No, it’s not some dark parody of current politics. It’s right there in the news. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, has just dropped in on Baghdad to say that his government wants to help stabilize Iraq, and would like to see a timetable for American troop withdrawal. And in the U.S., the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, and slated to present its list of options to President Bush in the very near future, appears to be considering these ideas.
Note, we are not talking here about pronouncements in Baghdad from the foreign minister of Australia, or Poland, or even the foreign minister of France. This is the public voice of Syria, representing the same regime, handed off in 2000 from the late Assad Sr. to the current Assad Jr., which starting in the 1970s “stabilized” Lebanon by turning it into a vassal police state. This is the same Syria that helped Hezbollah and other terrorist groups flourish in Lebanon, and is now abetting Hezbollah’s campaign to abort any remnants of last year’s democratic Cedar Revolution by consolidating control in Beirut. This is the same Syria whose ruling inner circle includes the prime suspects in the 2005 bomb murder of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, plus a string of other bombings targeting some of Lebanon’s most outspoken democrats, such as newspaper publisher Gebran Tueni, assassinated last December.
This is the same Syria that helped Saddam Hussein smuggle billions of dollars worth of oil out of Iraq from 2000-2003, smuggle arms shipments in, and bank illicit billions in Damascus and Beirut. This is the same Syria that by many accounts has been supporting and abetting some of the same terrorism it is now denouncing in Iraq. This is the same Syria that in the rankings of New York-based Freedom House rates among the world’s rock-bottom worst violators of the rights of its own people.
Syria’s version of “stability” is not an answer to violence in the Middle East; it is one of the main incubators. Cutting a deal with Syria may sound like a nifty bit of realpolitik, but it is the road to worse bloodshed ahead — including our own. If President Bush wants to reply to Syria’s overtures, how about trying out the quip that was making the rounds to applause in Lebanon last year: Yes, America has an exit route for the troops in Iraq — it runs right through Damascus.