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An American Ambassador in Syria

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments


By Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Middle East envoy George Mitchell announced on a recent visit to Syria that the United States would be returning an ambassador to Damascus. A U.S. official in Damascus told a German press agency that the ambassador, “will help change Syria’s attitude in the region in order to ensure stability and security. Washington hopes that Syria will play an essential role in eliminating U.S. concerns regarding its attitude in the region.”
Mr. Mitchell, according to the BBC, did not appear to expect a breakthrough with Syria (that is a relief!), but does seem to have encouraged Syria to believe the United States is willing to listen to its concerns (that is NOT a relief!). 
But why? Mitchell said he had told Bashar Assad that President Obama was “determined to facilitate a truly comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace… If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us… We will welcome the full co-operation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavor.”
The Obama Administration, often accused of having plans too far-reaching to be realistic, is quite short-sighted when it comes to the Middle East. While peace between Arabs and Israelis alike is to be ardently wished for (and if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, but that’s another story) the region is much larger than Syria’s interest in regaining the Golan Heights and an illegal toehold on the Sea of Galilee. Syria is fully an Iranian proxy and a fulcrum of anti-Western disturbance across the entire region.
This is, after all, the Syria that recently completed the humbling of pro-Western Lebanese president Saad Hariri, who now has Hezbollah in his cabinet and an independent Hezbollah army-supplied increasingly openly by Syria-in the south of his erstwhile country. And this is the Syria that appears to have transferred mobile surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah under the nose of UNIFIL. [That would be the UNIFIL whose outgoing commander told Ha’aretz that he was not empowered to talk to Hezbollah or patrol the Syria-Lebanon border to stop smuggling and didn’t solve the problem of Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel, but otherwise thought he did a great job.] This is the Syria that American military sources say still harbors al Qaeda, and the Syria that supports Hamas in Gaza. This is the Syria that has improved ties with an increasingly Islamist and Iran-oriented Turkey. And the Syria that was described by a senior American official in December as having traces of highly processed Iranian plutonium at the Syrian-North Korean facility bombed by Israel two years ago.
There are two ways to look at it. Because of all that Syria does out of the conviction that its alliance with Iran (and North Korea) makes it more important in the region than would otherwise be the case, the United States should send an ambassador back to show that we take its concerns seriously. Or, conversely, the United States could support those countries who find themselves under threat from an irredentist Syria; namely Iraq, Jordan, Israel and what remains of democratic Lebanon.
The Obama Administration has chosen the former. We ask again, why?


Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member

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  1. carol ann goldstein
    February 13, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    “Mr. Mitchell, according to the BBC, did not appear to expect a breakthrough with Syria (that is a relief!), but does seem to have encouraged Syria to believe the United States is willing to listen to its concerns (that is NOT a relief!).”
    It is important to engage all nations and hear their concerns. Syria is a resident of the region and it is important for Syria to be part of a solution to the regions problems.
    An American Ambassador in Syria is a great idea.

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