June 29, 2011

DENNIS KUCINICH claims he was misquoted. And perhaps it’s true: Maybe the Democratic representative didn’t exactly say, as the official Syrian news agency reported, that “President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria . . . and everybody who meets him can be certain of this.” It could be that another quotation attributed to him, that “President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians,” was a “mistranslation,” or a reflection of “the degree of appreciation and affection [the] state-sponsored media has” for the president, as a statement from Mr. Kucinich’s office delicately put it.

This much, however, appears to be uncontested: Mr. Kucinich, who has fiercely opposed the U.S. intervention against Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi, traveled to Damascus over the weekend to huddle with Syria’s dictator, who is desperately seeking to avoid being isolated and labeled illegitimate by the outside world. Thanks to the slaughter by his security forces of at least 1,400 people — the vast majority of them unarmed civilians — Mr. Assad has few friends these days: The European Union and United States have sanctioned him personally, and even his regime’s most faithful allies are close to abandoning him. On Tuesday, for example, a senior Russian diplomat met with leaders of the Syrian opposition, then declared that “Russia has only one friend — the Syrian people.”

But Mr. Assad still has a friend: Mr. Kucinich. The Cleveland lawmaker chose not just to meet with the ruler but also to hold a “press conference. ” Though he might not have heaped praise on Mr. Assad, Mr. Kucinich did endorse the regime’s latest propaganda strategy, which is to claim that it intends to engage opponents in a “dialogue” and then carry out reforms. “I have found a strong desire to make a substantial change,” the Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Kucinich as saying. “People want President Bashar al-Assad to carry out reforms.” If the Chinese agency is also misrepresenting the congressman, his office hasn’t said so.

In fact, the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have risked their lives to take to the streets since March are not seeking reforms from Mr. Assad — they are demanding the end of his regime. The idea that, having slaughtered so many of his people, Mr. Assad would agree to a political transition that would allow Syrians to vote for or against his ruling party — which is dominated by a minority ethnic group — is absurd. That’s why the only people who take the regime’s rhetoric seriously are those who wish to defend it, who excuse its horrendous crimes and who oppose genuine democracy in Syria. Mr. Kucinich has just made himself one of the more conspicuous members of that camp.