The U.S. “Continues A Strategic Thaw With Syria.” Syria Does Nothing. What Does Washington Expect? But, Yes, There Are Consequences For Iran, Grim Ones.

by Martin Peretz | February 22, 2010

Continuing my last Spine

The A.P. reports in Sunday’s New York Times that the Obama administration has lifted the travel advisory that warns American not to visit Syria. It’s not too much of a sanction on Damascus, and there is no punishment for American tourists and businessmen who want to see the glories of Damascus, such as they are. There’s almost nothing notable to experience in Hama, the fifth largest city in the country, except the ghosts of anywhere from 7,000 to 40,000 Sunnis who, in 1982, were massacred by the then-president Hafiz Assad’s brother, Rifaat (who happens also to be, not by coincidence, current President Bashar Assad’s uncle). The president and Hillary Clinton must be pleased to have cordial relations--if that’s what they’ll be, which I very much doubt--with this gruesome and unrepentant family.

One would have thought that, at least as a bona fide for Washington’s normalization, the Assad clan would have been expected to cease intervening across the Iraqi border. Why would pro-Iran Syria want to make trouble for a Shi’a Iraq? Well, that is not the calculation. What is is that the Syrian regime, itself a remnant of the brutal Ba’athist worldview, has seen another Ba’athist regime overthrown in Iraq. Yes, the Assads hated the Husseins, both Ba’ath despotisms. Both were hated minorities in their own countries. It is the model of illegitimate rule that Bashar craves to rescue. And he uses Sunni terrorists to weaken Iraq and make contagious trouble in that country’s west.

What’s especially odd is that the Obami have chosen to make friends with the Syrian government just as it has, more or less, reconquered Lebanon and put Beirut once again to its purposes. Christians are being driven out of Lebanon, and this will soon bring to an end to what was left of European Mt. Liban. Actually, this means the very opposite of comity in the country. The Shi’a hate the Sunni, who hate the Druze, and all of them despise the Palestinians. Hatreds there are fought out in hand-to-hand combat, from generation to generation, or by car bombs. But the sovereign, however feeble, will send its orders from Damascus. And, henceforth, they will win. Win what?

It bears repeating that, as late as two-and-a-half years ago, Syria was a nascent nuclear power. A nascent nuclear power with atomic weapons (from North Korea) on its short-term agenda. Damascus no longer has a nuclear capacity. The Israeli air force and elite ground troops took it out. It was not a small operation, and included several dozen aircraft plus operations on the ground. The Syrians saw nothing and did nothing. But, ten days later, the Sunday Times of London reported that the vice president threatened that “the military and political echelon is looking into a series of responses as we speak. Results are forthcoming.” This was typical Arab hash.

In the meantime, Washington has made its ever-so-gentle embrace of Damascus. I am sure it comes without assurances about nukes. Why, after all, would the U.S. put an obstacle in front of an embrace? Even an embrace with a piss-ant country?

While the Obama administration dithers with sanctions that will not be compelling to Iran (because China and Russia won’t agree to such injunctions), Israel has launched a pilotless drone that can stay in the air without refueling for 20 hours at an altitude of more that 40,000 feet. It certainly can reach Iran. This is not an abstraction. Maybe Bibi Netanyahu will save Obama from himself. 

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