I’m going to be the curmudgeon here, Shmuel. I want to convince you why all of this fawning over the gangster regime in Damascus is awful, and in particular why it’s bad that so many people who are close to Obama are so dedicated to it. You conclude:
Like it or not, this is (I suspect) Obama’s bedrock position regarding talks with Syria. The rest — Kurtzer, visits, statements, shocks, and dismays — is all mere detail.
The problem with Obama and Syria, or Obama and (insert any number of countries or regions) is that Obama doesn’t in fact have a bedrock position, because he doesn’t know much about the region and actually isn’t that interested in it. This is basically okay. The President cannot, after all, be a specialist on every topic. But the President does need to be able to operate from a set of premises about how regimes such as the one in Damascus work. Obama, I think, clearly is not in possession of such premises. Bashar al-Assad is a blank slate to him.
So he relies inordinately on mainstream liberal advisers, such as Ross and Kurtzer, for wisdom. And what do they say? They say largely the same thing–that there’s no harm in talking. Ross was a peace process envoy for both Bush I and Clinton, and spent a decade sitting with the Syrians in locales around the world trying to negotiate peace deals, all to no avail–and now says innocently that talks are worth exploring, never mind the number of U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq by Syrian-sponsored insurgents, or the number of American allies in Lebanon and Israel killed by Syrian cutouts.
When Assad sees that his involvement in the slaughter of American soldiers and allies is met by the United States with polite diplomatic gestures, he correctly understands that America is unwilling to make him pay for his behavior in even the mildest fashion. I doubt that Obama has ever thought much about any of this. Kurtzer and Ross surely have. And that’s why their influence should be cause for concern.