The Syrian Strategy

[New York Times] Danielle Pletka - Washington is abuzz with talk of a "strategic realignment" that would split Syria from Iran and upend the status quo in the Middle East. But is it a real possibility, or foreign policy alchemy? On its face, the notion seems crazy. Syria has been nothing but trouble for years - funneling killers into Iraq to oppose coalition forces, assassinating its opponents in Lebanon, arming Hizbullah to attack Israel, and starting a nuclear weapons program with help from North Korea. Nor does Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, seem cut out for the role of a 21st-century Anwar Sadat. Insecure in his own palace, erratic in his statements and crude in his stewardship, Assad seems more likely to be the victim of a coup than a champion of peace. Nonetheless, the foreign-policy establishment in Washington has come up with a framework to bring him back into the diplomatic fold. It would involve returning the American ambassador (who was recalled from Damascus after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri); ratcheting up American involvement in the Syria-Israel peace talks being mediated by Turkey; requesting that Syrian security forces take part in patrols with Iraqi forces along their border; abandoning efforts to pursue a UN tribunal on the Hariri murder; and directly engaging Iran on a new diplomatic track. Unfortunately, the reality is more complicated. From the day Colin Powell started at the State Department in 2001, American officials have tried to coax, cajole and, as a last resort, threaten Syria into better behavior; all entreaties have met with rejection. President Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, traveled more than 20 times to Damascus. Assad, a member of a mistrusted Alawite minority, can maintain his grip on power only as long as he is seen as a vital instrument of Israel's defeat. A new Middle East would mean the end of Assad, which is why he will always turn back to Iran, and why the road to peace in the Middle East will never run through Damascus. The writer is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

2008-12-22 06:00:00

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