U.S. apparently has no idea what to do about Syria
By Barry Rubin
HERZLIYA, Israel — If you think I’m exaggerating about the current administration’s cluelessness toward the Middle East just read the State Department daily press conference transcripts. Even journalists covering these events are often shocked by what they hear.
Today’s topic is Syria, but it’s just an example and many others could be found. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley begins by referring to a speech by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice in which she says:
“We continue to have deep concerns about Hezbollah’s destructive and destabilizing influence in the region, as well as attempts by other foreign players, including Syria and Iran, to undermine Lebanon’s independence and endanger its stability.”
In saying this, Rice is praising a UN report about what’s going on in Lebanon which reveals, though nobody makes this point, the total failure of the organization and the United States to keep the promises made in 2006 in order to end the Israel-Hizballah war.
So given this situation one would think U.S. policy is now prepared to do something about Lebanon’s becoming an Iran-Syria puppet, Syria’s continued support for anti-American terrorists in Iraq and sabotage of any peace process, and the obviously failed U.S. effort at engaging Syria.
Nope. Not a chance.
A reporter asks: “With these strong statements…it looks like the meetings the Secretary [of State] had with the Syrian foreign minister and the visit by his deputy here to Washington didn’t lead to any improvements in relations with Syria. Do you agree on this?”
No, Crowley won’t agree since if he does the United States will have to do something. He just wants to let everyone knows that the United States told Syria it is very very naughty:
“We were very clear about our expectation that Syria would play a more constructive role in the region. We expressed during that meeting our deep concern for Syrian interference with Lebanon’s sovereignty. We also expressed in that meeting hope that Syria would make progress in its thread of the Middle East peace process.”
No, Syria won’t “play a more constructive role,” so why the expectation? Yes, Syria will continue to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty so what are you going to do with that “deep concern?” No, Syria won’t “make progress” toward peace with Israel so why the “hope”?
Jumping Jupiter! You’ve been watching all of this continuously for nineteen months, isn’t it time to get the point?
Understandably, a reporter asks: ”Do you see any evidence that [the Syrians] have actually taken that message on board?….It doesn’t seem like they’re listening if they’re still doing things that you have to complain about as publicly as Ambassador Rice did.”
Precisely. So what does Crowley say? I’m not kidding: that’s why we have to talk to them even more and offer them goodies:
“Well, but it’s one of the reasons why we have offered to engage Syria….[The U.S. wants] to offer the hope that…we can improve our relationship bilaterally and Syria can play a more constructive role in the region.”
So let me get this straight: Syria ignores you and your answer is to try harder to engage them, to offer them more. Crowley continues:
“There’s a choice here for Syria. If it wants to have a better relationship with the United States, then it has to be a more constructive player in the region. [Regarding] Lebanon, we remain very concerned about Syria’s …ongoing support of Hezbollah, its attempted intimidation of a Lebanese Government, the ongoing provision of arms to Hezbollah in violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty….We would expect Syria to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
Why do you expect they would respect Lebanon’s sovereignty? And hasn’t Syria already made a choice: No! No! No! Or, more accurately, they have made a choice based on your behavior along the following lines:
We can support Hizballah, intimidate Lebanon’s government, and do just about whatever we want, and the United States won’t do anything to us? Mu-ha-ha-ha!
So of course, a reporter asks–and remember this is October 2010 so they haven’t heard any answer in the last twenty months: “You’ve laid out the carrots that are offered to the Syrians, i.e., potential of better or improved U.S. relationships if they do these things you want them to do. What’s the consequences if they continue not to listen to you?”
Does Crowley hurl lightning bolts? Does he threaten and hint and warn? No, he does not: In fact, he seems rather surprised by the question. His answer is so amazing [in incoherence as well as content] I just have to quote it in full. [Note: If you wish I give you permission to skip the next paragraph]:
“Well, I mean, there are sanctions against Syria. It still is listed on the terrorism list by the United States, and those have an impact. But if Syria wants the potential–a change in the relation with the United States, a change in opportunities that come with normal relations, then it has to improve its performance. Give you an example: Earlier this summer, technology leaders under the auspices of the State Department had a delegation that visited Damascus, and our message to the leaders…is very clear. You want leading technology companies from the United States and other areas of the world to invest in Damascus, then you’ve got to create the appropriate climate to encourage them to do that. You’ve got to have a climate where–change the relationship between the government and the people. So if this is, in fact, the ambition by the Syrian leadership, then it has to change its policies and its practices.”
So that’s it! If you take over Lebanon, send terrorists into Iraq to kill Americans, back Hamas, arm Hizballah, and move so close to Iran that a hydrogen atom cannot pass between you, the United States will take a terrible vengeance: It won’t let American technology companies invest in you!
So here’s the real choice offered Syria: Either you have Iran providing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and low-cost oil; paying for your weapons, subsidizing your joint clients like Hamas and Hizballah, and giving you a nuclear umbrella, while being part of an alliance that believes it is going to gain hegemony in the Middle East OR alternatively you could throw all this away in exchange for some U.S. investments.
The horror. The horror.
After reading this nonsense an expert on these issues remarked: ”Really pathetic. The administration is just begging Syria. Our dialogue has been reduced to Washington pleading and Syria saying “no.” No wonder everyone is siding with Iran these days.”
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. The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org
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