Another day, another report of a new massacre by government forces in Syria. This time, according to reports, dozens of civilians in a small village near the central city of Hama were slain by militias loyal to Syrian President Assad. Senior Obama administration officials have invoked these massacres as they seek to encourage allies to toughen sanctions against Syria
Is it rude of me to remind readers that, not so long ago, Nancy Pelosi defied the State Department and visited Assad, declaring that “the road to peace is through Damascus”? Or that John Kerry, acting in concert with the Obama administration, served as Assad’s errand boy in trying to bring Israel to the table for the purpose of returning the Golan Heights to the butcher of Damascus? Or that the Bush administration had been largely successful in isolating Syria (as Obama now seeks to do) until Pelosi and Kerry willfully undermined it? Or that, according to the Wall Street Journal, engagement with Syria was “a central tenet of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy.”
Rude or not, let’s revisit those heady days, since the MSM certainly isn’t going to bring them up. Let’s see how smart the Democratic apostles of “smart power” have been.
In 2007, the State Department told Speaker Pelosi that it did not want her to visit Syria, which was listed as a state sponsor of terror based on its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and was fueling violence in Iraq by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory. Pelosi went anyway, donning a flowered head scarf and a black abaya robe, and spending hours talking with Assad. “We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi idiotically declared.
As USA Today reported at the time, in the years just prior to Pelosi’s visit, the Bush administration had largely succeeded in efforts to isolate Assad, as our European and Arab allies shunned the dictator. But Pelosi’s visit signaled the end of that success.
President Bush denounced the visit for that reason. And even the Washington Post stated in an editorial (“Pratfall in Damascus”) that “Ms. Pelosi’s attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.”
But Pelosi’s foolishness wasn’t confined to sabotaging U.S. policy. The Speaker also tried to sandbag Israel. Before going to Syria, Pelosi had met with top Israeli officials including then-Prime Minister Olmert. When she reached Damascus, that destination city on the “road to peace,” Pelosi told Assad that Olmert wanted to relay the message that Israel is ready for peace talks with Syria.
Olmert’s office quickly made clear that it had given Pelosi no message to convey to Assad, and that his message to Pelosi was that Israel considers Syria “part of the axis of evil and a party encouraging terrorism in the entire Middle East.” Pelosi was no more receptive to the wise words of the Prime Minister of Israel than she had been to those of the American President.
Pelosi is a lightweight when it comes to substantive policy. But John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is considered by many to be at least a middle weight with respect to foreign policy. Yet, he was an enamored with Assad as the “foolish” Speaker was.
In fact, Kerry visited Damascus before Pelosi, also over objections from the Bush administration, in December 2006. Thus, he was a natural choice to assist the Obama administration when, within a month of his inauguration, the new president decided to reach out to the dictator of Syria.
Furthermore, after meeting with Assad in Damascus in 2010, the sophisticate from Massachusetts stated, with his customary pretentiousness:
Let me just say that I am . . . absolutely convinced that carefully calibrated diplomacy, that if that is what we engage in, that Syria will play a very important role in achieving a comprehensive peace in the region and in putting an end to the five decades of conflict that have plagued everybody in this region. That’s our hope, that’s our challenge, and we’re committed to continue to work at it.
Kerry’s “carefully calibrated diplomacy” consisted of serving Assad’s purposes by lobbying for Israel to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for the right to talk with Assad. Fortunately, Israel didn’t share Kerry’s longing for face-time with the tyrant.
Kerry was acting in concert with the Obama administration, which desperately wanted good relations with Syria. Obama appointed a new ambassador to Damascus, ending a five-year hiatus. He also authorized the U.S. to sell Syria plane parts to repair two aging Boeing 747s, despite Washington’s trade sanctions. In the words of the Wall Street Journal at the time, “engagement with Syria has become a central tenet of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy.”
The efforts of Pelosi, Kerry, and Obama were based on the myth that, unlike his father, Assad was “a reformer.” Indeed, Secretary of State Clinton was still clinging to that myth last year, after the revolt against Assad was already underway. Ms. Clinton cited reports from U.S. lawmakers who have visited Damascus. Presumably, she had in mind the likes of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Kerry.
Why has the Democratic leadership’s line on Assad been so staggeringly wrong? I’m tempted to believe that the explanation lies in Bush-derangement syndrome – that Pelosi, Kerry, and Obama acted the way they did because Bush had acted the opposite way. Certainly, there was a twinkle in Bush’s eye when he said, during the unveiling of his portrait as the White House, that Obama could look at the picture while making difficult decisions and ask himself: “What would George do?”
But I think there is more to it than that. Any foreign policy analyst could figure out that Assad is a bad guy and should be dealt with in one or more of the ways that bad guys have always been dealt with when they run nations. It takes someone special to reject this conventional wisdom and conclude that, in reality, Assad is the vehicle through which our most vexing foreign policy problems will be solved.
Perhaps it is the quest to stand traditional foreign policy thinking on its head, rooted in the desire to be oh-so smart and/or in ambivalence about our own traditions, that helps explain the Democrats’ criminally misguided policy towards Syria.
But then, why explain it? Why not just pretend it didn’t happen, as the MSM seems determined to do?