Across the Bay

Monday, April 30, 2007

No Soup for You

An-Nahar's Hisham Melhem reported on Saturday, quoting US sources (probably from DoS) that Sec. Rice will not be holding bilateral talks with Syria's FM Walid Moallem on the sidelines of the upcoming conference on Iraq's security later this week.

Moallem seemed to confirm this when he acknowledged that "the Americans have not made such a request, but if Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice wishes, then we can meet."

In contrast, Rice has publicized its willingness to meet with her Iranian counterpart (who at first was not going to participate, but then Iran changed its mind). Rice (and Melhem's sources) has stressed however that the sole subject of discussion will be Iraq's security.

If indeed Rice does not meet with Moallem, then the conference will be yet another venue to isolate Syria (during the first conference, the US delegates also did not speak with the Syrians at all), even as the US talks to Iran about Iraq.

You can bet Assad will be watching this very carefully, and uneasily, as evident from Moallem's remarks. That's why he's once again floating his old wish, to have a tripartite Arab summit with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to create the illusion that he's part of the Arab mainstream, and not isolated, but also to regain Arab cover for his bid to re-dominate Lebanon, and to get Arab backing in his effort to scuttle the international tribunal into the assassinations in Lebanon. It's to no avail of course.

This is not due primarily to the fact that since the Arab summit Bashar and his buddies have been launching a campaign against the Saudi initiative (as I noted, the Syrian interest is to sabotage it). Rather, the Saudis (and the Europeans) have made it clear to Bashar that the litmus test for his behavior is Lebanon. There has been no sign of change there. In fact, there has been a series of Saudi public statements of displeasure (some by Saud al-Faysal were preemptive, anticipating Syrian destabilizing efforts in months to come when Lahoud's term expires).

Syrian destructive behavior in Lebanon will again be at the forefront at the UN this week, when a series of reports dealing with Syria's continuous breach of UNSCR 1559 and 1701, as well as their sabotage of the process to ratify the tribunal in Lebanon (thus leading to its probable adoption under Chap. 7) will be highlighted.

This has led to an attack on the UN by Moallem and Farouq al-Sharaa, not to mention Assad's snub of the UN Sec. Gen. who was in Damascus recently trying to get Assad to cooperate.

Revealing the known fact that Syria is desperately trying to alter the tribunal's protocol and statutes (in order to totally empty the tribunal of any substance), Moallem repeated the official line from Syria about the tribunal and UNR 1595, 1680 and 1701, showing that indeed Syria is not about to change its behavior.

He said that the current statutes of the tribunal would render the prosecutor general a sort of high commissioner over Lebanon and the region.

Moallem hinted that Syria might stop cooperating with the UN investigative commission into the series of assassinations in Lebanon should the tribunal be adopted under Chap. 7. He also added the usual Syrian threat that such a move would lead to chaos in Lebanon, openly admitting that Syria will continue to try and set Lebanon on fire (as it recently tried to do). Syria's pitbulls in Lebanon, such as Wiam Wahhab, have often threatened that Chap. 7 would unleash attacks against UNIFIL (a threat repeatedly made by Moallem himself and other Syrian officials, as I've noted in the past. In fact, a European official told me that the Syrians made this threat directly to the Europeans). So Syria is openly rejecting and is in violation of UNSCR 1595, 1636 and 1644 (passed under Chap. 7).

Moallem also refused to have Syria's borders with Lebanon monitored by the UN on the Lebanese side, which would assist the Lebanese Army, once again threatening to shut the borders with Lebanon (so as Lebanese trade could not pass through) if such a move were made. And so Syria is rejecting and is in violation of UNSCR 1701.

And Moallem finally rejected to demarcate the border with Lebanon in the Shebaa Farms area, repeating that this is a bilateral issue with Lebanon that would only happen after an Israeli withdrawal, not just from Shebaa itself, but, as recent Syrian statements have clarified, from the Golan Heights. And so, Syria is rejecting, and is in violation of UNSCR 1680. In fact, in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat months ago, Moallem called UNSCR 1680 "meaningless."

And so, Syria is signaling very clearly that it will remain a rogue state, and a chronic element and exporter of instability in the region, giving new meaning to the WaPo's recent editorial. And it is crystal clear about its desire to re-dominate Lebanon, and so to violate multiple UNSC resolutions 1559, 1595, 1680, 1701, among others, and to make a mockery of the Security Council. Furthermore, it means that its policy and interests are diametrically opposed to those of the US and its friends and allies, the EU, Saudi Arabia, and of course, Lebanon.

Rice will do well not to meet with this thug at Sharm al-Sheikh this week.

Friday, April 27, 2007

No Results in Damascus

The Washington Post's editorial page does it again, with another (almost all around) excellent editorial on Syria that for the most part dovetails with my own remarks. That is that the real failed policy has been that of engagement with Syria, as all delegates without exception have returned with one invariable result: absolute failure.

The title of the editorial says it all: No results in Damascus. In fact, the harsh sentence on human rights activist Anwar Bunni (which many dissidents in Syria are linking directly to the Pelosi visit) is yet another indication, as I have argued before, that the results of talks with Syria are not just useless, but in fact damaging. The net balance is negative, not even neutral.

Here's the full editorial:

No Results in Damascus

Having finished hosting U.S. politicians, Syria's dictator has returned to jailing dissidents and sponsoring terrorism.

Friday, April 27, 2007; Page A22

THE CONGRESSIONAL leaders who visited Damascus this month to meet Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad gave a practical test to the oft-stated theory that "engaging" his regime is more likely to produce results than the Bush administration's policy of isolating it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was particularly unstinting in her goodwill, declaring that she had come to see Mr. Assad "in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace." In a statement, her delegation reported that it had talked to Mr. Assad about stopping the flow of foreign terrorists to Iraq and about obtaining the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers. It also said it had "conveyed our strong interest in the cases of [Syrian] democracy activists," such as imprisoned human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni.

Three weeks have passed, so it's fair to ask: Has there been any positive change in Syrian behavior -- any return gesture of goodwill, however slight?

Mr. al-Bunni might offer the best answer -- if he could. On Tuesday, one of Mr. Assad's judges sentenced him to five years in prison. His "crimes" were to speak out about the torture and persecution of regime opponents, to found the Syrian Human Rights Association and to sign the "Damascus Declaration," a pro-democracy manifesto.

By condemning Mr. al-Bunni to prison, Mr. Assad was delivering a distinct message to Syria's would-be liberal reformers and those who support them: There will be no change on his watch. The same message came in the parliamentary "elections" that the regime staged on Sunday and Monday. No independent candidates were permitted; a predetermined number of winners from the official party ensured that the parliament will remain a rubber stamp.

What of the other items on the U.S. congressional agenda? Well, there has been a major surge in suicide bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq this month, in what U.S. commanders describe as an attempt by al-Qaeda to defeat the new security operation in the capital. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, almost all suicide bombers in Iraq are foreigners, and some 80 percent of them pass through Syria. The border remains as porous as ever.

Meanwhile the military wing of Hamas, whose headquarters is in Damascus, launched a barrage of rockets and mortar rounds at Israel from Gaza on Tuesday. Israeli officials said the attack appeared aimed at creating a diversion that would allow Hamas to capture more Israeli soldiers. If so, the operation failed -- but none of the hostages Ms. Pelosi said she spoke to Mr. Assad about have been released.

To recount this dismal record is not to endorse President Bush's refusal to engage in high-level bilateral contacts with Mr. Assad's regime. In certain contexts it may be worth trying to talk to Syria -- for example, when negotiations are directed at particular ends, such as securing Iraq's borders, and coupled with forceful diplomatic and economic steps to raise the pressure on the dictatorship. The danger of offering "friendship" and "hope" to a ruler such as Mr. Assad is that it will be interpreted as acquiescence by the United States to the policies of dictatorship. Ms. Pelosi's courting of Mr. Assad didn't cause Mr. al-Bunni's prison sentence this week -- but it certainly did not discourage it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pathetic Little Lying Functionary

There are those who believe that Syria can be "pried away" from Iran and at times, when speaking to gullible Westerners, the Syrians encourage such fantasies. But here it is from the horse's mouth: Imad Moustapha, Syrian Ambassador, caricature-thug, compulsive liar.

Imad Moustapha, January 5, 2007: "The Syrian Iranian relation is not about Syria adopting positions proposed by Iran. It’s the other way around. Iran under the Shah cooperated with Israel. We have historical policies about Israel and the resistance that have not changed. It’s not like we were lured by Iran to support policies we had not supported before. We supported resistance before Hizballah existed. If God forbid Iran will change its position Syria will not."

Imad Moustapha, April 23, 2007: "Q. Some people hope engagement would be a way of wooing Syria away from its relationship with Iran? What are the chances?

A. It's bemusing to hear this…. While we are the best possible friends with Iran, we don't have the same policies as Iran. Iran has a well-publicized policy against Israel, but President Assad, at least once a month, has publicly invited the Israelis to peace talks in the last four years…. Iran is a friend to Syria. It is an ally on many issues. But we disagree with Iran on other issues."

Imad Moustapha: pathetic functionary of despotism.

Don't even bother to read the other garbage in the interview. It's all pathetic (and easily disproved) lies from a (hilariously bad) liar who's hired by a bunch of criminal thugs.

Addendum: There has been a pattern in Moustapha's interviews and statements that most certainly reflects an official memo from Damascus, and that is that in his hilariously revisionist narrative of US-Syrian relations, Lebanon is not to be mentioned at all, or it should be kept marginal. Moustapha did this in a recent piece that he published, which he sent out to the regime's flacks to be publicized. That piece is the blueprint for this lying revisionist narrative, and it, incredibly, fails to even mention UNSCR 1559, 1595, 1680 etc., let alone the assassinations in Lebanon and the international tribunal! We are asked to believe that these are not a factor in the deterioration of relations with the US and Europe!

There is a reason for this, of course, and it is part of a consistent Syrian policy to eliminate Lebanon -- and Syria's crimes there -- from the discussion completely in the hope that others will too. Unfortunately for Moustapha and his bosses however, the entire world (and that includes Saudi Arabia and Europe, not to mention the UNSC) treats Lebanon as the test case for any change towards Syria (and indeed as the test case for any change in Syrian behavior). The Syrians want to make it about Iraq and peace talks with Israel. Forget Lebanon. Leave that to us (as Landis and Moubayed explicitly said on behalf of the regime). But aside from the absurdity of this position, a recent EIU piece added the following caveat: "Mr Assad has dangled the incentives of co-operation in Iraq and commitment to peace talks with Israel, but has so far failed to convince either the US or the EU of his ability to deliver anything of substance on either issue."

Furthermore, not only does Moustapha "edit out" Lebanon from the Syrian regime's tone deaf fanciful revisionist narrative (typical style of the Syrians. This is what they famously did when UNSCR 1559 was passed), but I'm positive that Moustapha requests his interviewers not to ask sensitive questions about Lebanon. In this particular interview you'll note that not a single question was asked on arms smuggling, the assassinations, border demarcation, and of course, the international tribunal. Only one lame Lebanon question made it through, and here's Moustapha's (i.e. the regime's and its mouthpieces') Lebanon line in all its glory:

How do you respond to the U.S. assertion that Syria is undermining stability in Lebanon?

Today the Lebanese are divided half and half. The tension is very high and Lebanon can easily reach a tipping point after which, God forbid, a civil war might erupt. And there is a very keen initiative to try and convince the Lebanese to have a coalition of national unity. We are supporting this, the Saudis are supporting this, the United States is opposing this. Yet we are considered as negative and disruptive, and the United States considers itself the moderate player in the Middle East.

Readers of Syria-related outlets will immediately recognize that this is a blueprint, and one that was followed by the flacks as well. Needless to say, it's not only a lie, it's also a hilariously bad one. The problem is not with having a coalition. It's with giving Hezbollah veto power that would enable it to topple the government at any time, constitutionally, and thus kill the international tribunal, UNSCR 1701, 1559, 1680, etc.

Now, does Saudi Arabia support this?! Only in Syrian propaganda and Imad Moustapha's lying universe. Very obviously they don't. Neither do the Egyptians. Mubarak recently commented during his visit to France that there is only one workable proposal for the Lebanese crisis, and that is the one marketed by the Arab League's Amr Moussa which stipulates the ratification of the international tribunal in parliament concomitant with the creation of a new cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies would not have veto power, but where the majority also wouldn't have 2/3rds of the cabinet to pass anything through a vote. This has been rejected by Hezbollah and the Syrians. This is precisely why Mubarak said that the only reason this hasn't been settled yet is because "the other party" hasn't reacted positively to this proposal.

So, the geniuszzz caricature-thug, geniuszzzly (and in line with the geniuszzz Syrian propaganda line that it's not Syria that's isolated, it's the US!) wants to show that Syria is in the Arab mainstream with Saudi Arabia, and it is the US who is disrupting everything! Of course, the Saudis and the Syrians are pursuing diametrically opposed policies, and the Syrians are actively trying to destroy the Saudi plan, and are trying to defeat its allies in Lebanon.

But wait, the geniuszzz Moustapha is not yet done being so clever and geniuszzz! Not only did he turn the tables on the US (who's isolated now, eh!?), but he deftly used a cunning linguistic trick, as only geniuszzzez do, and used the administration's terminology against it! It's now the US that's disruptive and Syria that's moderate! We should now call him "caricature-thug-geniuszzz."

Yes, Moustapha and his boss Bashar: killers of Lebanese politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and party leaders. Supporters of every terrorist group in the Middle East including al-Qaeda. Arms suppliers to Hezbollah and other proxies.

Truly, they are the moderate geniuszzzez of our era.

State and Local Power Centers in the Near East

For those of you who care for these things, here's a review essay of mine in the Middle East Quarterly. It reviews two books dealing with collective governance and state-local power dynamics in ancient Mesopotamia and Syria.

I also draw some parallels with modern times, as I try to include the ancient Near East in the discussion about current affairs.

"Elections without Choice"

Ammar Abdulhamid has been doing formidable work -- the first of its kind -- covering the sham Syrian parliamentary elections over at his new bilingual site, the Syrian Elector.

There are no real independents running, no dissidents either. Parliament is a useless institution in Syria with no power. Two-thirds of it are reserved for the ruling Baath and its Front allies. As such, the results of the elections are a foregone conclusion.

So why hold elections altogether? I tried to briefly touch on this question in a short essay I wrote for Ammar's new site. (Also, make sure to read David Schenker's essay on the elections in the Weekly Standard).

Update: The essay is now also available in Arabic.

I'm reproducing a slightly edited version of it here:

Syrian Elector, Washington (01:24 am Eastern/08:24 am Damascus) –
Legitimation, consolidation and communication are the three main points behind the current elections, so notes researcher Tony Badran, a fellow at the Center for Liberty in the Middle East. Legitimation of the regime through the creation of a democratic facade, consolidation of power through the inclusion of businessmen, merchants and clerics who run as independents in the elections on shadow lists supported by the regime, and communication with the Syrian people themselves and the international community, with a defiant message to the effect that the "regime is in full control domestically, and it will not allow dissent. The chaos as in Iraq."

"Elections without Choice"

Syria's is a totalitarian regime, run essentially by a family with an increasingly narrow base. Syria's institutions are weak, its parliament a mere rubber-stamp organ for the President.

As Syrianist Volker Perthes wrote in his book,
The Political Economy of Syria under Asad, "Parliament itself has remained very much on the margins of political life. ... Not surprisingly, electoral participation in legislative elections remained low, generally well under 20 percent."

Indeed, in a chapter for a book with the same title as this essay, Elizabeth Picard wrote about the 1973 parliamentary elections under Assad Sr.: "Syrian journalists, politicians and citizens are astonished that a researcher should show interest in the electoral side of their country's political life. They emphasise the subordinate character of the People's Council, and of the process of its election."

So why the fanfare? Why does the Assad regime go through the motions of a sham election whose outcome is practically predetermined?

In Perthes' view, elections represented "an element of regime legitimation by establishing legal institutions and formalized procedures."

Similarly, Picard's answer was that the regime chose to allow elections "because they considered the election to be a means of consolidating their power."

Moreover, Perthes adds, the distribution of parliamentary seats also serves as "a means of patronage." This function is very much at the heart of the current elections, with lists carrying candidates like Mumammad Hamsho -- an entrepreneur who serves as a front for the business interests of Maher Assad -- and candidates fielded by the Akhras family -- Bashar's wife's family -- and so on. The regime thus fields its own clients, as well as the candidates of the Baath and the National Progressive Front (in fact, Perthes points out that the expansion of parliament was intended to include clients from the business class, but not at the expense of the Baath and the Front allies).

Elections thus also serve as a way to restructure the regime's base. This began in the 1990s, well before Bashar's inheritance of power, when, as I noted in my article on the Syrian opposition, businessmen were allowed to win election to parliament and publicly criticize the slow pace of economic liberalization.

Bashar used this tactic when he allowed the so-called Damascus Spring, only to dispense rapidly with its leaders, including reformist MPs like Riad Seif and Ma'moun Homsi, jailing them each for five years and harassing them after their release. The purpose, as Homsi recently said, was to give "a lesson to all MPs and to anyone who tries to criticize the regime." The reason for the imprisonment, as Gary Gambill wrote, was that Seif and the others directly criticized not the so-called "old guard," but Bashar's inner circle.

As such, Bashar was merely following his father's play book from the 90s. As Perthes commented at the time, "there are certain red lines... which must not be crossed, neither in public nor in parliamentary discussion. Any critique of the
President, of the personality cult around him, or of his policy directions is off limits, as would be a discussion of the role of the security apparatus, the sectarian composition of its leadership [think Michel Kilo's "Syrian Obituaries" article], the spread of corruption among central regime figures [think Aref Dalilah's and Riad Seif's articles], and several foreign and military-policy questions such as, for instance, Syrian policies and behaviour in Lebanon [think the "Beirut-Damascus Declaration"]. These questions are, in the first place, not considered to be parliament's business." (Emphasis and notes mine).

Indeed, this time around, Bashar took no chances with potential reformist independents, and therefore, all candidates are either Front members or clients of the regime.

The latter are not exclusively from the business class. They are also co-opted Islamists and clerics, like Muhammad Habash and the son of Syria's Mufti Hassoun. This is in line with the regime's policy of Islamization and Islamist Arabism which serves as the basis of its legitimacy.

One of the purposes of elections noted by Picard, aside from
Legitimation, is Communication. It could be said that the message the regime wants to send both to the international community as well as to the Syrians is one of defiance and intransigence. "The regime is in full control domestically, and it will not allow dissent." The alternative, as it has been telling the people, is chaos as in Iraq.

Bashar summarized it in the following statement: "For Syria, the important thing is the stability of the society. Democratization is neither an instrument nor an aim to improve living standards. Iraq failed democratization because it was forced to democratize itself. The democracy adopted by Europe and the United States is nothing more than double or triple standard opportunism."

As such, the regime will proceed with the same message it declared at the 2005 Baath Party Congress: the base will not be expanded; no political reform, such as the reform of election and party laws is forthcoming; the Baath party will remain the leader of society; and no criticism will be tolerated, especially on foreign policy. In fact, the regime will continue to cultivate negative nationalism, including animosity towards Lebanon and anti-Westernism, while repressing all dissent at home, including shutting down Anwar Bunni's EU-funded human rights center. The current elections reflect that.

On the other hand, the reaction of the US and Europe hasn't changed either. For so long as the regime continues with this policy, it will not get the EU Association Agreement signed any time soon. Furthermore, it has now added a demand for domestic change to the list of US demands, as reflected in the recent comments by Scott Carpenter (as well as David Welch) of the State Department, as well as the increased contacts between the Syrian opposition and the National Security Council and the State Department.


Elizabeth Picard, "Syria Returns to Democracy: The May 1973 Legislative Elections," in Elections without Choice, ed., Guy Hermet, Richard Rose, and Alain Rouguié, (London: Macmillan, 1978).

Gary Gambill, "The Myth of Syria's Old Guard,"
MEIB, Vol. 6, No. 2/3, (February-March 2004).

Raed al-Kharrat, "Dossier: Riyad Sayf,"
MEIB, Vol. 3, No. 3, (March, 2001).

Tony Badran, "Divided They Stand: The Syrian Opposition,"
Mideast Monitor, Vol. 1, No. 3, (September-October 2006).

Volker Perthes, "Syria's Parliamentary Elections: Remodeling Asad's Political Base,"
Middle East Report, No. 174, Democracy in the Arab World, (Jan. - Feb., 1992), pp. 15-18.

Volker Perthes,
The Politicial Economy of Syria Under Asad, (London: I.B. Tauris, 1995).

Friday, April 20, 2007

President Bush and DoS on Syria

President Bush delivered some powerful remarks on Syria and Lebanon today. Also, Scott Carpenter discussed Syria at a roundtable with members of the foreign press.

First, President Bush. It's worth quoting in full, and I highlighted the part at the end to show that the policy that has indeed failed is that of "engagement" as Assad has no interest in altering his behavior, and so, all the envoys that have gone to Syria have all returned with one invariable result: failure.

Third, it's ironic, isn't it, that any time a democracy begins to take hold in the Middle East, extremist groups prevent that democracy from moving forward. One such democracy is Lebanon, a wonderful little country. And yet there is a Syrian influence -- Syria uses not only their own agents inside the country, but Hezbollah, to destabilize this young democracy. And Hezbollah is funded by Iran. In other words, the Iranian regime's current posture is to destabilize young democracies. And they're doing so in Iraq, as well.
Now, a lot of what Baker-Hamilton talked about was -- or some of what they talked about was the diplomatic initiatives. There were -- they talked about a regional conference, and we're happy to participate. They also suggested that the United States enter into bilateral negotiations with Syria, for example. And this is where I have a disagreement. As you know -- as you may not know, when I was a younger lad, Jimmy Baker was in Houston and a good friend of my family's, and in spite of my deep affection for him, I invited him into the Oval Office and said, I disagree with you. And he said, fine, I disagree with you. (Laughter.)

And the reason I do is because -- now, there's a difference between a regional conference, in my judgment, and -- I'll tell you what I hope we can gain out of it -- but I do want to address why it's -- I think it would be counterproductive at this point to sit down with the Syrians, because Syria knows exactly what it takes to get better relations with the United States. It's not as if they haven't heard what we're for. And we're for making sure they leave the Lebanese democracy alone. They have undermined Lebanon's democracy. When the United States and France worked together on a U.N. resolution, the U.N. demanded that they leave Lebanon. They did, but they're still meddling.

Secondly, there's a man who was assassinated, named Hariri. It's very important that there be a full investigation of the Hariri murder. And they know we expect them to support that investigation. We believe they're hindering that investigation right now. Thirdly, they're providing safe haven for -- I'll just say they've got -- Hamas and Hezbollah have got centers of influence in Damascus. That's unacceptable to the United States. We have made it clear to them that in order for them to have better relations that they must rid their capital of these organizations, all aimed at wreaking havoc in the Middle East, and preventing, for example, the development of a peaceful Palestinian state that can live with Israel side by side in peace.

And, finally, Syria is a transit way for suicide bombers heading into Iraq. And some, they have been particularly unhelpful in achieving peace we want. What happens when people go sit down with Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, he walks out and holds a press conference, and says, look how important I am; people are coming to see me; people think I'm vital. But he hasn't delivered on one request by the free world.

I asked our security folks, the national security folks to give me a list of all the foreign advisors and foreign secretaries of state, and all the people that have gone to see Bashar Assad. And every time they send one in there, we say, why, why are you sending somebody there, what is your intention, what have you asked them to do? They all say basically what I just said, and nothing has happened. And my attitude is, is that I think talks would be counterproductive. I'm interested not in process, I'm interested in results. I'm interested in this leader turning Syria into a positive influence for peace, not an obstructionist to peace.

Also, Scott Carpenter of the State Department recently offered remarks at the Foreign Press Center Roundtable on Syria and the sham parliamentary elections that are soon to be held there. It's also worth a read.

Finally, here's more from Ammar Abdulhamid.

Update: The White House issued a statement on the elections, as did the State Department. Here's the WH statement:

On April 22 and 23, President al-Asad failed again to deliver on his long-promised reforms, rendering Syria's parliamentary elections a meaningless exercise. Instead, the Syrian regime used a combination of unjust laws, intimidation, and manipulation by security forces to undermine independent, critical voices. In manipulating this "election," the Syrian regime once again proved it cares little for the opinions and wishes of its own people.

Elections are not rituals conducted for their own sake. The goal of any free, transparent, and democratic election is to allow people to have a say in how their country is governed. The United States supports the Syrian people's hopes for true democracy, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression. We share their desire that some day free elections will be possible in Syria.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Geniuszzz of the Week: Bill Clinton

Guest post by Lee Smith.
For the previous Geniuszzz, click here.

In the past the former President has explained that the major impediment he faced in solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was Yasser Arafat. Despite the contrary claims of former aides, and even a former US president contesting his account, Clinton stood firm, without entirely shaming the Palestinian side. Two months ago, Clinton even wrote a letter to the American Jewish Committee thanking the organization for correcting Jimmy Carter’s account of Camp David and subsequent negotiations.

But now with Hilary on the campaign trail, that’s all in the past. Peace in the Middle East is easy, as long as you have the right person in the White House – and a proper knowledge of history. You don’t need maps or Robert Malley’s slide-rule to show how the Israelis tried to short-sheet the Arabs. It just ain’t that complicated! Clinton says the peace process was derailed for one reason alone – the bullet that killed Yitzhak Rabin.

“The assassination of Rabin killed the whole process,” Clinton told the London-based pan-Arab daily, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat. “This one bullet not only killed Yitzhak Rabin but the whole process that we were working on.”

That’s right – it was a Jewish extremist who ruined Oslo. Never mind the second intifada and Hamas’s genocidal campaign against Jews. And Chairman Arafat had nothing to do with sabotaging the peace process – it was a single Jewish bullet that brought chaos to the Middle East.

Oh sure, didn’t you know, we also could have had peace between Israel and Syria? And we still can – “It will take 35 minutes to resolve the problem between Israel and Syria,” says Clinton. Wow! 35 minutes! With all those nuts vendors, Nancy Pelosi can’t get through the Hamidiya Market that fast. 35 minutes - gee, I wonder which American presidential candidate could pull that stunt off?

Maybe Clinton is unaware that this is exactly how “peace-loving” Arab nationalist circles understand the 90s – of course we wanted peace, and we were so close. But after that Jew killed Rabin, the Palestinians had no choice but to kill Jews. And then of course, Sharon walked near Islam’s 3rd holiest site and so you see we really had to kill Jews.

If it’s any consolation to Clinton, his place in Arab nationalist history is roughly analogous to Rabin’s. Loathed at the time as the bully who tried to twist Arafat’s arm at the behest of the Jews, in retrospect Clinton is an Arab favorite, a man of peace – who was set up to fail by a Mossad plot involving the Jewess Monica Lewinsky. And by the way, anyone is better than Bush.

Unfortunately for Clinton, he’s on the record all over the place – even in his own memoirs. But the clearest statement comes from a letter Benny Morris wrote the New York Review of Books back in 2002. According to Morris, Clinton called former Israeli PM Ehud Barak after a NY Times article by Deborah Sontag indulged in a bit of Malleyesque revisionism:

“What the hell is this?” Clinton is alleged to have asked Barak. “Why is she turning the mistakes we [i.e., the US and Israel] made into the essence? The true story of Camp David was that for the first time in the history of the conflict the American president put on the table a proposal, based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, very close to the Palestinian demands, and Arafat refused even to accept it as a basis for negotiations, walked out of the room, and deliberately turned to terrorism. That's the real story—all the rest is gossip.”

Assuming that it’s still the real story today, then all the rest is campaign nonsense.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Credulous, or Worse?

Daniel Mandel picks up on a recent post of mine and comments on an atrocious piece by David Kimche.

Kimche is one of those Israelis who are so desperate to have a renewed peace process that they'll engage in fantasies, revisionism (whitewashing the Syrians' role), and worse, without considering (or rather, forgetting) the consequences of such behavior.

Daniel Mandel discusses it, so go check it out.

Update: From the Jerusalem Post:

Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal threatened on Monday evening to return the Golan Heights to Syrian hands "by way of resistance if Israel [rejects] the Arab peace initiative."
He defined this "just and comprehensive peace" as the restoration of the "whole occupied Syrian Golan," what remained of the Lebanese territories under occupation, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Bilal also demanded the recognition of the Palestinian refugees' right to return to their homeland.

While Bilal echoed the tenets of the Arab peace initiative, rejected by Israel wholesale, his demands went beyond the more recent Saudi initiative, which remains vague on the question of the right of return. (Emphasis mine.)

But... David Kimche said... but... but wait... I don't understand!

"The Rope of Lying is Short"

NPR's The Kojo Nnamdi Show held a panel on US policy toward Syria today in which I participated (you could hear it here [.ram] or here [.asx]).

There were a couple of things I wanted to get in but couldn't. One thing however that I didn't get to articulate more succinctly (even though it was the overall theme and premise of my argument) is the fact that the policy that has been a proven failure is that of engaging Syria. For every delegate which did do so (Nigel Sheinwald, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Javier Solana, Sen. Bill Nelson, the Italians, Amr Moussa of the Arab League, the Egyptians, and the Saudis, not to mention the Americans and the French up to 2005) came out with one unvarying result: absolutely nothing (not to mention that the engagement of the 90's also ended up being a dismal failure).

The reason why of course is because the policy and interests of all these people are diametrically opposed to those of the Syrians, and the Syrians have been playing a zero-sum game which means that the end-game of engagement is inevitable failure. Syria doesn't expect to change its behavior. It expects everyone else to change theirs, and essentially sign the terms of surrender on Lebanon in particular (but on everything else in general).

The Syrians have made clear, their primary objective is the retaking of Lebanon, which is something that no one is willing to give, and which goes against UNSC resolutions.

This is precisely why a diplomat who had been at the forefront of "engagement" efforts -- Martin Indyk -- ended up strongly opposing any engagement with Syria at this time, because he understood that, among other ploys, the Syrians were really just after recapturing Lebanon.

Landis participated as well and delivered his usual disgraceful, disingenuous spiel. For instance, after spending the hour saying how Syria is destabilizing Lebanon and supporting terrorist groups in order to get people to pay attention to it (because "it doesn't know how" to get the Golan back! And so it "makes American allies pay a high price!"), ends by saying this is a Lebanese issue (which, of course, is the official Syrian line!).

Also, after spending the hour talking about how the Golan is the objective for the Syrians, he ends by saying that the solution is to reach an accommodation with Syria on Lebanon! Of course, he had made this same slip in his interview with al-Siyasah.

The best way to describe the Syrian attempt to sell this ploy is the Lebanese proverb which goes: "the rope of lying is short."

Addendum: Landis tried to slip in the Syrian ploy at one point, saying that UNSC resolutions should go hand in hand, both on Lebanon (1559, 1595 [tribunal] et al.) and on the Golan (242). But aside from being absurd, this is actually a half-baked "suave" attempt to market a Syrian trap (remember how in 2005, after he had Hariri killed, Assad said he would only withdraw from Lebanon when peace is achieved with Israel? And he then tried to market this with the Saudis to get an Arab cover and failed. The policy hasn't changed much since. Here's Joueijati repeating that same exact line one day after the Hariri assassination.).

The trap the regime wants to set is to get locked in a process that would offer it protection against pressure (such as, say, having senior officials tried in an international court for murders in Lebanon), and help it scuttle the consensus and the drive of the Lebanon resolutions.

So the result they're after is in fact not to have the resolutions on Lebanon implemented at all. This is what they've been trying to do since 2004 (in fact, since 2000, with the Shebaa issue), including at the Riyadh summit, when they tried to insert amendments to the statement on Lebanon that would undermine both the tribunal as well as UNR 1701 and the government's 7-point plan that underlies it.

I believe this is what's usually referred to in Arabic as "an upright-sounding statement but the aim of which is deceit," and this describes well the Syrian position.

Update: Bad Vilbel at the Good Neighbors blog graciously picks up on my post (with very kind words, for which I'm grateful, as well as for Lisa Goldman's encouraging remarks).

The most gratifying thing about it is how transparent the thuggish blackmail inherent in the apologists' argument really is and how clearly it comes across to the American (and broader) public, despite all the spin and the use of sanitized language (like "strategic cards," or "sphere of influence,") to whitewash terror:

Another gem: Landis, and the other Syrian guy saying “Well, Syria is going to continue to be a destabilizing force until the US gives in to their demands” with a straight face. Sounds like blackmail to me, no? “We’re going to continue breaking knees until you pay us a ransom.” And these guys say that as a matter of fact, in the same sentence as talking about Syria wanting peace!

What Bad Vilbel wrote recalls my posts where I dubbed this as mobster and gangster mentality and behavior (which is precisely why Syria is still on the state sponsors of terror list since 1979). But I still think Michael Young's line nailed it best (scroll down to the Addendum): "even the tedious functionaries of despotisms end up sounding like the thugs they represent."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Talking to the US *Is* a Reward

So-called foreign policy gurus (like Richard Haass) and self-proclaimed experts, and, naturally, the fountain of all wisdom, the NYT editorial page, always like to pooh pooh the notion that the mere act of the US talking to rogue regimes like Syria is in itself a reward. The Bush administration has been repeatedly derided by these people for holding that view.

But then again, how do these people square that with regime rags, flacks and functionaries parading the "mere presence" of Pelosi in Syria as a "victory"?

Take for instance this particular regime flack (and never mind the rest of the blazingly idiotic article):

“What mattered to the Syrians was that she was in Damascus,” said political scientist Sami Moubayed of al-Kalamoun University. “Whether she came with a peace offer from Israel or a truce from Washington, they welcomed her as a guest of honor, with red carpets in the Syrian capital.”

Is there any clearer admission that the Bush administration's view is absolutely correct? Talking is a reward in itself, and moreover, the Syrian regime sees it that way.

I'm reminded of a post I had done in recent months on a fine piece by Lee Casey and David Rivkin. Their argument on diplomacy is right on, and trumps all the other inferior garbage that's cluttering the public discussion. Here's a key graph, a propos this issue:

Ironically, the Iraq Study Group, for all of its emphasis on diplomacy, vastly underestimates the forces that diplomatic discourse can unleash. Diplomacy is a serious exercise, capable of producing either good or bad consequences.

Jaw-jaw matters a great deal, especially when conducted by a great power like the U.S. This explains why most rogue regimes are eager to dance a diplomatic minuet with the U.S., whether they acknowledge it or not. They grasp that once the U.S. begins to talk to them, it implicitly legitimizes at least some of their positions and impedes the building of regional and global coalitions against them.

Pace the luminaries, the self-proclaimed experts, the NYT's fountain of wisdom, and just plain old simpletons who travel to Damascus, write an article regurgitating all the garbage they were fed there, and think they now understand what the hell they're talking about.

PS: A word to the wise, or to any other simpleton who would like to travel to Damascus to write an article. Just because the regime tells you something, it doesn't make it true. It's a simple basic tenet of journalism. So you are told about "hardly known recent diplomatic events," there's a reason why they're "hardly known." It's because they are mere regime propaganda, plain old lies, which you just participated in disseminating. Congrats!

Also, these simpletons ought to learn that for every one of these babies: "Syria is ready not only to make peace with Israel but also to distance itself from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran," there's one of these beauties, like this one by "caricature thug" Imad Moustapha: "The Syrian Iranian relation is not about Syria adopting positions proposed by Iran. It’s the other way around. Iran under the Shah cooperated with Israel. We have historical policies about Israel and the resistance that have not changed. It’s not like we were lured by Iran to support policies we had not supported before. We supported resistance before Hizballah existed. If God forbid Iran will change its position Syria will not."

And finally, a word to the simpleton who authored that particular moronic and repugnant article, it's the Lebanese who decide who their government is, not the Syrians. That's been enshrined in multiple UN Security Council resolutions (does UNR 1559 ring a bell?). Cause, you know, all y'all are big on multilateralism, international law, and working through the UN.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Road to Damascus is a Dead End

The editorials and op-eds on Pelosi's ill-advised trip to Syria continue to pile. Here's a good one in the Boston Herald.

The money graphs:

Normally, there’s no objection to members of Congress of either party meeting with officials of foreign governments. But Syria is not a normal government. In addition to exporting terror, its agents have tried to maintain control of Lebanon by assassinating opponents there.

A trip like Pelosi’s effectively rewards an outlaw Syria for nothing. What the “negotiate no matter what” crowd forgets is all the previous failed attempts to get Syria to negotiate seriously. They make new attempts and comments like Pelosi’s “the road to Damascus is a road to peace” nothing but rank foolishness. From 1993 to 2005, there have been many more than 20 high-level visits to Syria for nothing.

The last paragraph actually raises a very important issue that's often willfully forgotten by many who write about this. It's also brandished by the diplomats who mention the number of their trips as some sort of badge of honor. But, unsurprisingly, what's left out is the actual result of these trips: failure. Or, as Michael Barone put it, "End product: nada."

It's actually worse than nothing. The balance of the "shuttle diplomacy" of the 90's was negative; not even neutral. Not only did it not (and could not) achieve peace between Syria and Israel, it also cemented Syrian occupation and colonization of Lebanon, it failed to stop Syrian support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. In fact, it amplified that relationship. And changed absolutely nothing in Syrian behavior and its historic support for terrorism. So it's untrue that "we lose nothing by trying." The track record is one of failure. To quote James Phillips, "What is missing is not American willingness to talk to Syria but Syria's willingness to halt its hostile actions."

So all in all, the history of diplomacy with Syria, as the Herald notes, has been a dismal failure from the beginning. Syria is a chronic exporter of instability; that is their interest, that's how they maintain relevance. Therefore, this kind of misguided, and failed, approach (the "negotiate no matter what" crowd, or the "we lose nothing by trying" crowd), will always be a failure (not to mention that it's an obvious trap by the Syrians). In fact, US and Syrian interests are diametrically opposed. It's that simple.

Friday, April 06, 2007

This Week’s Geniuszzz Award: Tom Lantos

Guest post by Lee Smith

What's wrong with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee? Apparently, you don’t have to be Nancy Pelosi to be dopey in Damascus, but we’d expect a little more from Lantos. Most American visitors to the Syrian capital will sell their soul and moral scruples for a cup of tea and a friendly smile: “The rugs, the waterpipes and muttabal, the mukhabarat lurking everywhere in their black leather jackets – it’s all so quaint!”

Not Lantos. In the past the only Holocaust survivor serving in congress has used his time with Bashar al-Asad to send strong messages to a regime that is killing Americans in Iraq, US allies in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories while also torturing Syrian dissidents. But yesterday, according to the New York Times, he asked Bashar “how someone ‘of his intelligence and knowledge of the world could have common cause with President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who has denied the Holocaust and calls for the elimination of Israel.’”

Come on, congressman! Don’t you remember when Pope John Paul visited Damascus? The young, reform-minded Syrian president tried to enlist the Vicar of Christ on earth in a campaign against the Jews. Why? "They tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Mohammed." Another golden Bashar moment!

So, Mr. Lantos, please use the bottled water and stop drinking straight from the stupid tap at the Cham Palace. You know who you’re dealing with, and if you’re trying to suck up to Pelosi, she’s too busy trying to give Bush the finger to notice.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Friendship and Hope?

Ammar Abdulhamid raises another crucial issue as he trashes Pelosi's truly irresponsible statements: political prisoners like Kamal Labwani who are rotting away in jail for speaking their minds.

Kamal, as we are told by his recent visitors, is now

"in a solitary cell. He looked very tired and yellow. He has lost about 10 kg in weight. He cannot eat properly because of the dirty smells that come from the toilet in his cell. The toilet is broken and full of sewage. His clothes are very dirty and he has not been able to wash with soap for fifteen days. They have not allowed him to take a bath. He is wearing a thin and dirty uniform. His skin is red and bleeding. He has scabies and lice. Also the room is cold and no sunlight enters it. We think he has been put in this cell because of his defense statement. The next hearing will be on the 10th April and it will be the final judgment session. The worst signals are that now, before the final session, they have changed all the judges in the case. We think they have changed them because they have prepared the verdict and want the chief justice just to read it. People say that this justice is weaker than the former one… His beard and hair are very long now. They are trying to kill him slowly because they cannot do it fast.”

There are more sad details about Kamal's inhumane treatment by the Syrian regime in this report.

I had linked to the State Department's press briefing on political prisoners in Syria ahead of Pelosi's visit.

Ammar also links to a piece by Nadim Houri and Radwan Ziadeh that covers this angle as well.

This actually reminds me of something that I had wanted to write about but didn't get a chance until now. It involves a repugnant piece on human rights in Syria by the deplorable Helena Cobban.

The piece is best described using the words of IraqPundit (who used these words, incidentally, to describe Cobban herself): "trolling for Arab Nationalist insight."

Indeed, Cobban went to Syria, trolling for Arab nationalist insight, in order to hear her views confirmed. To completely puff herself and her piece, she begins by describing it as a "ground reality view", which is aimed at giving the rest of the material she will peddle an aura of authenticity and authority that we won't be able to contest. It's "reality"!

It all would've been fine, if pathetic, had it not been for this craven bit in particular:

He said, "They don't torture people like Anwar al-Bunni or Michel Kilo, or the others who were detained last year for having signed the Beirut-Damascus Declaration."

So pleased was Cobban with herself, and how this person was telling her exactly what she wanted to hear, that she wilfully set aside all sense of integrity, morality, or critical journalism, and swallowed this lie whole.

Now, suppose I was an Arabic-speaking Western journalist in the US, who was interested in this topic, and, naturally, not possessing Cobban's piercing "ground reality view." I go online and do a search for Anwar Bunni. Here's what I would find: A report from January 1 that documents how Bunni was brutally beaten after he made a statement in which he hoped that Saddam's execution will serve as a lesson to all those who commit crimes against their people, so that they know that no one is above accountability. (And Landis wanted to sell us that making an unsubstantiated and unsourced claim that Michel Kilo secretly met with the banned Muslim Brotherhood leader didn't endanger the already imprisoned Kilo!)

But not everyone knows Arabic. What about a Western journalist, of course with no "ground reality view," who only knows English? A search would've yielded the following letter by Anwar Bunni himself:

Torture is still being practiced on a wide scale. In prison I experienced first-hand the brutal methods employed to torture victims, notwithstanding that my prison was not a military or security prison but a civilian one. The civilian prisoners were treated harshly, and were denied their rights and had their property stolen and dignity trampled upon to humiliate them. We were housed in various wings with criminals who were ordered by the authorities to assault us.

Come to think of it, that would sound rather similar to something that an English-language blog, clearly without any "ground reality view," has apparently also picked up on a few weeks ago:

Bunni (along with other prisoners of opinion) was repeatedly abused in prison, as he was placed in the criminal ward and assaulted by common criminals, in the presence of the prison guards and with the knowledge of the prison administration, and at times even beaten by prison guards.

It's disgraceful, craven and morally repugnant with no critical sense or integrity whatsoever. And that's the "ground reality view."

Update: The NYT reports: Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, on Wednesday seized upon Ms. Pelosi’s comment on the “road to peace,” to say, in a briefing on Air Force One: “Unfortunately, that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq. It’s lined with the victims in Lebanon, who are trying to fight for democracy there. It’s lined with human rights activists trying for freedom and democracy in Syria.”

Pratfall in Damascus

A couple of weeks after the LAT's editorial blasted Nancy Pelosi for playing General, The Washington Post's editorial lambastes her foolish trip to Damascus, including her dishonest distortion of PM Olmert's words:

In fact, Mr. Olmert told Ms. Pelosi that "a number of Senate and House members who recently visited Damascus received the impression that despite the declarations of Bashar Assad, there is no change in the position of his country regarding a possible peace process with Israel." In other words, Ms. Pelosi not only misrepresented Israel's position but was virtually alone in failing to discern that Mr. Assad's words were mere propaganda.

The Post piles it on, resonating well with my post yesterday:

"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Ms. Pelosi grandly declared.

Never mind that that statement is ludicrous: As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting Republican president. Two weeks ago Ms. Pelosi rammed legislation through the House of Representatives that would strip Mr. Bush of his authority as commander in chief to manage troop movements in Iraq. Now she is attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president. We have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush's military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.

Good for the Post.

Update: NRO's editorial is also worth a read. I didn't know about this, for example: "Pelosi’s trip is even worse coming as it does after her refusal to let the House vote before its recess on a resolution condemning Iran’s kidnapping of 15 British sailors and marines."

Update 2: Claudia Rosett finds Pelosi off her nut in a Damascus souk.

Freedom, Peace, and the Syrian Way!

Regular and long-time readers would probably know my "love" and "admiration" for Buthaina Shaaban, Syria's "dynamic" minister of expatriate affairs. She, like Imad Mustapha, Faysal Mekdad, and the rest of gang, is just a testament to the beauty and brilliance of functionaries of despotism.

She always has "remarkable" one liners (rivaling Faysal "Gebran Tueni is a dog" Mekdad, and Imad "Brainstorm" Moustapha) and never fails to say something of brilliance. I give you exhibit A:

Syrian cabinet minister Buthayna Sha'ban expressed his [sic] support for the visit and said, 'Syria stands for freedom and for peace, and so does Nancy Pelosi.'

Absolutely genius! It even rivals Jimmy Carter's brainless ramblings (also quoted in there), and that's saying something.

Serves Pelosi right!

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"!?