Wednesday, November 4, 2009

U.S.-Syria Relations: Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad Complains that America isn’t Giving Him Enough Concessions in Exchange for Nothing

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By Barry Rubin

As I’ve previously reported, policy toward Syria has been the best-run aspect of Obama Administration foreign policy. That’s largely because it has been left in the hands of State Department officials who have no illusions about that radical dictatorship which is Iran’s closest ally and is determined to remain that way.

Now Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad has complained to the country’s official news agency, November 1, that while the U.S. government is talking instead of “commanding” nothing much has changed with the Obama Administration. "It is hard to say that big steps have been taken in bilateral relations," Assad said.

More American official delegations are going to Damascus but they’re not being converted by the trip. One topic they are pressing is better Syrian control over its border with Iraq, a euphemism for: stopping helping terrorism in Iraq.

More than four months after the U.S. government announced it would send an ambassador to Syria for the first time in years, nobody has been named.

Now, the problem with tough diplomacy can be that it does not “work” immediately or seemingly not at all. This is a persistent Obama Administration criticism of its predecessors: they were tough on Iran and other radicals but the problems didn’t go away. Right! But what’s better:

--To be tough on enemies in order to weaken them, isolate them, put them on notice to change their behavior, and reinforce the determination of those being attacked by them in the region (in this case, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia) OR

--To be soft on enemies, persuading them you are weak so they will be more aggressive, giving them concessions all the better to eat you with, and demoralizing the radicals’ victims by acting as if you are on the side of the “bad guys?”

After all, Syria continues to:

Arm, finance, transport, and encourage terrorists murdering American soldiers and Iraqi civilians; oppose peace with Israel; try to seize control over Lebanon; sponsor terrorism against Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan; refuse to cooperate with the international tribunal investigating past Syrian terrorism in Lebanon; deny human rights at home and torture peaceful dissidents; and a long list of other such things.

The main criticism I have toward Obama Administration policy on this issue is the failure to support Iraqi government complaints against Syria for sponsoring terrorism and giving safe haven to its leadership, a failure you can read about here and here. Remember that these groups are openly part of al-Qaida and even the Obama Administration says that the United States is at war with al-Qaida.

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). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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