January 19, 2017


Outgoing National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes' comments on Syria, published yesterday in Politico Magazine, are nothing short of an effort to rewrite history. Rhodes stated, "I met with the Syrian opposition, and often they would argue that we should work with al-Nusra, who we know is Al Qaeda."

As Government Relations Director of the Syrian American Council, I frequently relayed messages from moderate Syrian opposition figures of all stripes to the White House. I also briefed the National Security Council on multiple occasions. At no point did I hear from my Syrian opposition contacts, who had more cause to speak frankly with me than with Mr. Rhodes, that they desired for the U.S. to work with Al-Qaeda. Furthermore, the National Security Council repeatedly waved off opportunities that I presented to them to weaken extremists and strengthen moderates in Syria.

In late 2014, I was involved in outreach to the Administration of behalf of Harakat Hazzm, a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group that was then fighting pitched battles against both ISIS and Nusra. The White House repeatedly shrugged off their requests for increased assistance; when they were overtaken by Nusra, they were receiving under 20 bullets a month per fighter. 

A second FSA coalition, the Authenticity and Development Front, asked for greater military assistance to fight ISIS after the fall of Mosul. Though I personally briefed the National Security Council and provided names of operations rooms, names of commanders, their battle strategy, and a list of desired weapons -- mainly anti-tank -- the White House again shrugged them off and allowed eastern Syria to fall to ISIS.  

A few months later, I briefed the NSC on behalf of anti-ISIS rebels in Aleppo and requested airstrikes against ISIS -- just like the airstrikes then being conducted in Kobani -- on their behalf. The main objection I received from the National Security Council at this time was that helping moderate rebels against ISIS risked strengthening the rebels, which would weaken Assad, which would anger Iran and jeopardize U.S. troops in Iraq. Based on this convoluted logic, the rebels' request for airstrikes was denied.

Finally, the Syrian American Council participated in a National Security Council meeting, after the siege of Aleppo began, in which we requested increased support to Free Syrian Army rebels in the western suburbs who might have been able to break the siege. We were rebuffed out of hand and told that the White House was interested only in "creative" solutions that did not involve escalation against Assad regime. I wonder if Mr. Rhodes views last month's slaughter in Aleppo as sufficiently "creative."

Mr. Rhodes stated yesterday that he regards the President's refusal to stop the slaughter in Syria as "one of his best decisions" because "in the Middle aren't going to make people happy. We cannot resolve issues internal to these countries." Such callous, if not racist, views are well within his rights to express as a private citizen. But Mr. Rhodes was appointed this week by President Obama to the board of the United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the attitudes he has expressed time and again are in no way congruent with the values of that esteemed institution.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel publicly chastised President Obama for inaction in Syria and urged a stronger response to the 2013 Sarin massacre. It outrages the conscience to imagine Mr. Rhodes stating, in a Holocaust Museum meeting on responsibility to protect, "you aren't going to make people happy. We cannot resolve issues internal to these countries." 

Such callous attitudes are a major reason that the Holocaust was allowed to occur, and they must not be perpetuated. For this reason, I hope that the Holocaust Museum will take what measures it can to see that Mr. Rhodes is removed from his post.


Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, Director of Government Relations

Founded in 2005 in Burr Ridge, Illinois, the Syrian American Council is the largest Syrian-American community organization in the United States. It serves to amplify the voice of the Syrian-American Community. SAC is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, non-partisan organization that includes members from all segments of Syrian society, and has over 23 chapters nationwide with thousands of supporters. It is an organization devoted to community organizing, awareness-raising, youth empowerment, media outreach, advocacy, and support for Syrians seeking to build a free and democratic Syria.