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Obama Talks, Syria Mocks

The wages of appeasement.

Mar 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 25 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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What has the engagement of Syria actually produced, besides mockery in Damascus? Depression in Beirut, where Sunnis, Christians, and Druze only a few years ago defied Syria, but now see an American policy that appears willing to abandon them. Incredulity in Baghdad, where our willingness to engage Syria while it helps jihadists blow people up in Iraq must seem incomprehensible. Resistance in Jerusalem, which only three years ago blew up a North Korean-supplied nuclear reactor Assad was building along the Euphrates and must see our continuing blindness to Syria’s actual conduct as stubborn—and dangerous.

What is to be done? First, the United States should acknowledge that engagement has failed and end it. No more high-level visits, no ambassador, no WTO. If the Obama administration insists on crawling forward, the Senate should not confirm the nominee for ambassador, and Congress should by legislation prevent any further weakening of our economic sanctions against Syria. Second, the United States should loudly and frequently condemn continuing Syrian human rights violations; there are fish in this barrel and we should start shooting them. Third, we should raise in the United Nations Syria’s continuing violations of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701 (barring violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and arms supplies to Hezbollah). 

None of these steps will change Syrian policy; that will only happen if and when the regime in Iran, Assad’s mainstay, falls. But they will restore to U.S. policy the element of self-respect and respect for facts that is now missing. In Damascus in January, George Mitchell said, “I look forward to building on the positive relationship we have formed to make tangible progress on our effort toward peace and on the bilateral relationship between the United States and Syria.” At the very least, let us have no more such statements, whose willful ignorance of Syria’s actual conduct—and the victims of that conduct—is embarrassing to American honor and damaging to American interests and allies.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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