April 04, 2007

Damascene Comedy

Bush, today:

We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals, signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to President Assad.

And by that I mean, you know, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror; when, in fact, they're helping expedite, or at least not stopping, the movement of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq; when, in fact, they have done little to nothing to rein in militant Hamas and Hezbollah; and when, in fact, they destabilize the Lebanese democracy.

There have been a lot of people who have gone to see President Assad: some Americans, but a lot of European leaders, high- ranking officials. And yet we haven't seen action. In other words, he hasn't responded.

It's one thing to send a message. It's another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something.

So the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior.

But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.

Haaretz:

Israel's political and military leadership has been preparing in recent weeks for the possibility of a Syrian attack on the Golan Heights that will start as a result of a "miscalculation" on the part of the Syrians, who may assume that Israel intends to attack them.

Israel, however, has delivered a calming message, and has no plans to attack its northern neighbor.

According to information Israel received, the Syrians are concerned that the United States will carry out an attack against Iran's nuclear installations in the summer, and in parallel Israel would strike Syria and Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who visited IDF forces in the North last week, heard an intelligence assessment and was informed of the dangers of a Syrian "miscalculation."

Following his visit to the forces in the field, a decision was made to publicly address the concerns of a possible deterioration with the Syrians, and to send a message that Israel has no intention of attacking Syria, nor is there any coordinated plan with the U.S. for a joint attack against Iran.

The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is scheduled to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus today, and will deliver a message of calm from Israel.

"We hope the message will be understood," political sources in Israel said yesterday. "The question is whether Assad is looking for an excuse ... so that he can carry out an attack against Israel in the summer, or whether this is a mistaken assessment." [my emphasis throughout]

So let me get this straight. Bush remonstrates dastardly Nancy for her passage through Damascus, at the very time the Israelis are reportedly using her to pass a message to Bashar Assad to help avoid a possible conflagration with the Syrians. Soon, Bush will be telling Bibi Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman they're wimps, and to hang Crawford tough against the 'Palis' or such. This is all so pitiable, isn't it? How many more months left of this bungling amateurism and fake machismo do we have left? 22, is it? Sigh. I suspect a Kissinger or Baker would have gotten Damascus to make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous years ago now--probably in one meeting that would have run 6 or so hours. And this without giving up the store on the Hariri investigation...

P.S. Can someone translate this confused, uneven rhetoric into plain English: "So the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior"? Really, what exactly does this mean, pray tell?

Posted by Gregory at April 4, 2007 03:48 AM
Comments

Greg,

Welcome back!

Both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have been spectacular these past few days in actually DOING something to get things done in this world of ours. Harry Reid got enough Senators to vote for a funding bill that has teeth to it, something which Bush certainly would never have asked for. And now Nancy Pelosi has done what poor, inept Condi Rice just has not been able to do, and all because of that one word: "behavior." Condi doesn't like Assad's "behavior" so she won't talk to him. wow....and conservatives salivate at the thought of her as a VP or even a presidential candidate....wow....

Posted by: Dan at April 4, 2007 04:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What Bush is saying in that quote is that he doesn't have enough juice to get anything out of Syria one on one, and so must rely on the rest of the world to help him out, and since at this point the rest of the world has told him to go fuck himself, there is nothing he can do. Which is why he is most pissed at Pelosi, whom he recognizes has the juice that he does not have.

Posted by: Disputo at April 4, 2007 05:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey Greg, good to see you back, however intermittent it turns out to be.

Let's face it - with many rats (Dowd, Gold et al) leaving the sinking ship of this administration, the only ones who seem to be sticking by Bush are the "let's roll the dice with Iran and see what happens" neocons, if only because they think they still have his ear. And why wouldn't they? Since he has no idea what to do on his own, who else is he going to take advice from?

Posted by: Jason at April 4, 2007 05:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also, by calling upon something as nebulous and intangible as "the global community," Bush ensures that the only thing his words will accomplish is inaction and bemusement.

Posted by: EH at April 4, 2007 05:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So we have a falling out among "State sponsors of terrorism" -- the U.S., Syria, Iran and Israel -- with the Bush Administration playing military-threat and CIA diplomacy, while a Democratic Party 'friend of Israel' is doing the shuttle dance. Kissinger?? You got to be kidding (haven't you noticed that Israel effectively lost the recent war?) Given the nature of the frontier between Syria and Iraq, and the dastardly situation in the latter, you'll be Pope before that border is closed tight. Actually, if you do a little checking, both Syria and Iran have done a lot more for the Bush Administration (and previous Administrations) than has been talked about.

Posted by: romat at April 4, 2007 05:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Re Bush's statement: you can't make sense of what is nonsense to begin with. Take it as a verbal gesture of emotion: Me hates Nancy, she do what I wanna...WAAAAAAaaaah.

Posted by: jillian at April 4, 2007 05:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It has to be thought that, and I believe this myself, Pelosi, being the wild-eyed and unpredictable power-hungry egomaniac she is, will take it upon herself to discuss foreign policy and do a little negotiating on her own causing the unwanted appearance of a split in American foreign policy.

Posted by: JustFor at April 4, 2007 11:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Assertions that Pelosi is a "wild-eyed power hungry egomaniac" are just that, JustFor. Assertions. I guess you are a loyal Bushie, and by that I mean a stupid, anti-democratic, power-hungry shill. See, I can make assertions too.

Posted by: aqualung at April 4, 2007 11:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

According to recent pattern, Bush is waiting for Syria to attain nuclear capabilities before he begins the diplomacy phase.

Posted by: Kinkistyle at April 4, 2007 11:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It has to be thought that, and I believe this myself..." Why JustFor? It doesn't have to be thought because you think it. Pelosi is trying to help the Israelis tamp down the level of animosity in their backyard. Why is that a bad thing? Why would you believe anything the Bush administration says about anything? (Speaking of "wild-eyed and unpredictable power-hungry egomaniac[s]")

Posted by: fatbob at April 4, 2007 11:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

``We should not meet with him except to tell him what to do.''

Posted by: heathcliff at April 4, 2007 11:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ironic, huh? The White House ignored the global community when it came to Iraq, but now we want it to put pressure on Syria?

Posted by: Lev Raphael at April 4, 2007 11:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

They are afraid that Pelosi will ask Syria to stop torturing innocent Canadian citizens at the behest of the US - because if they agree, the terrorists will have won.

Posted by: citizen k at April 4, 2007 01:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

On top of his clearly damaged synapses, I think Bush has a pitiful understanding of diplomacy. He has two methods of dealing with adversarial countries - invade (Iraq), or regional talks (N. Korea). Both have generally, under Bush, sucked.

I think with Syria, he's uncreative enough to be taking the same line he took early with North Korea -- petulant insistence on communicating only in multinational gatherings.

Posted by: haywood at April 4, 2007 02:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush: "It's one thing to send a message. It's another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something."

These words are ironic coming from Bush. The American people have been sending him quite clear messages since last November's election; messages he has chosen to ignore.

It's time to CTRL ALT DEL the Bush Administration.

Posted by: bryan at April 4, 2007 02:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pelosi achieved something substantive and positive - an accomplishment the Bush Administration hasn't managed.

I wonder what the Republican delegation to Assad - you know, the one that Bush arranged - did, while Pelosi was carrying messages from the Israelis. Sit there like bumps on a log?

I really, really hope the Democrats keep the heat on.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 4, 2007 02:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Olmert abandoning Bush?

No wonder the Chimp didn't like Pelosi's trip to Damascus.

Posted by: Gandhi at April 4, 2007 02:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Welcome back, Greg! Nice to see a "live" link to BD up for a change....

It is, actually, fairly easy to understand President Bush's annoyance at Speaker Pelosi's trip to Syria - even if it was expressed in his usual inarticulate-gibberish way. No President really likes Congresspeople (of either House or Party) messing around with foreign-policy initiatives on their own.

However, since the Bush Administration's "official" stance towards Syria is fundamentally hands-off namecalling ("They're evil evildoers on the Axis of Evil, and we don't deal with Evil!") - Ms. Pelosi's off-the-books diplomacy runs the additional risk for them (as I see it), of possibly actually doing something wrt Syria, and thus, further pointing out the Adminstration's policies for the hollow posturing sham that they are.

Of course, there is always the "toldja-so" opportunity for them to look good if the Speaker's efforts come to naught; but as usual with this clownshow Administration, they will have so muddied the waters with their whinging by then, nobody, probably, will notice.

Posted by: Jay C at April 4, 2007 02:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Speaking of unclear: I read this entire post, and the comments, and still don't know whether you think it was a good idea for the Democratic Speaker of the House to go to Damascus to cuddle up to the Syrian dictator. A dictator who is, after all, helping our enemies in Iraq. And in Lebanon, and elsewhere.

I am amused, by the way, by your claim that:

"I suspect a Kissinger or Baker would have gotten Damascus to make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous years ago now--probably in one meeting that would have run 6 or so hours. And this without giving up the store on the Hariri investigation."

Could you give some examples of where either man achieved such a result with the Syrian regime? As I recall, we shamefully accepted Syrian domination of Lebanon under three presidents before George W. Bush. Whether you like it or not, the Syrians were forced to withdraw during his administration. (Those who are interested in this question may wish to count the trips to Damascus made by Clinton's first Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. And then weigh them against the results achieved. I assume Derejian knows about that history, but perhaps not.)

And let me make this general point: Snear and smear is not a substitute for thoughtful analysis. If you are capable of producing the latter, why not do so?


Posted by: Jim Miller at April 4, 2007 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The "world community" wants to help bring about some major changes all right but they sure as heckfire aren't in Syria. What the world community and roughly 60% of our own nation want to change is the idiot boy king in the White House.

Posted by: Rob at April 4, 2007 03:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's toddleresque tantrum on Pelosi's delivering Israeli messages to Assad rings especially hollow when you know that A) There's a three-congressman Republican Congressional Delegation (led by Joe Pitts of Pennsylvana) in Syria RIGHT NOW and b) Bush ordered them there: http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/202433

Posted by: Phoenix Woman at April 4, 2007 03:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Jim Miller:

1) So when will you attack Bush for ordering Joe Pitts to Damascus?

http://local.lancasteronline.com/4/202433

2) The Israelis not only WANT Pelosi to talk with Assad and are PRAISING her for it (http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL0112078420070401?feedType=RSS), they're asking her -- as Gregory noted in his Ha'aretz link above -- to pass on messages from them to Assad.

Please, for your own good. stop providing Grover Norquist right. He claims that rabid Bush-backers like you will defend Bush's every action; if he were to fly over to Damascus himself tomorrow and start giving Assad backrub, you'd be talking about Bush's merits as a masseur.

Posted by: Phoenix Woman at April 4, 2007 03:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Suddenly Bashar Al-Assad is the most powerful man in the world. Remember during the Israeli war against Lebanon when Bush was at the G8 summit and was caught on an open mike telling Blair "all it takes is a call from Assad and it's over". According to Bush, Assad could have ended the Israeli invasion of Lebanon with a phone call. Bush couldn't.

Posted by: Frankly, my dear, ... at April 4, 2007 04:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PS: Greg, it's *great* to have you back!! I hope all is well at hime.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 4, 2007 04:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was never a great fan of Nancy Pelosi's. But she's been terrific as Speaker and it's great to see a smart, sensible politician on the job. These past years of the Bush admin and its many Congressional enablers have made it easy to forget what real political leadership looks like. Congrats to Speaker Pelosi, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership. They give me hope that we can find our way back from disasters of the Bush era.

Posted by: sandy at April 4, 2007 06:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Miller writes:

Speaking of unclear: I read this entire post, and the comments, and still don't know whether you think it was a good idea for the Democratic Speaker of the House to go to Damascus to cuddle up to the Syrian dictator. A dictator who is, after all, helping our enemies in Iraq. And in Lebanon, and elsewhere.

But he makes no mention of the White House-backed delegation of GOPers getting "cuddly" with Assad, oh, 'round about the same time as Pelosi's trip.

Realign your framing with reality first, Jim, and then pose your questions again.

Posted by: Dan at April 4, 2007 07:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Soon, Bush will be telling Bibi Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman they're wimps

Lieberman has little to do with the Olmert govt's policy on Syria. And Bibi is not in the gov't at all. Strange though how these two get mentioned on blogs quite a bit (often in a gratuitious manner).

Posted by: Ami at April 4, 2007 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don't get your meaning, Ami....Both are prominent spokesmen for the Israeli right; Bibi's been PM...Why shouldn't they be mentioned in a post on Israel-Syria relations?

Posted by: Sandy at April 4, 2007 09:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Both are prominent spokesmen for the Israeli right; Bibi's been PM...Why shouldn't they be mentioned in a post on Israel-Syria relations?

Because the "Israeli right" is not currently in power. Olmert and Peretz are the ones determining Israel's policy on Syria. If Bush were unhappy with the current policy (as Greg sarcastically suggests) then those are the people to whom complaints should be addressed (not the oldtime "likudniks" that some people seem to love to loathe).

Posted by: Ami at April 4, 2007 09:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Reform Party of Syria has a different take on the effect of Pelosi's visit: "The damage Speaker Pelosi is causing with her visit to Syria will be felt for many years to come."

It's worth reading the perspective of those who will be working for freedom in Syria long after Pelosi trip is forgotten.

Posted by: Keith at April 4, 2007 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not to get hung up on this side issue, Ami, but I don't see what the right's being "out of power" has to do with anything. Israel has a rich and vital political culture where all shades of opinion can be part of the debate. These guys have some background in government along with experience (as well as a record) that relates to the subject at hand. They don't hesitate to speak, so there's no reason to expect they should be exempt from notice. Those -- even including "some people" -- who don't agree with their perspective are free to be respectful or "sarcastic" in response. I can't read your mind, obviously, but you seem to be trying to imply something more than you're willing to say.

Posted by: Sandy at April 4, 2007 10:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Still unclear: I am taking to task for not mentioning the visit of some Republican congressmen to Syria. I didn't mention that trip because Derejian didn't.

And, of course, because as a matter of simple logic one trip being wrong (or right) would not make the other trip right (or wrong).

Both trips could be wrong; both trips could be right. One trip could be wrong and the other right because of the differences between the trips.

But Derejian should clear this up: Either he believes that Pelosi was right to visit the Syrian dictator, or he thinks she was wrong to do so. But he should say, one way or another. (And if he wants to express an opinion on the other trip, that's fine with me.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 4, 2007 11:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Keep your eyes on Syriacomment.com.

Posted by: susan pierce at April 4, 2007 11:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Welcome back.

Posted by: Stinkboy at April 5, 2007 07:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Either he believes that Pelosi was right to visit the Syrian dictator, or he thinks she was wrong to do so. "

And damn Nixon for meeting Mao! What was Reagan thinking when he met Gorbachev in Iceland? Appeasers! Traitors! Don't they know ignoring your enemies makes them go away? Look how it destroyed Castro back in the 1970's.

Really, it is time for the right to just grow up. A schoolyard is not the geopolitical sphere. Disciplining unruly children is not the same thing as laying the basis for a sound foreign policy. Really, conservatives, just get over yourselves and let the adults handle these things. Now go and enjoy your warm milks and naps.

Posted by: Reality Man at April 6, 2007 07:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The Reform Party of Syria has a different take on the effect of Pelosi's visit: "The damage Speaker Pelosi is causing with her visit to Syria will be felt for many years to come."

It's worth reading the perspective of those who will be working for freedom in Syria long after Pelosi trip is forgotten.
Posted by: Keith at April 4, 2007 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink"

The link is about the fact that she wore a hijab on the streets of Damascas outside of a mosque (which contradicts some reports), which reinforces the power of the hijab over women. The claim that somehow this rolls back Syrian feminism for years - as if every Syrian woman was waiting anxiously to see how she would dress and copy her - does seem hyperbolic and very curious. If you have a choice between avoiding a war between Israel and Syria (which probably requires deference, such as wearing a hijab) and ending the wearing of hijabs (which apparently would come with Pelosi proudly strutting around Damascas hijab-less), avoiding an unnecessary war is more important and thus one must act accordingly.

Posted by: Reality Man at April 6, 2007 08:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As far short as the current administration has fallen short on the diplomatic (among others) front, I doubt if 'loyal' opposition will be much better. http://www.forward.com/articles/olmert-aides-say-pelosi-botched-message-to-assad/
Washington DC: Comedy central no matter which clowns we send in.

Posted by: Tamquam Leo Rugiens at April 6, 2007 12:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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