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Remember Bashar the Reformer?

Bashar al-Assad is in the running for the most dangerous man in the world. There are not too many world leaders who would acquire such reserves of chemical weapons and then seek to use them against anyone, let alone civilians. While the U.S. military conducts lessons-learned exercises all the time in order to learn from their mistakes and make themselves a more effective force, I am not aware of a single time in which the State Department or senior U.S. government officials have acknowledged error and conducted a similar lessons-learned exercise to identify where they went wrong.

Let’s hope that, if they ever start, they consider how the Syrian regime pulled the wool over their eyes. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad may have spent some time in the West, but just because Islamists and autocrats spend time in the West does not mean that they acquire Western values; instead, they learn only how to speak to Westerners and cultivate useful idiots.

At any rate, here are some blasts from the past, American officials who for ego or because of animosity toward George W. Bush did their best to end Assad’s isolation. It’s always fun to read their statements reporting Assad’s willingness to solve mutual problems.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who took time out to tour the markets to maximum benefit for Syrian state television.
  • Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), more John Kerry, and even more John Kerry. That second story reminds how the Obama administration once went so far as to give Syria spare parts for its planes.
  • Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who seems to have relished his defiance of Bush.
  • The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), at the time still a Republican, might have acted as a tour guide: His trip with Nelson and Kerry was his 16th taxpayer-funded trip to Damascus, and it was not his last.
  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may not have gone herself, but she used her senate colleagues’ experience meeting Assad to justify her description of him as a reformer. “There’s a different leader in Syria now,” she told CBS’s Face the Nation, explaining, “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”
  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) spent nearly $8,000 on two trips to Damascus, while Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) spent nearly twice that, according to Legistorm.
  • Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked President George W. Bush for permission to go tête-à-tête with Assad in Damascus; let’s be glad Bush said no, both because it saved Petraeus the embarrassment and denied Assad a propaganda coup.

Perhaps in this age of budget-cutting, it would be useful to ask Pelosi, Kerry, and Nelson—all of whom still serve publicly—about what in hindsight they see as the value of their trips to Syria, and someone might ask Clinton which is more important: the established and brutal record of dictators, or what they happen to tell her colleagues in his palace over tea and coffee.



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