Wednesday, March 31, 2010

High-Ranking U.S. Official: Enemies? Islamists? Revolutionaries? We Don't See Anyone Like That!

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By Barry Rubin

What could one sentence spoken by a high-ranking U.S. official prompt a brilliant pro-Western Arab intellectual to go ballistic and say the following:

“How could America be governed and represented by such blazing idiocy? How is that possible? It's a parallel universe, I'm convinced. The biggest threat, I maintain, to global security is not terrorism. It's stupidity.”

Well, this one. At his confirmation hearing, Robert Ford, ambassador-designate to Syria said:

"I do not see how instability in the region serves Syrian interests."

So here is Syria, a radical, anti-American regime allied with Iran, a major sponsor of terrorism, and Ford says that this government has no interest in stirring up instability and cannot receive any benefit from doing so? Of course, Ford rightfully does not want to criticize Syria before arriving there as U.S. ambassador. OK, understood.

But does he have to indicate such an appalling view in advance? Doesn't this throw away all U.S. leverage over Syria in advance? I can tell you that this is precisely the way Syrian leaders are portraying American policy nowadays. Of course, Ford is saying this because it reflects the thinking of this administration and the president.

Incidentally, I recently saw a non-published communication from an international affairs' expert that criticized someone else for having the old-fashioned view that the point of foreign policy is to reward friends and punish enemies. As I have said before even the most basic principles of diplomacy have been forgotten nowadays in large sections of academia, the media, and--much more dangerous--policymaking circles.

Back to Ford and Syria. Yet even if Syria is not building apartments in east Jerusalem, it might still be a threat to U.S. interests and regional stability. (Note: The previous sentence was sarcastic.)

If Syria was not sponsoring the Iraqi insurgents to overthrow the government in Baghdad so as to replace a regime linked with the United States with one servile to itself, it should have been sufficient to show how instability in the region serves Syrian interests.

If Syria was not sponsoring Hizballah and others to seize control over Lebanon it should have been sufficient.

If Syria was not sponsoring Hamas to sabotage any peace process and seize control over the Palestinians it should have been sufficient.

If Syria did not oppose peace with Israel so as to destroy that country and replace it with a pro-Syrian Palestinian state it should have been sufficient.

If Syria did not back Iran in order to destabilize the Middle East to destroy relatively moderate Arab regimes that oppose Syrian leadership over all the Arabs it should have been sufficient.

If Syria did not do everything possible to destroy U.S. influence and interests in the region it should have been sufficient.

To some extent, the State Department has been forced to acknowledge some of these problems in the face of congressional criticism about sending a U.S. ambassador back to Damascus. I'm not saying that the ambassador shouldn't be sent back--though we should remember that Syria has done zero about the reason which led to the withdrawal in the first place, its complicity in the murder of Lebanon's former prime minister--but if he's returned it should be to wage diplomatic battle, not appeasement.

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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. 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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