An Open Letter to the People of Russia
By U.S. Congressman Steve Israel of New YorkI am a Member of the United States Congress who may find myself in the position of having to vote on whether to authorize the use of force in Syria. My grandparents were born in Russia, so for me, the relationship between our countries is not just about policy; it is about my family history.
That is why I was so fascinated to read President Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times opposing the potential of a limited military strike with the goal of degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability. When my grandparents lived in Russia, the prospect of your leader using our cherished freedom of press in America would have been unfathomable.
In the same spirit, may I address you, the people of Russia?
My objective has always been focused on one thing: deterring and degrading Syria's chemical weapons capabilities. The news of your president’s call for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons is a positive development and, as I’ve said repeatedly, diplomacy should always be the first preference. However, if diplomacy proves to not be an option, I believe the U.S. must degrade and deter the further use of chemical weapons, without boots on the ground and in a limited, focused and swift way.
Here is why:
First, because Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons repeatedly, and with each new attack that went unanswered by the international community, more innocent men, women, and children were murdered. The gassing of civilians on August 21, resulting in the death of more than 400 children, is the culmination of Assad’s crimes. I encourage you to watch the videos of the aftermath of the August 21 use of chemical weapons in Syria if your government allows you access. Without a firm response and in the absence of an international agreement, Assad will feel emboldened to continue gassing people and murder even more innocents.
Second, because we don't want Syria’s chemical weapons to fall into the wrong hands -- including some elements of the rebel forces in Syria. This isn't about one side or the other in Syria's civil war. This is about minimizing the chances that any side uses chemical weapons.
Third, it is imperative that we reinforce our message to Hezbollah, Iran and North Korea that there will be consequences should either of them ignore decades of international law and opt to use chemical weapons.
Finally, let me address President Putin's opposition to the notion of American exceptionalism. As an American, I hold the exceptionalism of my country dear. I also know of the many exceptional achievements our two countries made together, such as defeating Nazism and discovering Space.
If your leaders are serious about truly creating a regimen to control and contain chemical weapons in Syria under international supervision in a transparent, verifiable and effective way, then we will be able to add this to the latest example of exceptional achievements partnered by our two nations.
Your President has told the United States that he is interested in doing this. Now we await his words turning into deeds.