Dennis Kucinich’s Syria Problem

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cheshiredemocrats/380574011/">Cheshire County Democrats</a>/Flickr

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Here’s a good rule-of-thumb for any congressman: When someone accuses you of supporting a brutal, fascist-influenced regime that is openly slaughtering its own people, it’s generally a good idea to respond with an unambiguous “No, I do not support, and I strongly denounce, the actions of [insert regional dictator’s name here].”

That advice seems to have been lost on Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has drawn some attention for his most recent “fact-finding” mission to Syria.

Things got sticky for Kucinich on Tuesday, when the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), an arm of the Ministry of Information, reported that the congressman had commended Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for his willingness to “negotiate”:

There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria… Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this… [He] is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians… What I saw in Syria in terms of the open discussion for change… and the desire for national dialogue is a very positive thing.

Kucinich’s office quickly responded with a press release claiming SANA’s article “contained a number of mistranslations and mischaracterized statements” from his recent press conference in Damascus:

I stressed the importance of the government paying attention to the democratic aspirations of the people… Given the stakes for Syria… I will consider the article only an error, not a willful intent to mischaracterize my statements or my efforts in the region. I intend to continue my efforts to determine as best I can exactly what is happening… ever more mindful of the maxim, ‘lost in translation.’

Kucinich should have anticipated that Syria’s state-run media might use his visit for propaganda purposes. He could have tried to counter the propaganda value of his trip by using it to draw more attention to human rights abuses in Syria. But after kindly overlooking the supposed misrepresentation of his views, the famously dovish congressman stopped short of directly criticizing the Assad regime.

Kucinich has a history of this type of behavior. In May, he defended the Syrian regime’s crackdown on “Arab Spring” revolutionaries to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, explaining that although there were “serious concerns” about the conduct of Syrian forces, “We also know the Syrian police were fired upon and that many police were murdered.” (State-run media in Syria have repeatedly reported the mass murder of police officers, but the country’s restrictions on independent media make those stories difficult to verify.) “I would imagine that when things finally settle down that President Assad will move in a direction of democratic reforms,” he added.

Kucinich isn’t totally blind to this kind of conduct—he did denounce the Mubarak regime for its crackdown on Egyptian protesters in January and February. So why is a guy who is so adamantly “anti-war” still playing softball with a regime that willingly makes war on its own people?

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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