The Rehabilitation of Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad is getting showered with honors these days. The question is what he's done to deserve them.
True, Assad has been meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Qatari Emir Hamad ibn Khalifa. The talks are variously billed as promoting Israeli-Syrian peace, smoothing Assad's path out of his Iranian alliance into the Western camp, and helping Assad mediate the Western-Iranian standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
Sarkozy, who just arrived in Damascus to continue the talks, is the first Western head of state to visit Syria since the 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Assad was widely blamed for the killing -- a car bombing that took the lives of 22 others along with Hariri -- and his regime is to be investigated by an international tribunal in The Hague. The regime is also thought responsible for a subsequent series of murders of Lebanese nationalists.
Yet, before any results are in, and despite the possibility that Assad will eventually be found guilty, Sarkozy is already treating him as a force for peace and has reportedly made progress in persuading an initially-skeptical Washington to join the talks with him.