Syrian rebels’ man in D.C.

Radwan Ziadeh has been the loudest advocate in Washington for an intervention to oust al-Assad

Topics: Syria,

Syrian rebels' man in D.C.Radwan Ziadeh

Radwan Ziadeh fled Syria with his wife via the Jordanian border in October 2007. He had come to Washington many times before that, for conferences dealing with his work on Syrian politics. But upon returning to his homeland after one Washington visit, the head of the Syria Security Forces told Ziadeh that if he left and returned again, he would be placed in prison. An arrest warrant was issued for him in 2008, and his family was banned from leaving the country. “I only have Skype conversations with my family back home now,” he says.

In Washington, however, Ziadeh has become a crucial figure for those hoping to establish a new Syrian order. In October 2011 he formed the Syrian National Council (SNC), “to unite the opposition and establish an inclusive organization that would include different groups.” It is now the main umbrella group for exiles and opposition groups. Ziadeh has met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, influential senators like John McCain and Joe Lieberman, and members of President Obama’s National Security Council. A senior fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Washington-based Muslim think tank, he writes for publications like Foreign Policy and The New Republic, passionately urging the international community to save his people from their own government. And yet, the gap between Ziadeh’s pleas and America’s interests reveal the limitations of those hoping the United States can act as a savior on the international stage.

Ziadeh is one of a small number of liberal democrats in Arab and Muslim countries who harbor virtually no resentments towards the West in general, and the United States in particular, for its interventions in the Middle East, support for local autocracies and unconditional support for Israel. Like the Egyptian scholar Saad Ibrahim and the Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, Ziadeh sees the West as a partner and its political institutions as a potential model. Unlike Ibrahim and Ganji, however, Ziadeh believes international intervention is the only thing that can stop the slaughter of his people.

He has credibility as a prescient observer of currents in his native land. In April of 2011, Ziadeh predicted that the Syrian people’s “determination is strong enough today, despite the increase in the number of those killed, and people will continue to participate despite the enormous arrest campaign launched by the security services.” More than a year later, Syrians continue to battle with the government despite a death toll monitors say has topped 10,000.

It certainly helps that Ziadeh had connections in the United States long before the uprising began. He has held fellowships at or been affiliated with everywhere from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to the United States Institute of Peace to the National Endowment for Democracy. It is precisely that comfort in Washington, however, that makes him suspect among his critics. He is derided as a “State Department tool” and a neoconservative puppet on blogs and websites written by Middle Easterners far more hostile to the U.S. It surely doesn’t help that the State Department under President George W. Bush began funneling millions of dollars to Syrian opposition groups beginning in 2006, according to WikiLeaks cables. Syrian dissidents were unwilling to openly accept U.S. money: “[N]o bona fide opposition member will be courageous enough to accept funding,” a February 2006 cable lamented.  But the money still found its way into the country.

Despite the long history of enmity between Syria and the U.S., Ziadeh is confident that the vast majority of his countrymen want the international community to intervene. “Nobody is calling for U.S. troops on the ground,” Ziadeh is quick to say. “Syrians are ready to defend themselves and to force [Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad] to step down.” Rather, calls are coming from within for help as “the only way to stop the killing,” he says. He envisions something like what happened in Libya, where NATO established a no-fly zone and launched an air campaign. “It’s the only way to stop the killing,” he says. “The call for intervention is coming from Damascus, from people on the ground.” The SNC, for which Ziadeh is the spokesman, has daily contacts with citizens inside Syria, and although he admits a consensus is impossible to achieve, he is certain outside assistance is urgently desired.

It is easy to see how “the international community” can become a euphemism for American power, however. A confidential NATO report obtained by the New York Times this week shows that the Libya war was essentially a U.S.-carried effort. “The findings undercut the idea that the intervention was a model operation and that NATO could effectively carry out a more complicated campaign in Syria without relying disproportionately on the United States military,” the Times noted.

In addition, most analysts believe it would be far more difficult to accomplish in Syria what was done in Libya. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, supported the intervention in Libya, but cautioned last month that conditions in Syria were far less conducive to a favorable outcome. “There was significant military and political opposition to Qaddafi at a high level, which surfaced immediately when the unrest and the violence erupted,” Brzezinski said, among other differences he noted.

Brzezinski’s comments are echoed by U.S. officials, who have been reluctant to intervene in Syria to a large degree. They also point to the gap between what many activists frequently want from America, and what America is capable of delivering. From Sudan to Syria, human rights campaigners want the United States to stop oppression across the globe. But with a mixed record at best on foreign interventions, and the U.S. badly overstretched as it is, internationally and economically, Radwan Ziadeh may be asking America more than it is capable and willing to give.

Jordan Michael Smith writes about U.S. foreign policy for Salon. He has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>