“I will be Syria’s voice,” proclaimed Black, whose actual constituents are mostly in Loudoun County, about 40 miles west of Washington.
While Black was busy hobnobbing with Baathist functionaries and giving aid and comfort to a murderous despot, Syrian media were referring to him interchangeably as a “U.S. Senator” and a “Virginia Senator,” suggesting the distinction may have been lost in translation along Black’s road to Damascus.
There’s every indication that Black is held in higher regard in Syria’s capital than he is in Virginia’s, where he is widely regarded as an embarrassment, even in Republican circles. A brief survey of his greatest hits would include handing out little pink plastic fetuses to fellow lawmakers before an abortion vote; opposing the installation of a statue of Abraham Lincoln at a Virginia factory; trying to ban public schools from teaching Toni Morrison’s slavery novel, “Beloved,” which, though he hasn’t read it, Black called “moral sewage” and “profoundly filthy”; and attacking homosexuals as unfit to raise children.
Employing similarly discerning judgment and measured rhetoric, Black in 2014 took up the cause of Syria, which the U.S. government has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979. In a letter to Assad, he praised the “extraordinary gallantry” of Syria’s armed forces–the same armed forces whose daily use of barrel bombs, dropped unguided from helicopters, have, according to Human Rights Watch, “pulverized neighborhoods, annihilated markets, schools, hospitals and countless residents, and left broad swathes of death and destruction.”
The senator’s sympathy for Assad springs from the potentate’s supposed protection of minorities inside Syria, particularly Christians and Jews who have been targeted by some groups, including the Islamic State, seeking to topple the regime. He appears blind to Assad’s starring role in triggering the civil war, now in its sixth year, which began with a brutal crackdown by his security forces against protesters and has left at least a quarter million Syrians dead and forced about half Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million from their homes. (As for the beleaguered Syrian people, Black professes his love for them — but opposes resettling refugees in the United States.),
Black’s self-assigned role as “Syria’s voice” will attract wan demand in Richmond, where the state legislature, in session for two or three months a year, is not much in the habit of debating foreign policy. The senator may encounter equally tough sledding in selling the wider American public on Assad, whose Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon — having also fought on his behalf regime inside Syria — continue to pose a long-term strategic threat to Israel.
Still, Black remains useful as comic relief in troubled times, a virtue not lost on Richard Saslaw, the state Senate’s Democratic minority leader. “Most people would not be concerned abo0ut Dick Black going to Syria,” Saslaw told The Post. “The biggest concern would probably be Dick Black coming back from Syria.”