As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Engagement With Syria

Here's something else that blew right by me a couple days ago - the US will send an ambassador back to Syria after a four-year absence.

Syria is an interesting case, the "swing vote" in the Muslim world, if you will. They have allied themselves with Iran on occasion, and certainly have meddled in Lebanon. But they've also shown a willingness to reach out toward the West. President Bashar al-Assad is a somewhat more liberal figure than his father, although he still cracks down on dissent and has been linked to the death of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. But this return to the region reflects the President's general belief in engaging all countries to find areas of agreement. A unilateral pullout did not serve us well.

The loss of U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region -- because of opposition among many Arabs to the Iraq war and a perceived U.S. favoritism toward Israel -- has left a vacuum in recent years filled in large part by Iran. The decision to return the ambassador to Syria, senior administration officials said, represents the restoration of a sustained U.S. diplomatic presence in a secular Arab country central to many U.S. interests in the region.

"It did not make any sense to us not to be able to speak with an authoritative voice in Damascus," the senior administration official said. "It was our assessment that total disengagement has not served our interests."

If there were a legitimate partner for peace in Israel right now, this engagement would probably bear immediate fruit, as Syria and Israel were discussing a peace agreement over the Golan Heights as recently as late 2007. But as Iran implodes and instability potentially spreads, tipping Syria closer to the West, or even removing the standoffishness, changes the balance of power and will help lower the temperature of the US-Muslim relationship.

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