Sunday, January 30, 2011

U.S. Policy in the Middle East: Moderates Cry; Radicals Laugh

By Barry Rubin

In the United States, the sending of a U.S. ambassador to Syria is presented as a normal act, not a concession. That's not the way it is being seen in Syria. In the United States, the issuing of statements favoring Lebanese sovereignty is seen as an effective policy. That's not the way it is seen in Syria and Lebanon.

Or as an unidentified, but presumably Syrian, official put it:

"Obama went out of his way to send [a new ambassador]. He will be expecting something in return. Lebanon is an obvious area but the Syrians realize that the United States does not have much more to pressure them with," another diplomat said.

"Syrian political commentator [i.e., lackey of the dictatorship] Ayman Abdel Nour said Damascus was not averse to compromise if it felt the United States was lessening support for an international tribunal on the Hariri killing, which Syria views as a tool in the hands of its foes.

"`The United States is keeping the tribunal card close to its chest. But Syria is stronger on the ground in Lebanon,'" Abdel Nour said. He dismissed the possibility of Washington resuming a policy of internationally isolating Syria because Damascus has built ties with countries such as its northern neighbor Turkey."

In other words, Syria is strong; America is weak; Syria can do as it pleases with no additional cost.  If the United States drops support for the international tribunal finding  Syrian and Hizballah terrorism in Lebanon, Syria will then...not give anything back.

This is the gap between Washington--and America in general--which believes Obama is doing a terrific job in the Middle East, and the actual Middle East where the moderates are crying and the radicals are laughing.

And don't forget:

Hizballah seizes power in Lebanon, U.S. policy has no effective response.

U.S. policy helps Hamas entrench itself in the Gaza Strip (by providing indirect aid and pressing Israel to reduce sanctions).

In Egypt, the emphasis of U.S. policy is to press the regime into potentially fatal concessions.

Plus more. The radicals know what they are talking about.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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