"We have a good dialogue with the United States on all levels characterized by respect," [Syrian] Minister of Information Adnan Omran said in an interview on Monday. "We can reach understandings and ease difficulties."
A Bush administration official involved in Middle East policy essentially agreed, saying, "The Syrians are highly opportunistic and pragmatic, which is why we can work with them." ...
The two countries are still in dispute over Syria's prolonged intervention in Lebanon, stubborn hostility toward Israel and the wide-ranging support for Hamas and Hezbollah militants that keeps Damascus on the State Department terrorist black list. Mob attacks against the American Embassy here in 1998 and 2000 opened new wounds, which have been salted by Syria's opening of its borders to Iraqi oil exports in violation of the United Nations-sanctioned embargo. ...
Syria denies breaking the United Nations embargo on Iraq, but Western diplomats and independent oil experts say the country imports about 200,000 barrels of Iraqi oil a day for its domestic use, freeing its own oil production for export. Western diplomats estimate that total trade with Iraq earns the Syrian government $500 million a year, or 10 percent of its annual revenues. ...
As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Syria voted two months ago in favor of a resolution calling for Iraq to account for all weapons of mass destruction, a vote viewed positively in Washington as a tacit nod in favor of tightening the screws on Baghdad. But since that vote, Syria has tilted its diplomacy back in favor of Saddam Hussein to avert war.
During a state visit to Algeria last weekend, President Assad declared that Iraq had complied with the United Nations resolution and had proved it did not have weapons of mass destruction. "We see the United States administration's insistence on fabricating an excuse to launch a war against the brotherly people of Iraq," he said.
What balances against this record, apparently, is Syrian cooperation in rounding up al-Qaeda suspects (no surprise there; al-Qaeda hates the relatively secular Syrian regime, and is no doubt doing what they can to undermine it), and their alleged efforts to "restrain" Hezbollah, the openly declared terrorist group which they continue to sponsor. In short, the Republicans are once again cozying up to a vicious dictator because their interests temporarily align with his, just like they did with Saddam Hussein in the '80s. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson by now.
But it would be unfair to paint that as the only Republican response to vicious dictators. They have another: pointless posturing which begs for a conflict, and usually gets it. Witness their strategy for dealing with North Korea, to which, as Paul Krugman points out, building a bomb is actually a rational response, and it's hard to think of another. As Josh Marshall puts it:
- You only get to seem tough and principled and Churchillian if you draw a line in the sand and then have something to follow it up with. You only get credit for pointing out what everyone already knew -- that the 1994 agreement was an imperfect one and perhaps only a stopgap -- if you've got something better. If you don't, you just look like a fool.
Grand strategy indeed.