his six visits to Syria.
The politically tinged criticism of President Barack Obama’s nominee fails to capture the context of Kerry’s words, his more recent statements and what has been a complicated outreach to a mercurial and defiant leader.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations also have struggled to fathom the Assad family, which has kept a tight grip on power for four decades and at times has cooperated with the West.
Syria supported the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to force Iraq out of Kuwait after President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, James A. Baker III, made a dozen trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital. Syria was an outcast for years and the U.S. pulled its ambassador in February 2005 after the assassination of Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely accused of involvement in the killing, which Damascus has denied.