Just as an international tribunal has convened to examine the level of Syrian involvement in the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, as well as the deaths of several other anti-Syrian politicians and journalists, the Obama administration has decided that now would be the perfect time to send its top envoy over to Syria to have a cup of tea with its dictator, Bashir Assad.
Syria has done nothing to deserve this diplomatic treatment. It remains the same country that brutally occupied Lebanon over thirty years, and which has openly supported Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda in Iraq. According to current Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Syria even today is fomenting unrest in Lebanon in an effort to destabilize it enough to justify a re-subjugation.
Naturally, Syria’s neighbors, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, are nervous about this visit. So much so that before going to Syria, envoys Jeffrey Feltman and Michele Sison made a special visit to Lebanon to reassure Siniora that Assad is now a changed man and worth talking to.
And yet, Syria is still Syria. It has done nothing to cooperate with the Hariri tribunal. In fact, according to Siniora, it has done everything possible to hinder the tribunal while continuing to bully its tiny neighbor: “They are threatening," says Siniora. "They are intimidating.... Continuously intimidating the country, intimidating the people.”
Still, the Obama administration’s overture towards Syria is not at all surprising when one considers that President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even former President Bill Clinton have relied heavily on the counsel of the longtime pro-Arafat advisor Robert Malley, who calls for U.S. disengagement from Israel and is a strong advocate of outreach to Syria.
This is the same Robert Malley who became foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and who was sent last year to the Middle East by Obama to outline the latter’s policy in the region. Now, under Malley’s good counsel, ruthless, Syria’s political repression and regional misrule will be rewarded with engagement from the new American administration.
During the presidential campaign, even Obama’s Democratic rivals questioned his naïveté on foreign affairs. Their concerns now have a basis in American policy toward Syria.