Thursday, May 12, 2011

Great Moments in American Diplomacy: Getting Killer Dictators to Have An “Alternative Vision” of Themselves

This article is published in PajamasMedia.

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By Barry Rubin

I don’t have to write anything to make fun of current U.S. Middle East policy. All I have to do is quote administration officials.

Here’s the New York Times:

“One administration official said that some national security officials were hoping that even if Mr. Assad stayed in power, he would move away from the alliance with Iran because so many of the Sunni protesters wanted to see an end to that alliance. `There are some who think that because of that, Assad would have to back away,’ the official said.”

See! You thought people were demonstrating either for democracy or for Islamism. Actually, they are demonstrating because they want the regime to distance itself from Iran!

No doubt they were chanting: Hey! Hey! Bashar al-A! How much have you distanced yourself from Iran today!

Unfortunately, demonstrators in Egypt really do want their country to distance itself from America.

And now here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Atlantic:

“JG: One thing I didn't understand was this Bashar al-Assad moment, when you called him a reformer, or said he was being seen by others as a reformer. There is always going to be plasticity or strategic hypocrisy in the way you have to deal with the world. But shouldn't we be blowing some of these winds of change in the direction of Damascus and Tehran as well?

“Clinton: We don't have to blow. The winds are blowing. There's no stopping them. And what we have tried to do with him is to give him an alternative vision of himself and Syria's future. So when a number of the members of Congress who have gone over to Syria come back and say both publicly and privately, `We think he really wants to reform, but he's trying to put together the political pieces to be able to do that,’ I think it's worth reminding him of that…Thus far, it doesn't look like it's heading in the right direction. But there was certainly a lot of hope that he would begin to introduce the kinds of reforms that would help Syria get ahead of the curve. “

Where to begin? Whether or not current U.S. foreign policy “blows” is a question I will leave to others. The idea of giving Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad an “alternative vision” of himself is a job for his therapist, not the United States. There is no evidence that Bashar ever wanted to make reforms and you sound as if you feel sorry for him. You didn’t feel sorry for Mubarak, that’s for sure.

Yet Bashar is a man who backs Hamas and Hizballah; murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri; and trains, finances, and helps Iraqi terrorists to kill Americans.

Let me put it this way:

Bashar understands public relations. He knows how to pretend he's moderate. He has created a cadre of apologists in academia and the media who follow the line from Damascus. Bashar also has wined and dined members of Congress into believing he's a wonderful human being. And his wife has been written up in fashion and fashionable magazines.

In other words, he’s like Usama bin Ladin but a lot smarter, more subtle, and better-dressed.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia 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 His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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