A congressional subcommittee panel on Wednesday examined U.S. policy toward Syria, asking what lawmakers can do to help the opposition as the Damascus government crackdown on the Syrian people continues. Some lawmakers questioned whether the Obama administration should continue to advocate for a peaceful resolution in Syria in the face of widespread violence.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs who attended the hearing echoed calls by President Barack Obama for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and end the nine months of killing, detention and torture of demonstrators.
But some lawmakers, including Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee Chairman Republican Steve Chabot, questioned calls by the Obama administration for a peaceful resolution to the uprising in Syria.
"This puts us into a difficult position insofar as it brings into question whether we would continue to support the opposition if it were to fight back against the regime's brutality," said Chabot.
Speaking for the Obama administration, the Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs of Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, Frederic Hof said that is what the Damascus government is trying to provoke.
"It is clear what the strategy of the Assad regime is," said Hof. "It is to attempt to channel peaceful resistance, which it cannot handle - it has no clue how to handle peaceful resistance - channel it as best it can in the direction of insurrection because it believes it knows how to handle insurrection."
Hof said the Obama administration respects the right of the Syrian people to defend themselves in the face of government violence. He said the Syrian opposition is working with the Arab League to plan for a peaceful transition when the current Syrian government is gone. Hof said the "nightmare" of repression for the Syrian people might continue for some time, but that it will end.
"When the regime is gone, the Syrian people can be assured that they will have plenty of help in rebuilding and reforming their state, and recovering the honor and dignity squandered by those who have served themselves at Syria's expense," added Hof.
Hof called on the Syrian opposition to reach out to religious minority groups in the country and assure them that change is coming, and that they will be invited to play a central role in that change.