As I remarked earlier this week, the Obami’s Syrian engagement policy aligns with their overall approach to foreign policy: fruitless ingratiation with despots, disregard for human rights, and predictable (horrible) results. Elliott Abrams, former Deputy National Security Adviser, recounts the series of unilateral gestures and offerings that the Obami have served up to Syria — from sending high-level envoys to appointing a new ambassador to removing U.S. objections to Syria joining the WTO. On and on it has gone as the Obama administration has tried to wean Bashar al-Assad from the embrace of the Iranian regime. But this was doomed to fail:
“Engagement” constitutes “appeasement” if it fails to change Syrian conduct, and the failure to change is overlooked while the “engagement” continues and accelerates. This would not just be fooling ourselves but condoning, rewarding, and thereby inducing even more bad conduct by the Assad regime. Which is precisely what has happened during this year of American engagement.
So Syria continues to fund terrorists, to assist Iran in rearming Hezbollah, and to brutalize its own people. Moreover, as we saw this week, Syria delights in hugging the Iranian regime even tighter and whacking the U.S. ever harder — just in case we had any doubt about the Syrians’ contempt for our approach. It seems the Obami misread Assad, not recognizing that he is “a vicious dictator dependent on Iran’s regime for political, financial, and military support” and fantasizing that there is a peace deal with Israel in the offing.
Enough already, Abrams suggests. Stop the engagement, speak out on human rights, and bring to the UN Syria’s violations of Security Council resolutions on Lebanon’s sovereignty and the arming of Hezbollah. That’s frankly wise advice for how we should reorient our entire foreign policy — on the Middle East, Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, and the rest. The suck-uppery to despots hasn’t worked. Unilateral moves beget bad behavior, not reciprocity. Selling out human-rights advocates erodes our moral standing. And the Middle East in particular grows more unstable as tyrants get the notion that the U.S. can be played. So we should insist on reciprocity in our diplomatic moves, stand up for democracy and human rights, take seriously despots’ violations of international agreements, and refuse to explain away or excuse the misbehavior of bad actors.
We were supposed to get smart diplomacy with the Obami, and instead we got diplomacy that is both amoral and counterproductive. As with so much else that has gone wrong in this administration, the collision of hubris and extreme ideology has been painful to watch.