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All Roads Lead to Damascus

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel argue that President Bush should engage Syria in direct diplomatic dialogue.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, President George H.W. Bush did the improbable and convinced Syrian President Hafez Assad to join an American-led coalition against a fellow Baathist regime.

Today, these leaders’ sons have another chance for a diplomatic breakthrough that could redefine the strategic landscape in the Middle East.

We can stop the Senators right there. Enlisting Hafez Assad did not redefine the strategic landscape in the Middle East, because the U.S.’s 1991 campaign itself fell short of accomplishing that goal. We got Saddam out of Kuwait, but after that it was business as usual, which meant oil trade between Saddam and his shameless international customers, an American commitment to an ineffective and burdensome Iraqi containment program, and continued carnage for citizenry of the “contained” state. There was no hope of redefining the landscape until 2003, when the U.S. undertook the delayed job of liberating Iraq from Saddam.

The piece in the Journal is titled, “It’s Time to Talk to Syria,” but the truth is John Kerry’s watch always read “chat with Assad.” In 2006, after the Iraq Study Group recommended that the U.S. talk directly with Syria and Iran, Kerry flew to Damascus to sit down with the Syrian President. Returning from the trip, Kerry said, “I came away with a distinct feeling that there are opportunities here. There are fronts in which we can work together if people are inclined to.”

Big “if,” no?

Perhaps John Kerry always wants to talk to Syria because his onetime Middle East advisor Martin Indyk was the kind of guy who felt strongly, for example, that “If you want peace with Syria you have to give them back the Golan Heights.”

Hard to infer from the vagaries in today’s editorial just what specifics Kerry and Hagel would like to see covered in talks with Syria. But going by Kerry’s history and his associates, there are a lot of roads that run through Damascus.



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