Commentary Magazine


Topic: Assad

Obama’s Appalling Double Standards

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

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RE: How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

A sharp reader reminds me Ambassador Ford has not yet been confirmed. So perhaps there will be some informed discussion and debate at his confirmation hearing. A senator or two might ask him, with all due respect, what he could possibly accomplish and whether it’s best to actually get something in return before he appears with hand outstretched before Assad.

A sharp reader reminds me Ambassador Ford has not yet been confirmed. So perhaps there will be some informed discussion and debate at his confirmation hearing. A senator or two might ask him, with all due respect, what he could possibly accomplish and whether it’s best to actually get something in return before he appears with hand outstretched before Assad.

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The Dream That Never Dies

Don’t miss today’s Washington Post editorial pouring cold water on the return of a U.S. ambassador to Syria. Money quote:

Anyone who thinks the Obama administration has come up with a way to change the Middle East through detente with Syria would do well to study the history of Mr. Assad’s decade in power. That gambit has been tried, by more Western diplomats and politicians than can be counted, and the results are clear: It doesn’t work.

Don’t miss today’s Washington Post editorial pouring cold water on the return of a U.S. ambassador to Syria. Money quote:

Anyone who thinks the Obama administration has come up with a way to change the Middle East through detente with Syria would do well to study the history of Mr. Assad’s decade in power. That gambit has been tried, by more Western diplomats and politicians than can be counted, and the results are clear: It doesn’t work.

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Bashar’s Stenographer

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Seymour Hersh’s closeness to the Syrian regime has led him to write foolishly about the Middle East, and he has been at times complicit in information operations intended to exonerate Damascus from its involvement in international terrorism.

So it was good to see that the New Yorker found a proper use for the ample time Hersh has spent in Assad’s court: publishing direct quotes from Bashar. A friend e-mails, “The quotes are almost all little gems of B-movie comic menace mixed with egotism and stupidity.” You can read them here. Want to know why people are constantly comparing Bashar to a mobster? Here he is on Lebanon:

The civil war in Lebanon could start in days; it does not take weeks or months; it could start just like this. One cannot feel assured about anything in Lebanon unless they change the whole system.

Nice little country you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

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Avigdor Lieberman Makes News

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

Capping off a few days of harsh verbal exchanges with Syria, the Israeli foreign minister let fly with a big one:

Speaking at an event at Bar-Ilan University, Lieberman warned Assad that in an event of war with Israel, “not only will you lose the war, you and your family will no longer be in power.”

I’m not sure whether this idea is good or bad. If Israel wants to simply deter Syria and create pressure against adventurism from Hezbollah, it is probably a good idea. But if Israel indeed wishes to rid the region of Bashar and his terrorist regime, Lieberman probably shouldn’t have said anything, because Bashar seems convinced that the IDF will not hold him accountable in another war with Hezbollah. Now he doesn’t have that kind of confidence.

My guess is that Lieberman tipped his hand to the fact that the Israelis have made a strategic decision that another 2006-style conflagration will not leave Damascus, or the Assad regime, untouched. Making this fact known to the Syrians — despite the appearance of belligerence — will actually make another round of war less likely.

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Olmert & Assad, Strange Bedfellows

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

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Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

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Brzezinski to Damascus

Eli Lake has a scoop today in the New York Sun entitled “Obama Adviser Leads Delegation to Damascus.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski will travel to Damascus for meetings as part of a trip Syria’s official Cham News agency described as an “important sign that the end of official dialogue between Washington and Damascus has not prevented dialogue with important American intellectuals and politicians.”

An important sign indeed, and one that should tell us a lot about what Brzezinski would advise a President Obama to do (Brzezinski is also one of the leaders of the engage-Hamas movement). There is, of course, a lot to talk about with the Syrians, first and foremost being the appalling amount of bloodshed and destruction Assad’s regime enjoys inflicting on Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel through its array of terrorist proxies.

But it is almost inconceivable that Brzezinski would use his visit to confront Assad and lodge a protest on behalf of the civilized world. For the Obama campaign, there is a lesson here: When you bring people like Brzezinski onto your campaign, there is a good chance you’ll have to suffer embarrassing episodes like this. It’s what lawyers call “assuming the risk.”

Eli Lake has a scoop today in the New York Sun entitled “Obama Adviser Leads Delegation to Damascus.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski will travel to Damascus for meetings as part of a trip Syria’s official Cham News agency described as an “important sign that the end of official dialogue between Washington and Damascus has not prevented dialogue with important American intellectuals and politicians.”

An important sign indeed, and one that should tell us a lot about what Brzezinski would advise a President Obama to do (Brzezinski is also one of the leaders of the engage-Hamas movement). There is, of course, a lot to talk about with the Syrians, first and foremost being the appalling amount of bloodshed and destruction Assad’s regime enjoys inflicting on Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel through its array of terrorist proxies.

But it is almost inconceivable that Brzezinski would use his visit to confront Assad and lodge a protest on behalf of the civilized world. For the Obama campaign, there is a lesson here: When you bring people like Brzezinski onto your campaign, there is a good chance you’ll have to suffer embarrassing episodes like this. It’s what lawyers call “assuming the risk.”

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Sarkozy & Syria

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

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The Abandoned Revolution

The news from Lebanon is getting worse and worse. On Wednesday, François Hajj, a prominent general in the Lebanese Army, was killed in a massive car bombing near Beirut. He is the ninth Lebanese political figure to be murdered since the car-bombing of Rafik Hariri in 2005 kicked off Syria’s killing spree.

The rationale behind Hajj’s murder is the same rationale that has been behind every such assassination, save for a few small strategic details. As Walid Phares notes,

the slain commander had in past months and years refused to accept Hezbollah’s exclusive areas of control in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa valley. Moreover he was credited for coordinating the Lebanese Army offensive against the Fatah [al-] Islam Terror group in Nahr al Bared camp in north Lebanon over the summer. The strike can be understood as a message to the Lebanese Army not to attempt to confront terror groups in the future, including Hezbollah.

Michael Young, who is always required reading on Lebanon, adds that

The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon, and the disastrous French initiative on the presidency only confirmed to them that the international community would readily engage Syria on Lebanon. As for the United States, it has been comatose. . . . The French and the Americans have been neutralized in Lebanon. . . . Creating a [political power] vacuum is not a strategy; it is a tactic designed to bring someone to power on Syria’s terms. Damascus wants exclusivity in the next Lebanese president, but without its armed forces in the country to impose this, a new officeholder might prove too independent.

Those are the specific reasons, but the larger reason is Syria’s dedication to regaining its former prominence in the eastern Mediterranean. As Tony Badran writes in an excellent post about the assassination,

Assad wants an American and regional (read Saudi) mandate for his colonization of Lebanon. This is the same reason why he wants talks with the Israelis, as he believes that would be his ticket to the U.S., and consequently, for his return to Lebanon. The Europeans and Arabs thought, and some might still think, that if you offer Syria the prospect of the Golan, then they would leave Lebanon alone.

The problem with the way America and France view Syria is in thinking that the Assad regime is possessed of a set of discrete interests, each of which can be isolated and placated on its own terms. It would make our job easier if the Syrians actually thought this way, but there is no evidence that they do. The Syrian “interests” that we fret over are only the tips of an iceberg, a grand vision in which Syria pursues what it believes is a rightful ambition to regain its former glory as a preeminent regional power. Suddenly it doesn’t look like another Nancy Pelosi listening tour of Damascus is going to make much of a difference, does it?

One of the fundamental tasks of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era should have been the establishment in the Middle East of a very simple principle: that the United States will defend its friends and punish its enemies. In Lebanon, as Syria methodically murders the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, we are again sending the wrong signals — that we will abandon our friends if loyalty to them becomes inconvenient or costly, and we will reward our enemies when we tire of their intransigence. Nothing good will come of this, either for us or for the brave and beleaguered Lebanese patriots whom we promised not to abandon.

The news from Lebanon is getting worse and worse. On Wednesday, François Hajj, a prominent general in the Lebanese Army, was killed in a massive car bombing near Beirut. He is the ninth Lebanese political figure to be murdered since the car-bombing of Rafik Hariri in 2005 kicked off Syria’s killing spree.

The rationale behind Hajj’s murder is the same rationale that has been behind every such assassination, save for a few small strategic details. As Walid Phares notes,

the slain commander had in past months and years refused to accept Hezbollah’s exclusive areas of control in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa valley. Moreover he was credited for coordinating the Lebanese Army offensive against the Fatah [al-] Islam Terror group in Nahr al Bared camp in north Lebanon over the summer. The strike can be understood as a message to the Lebanese Army not to attempt to confront terror groups in the future, including Hezbollah.

Michael Young, who is always required reading on Lebanon, adds that

The Syrians are accelerating their return to Lebanon, and the disastrous French initiative on the presidency only confirmed to them that the international community would readily engage Syria on Lebanon. As for the United States, it has been comatose. . . . The French and the Americans have been neutralized in Lebanon. . . . Creating a [political power] vacuum is not a strategy; it is a tactic designed to bring someone to power on Syria’s terms. Damascus wants exclusivity in the next Lebanese president, but without its armed forces in the country to impose this, a new officeholder might prove too independent.

Those are the specific reasons, but the larger reason is Syria’s dedication to regaining its former prominence in the eastern Mediterranean. As Tony Badran writes in an excellent post about the assassination,

Assad wants an American and regional (read Saudi) mandate for his colonization of Lebanon. This is the same reason why he wants talks with the Israelis, as he believes that would be his ticket to the U.S., and consequently, for his return to Lebanon. The Europeans and Arabs thought, and some might still think, that if you offer Syria the prospect of the Golan, then they would leave Lebanon alone.

The problem with the way America and France view Syria is in thinking that the Assad regime is possessed of a set of discrete interests, each of which can be isolated and placated on its own terms. It would make our job easier if the Syrians actually thought this way, but there is no evidence that they do. The Syrian “interests” that we fret over are only the tips of an iceberg, a grand vision in which Syria pursues what it believes is a rightful ambition to regain its former glory as a preeminent regional power. Suddenly it doesn’t look like another Nancy Pelosi listening tour of Damascus is going to make much of a difference, does it?

One of the fundamental tasks of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era should have been the establishment in the Middle East of a very simple principle: that the United States will defend its friends and punish its enemies. In Lebanon, as Syria methodically murders the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, we are again sending the wrong signals — that we will abandon our friends if loyalty to them becomes inconvenient or costly, and we will reward our enemies when we tire of their intransigence. Nothing good will come of this, either for us or for the brave and beleaguered Lebanese patriots whom we promised not to abandon.

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Visa Stupidity

A young, pro-American, “neolibertarian” blogger from Argentina named Pablo Martin Pozzoni recently wrote me this lament:

A few months ago I got the chance that I never have had before: to visit the country that I admire the most, because of what it is and represents, I had to stubbornly defend my decision against the hysterical anti-Americanism for which my country is well known…. This simple dream was cut short…not because of an economic or political situation in my country [but] by the Embassy of the United States…. Without taking into account my motivations or interests, I was considered something that anybody that knows me, and I am well known in Internet, will realize that is unthinkable and even laughable: a potential illegal immigrant.

It reminded me of other such tales. The Czech Republic and Poland, two of our staunchest allies, were on the brink of winning non-visa entry into the U.S. for their citizens, which several western European countries enjoy, when the deal was scotched by 9/11. Instead, would-be Czech and Polish visitors have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a visa application (which is not refundable) and wait on long lines. If this doesn’t cure their philo-Americanism, nothing will.

The ostensible reason is security, but I doubt there has ever been a Czech or Polish terrorist who targeted the U.S. The real purpose of the screening process is to weed out anyone who might wish to stay in the U.S. But what harm, exactly, would a few Czech, Polish, or Argentine illegal immigrants do? And is that harm—such as it might be—worth the ill will we invite at a time when we have a serious dearth of foreign friends?

The stories get even more absurd. This June, when President Bush tried to revivify his democracy-promotion agenda by delivering a stem-winder at a conference in Prague organized by Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel, and meeting with a group of dissidents from around the world, the most important Iranian dissident who had been invited was unable to attend. Mohsen Sazegara was scheduled to be one of the conference’s speakers, but he was forced to cancel: U.S. immigration authorities refused to promise him undelayed reentry into the U.S. (where he lives in exile).

Read More

A young, pro-American, “neolibertarian” blogger from Argentina named Pablo Martin Pozzoni recently wrote me this lament:

A few months ago I got the chance that I never have had before: to visit the country that I admire the most, because of what it is and represents, I had to stubbornly defend my decision against the hysterical anti-Americanism for which my country is well known…. This simple dream was cut short…not because of an economic or political situation in my country [but] by the Embassy of the United States…. Without taking into account my motivations or interests, I was considered something that anybody that knows me, and I am well known in Internet, will realize that is unthinkable and even laughable: a potential illegal immigrant.

It reminded me of other such tales. The Czech Republic and Poland, two of our staunchest allies, were on the brink of winning non-visa entry into the U.S. for their citizens, which several western European countries enjoy, when the deal was scotched by 9/11. Instead, would-be Czech and Polish visitors have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a visa application (which is not refundable) and wait on long lines. If this doesn’t cure their philo-Americanism, nothing will.

The ostensible reason is security, but I doubt there has ever been a Czech or Polish terrorist who targeted the U.S. The real purpose of the screening process is to weed out anyone who might wish to stay in the U.S. But what harm, exactly, would a few Czech, Polish, or Argentine illegal immigrants do? And is that harm—such as it might be—worth the ill will we invite at a time when we have a serious dearth of foreign friends?

The stories get even more absurd. This June, when President Bush tried to revivify his democracy-promotion agenda by delivering a stem-winder at a conference in Prague organized by Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel, and meeting with a group of dissidents from around the world, the most important Iranian dissident who had been invited was unable to attend. Mohsen Sazegara was scheduled to be one of the conference’s speakers, but he was forced to cancel: U.S. immigration authorities refused to promise him undelayed reentry into the U.S. (where he lives in exile).

When the Baathist former Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam joined with Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin Baynouni to form the National Salvation Front, the U.S. found itself in a quandary. It wanted to encourage this exile operation— which promised to be the most powerful opposition to the recalcitrant Assad regime—but it was reluctant to embrace these two men. The solution hit upon by U.S. officials was to work through Ammar Abdulhamid, a prominent Syrian liberal with whom the U.S. felt comfortable, and who was elected to the NSF executive committee. However, Abdulhamid was severely constrained in trying to influence the NSF: he could not attend any of its meetings, which are held in various locations across Europe. Abdulhamid has been living in the U.S. with temporary asylum status for two years, waiting to be granted permanent asylum. In the meantime, U.S. authorities refuse to give him a travel document.

If the arguments about security are absurd when it comes to Czechs and Poles, in the cases of Sazegara and Abdulhamid, there is no conceivable security issue. They already live in the U.S. Of course we need to scrutinize carefully potential terrorists who want to enter our shores. But surely we can do that and at the same time make it easy for friendly foreigners to visit or study here, or to take asylum here when their struggles for freedom endanger their lives.

Before 9/11, our responsible agencies made it easy for anyone to enter, including known terrorists. Now they make it difficult even for known friends. Previously, our border security was disarmed. Now we have loaded up and shot ourselves in the foot. There must be a better way.

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Syrian Incursion

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

Michael Totten reports today a piece of incredibly disturbing news: Syria, on Thursday of last week, made a quiet incursion three kilometers into Lebanon. The Syrian troops are digging in, according to Totten’s citation of the Lebanese daily Al Mustaqbal:

The sources said Syrian troops, backed by bulldozers, were fortifying positions “in more than one area” along the Lebanese border, erecting earth mounds and digging “hundreds” of trenches and individual bunkers.

And the Syrian government is, apparently, evacuating Syrian citizens from Lebanon. Totten goes on:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

Read the rest here.

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