Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Peslosi's vision on road to Damascus

Pelosi’s vision on road to Damascus

Ghassan Rubeiz
April 11, 2007

On the road to Damascus last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not experience a conversion, as St Paul did two millennia ago. But the media attention to Pelosi’s visit was as dramatic as a miracle: the US Speaker of the House spends three hours tete a tete, with the president of Syria, visits the local mosque and covers her hair with a scarf in respect of cultural norms. It is a political miracle, given the current social distance between Damascus and Washington.

The Zionist lobby watches the event with anxiety. US friends of Israel are still trying to recover from President Carter’s “conversion” on his road to Jerusalem. Carter’s conversion was revealed in his latest book: Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.

The White House rebuke of Pelosi for her recent visit with President Bashar al-Assad reflects the Administration’s poor understanding of Syria’s strategic position in the region. Criticism of Pelosi’s visit came from expected and unexpected sources. Even the relatively liberal Washington Post labeled the event “foolish”.

These critics lectured Pelosi on Syria’s negative record of human rights, on Assad’s “failing” regime, and on her lack of coordination with the State Department and the Israeli government. And there were other themes of recrimination.

Supporters of Pelosi’s adventure in Damascus counter with parallel and relevant thinking. They are mindful of the vulnerable US human rights record in the region. The US has violated international law in invading Iraq, has ignored the rights of the Palestinians to regain their Occupied Territories and has meddled unfairly in Iran’s domestic affairs since the scandalous Musadak episode of the 1950’s.

These backers of the visit do not believe that isolating Syria through UN Resolutions, imposing US sanctions, and treating Syria as a “terrorist” state have worked to restrain Syria. On the issue of coordination with the State Department, Pelosi has followed what the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Report recommends. The ISG is a presidential bi-partisan task force that has advised dialogue with Syria, Iran and all major parties in the region. The Group Report argues soundly for shifting US foreign policy from disciplining difficult regimes to understanding them and dealing directly with their issues. And on the matter of loyalty to Israel, Pelosi’s record is clear: unconditional support of the Jewish State. In fact, US friends of Israel who commented negatively about the Damascus visit are insulting Pelosi’s intelligence by assuming that she is delving into international politics that are too complicated and too tricky.

In her short tour of the region, Pelosi was learning first-hand about the area’s priorities. She must now appreciate the cost of neglecting the Middle East peace process. In Damascus, the House Speaker expressed the US concern about Syria’s lack of cooperation in Iraq, in Lebanon and in Palestine. She also probed the possibilities of reviving the peace negotiation between Israel and Syria.

In anticipation of her trip, Pelosi may have pondered the following streams of hope: If Syria and Israel establish peace the Middle East would experience a political and social revolution, equivalent to the liberation of Eastern Europe. If Syria exchanges the Israeli occupied Golan Heights (a 460 sq mile area, rich in water, on the border of four countries: Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan) in return for normalization with the Jewish state, the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict could experience a peaceful breakthrough. If Syria becomes a peaceful and rejuvenated state, it would contribute to the moderation of Hezbollah in Lebanon and to the moderation of Hamas in Palestine, as both resistance organizations have pivotal connections in Damascus. Iran would never be the same in the Arab world if Syria, its closest ally, establishes peace with Israel. And finally, an allied Syria would cooperate in the search for a solution to Iraq’s instability.

Despite its important position in the region, Syria, like all other Middle East regimes, is under economic and political pressure, domestically and externally. Rapid demographic growth, weak industrialization, heavy defense spending, and mismanagement of governance are among the domestic challenges. Lack of foreign investment and economic sanctions from the US continue to affect this country’s reduced opportunities.

Pelosi’s visit was based on the reasonable assumption that Syria badly wants to change. Indeed, Syria desires to ameliorate its sagging economy, its limited political alliances and its relations with its neighbors, particularly Lebanon and Israel. And not surprisingly, it wishes to open its closed system of governance.

Pelosi’s visit was based on the equally clear assumption that Israel badly wants to change its status as an occupier of foreign land and as a state rejected by its neighbors.

There is no moral innocence in the Arab- Israeli-US triangle of relations. In treating Syria as an ethically untouchable state, placing it on the axis of evil, the Bush administration is regrettably taking the moral high ground without justification.
If the Middle East is to change for the better, relations between Syria and Israel have to improve; and the sooner the better. Speaker Pelosi believes that the war on terror can not be won without the cooperation of the Muslim world. Her visit to Damascus was based on the diplomacy of inclusion.


Anonymous Nadim R. said...

I find it interesting how most Lebanese bloggers have attacked Pelosi for her visit do Damascus. They seem to hold the same views about Syria as the Bush administration but with even greater conviction. It's undertandable given Syria's record in Lebanon. But practically speaking, from a "solution" perspective, it does make sense to talk with Syria. Just don't let them use Lebanon as a bargaining chip (is that even possible?)

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