From the outset, the Obama administration has believed in the importance of pursuing a "comprehensive" settlement -- meaning a peace treaty that includes not just the Palestinians but, in addition, all the Arab states, especially Syria. As the administration has failed to make any headway in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Syrian track has grown in importance. Consequently, Washington has chosen to treat Syria not as an adversary deserving containment but rather as a partner in the negotiations deserving of engagement. In fact, the Obama administration sees the peace process as an instrument for wooing Syria away from Iran. At the very least, Washington believes that by bringing Damascus to the negotiating table, it can give the Syrians an incentive to tamp down Arab-Israeli violence. But such a strategy fails to acknowledge that the Syrians understand the thinking in Washington all too well -- they recognize the United States' fervent desire for negotiations and see in it an opportunity to bargain. Damascus seeks to trade participation in diplomatic processes, which costs it nothing, for tangible benefits from Washington, including a relaxation of U.S. hostility. In short, the Syrians believe that they can have it both ways... And why would they think otherwise? After all, nobody held them responsible for similar double-dealing in Iraq, where they were accomplices to the murder of Americans.
In other words, the Obama White House’s Syria policy is not pragmatic and cautious. Rather, it is adventurist and ideological. The administration is sheltering Damascus in order to salvage its own bankrupt Middle East policy. If he loses Assad, Obama is lost in the region and the administration will be forced, obviously against its will, to recalibrate. The question is, how much will U.S. interests suffer in the meantime?