How to Engage Syria, If You Must

[San Francisco Chronicle] David Schenker - The Bush administration took a pass on the Iraq Study Group's controversial recommendation to engage with Syria and Iran, in an effort to convince these state sponsors of terrorism to play a more productive role in Iraq. Instead, the president said that U.S. forces would "interrupt the flow of support" to the insurgency from these states. The White House's own extensive efforts at dialogue failed miserably, leading the Bush administration to the conclusion that engagement was unhelpful at best, and counterproductive at worst. Some seem to argue that engagement can't hurt. Regrettably, the Bush administration's experience has proven otherwise. Meetings, in which U.S. emissaries delivered blunt messages to Assad, were spun by Damascus as "breakthroughs" in Syrian-U.S. relations, undermining the morale of the region's democrats and alleviating pressure on the regime. Rep. Tom Lantos, incoming chairman of the House International Relations Committee, met with Assad In 2003. After the meeting, Lantos returned to the Damascus Sheraton hotel and gave an unprecedented press conference, reviewing the full litany of U.S. grievances with Syrian policy, from human-rights abuses, to active undermining of stability in Iraq, to Syrian support for Palestinian terrorists and Hizbullah. His courageous public message countered the potentially negative implications of the visit. Given Syria's continuing problematic behavior, engagement absent this public component risks sending the wrong impression and further emboldening this already dangerous regime. The writer is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002 to 2006, he was the Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestinian affairs adviser in the office of the secretary of defense.

2007-01-19 01:00:00

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