Yesterday, I wrote that the main problem with Secretary Rice’s upcoming visit to the Mideast is the fact that she will refuse to give Syria anything it wants (the Golan Heights for example) while at the same time asking it to give up something it has wanted till now (involvement in Lebanon along with support for Hezbollah). I asked, “what’s the incentive?” Today, the NY Times confirms what I wrote:
…So far, there appears to be little discussion of offering American incentives to the Syrians to abandon Hezbollah, or even to stop arming it. The Bush administration has been deeply reluctant to make such offers, whether it is negotiating with Damascus or with the governments of Iran or North Korea.
Nor did President Bush sound any conciliatory notes in his radio address on Saturday. “For many years, Syria has been a primary sponsor of Hezbollah and it has helped provide Hezbollah with shipments of Iranian-made weapons,’’ he said…
The State Department lists Syria as a country that sends money to terrorist organizations. Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha…is often described as one of the loneliest ambassadors in Washington.
In the months after 9/11, Syria provided important assistance in the campaign against al Qaeda. But relations soured as American officials complained that Syria did little to crack down on associates of Saddam Hussein who funneled money to the insurgency in Iraq through Syrian banks, or to stop the flow of insurgents across its border to Iraq. The United States imposed sanctions on Syria in 2004, and took further measures after Syrian officials were accused of involvement in Mr. Hariri’s assassination.
The thrust of the American initiative appears to involve Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan jawboning the Syrians into dropping Hezbollah. What will the angle be? Basically, you’re as isolated as Iran in the Arab world, but without any of Iran’s resources or power. “Be on the right side with us” appears to be the theme. To me, this is like going into the Damascus souk and telling a carpet vendor that all his competitors hate him. In order for them to stop hating him, he should give me a carpet without my paying anything for it. Incentive or not incentive? That’s a no-brainer. If you want to buy something in the souk you use hard currency, not rhetoric.
And Syria’s response thus far to blandishments from its fellow Arab governments bodes ill for the future:
One Western diplomat said Arab leaders had had trouble getting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to come to the phone when they called to express concern about Hezbollah’s actions.
A State Department official seems to inadvertently be pulling the rug out from under those Arab allies with statement like this:
The effort begins Sunday afternoon in the Oval Office, where President Bush is scheduled to meet the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, and the chief of the Saudi national security council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Prince Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to Washington until late last year and often speaks of his deep connections to both the Bush family and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ms. Rice is delaying her departure to the Middle East until after the meeting, which she is also expected to attend, along with Mr. Cheney and Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser. The session was requested by the Saudis, American officials said.
The expected outcome of the session is unclear. “We don’t know how patient the Saudis will be with the Israeli military action,’’ said one senior official. “They want to see Hezbollah wiped out, and they’d like to set back the Iranians.”
But in the Arab world, the official added, “they can’t been seen to be doing that too enthusiastically.’’
Several of Mr. Bush’s top aides said the plan is for Mr. Bush and other senior officials to press both Saudi Arabia and Egypt to prod Syria into giving up its links with Hezbollah, and with Iran. The administration, aside from its differences with Iran over nuclear programs and with Syria over its role in Lebanon, also has objected to both nations’ behavior toward their common neighbor, Iraq.
“They have to make the point to them that if things go bad in the Mideast, the Iranians are not going to be a reliable lifeline,’’ one of the administration officials said.
Another said, “There is a presumption that the Syrians have more at stake here than the Iranians, and they are more exposed.”
Does this dopey “official” think that the critics of these Arab government who already think they’re sell outs to the U.S. don’t read U.S. papers? Even those governments like Saudi Arabia and Egypt which may distrust Iran and Hezbollah–what’s in it for them in terms of advancing U.S. and Israeli interests? The Arab street detests Israel’s virtual rape of Lebanon. And such sentiment becomes stronger the longer the insult to Lebanon’s honor continues. Do you think Mubarak and the Saudi royals aren’t going to be sensitive to this?
To me, the U.S. hopes for Condi’s trip are built on Mideast desert sand. I can’t see any substance to them.
The Times article closes by noting the obvious:
But while analysts say it is possible for the Bush administration and Israel to work out a solution without including Syria in the diplomatic wrangling, it would be difficult to do. Some Bush administration officials, particularly at the State Department, are pushing to find a way to start talking to Syria again.
I wonder why Condi isn’t pushing publicly to start talking to Syria again in preparation for this trip. Why isn’t she trying to meet even privately with some Syrian representative to initiate a thaw in U.S.-Syria relations? Without this, she’s dead in the water I’m afraid.