Michael Totten

Washington Rethinks Damascus, But It’s Too Late

The United States government is pressuring Lebanon’s government to “reduce its ties to neighboring Syria.” Beirut tried with all its might to do just that after the Cedar Revolution ousted Bashar al-Assad’s military occupation in 2005, but keeping it up became all but impossible once the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia—Lebanon’s principal backers—established closer ties to the Syrian regime after deciding Assad had spent enough time out in the dog house. Lebanon couldn’t resist its domineering neighbor all on its own, especially after Hezbollah invaded Beirut and dictated terms to the reconquered capital.

Many of us thought “engagement” with Syria was a terrible mistake from the moment the idea was first floated, and I for one am pleased to see the White House and the State Department coming around, but it’s a bit late to expect bribed and bullied and terrorized Lebanon to suddenly flip back to our side. Syria and Iran imposed Lebanon’s new foreign and internal security policies at Hezbollah’s gunpoint, and that can’t be undone by mere pleading.

After Assad shoots enough young men in the head that he quells the uprising against him, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll initiate a few cosmetic reforms. They’ll amount to less than a mound of piled up trash, but he’ll do it for the PR points he’s accustomed to earning from those who yearn to be suckered. And there’s a decent chance he’ll hint at starting a new peace process with Israel in the hopes of convincing Western powers that he’s once again indispensable.

Don’t fall for it next time, okay? It is vanishingly unlikely that he’ll actually start up a peace process again, and it’s even less likely that he’ll sign a treaty. Hezbollah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah is urging terrified Syrians that they should support their tyrannical government because of its steadfast “resistance” against the Zionist Entity. Assad will never squander that kind of street cred because he has nothing else—nothing—but the blood that’s now up to his elbows.