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Mixed Messages

What the Arab media thought of Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria.

12:00 AM, Apr 17, 2007 • By AMY K. ROSENTHAL
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Jerusalem

NANCY PELOSI'S TRIP to Damascus and visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during her Middle East tour was criticized in the United States for undermining U.S. foreign policy. The reaction of the Arab media would seem to support such criticism.

In Syria, the state-owned media welcomed Pelosi with open arms. In the pages of the Syria Times, Pelosi was praised as the "friendly face of America" on "an invaluable mission," while Bush was attacked for "his Mideast policy of war, occupation, intervention and diktat." As R. Zein wrote in the Syrian daily, "Pelosi made clear that Syria's role in the Middle East is important whether in war-torn Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine, and can help end ordeals there. . . . It is hence an overt acknowledgement by a top U.S. official that problems cannot be settled without the help of Syria and that all roads lead to Damascus." He concluded on a positive note saying, "Hopes are pinned on Pelosi's visit to set things in the right course in the interest of the Americans and peoples of the Middle East."

M. Agha, another columnist at the Syria Times celebrated "Pelosi's excellent idea" to visit Damascus by saying, "All U.S. and Western guests, whether they are high-profile or low-profile visitors, will find the Syrian government and people strongly adherent to the principles of just peace and stability. They will find a firm stand cherished by people who believe in the international legitimacy of resolutions and conventions."

Talk of resolutions aside, Agha's moved on to the subjects of Israel and neoconservatism, writing: "Peace can never be achieved by pursuing a double-standard policy or by siding with the occupiers of Arab lands. This is the message of peace which Damascus heralds through dialogue. And this is the message to be addressed to all visitors. . . . Let Mr. Bush and his neo-cons know well that the message to be addressed to the brave Lady, Mrs. Pelosi, during her visit is invaluable."

Al-Khaleej, a newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, interpreted Pelosi's visit more definitively: "The visit of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Damascus cancels a whole policy being pursued by the White House against Syria, which will reflect that a dialogue with Syria is a necessity and will renovate a notion adopted by the U.S. administrations before 2000 that there is no choice but to communicate with Damascus on issues of war, peace, security and politics in the region." The paper concluded, "The visit of Pelosi shows a change in the relation of the U.S. towards Syria since the occupation of Iraq and the American boycott of Syria since 2003."

The Tunisian newspaper Al-Shurouq claimed that Pelosi's visit "asserts the existence of two American states; all of them are trying to achieve strategic interests of the U.S. in different ways."

Somewhat tongue in cheek, Amir Taheri, in an op-ed for Arab News cited the remarks made to him by a Lebanese minister who said, "Her visit was a godsend to an isolated and beleaguered regime. The Syrian regime, which had been thinking of bowing to international pressure, is now reassured. All it has to do is to wait until Pelosi's party takes over the White House in 2009." Another editorial in Lebanon's, the Daily Star, cited the Syria Times that reported: "Her visit has given Damascus great hopes of a rebalancing of U.S. policy in the region," which it deemed as nothing short of fantasy.

As Amir Taheri pointed out, "[Pelosi's visit] confirms the analysis made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the United States is incapable of developing and implementing a long-term strategy . . . the U.S. is like a fickle monarch who might wake up one morning and decide to do the exact opposite of what he had been doing for years. The most radical elements in the region liked Pelosi best if only because she endorsed their campaign of vilification against the Bush administration."

Taheri concluded his editorial with a warning: "The Pelosization of U.S. foreign policy could plunge the Middle East into endless civil and regional wars, facilitate the return of terrorist organizations now facing defeat and ultimate destruction, and, in time, threaten U.S. national security on a grander scale. And that, in turn, could force the U.S. into wars bigger and costlier than the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq that Pelosi regards as mistakes."

The Arab media's reaction to Pelosi shows that when President Bush warned the speaker of the House was sending "mixed signals," he couldn't have been more right.

Amy K. Rosenthal is a writer for Italy's conservative daily, Il Foglio. She lives in Rome and Jerusalem.