Or, more accurately, on President Obama’s mind, given that he dispatched a personal envoy to Syria early on in his presidency. Syria has long loomed as the elusive objective of various Mideast peace initiatives. Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher travelled there numerous times during the Clinton years; in late 2006, the Iraq Study Group recommended overtures to Syria; and former Secretary of State Condi Rice included Syria in a November 2007 peace conference.
But what are the chances of success for this policy? Bret Stephens argues here that Syrian president Bashar Assad is closer to countries like Iran and North Korea than was his father. He is also rebuilding Syria’s stranglehold over Lebanon. Nor has he given any sign of making concessions regarding Syria’s principal bone of contention with Israel, control of the Golan Heights.
A recent MEMRI report records public Syrian responses to recent overtures by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry and Rep. Howard Berman. The Obama administration seems to have bought itself the worst of both worlds, by combining a conciliatory public approach with requirements for substantive policy changes from the Syrian government. The Syrians, who have no intention of making concessions, simply view the conciliatory words and actions as signs of weakness.
I’m grateful the administration hasn’t immediately thrown long-standing U.S. policy requirements out the window in its effort to improve relations with Syria - and hope it won’t do so in future. I also hope that it will quickly realize that appeasing or conciliatory gestures are most likely to elicit a Bronx cheer from many in the Muslim world, especially the heads of repressive, thuggish governments and their supporters.
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