Commentary Magazine


How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

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