Across the Bay

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Fool's Errand in Damascus

Michael Young rips Nancy Pelosi's craven political stunt to shreds in his Daily Star column. Along the way he dissects many of the paradoxes, myths, and amnesiac declarations (so as not to say revisionism) that pervade some of the foolish (as well as the sinister) chatter on Syria:

We can thank the US speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, for having informed Syrian President Bashar Assad, from Beirut, that "the road to solving Lebanon's problems passes through Damascus." Now, of course, all we need to do is remind Pelosi that the spirit and letter of successive United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as Saudi and Egyptian efforts in recent weeks, have been destined to ensure precisely the opposite: that Syria end its meddling in Lebanese affairs.

Pelosi embarked on a fool's errand to Damascus this week, and among the issues she said she would raise with Assad - when she wasn't on the Lady Hester Stanhope tour in the capital of imprisoned dissidents Aref Dalila, Michel Kilo, and Anwar Bunni - is "the role of Syria in supporting Hamas and Hizbullah." What the speaker doesn't seem to have realized is that if Syria is made an obligatory passage in American efforts to address the Lebanese crisis, then Hizbullah will only gain. Once Assad is re-anointed gatekeeper in Lebanon, he will have no incentive to concede anything, least of all to dilettantes like Pelosi, on an organization that would be Syria's enforcer in Beirut if it could re-impose its hegemony over its smaller neighbor.

In fact, Young continues, contrary to the common "wisdom" brandished by pundits (and Syria's flacks and mouthpieces), "one thing is absolutely clear: Without some sort of Syrian return to Lebanon, and even then, Hizbullah has no future as simultaneously a political and military party."

I.e., it's the exact opposite of the received opinion! Hezbollah is Syria's last remaining ally of significance in Lebanon (Emile el-Hokayem, in a recent article in the Washington Quarterly, put it thusly: "Today, for strategic and ideological motives, Syria is more pro-Hizballah than Hizballah is pro-Syria."). On the other hand, Hezbollah wants to recreate the status quo it enjoyed in the era of Syrian suzerainty; a status of sanctity, of unquestioned double-existence within and above the system. As Young put it: "Hizbullah's objective in participating in the political system was not to jettison its military identity, but rather to safeguard it within the confines of Lebanese institutions it could thereafter influence."

The Syrians want to actually help Hezbollah achieve this objective (this is their openly declared policy! This is what Assad told Bill Nelson.). Young continues: "this would allow them to hold Lebanon hostage in the coming years and rebuild the political and military infrastructure that was the basis of their intimidation."

People should remember that Hezbollah's culture of intimidation grew under Syria's protection (and Bashar's declared "admiration" of Hassan Nasrallah and the "culture of resistance"), and its armament increased in earnest after the Israeli withdrawal, and now Syria is actively trying to prevent any solution to the Shebaa issue in order to continue in this policy. To quote Young, "More worrying for the Syrians, this would sever any remaining linkage between a resolution of Lebanon's territorial dispute with Israel and Syria's. Syria would no longer be able to link the military neutralization of the Lebanese-Syrian border area to an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights."

On a related note, Pelosi apparently not only lied and distorted Israel's message to Syria (which actually was that Assad must first abandon support for terrorism before any peace talks resume -- she left out that part), but she made an incredibly hilarious statement about Syria helping in "moderating" Hamas's position!

Read my last post on how Syria actually did its best to encourage and support Hamas's hardline maximalism, and pushed against any effort at normalization with Israel. Syria shares Hamas's extremism (not to mention that it has no ability anyway to change Hamas's ideology. This is part of what Henry Kissinger dubbed as "ascrib[ing] an almost mythic quality" to what engaging Syria could achieve).

It would help if the latter-day self-proclaimed "realists" actually had any understanding and knowledge of reality and history. Moreover, this is "hard-headed realism?" Eating dates, checking out carpets, and taking the official tourist tour with a regime that's killing American soldiers, is a sponsor of every kind of terrorist, stands accused of multiple political assassinations in Lebanon, and is seen as acting like an outlaw by almost every country on earth except Iran? That's their idea of it?

So while it's clear that Pelosi achieved absolutely nothing but a photo opportunity for Assad, she did actually manage to upset European allies who have worked closely with the Bush administration and with which they have achieved a consensus on Syria. The French expressed their displeasure through Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simoneau, who supported the Bush administration's position on the visit. Germany's Angela Merkel, who was in Lebanon at the same time as Pelosi, was infinitely tougher and remained on message when it came to Syria.

In other words, Pelosi not only was undermining US policy, but US-European consensus, which was coordinated and resulted in multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

That should serve as a note to all the "multilateralists" out there who decry the supposed Bush administration "unilateralism." The Bush administration's Lebanon policy is a multilateral policy reflecting consensus with the UN, Europe, and the main Arab states.

Update: The always sharp and articulate IraqPundit nails Pelosi's foolishness:

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been blundering around Damascus at the same time that McCain has been visiting Baghdad. Pelosi's visit is a dream come true for the desperate Assad regime; she might as well be reading from a script provided by Assad's public relations people.

Oh, brother. Assad's been trying to play his empty "peace process" card for months, because he's facing an international murder rap for killing Rafiq Hariri, and because he wants to put Lebanon back in his hip pocket. If he can get the Speaker of the House to play the dupe on his behalf, that works for him. In fact, just the footage of their meeting helps him, because it suggests that his isolation is ending. The EU has been frustrated with him, and the Arab League may have failed to close a deal with him on the paralysis of Beirut, and his Arab neighbors may have stopped trusting him long ago, but hey, he's still got some people willing to try to help him out of a jam: Tehran, Hezbollah, and Nancy Pelosi. I mean, why should the US be content with merely pulling out of Iraq in defeat when it can kiss Syria's butt as well?

Oh, come on Pundit! Where's your "realism"!? As Barry Rubin phrased it, all Assad wants is: "Lebanon, long-term negotiations which guarantees them no pressure, freedom to commit terrorism, no Hariri investigation or tribunal -- oh and you can throw in there a free hand in Iraq and EU money without any strings or conditions." Why can't you be "reasonable"!?