Bay State pols offer mixed views on situation in Syria

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BOSTON — The Bay State’s congressional delegation is divided on possible approaches the United States could take as Russia has ramped up its defense of Syria’s brutal Assad regime.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, whose predecessor is now secretary of state, argued for a partnership with Russia in Syria, even as the old Cold War foe is allied with Assad and Iran.

Congressman Stephen Lynch has adopted a similarly aggressive proposal to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom the South Boston Democrat supports for president.

“I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air,” Clinton told WHDH-TV during her visit to Boston on Thursday.

On Friday, Lynch told reporters that he too would support a no-fly zone in Syria, and demand that Russia respect the imposition.

“Obviously Russia would have to observe the no-fly zone as well,” Lynch said.

An ally of Bashar al-Assad, who has waged war against rebels in his country since protests four years ago, Russia has developed an air base in Syria and reportedly launched attacks against both the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, as well as other groups, including reportedly fighters trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Markey argued for finding common ground with Russia, which has a common enemy in the Islamic State.

“I think we need to have a much closer working partnership with Russia in Syria. We have to put other grievances, history aside. We have to find a way of working together. Syria is increasingly no longer a country. It has broken apart,” the Malden Democrat told the News Service on Friday.

Markey’s approach appears more in line with the tack taken by President Barack Obama, who said Friday he had recently told Russian President Vladimir Putin that both countries have a “common interest in destroying” the Islamic State, and said Russia’s approach to attack all enemies of Assad is a “recipe for disaster.”

“We’re prepared to work with all the parties concerned. But we are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior,” Obama said, according to a transcript. Asked about Clinton’s no-fly zone idea, Obama said, “I also think that there’s a difference between running for President and being President.”

Congressman Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, remains skeptical of U.S. efforts to exert influence in the region.

“I don’t think there’s any easy answer to this. I do think we should be having discussions with our friends to try to figure it out,” Capuano told the News Service on Friday. He said, “I still don’t support sending U.S. troops there. I think it’s a mess that is not going to be cleaned up easily. I don’t think Russia’s going to help.”

Lynch said his support for a no-fly zone is motivated by concern for civilians living in the war-torn country, and he said he opposes ground troops.

“I’m against putting our troops on the ground. I think we’ve got to work with our coalition partners to try to protect the innocent there,” Lynch said. “I would support a no-fly-zone that would provide an opportunity for some of the civilians in that area to escape the bombing that’s going on right now from the Bashar al Assad regime.”

Criticizing proxy wars from the era when the U.S. competed with the Soviet Union around the globe, Markey said Russia and the U.S. can find a common goal, despite its alliance with Assad, whom Obama believes should leave office.

“Ultimately though Russia has an interest in not having Islamic extremists pour into Russia. So to a very large extent they have a very similar concern about ISIS that we have. They’re much more proximate to Russia,” Markey said. He said, “They simultaneously have an interest in maintaining Assad and maintaining their military base on the Mediterranean. We understand that, but there is a common interest that we both share in defeating ISIS.”

Asked if the U.S. should also ally with Assad-backer Iran, a historic enemy, Markey said, “I think writ large it’s the United States and Russia.”

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service