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Leaked emails show Westerners truckling to the Syrian regime.

Feb 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 22 • By LEE SMITH
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Dear Bouthaina,

I can’t thank you enough for the fun, interesting and most memorable dinner last night. We had a wonderful time and are most grateful to you for taking time from your incredibly busy schedule to spend it with us. We loved the restaurant and will never forget the megnificent [sic] view of your magnificent city. We all hope one day to have the privilege of returning your hospitality in Washington and Los Angeles. Again, with thanks .  .  . 

Sincerely, Maxine Isaacs, 

Lecturer on Government, 

Associate, Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy,

Harvard University

Shaaban replies in kind to the Harvard lecturer:

It only goes to show that it is not very difficult to make the world a better place for every one. We have been trying, and I am now even more inspired to continue. Please stay in touch and come back again for a longer vacation. 

Indyk’s efforts to get President Clinton to visit Damascus in November 2009 came up empty. He wrote Shaaban about a delegation of U.S. officials that he was taking to Jerusalem for the annual Saban Forum of the Brookings Institution, where Indyk is the director of the foreign policy program, and he proposed a stop in Damascus along the way: “I’m sure you will agree that first hand exposure to the views of President Assad​—​especially before they hear the views of the Israeli leadership—would do much to enhance their understanding of Syria’s approach to strategic issues in the region at a critical moment.”

Not surprisingly, Shaaban was receptive, as was her boss. “I am glad to let you know that President Assad also welcomed the idea of receving [sic] President William Clinton and the accompanying delegation.”

A month later, Indyk explains to Shaaban that Clinton has decided not to go to Damascus. Shaaban then takes her revenge. She writes that Indyk’s delegation will not meet with Assad; nor will they even enjoy the privilege of meeting with Shaaban or Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem. It’s not clear if Clinton backed out​—​perhaps sensing that a meeting with Assad, after he’d already met with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, was a fasttrack to Jimmy Carterdom​—​or if Indyk had invoked the possibility of the former president’s participation to get access for the rest of the group. 

In any case, among all the Americans who wanted comity with the Syrian regime, it would be unfair to single out Indyk for censure. He has long been an advocate of the Syria-Israel track of the peace process. And yet he was sensible enough to back off in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, when the Bush administration, along with France and Saudi Arabia, isolated Assad. In attempting to set up a meeting between Clinton and the Syrian president, he was probably responding to the new dynamic put in place by the Obama administration. The White House wanted to engage the Syrians, and Indyk wanted a piece of the action.

The fact remains that long before Bashar al-Assad turned his army, security services, and paramilitary gangs against Syrian civilians, long before the death toll climbed into the thousands, the blood on his hands was there for anyone with eyes to see. Damascus supported Hezbollah and Hamas, which committed terrorism against Israel; it waged a campaign of assassinations and bombings against Lebanon’s beleaguered democrats; it supported insurgents in Iraq who targeted American troops. 

In spite of all that, Americans who should have known better petitioned this bloody regime for favors and friendship. With its policy of engaging Assad, the Obama White House set the tone: It is small wonder the administration has no policy to get rid of him.

Lee Smith is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

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