2007/04/09

What's wrong with US foreign policy today

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) explains why Syria is such a deadly enemy that America can't possibly carry out any sort of diplomacy with it:

LIEBERMAN: But they have — but let me tell what you they have to do with what we’re into now. (1) The Bashir Assad Syrian government has allowed terrorists and arms to flow across its country into Iraq that are being used to kill Americans today. (2) Syria has been implicated in the assassination of a very strong popular Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. (3) Syria is supporting Hezbollah, which is trying to unseat our ally, Senora, in Lebanon. (4) Syria is supporting the terrorist group Hamas against our allies in the Fatah Palestinian movement, and of course, Israel. The administration, in all fairness — people in Washington should know, if they don’t know, (5) the administration has been trying in many ways, in diplomatic discussions with Syria since 9-11, to get Assad to change his behavior and he has not. (6) When Nancy Pelosi goes there, she sends a message of disunity. She legitimizes the Syrian government.
[Numbers added to facilitate answers]

(1) There is very little evidence to show that significant quantities of arms or people are crossing that particular border. It's a very lengthy, sparsely-populated border and Syria's been given no good reason to put a lot of resources into sealing it. As this report shows, there are actions Syria can indeed take, but getting their voluntary cooperation would work a heck of a lot better and faster than threatening them. There's probably some traffic of precisely the type that Lieberman describes, but it's far from clear that completely cutting off that route would make a significant,.visible difference in Iraq.

(2) "Implicated" does not equal "convicted." Let's wait for real proof before we undertake any policy changes based on this justification.

(3) Hezbollah is a legitimate, legitimately popular organization.

"Hezbollah is not just a militia or a conventional army, but a social and political movement deeply rooted in its society, with a big constituency within the Lebanese Shia community that comprises about 40 percent of the country's 4 million people."

Just because Israel doesn't like it, doesn't mean it isn't a very serious opponent. Physically attacking popular organizations does not always result in their being diminished. Sometimes it makes them grow. If the attack is seen as unjustified, if people see the attacker as dishonorably trying to pursue its own interests with no regard for civilians caught in the crossfire, popular outrage will be directed against the attacker. US actions taken in response to Hezbollah have been clumsy and counterproductive.

(4) Again, Syria is supporting a legitimately popular organization. Hamas has gained power from complaints about how Israel has acted towards Palestine. The legitimacy of such complaints is in the eye of the beholder. Just because Israel may not think the complaints are serious doesn't mean that millions in the Arab world don't agree with them. That's not to say Hamas is right and Israel is wrong, it's to say Hamas is seen by many people in the Mideast as a protector of the Palestinian people. Again, physically attacking such an organization often makes them stronger and more popular.

(5) It is my understanding that the Bush Administration's idea of diplomacy is to say "Surrender, give us everything and abandon any claims you feel you might have against us." In no case have I ever heard of Bush and Co. offering anything even remotely like real, actual, give-and-take diplomacy. Discussions with Assad have most likely taken the form of: "Change your behavior!!! NOW!!!"

(6) The actual message that Speaker Pelosi took to Syria was completely in line with Bush Administration policy. Pelosi has absolutely nothing to apologize for. According to The Gavel, this is the message she conveyed:

"Speaker Pelosi accurately relayed a message given to her by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to Syrian President Assad.

"The tough and serious message the Speaker relayed was that, in order for Israel to engage in talks with Syria, the Syrian government must eliminate its links with extremist elements, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

"Furthermore, the Speaker told Assad that his government must also take steps to block militants seeking to cross the Syrian border into Iraq and that it must cease its ongoing efforts to destabilize Lebanon and to block the international community’s expressed desire for an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. The Speaker has no illusions about the nature of the regime in Syria."

It's not at all clear that Pelosi is disrupting anything by going to Syria and talking with Assad. There's no evidence that the Bush Administration was engaged in any serious diplomacy with Syria to begin with. The fake "scandal" of Pelosi going to Syria is a media-inspired and wrong-headed attempt to make it appear that her actions are worthy of criticism.

Syria may be acting against US interests in the Middle East, bu to treat them like this era's equivalent of the Comintern of the 1930s is an incredibly stupid way to try and counter it. There are many areas where our two country's can agree. To automatically assume that nothing can be accomplished diplomatically is to surrender any thought of progress before even trying. Assumptions like the ones that Lieberman is making here are a large part of the problem that the US is experiencing over there.

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