Posted by: sean | April 12, 2007

Cheney (fille) on Syria

Dick Cheney’s eldest daughter, Liz, has a piece in the Post today about why the US shouldn’t talk to Syria. She makes a point of listing the anti-Syrian Lebanese who have been killed in the last few years.

It is time to face facts. Talking to the Syrians emboldens and rewards them at the expense of America and our allies in the Middle East. It hasn’t and won’t change their behavior. They are an outlaw regime and should be isolated. Members of Congress and State Department officials should stop visiting Damascus. Arab leaders should stop receiving Bashar al-Assad. The U.N. Security Council should adopt a Chapter VII resolution mandating the establishment of an international tribunal for the Hariri murder.

The Security Council should also hold Syria accountable for its ongoing violations of existing resolutions. The U.S. government should implement all remaining elements of the Syria Accountability Act and launch an aggressive effort to empower the Syrian opposition. European governments should demonstrate that they value justice over profit and impose financial and travel sanctions on Syria’s leaders.

…Conducting diplomacy with the regime in Damascus while they kill Lebanese democrats is not only irresponsible, it is shameful.

While Syria has been blamed for many of the assassinations in Lebanon, it seems unfair for a former member of the State Department to blame Syria before the investigations are finished or a tribunal has been held. Furthermore, her care for the Lebanese people seems suspect, given the current administration’s stalling last summer that bought Israel more time to continue its pummeling of Lebanon. (In case anyone thought that it wasn’t on purpose, Bolton has told us that not only did the US do its best to prevent an earlier cease-fire, but that he was “damned proud of what we did.”)

Furthermore, it seems silly that Liz Cheney’s criticism be leveled at Pelosi, whereas she remains silent about Republican Congressmen who visited Damascus the day before.

Finally, while I’m not going to go either way on Syrian involvement in the killing of Hariri, Kassir, Hawi and Tueni, I will say that it is not at all clear who killed Pierre Gemayel, so her remarks that Syria did it are disingenuous, unless of course, she’s keeping some secret evidence of Damascus’s involvement from the rest of us.

It just so happens that shortly after Gemayel’s assassination, I spoke to Antoine Richa, the late Gemayel’s advisor. He told me that his party, the Kataeb, didn’t know who killed Gemayel. He mentioned that most of the people assassinated lately had been anti-Syria, but if Gemayel’s advisor, part of the Kataeb’s rank and file isn’t sure that Damascus did it, what makes Cheney so sure?

Finally, all that is beside the point. Even if Syria is responsible for all the recent political assassinations in Lebanon, that’s one reason more to engage in diplomacy with Assad. Given that the prospects of regime change in Damascus are currently slim-to-none, doesn’t it seem wiser to try to change Syrian behavior through diplomacy rather than ignoring the regime and thus continuing the status quo?

Robert Malley’s recent piece in the LA Times makes a convincing case:

If, as Israeli and U.S. officials assert, the regime’s priority is self-preservation, it is unlikely to sponsor militant groups, jeopardize its newfound status, destabilize the region or threaten nascent economic ties for the sake of ideological purity once an agreement has been reached. Israeli and U.S. demands will not be satisfied as preconditions to negotiations, but there is at the very least solid reason to believe that they would be satisfied as part of a final deal.

Even assuming that Washington and Jerusalem are right and that Syria is more interested in the process than in the outcome, what is the downside of testing the sincerity of its intentions? To the contrary, the mere sight of Israeli and Syrian officials sitting side by side would carry dividends, producing ripple effects in a region where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of the Jewish state’s right to exist, and putting Syrian allies that oppose a negotiated settlement in an awkward position. It has gone largely unnoticed, but Assad has been at pains to differentiate his position from that of his Iranian ally, emphasizing that Syria’s goal is to live in peace with Israel, not to wipe it off the face of the Earth. That is a distinction worth exploiting, not ignoring.

Rigidly rebuffing Syria is a mistake fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity. The U.S. says it wants to see real change from Damascus, and it takes pleasure in faulting visitors — Pelosi only the latest among them — for returning empty-handed. Syria’s response is that it will continue to assist militant groups, maintain close ties to Iran and let the U.S. flounder in Iraq for as long as Washington maintains its hostile policy and blocks peace talks. It also could change all of the above should the U.S. change its stance. That’s a message Pelosi can hear and one she can deliver, but not one she can do much about. Rather than engage in political theatrics, the president should listen.

I couldn’t agree more. Usually, the online comment section on American newspapers is full of support for attacking Arab countries and rigid support for Israel. Strangely, the comment section for this piece is less than kind to Dick’s daughter, calling into question her credentials for having filled the newly-created post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. And true enough, a comparison of her bio and that of that of her boss, one might indeed be forgiven for wondering if her last name had anything to do with her appointment. But that would be nepotism, and we all know that the current administration is above that.

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