Syrian President Bassar al-Assad has fooled everyone for years except himself and Pulitzer Prize journalist Joel Brinkley, who saw the handwriting on the wall two years ago and described him as “the most dangerous man in the world.”
But John Kerry both as Senator during the Bush administration and now as Secretary of State, and Hillary Clinton and President Obama knew better. All you have to do is “engage” the ruthless dictator and he will love you.
That is the way it works in the Middle East 101 at Foggy Bottom University, but that is not the way it works in the real Middle East.
How did the world get in this mess of a dictator murdering men, women and child before everyone’s eyes while no one does anything about it?
All of the reasons boil down to the fact that no one, including some Israeli officials, can see the Middle East without blinders that reflect wishful thinking.
In 2006, Kerry was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and conducted a “fact-finding “ tour at the same time that it was clear that the Syrian regime was involved in the assassination of nationalists in the government of Lebanon, where Syria had been pulling the strings for years and developed its alliance with Hezbollah.
The Bush administration was not thrilled with Kerry’s imitative but could not openly oppose it. “The administration has their position, and it’s not my job at this point – from here particularly – to make comments about their policy,” Kerry said at the time. “They have their position as the executive branch and we have our position as a separate, co-equal branch of government.”
Even seven years ago Kerry knew better than President Bush’s advisers and stated that the Bush administration’s refusal to talk to Syria and Iran was “a mistake” and “the kind of policy that’s got us into trouble” in the region.
Anyone living in the Middle East knows that once a leading senator comes for friendly talks with one of the wicked men on earth, that means the United States does not have a strong will to isolate and weaken him.
That became even clearer after Obama was elected. The Bush administration had withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus when it was clear that Assad was trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.
The Obama administration wore special glasses.
A reporter covering the State Dept. asked in 2010, “Why are you are reversing the status of diplomacy in Damascus, raising it to full ambassador” at a time when Syria was not cooperating with the IAEA? “Why this holding out of hands to Syria which is equally in contravention of the IAEA, and getting more tough on Iran?”
The State Dept. explained, “Given the issues in the region, we thought it was appropriate to have a representative there full time, to be able to have the kind of discussion and dialogue with Syria that we need, to encourage them where we think they’re taking steps that are positive, and also to continue very direct dialogue…. We clearly want to see comprehensive peace and that would involve progress on the Syrian-Israeli track as well as the other tracks.”
Got it? Israel is the key. Make peace with Israel, and the world will be dandy.
Forcing Israel to surrender land, in this case the strategic Golan Heights, was far more important to the Obama administration than less important things, like nukes and chemical weapons.
But the State Dept. has an answer for everything.
“We remain concerned about Syria’s nuclear activity,” Crowley said. “They have not explained what was happening at the Al-Kibar reactor. It’s refused to cooperate with the IAEA or account for chemically processed uranium found at two sites. We’re not putting an ambassador into Damascus as a favor to Syria; we’re putting an ambassador in Damascus so we can have the kind of direct conversation and engagement that we think is necessary in the region in the 21st century.
“We are going to have an ambassador there who will engage Syria on the full range of issues, those areas where we think there’s opportunity for cooperation and those areas where we have concerns about Syria’s ongoing activity, whether it’s unexplained nuclear activity, whether it’s support of terrorism, whether it’s the presence of extremist groups in Damascus, whether it’s unhelpful activity that Syria is engaged in with respect to Iraq.”
Cooperation was less than zero. Assad, as Mr. Hyde, brought in weapons from Russia and Iran and stockpiled poison gas while as Dr. Jekyll, he turned on his charm for visiting dignitaries.
In 2011, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State until this past January, uttered her infamous “Assad is a reformer” statement three months after the Arab Spring protests began.
After “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer noted that Assad’s father had killed 25,000 people during an uprising, Clinton opined that his son was a “different leader.”
After she was criticized for her stupidly naïve remarks, she continued to show her ignorance of the Middle East. “We’re also going to continue to urge that the promise of reform, which has been made over and over again and which you reported on just a few months ago – I’m a reformer, I’m going to reform, and I’ve talked to members of Congress and others about that, that we hear from the highest levels of leadership in Syria – will actually be turned into reality.”
The “reality” show for Syria has been tens and tens of thousands, probably closer to 200,000, tortured, starved, murdered and now gassed.
The Washington Post reported two years ago that President Obama believed that “a peace deal between Israel and Syria would help stabilize the region, [and] over congressional opposition, he returned the ambassador to Damascus.”
Kerry, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, showed his credentials to become Secretary of State by having stated, “My judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it.”
Washington simply could not see Syria’s close ties with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. All it could see was the vision of peace with Israel.
Shortly after the “Assad is a reformer” episode, Joel Brinkley wrote for Tribune Media Services that Assad is a “duplicitous dictator…has duped presidents and prime ministers into believing he is their indispensable friend – even as he facilitates the killing of American troops, collects weapons of mass destruction and serves as the supply master for terrorist groups.”
Brinkley said the Obama administration’s views of Assad are “delusional” when considering that “since the Iraq war’s beginning, [Assad] has been the best friend of Islamic extremists transiting into Iraq. They’ve crossed the Syrian border by the busload, in full view of U.S. spy satellites.
“He sells missiles to Hezbollah, the terrorist group in southern Lebanon that is the avowed enemy of Israel and the United States.’
And chemical weapons were not a secret.
Brinkley wrote, “American intelligence shows that Syria has a vast store of chemical weapons.”
The headlines today are as if something new has happened. All of a sudden everyone is an expert on Assad, but everyone has been wrong .
Ehud Barak, as Defense Minister in the Olmert government, was sure that Assad’s days were numbered.
Everyone has said that it is only a matter of time before the rebels beat him down.
The Obama administration blindly let Assad turn into a Frankenstein.
But no matter what happens, President Barack Obama can fall back on the “peace process” to solve the problems of the Middle East.