Across the Bay

Monday, March 16, 2009

Engagement Minus Concessions

My latest piece on the US engagement with Syria is out at NOW Lebanon this morning. It's a follow-up of sorts on my piece for Foreign Policy's website.

I had been planning on linking a number of good pieces on this subject that had come out earlier, but I haven't had the chance. But do check Emile Hokayem's piece in The National from a couple of weeks ago. Emile's piece contains what is perhaps the most insightful and important quote by a senior US official I've heard in a while: “Syria is trying to sell us the water to extinguish fires that it has lit but that we already put down.” (Readers of this blog are quite familiar with this argument and US military statements to that effect.)

There were also a couple of entries by Andrew Tabler and Reuel Marc Gerecht for a NYT symposium that are worth reading.

Tabler also wrote a Policy Watch on the need to maintain sanctions on Syria in light of the economic crisis as well as leverage in the engagement process. WINEP had two other related Policy Watches in late February by David Schenker on the US tentative engagement and Michael Singh on Syria's nuclear program scandal that you should check out. (Also, check out Schenker's piece on Syrian dissident Riad Seif in the LAT). Most recently, the Institute organized a panel on the Washington-Beirut-Damascus triangle with Tabler, John Hannah and Magnus Norell. (Update: Transcripts available here.)

You should also check out this piece by Amitai Etzioni in The National Interest on the myth that somehow a deal with Syria would affect Iran's nuclear ambitions, or that Iran would become "isolated" if Syria and Israel were ever to sign a peace deal. Syria's importance, as I and Emile Hokayem noted, is secondary at best, and what they have to offer, as I also note in my NOW piece, is snake oil, expired goods, or offering to get paid to help themselves, and not US interests.

Michael Young's piece from last week dealt with another set of pitfalls pertaining to Syria and Iran.

Finally, with regards to the Syria-Israel track, see this important interview with top Netanyahu aide, Uzi Arad: "No one in his right mind would do a deal with Syria, let alone do the concessions that Mr. Olmert alluded to, if it remained aligned with Iran. It would just bring Iran closer to us," Arad told Reuters. "It would be insane."

More to come, including a detailed commentary on Assad's latest threat-laced interview.