Born in Damascus, Dr. Hadi Yaziji has been a Miami resident and a U.S. citizen for some years now. He is a pathologist by training and, as conflict has consumed the land of his birth, he has turned his analytical skills from medical problems to the disease of war.
Dr. Yaziji's conclusions, based on what he considers a "facing of facts," are as complex as the Syrian dilemma itself. He opposes U.S. intervention. He feels the uprising against Assad had legitimate roots but has been corrupted. A supporter of President Obama, he remains thankful to have him in the White House. He advocates democracy for Syria but is willing to accept the autocrat Assad's victory.
Dr. Yaziji met with New Times yesterday, and offered his views. He spoke evenly but firmly, though with a hint of passion when he described the destruction in rebel attacks of the historic village of Maloula, where he was married. [see photo]
Yaziji believes that Assad held early promise as a reformer but was constrained by the country's ruling Ba'ath Party, among other things. He also feels that Syrian's current problems reflect the wider struggle throughout the Arab world between Islam's two major sects, Sunni and Shi'a, and that Syria has become a battleground for outside powers.
Fast becoming a spokesman for the Syrian American Forum, Yaziji says he draws on a network of sources throughout Syria, on both sides of the conflict. While he says he opposes Assad, he refuses to demonize him and, at same time, paints the armed uprising in an horrific light. (Rival groups in the Syrian ex-pat community have charged that the Syrian American Forum's leader "helps coordinate between the Assad regime and loyalists in the U.S." Yaziji calls that allegation "bullshit" brought by those who "accuse anyone who doesn't agree with the militant opposition of being a regime sympathizer.")
The Syrian conflict is extremely murky, and New Times doesn't claim to have special expertise on it. So, without necessarily endorsing Dr. Yaziji's remarks, we present them:
On Assad "In the last ten years, after [Bashar Assad] took over, people had a lot of hope. He was young, charismatic, his wife is British -- a J.P. Morgan investment banker. They were the most progressive family in the Arab world. A lot of people were not happy with that, including the Saudis. His idea was to have political reform but it couldn't happen overnight. There was no chance of overnight democracy. He started with economic reform, privatized banking." On the Assad regime
"We have to recognize the benefits. We have to recognize the flaws. The public services were pretty good. Health care was free. Education was free. Basic nutrition was almost free. That is the difference between us in the Syrian American Forum and [other opponents]. The world is not black and white. There are a lot of dictatorships around the world. Assad is not the worst dictator. He's one of the better ones...The regime is brutal, we know that, we've had first-hand experience of how brutal they are."
Early phase of the uprising
"The people who went into the street, people who started it, they were genuine. The majority of them were genuine. They wanted reform, they wanted to topple the regime. They looked at Egypt, where they did it in two weeks, at Tunisia, where they did it in however many weeks, so like, 'Okay. We go in the street, the same thing will happen.'" The uprising went astray "Nobody knows the details of when the regime people got very aggressive in crushing the demonstrations versus when the demonstrations started to get violent. That's the piece of information that no one's going to be able to provide you...When you have this bloody uprising with people shooting at you, it turns into chaos...We can blame the regime for all the killing, but that's not accurate." [Of the conflict's roughly 100,000 casualties, he says responsibility is shared equally by both sides.] At the beginning of the uprising arms depots that belonged to the opposition were discovered...They found tunnels that were dug by the rebels...That tells you that people were prepared for this and waiting for things to go sour. The argument of some people, that they started peaceful but then the regime started shooting at us, jailing us -- we had no way other than becoming violent...But we have evidence that the uprising really was militant almost from the beginning...Weapons were coming from neighboring countries." [He points a finger at Sunni elements in Lebanon, Qatar and, for logistics, the CIA.]
"Syria now is a battleground of multiple wars that the Syrian people have nothing to do with...[One is] war for control of the Middle East between Russia and the U.S. [Another has] the U.S. and Israel on one side and Iran on the other -- the Shi'a corridor of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah. Another is the war between Sunni and Shi'a. The Saudis have had an agenda in Syria, building madrassas to teach the young men -- and women, actually -- a deranged version of Islam, a militant version based on Wahhabism, that everything is black and white, that if you don't believe what I say I have to kill you. It's psychopathic...Syrian Islam was moderate. There was an ideological competition between two versions of Islam...Iran is not off the hook either, trying to convert Sunnis to Shi'ism. Saudi Arabia really overdid them, though. It happens that that deranged agenda is aligned with what the U.S. and Israel want. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," so the enemy of Iran is my friend, even if it's the same guy who's funding the terrorists [who did the 9/11 attacks]. This is the deranged U.S. foreign policy. We have a deranged version of Islam and a deranged U.S. policy."
Moderate opposition shut out
"It's an oxymoron to say the rebels are moderate. If you carry arms, you're not moderate. We subscribe to peaceful struggle. It led to results in India, South Africa, different parts of the world. It toppled major regimes...Unfortunately, the leaders of the non-violent opposition have been excluded by the State Department from joining in the Geneva Convention, that they keep postponing. They don't have a seat at the table." Responsibility for chemical attacks
"The people who are responsible are those who benefitted, are about to benefit from the attack. The attacks occurred the same day the U.N. weapons inspectors arrived. [Assad] would have to be very very mad to do it that day, to stick it to the world...There is a precedent the rebels acted to frame the government... The regime eventually will crush the opposition, and that's why we had the chemical attack. Because they wanted a military intervention...The last resort is something of magnitude that shakes the world's opinion. Which actually President Obama donated to the rebels, with the idea that this is my red line. They took the cue from him and now we have the threat of the strike." What's possible
"One scenario is the regime will regain control, which the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia fully recognize. Another option is the U.S. gets away from the idea of regime change...if they change course, the Russians will be compelled to ask the regime for a ceasefire. Everybody puts down their arms, we go to the negotiating table, and we re-build Syria. That is the only way out."
And if Assad stays on?
"The Syrians on the ground want an end of this, and they prefer that the rebels will vanish...They've been living under Assad for decades. But he provided safety and security [There is good evidence Assad has popular support.]...Assad is the least worst. Compared to the rebels...I would take him any day of the week, actually. We can argue about whether Assad is suitable to lead change in Syria. He himself is actually a good guy. The system is corrupted. It's corrupted all of us, including people on the uprising side. A lot of lies are being presented to the West. It's not a clean uprising. The local co-ordinating committees in the uprising, they lie like they breathe. Unfortunately, the pro-peace movement in the West subscribe to it. The progressive community in the U.S. is adamantly opposed to Assad. They're not on board with a [U.S. military] strike but they're on board with the opposition."
No U.S. strike
In a follow-up email, Dr. Yaziji summarized the reasons he opposes a U.S. military strike, even if "limited." He believes that 1) such a strike would be ineffective without "boots on the ground." 2) it could "trigger a massive response," and 3) civilian casualties are virtually inevitable. To support his opposition, Yaziji cites the doubts of the U.S. military. Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.