The Real Fumble in Damascus
There is at least one point on which we and the critics of Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Damascus can agree: It is the White House, not the speaker of the House, that should be taking the diplomatic lead. But the Bush administration has far more appetite for scoring political points than figuring out whether talking to Syria might help contain the bloodletting in Iraq or revive efforts to negotiate peace.Of course the Bush administration and the lunatic neocons that drive it's foreign policy prefer to drop bombs not negotiate. As a result they have set conditions that insure that negotiations never take place.
So long as Mr. Bush continues to shun high-level discussions with this troublesome but strategically located neighbor of Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, such Congressional visits can serve the useful purpose of spurring a much needed examination of the administration’s failed policies.
In the administration’s perverse view, the only legitimate time for negotiations would be after the most contentious and difficult issues — Syria’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, its meddling in Lebanon and open border with Iraq — have already been resolved. Thus, what ought to be the main agenda points for diplomatic discussions have been turned into a set of preconditions designed to ensure that no discussions ever take place. As the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, Congressional representatives of both parties, this page, and many others have pointed out, Washington should be eager to raise just those issues, along with the possibility of a land-for-peace deal with Israel, directly with Syrian leaders.This insane policy is contrary to the administration's own policy objectives.
By initiating such talks, the administration would give itself a chance of driving a wedge between Syria and Iran. That could strengthen Washington’s efforts to restrain Iran’s growing influence over Iraq. Further isolating Iran might also persuade Tehran that the price of its nuclear ambitions is too high.Now they do take a jab at Pelosi in the final paragraph.
Ms. Pelosi did not help matters by claiming in Damascus that Israel was ready to talk — an assertion that Israeli officials were quick to deny. Her job is to spur the Bush administration to pursue active diplomacy, not to attempt to conduct that diplomacy herself. The more she hews to the careful path, the more useful her efforts will be.Did Israel tell Pelosi they were ready to talk and then back down after a call from the Bush administration? A possibility at least I think. It would be better if the Speaker of the House was not conducting foreign policy but someone has to.