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The Illusion of Peace with Syria

Don’t even think of engaging with Assad.

May 23, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 34 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Assad may indeed be open to commencing a negotiation as a means to escape international isolation, but that’s all the more reason not to give it to him. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 talks with Syria (via Turkey) allowed Syria to escape the partial isolation the United States had imposed on it in that decade, with zero gain for Israel. This is not an experiment worth repeating, for the Assad regime is today even more despicable than it was three years ago.

To react to the murders now taking place all over Syria by embracing the Assad regime would be morally indefensible. Whether Assad can be overthrown soon by the people of Syria is a fair question to ask. Will the army stay with him, or will Sunni units rebel? Will the Sunni business elites turn against him? How long can the regime survive? We do not yet know the answers. But surely we must avoid any step that could help Assad, rehabilitate his regime, or undermine the courageous struggle of peaceful demonstrators in the streets of Syria. 

The peace agreements that Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan were real achievements, but there will be no such agreements with the Palestinians or with Syria in the foreseeable future. The Palestinians have taken themselves out of the game for now. We cannot turn from them to the Syrians while Assad’s troops are using howitzers and sniper rifles against his people. This is the time not for diplomatic engagement with Assad, but for diplomacy aimed at quarantining his regime and helping bring it down. The White House should dismiss any remaining dreams of a “peace process” with Syria to substitute for the Palestinian version and face facts: There will be no peace with the butcher who rules Syria today.


Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.



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