Syria Moves the Goalposts

Syria shifts toward the Arabs, away from Iran and Hezbollah, and plays footsie with Israel:

The strings pulled by Qatar, which helped end the stand-off in Lebanon last May, are now working to orchestrate a rapprochement between Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who meet King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last weekend in Jeddah, told the Qataris he does not mind mending relations with Damascus, but wants first to see a soothing of tension between the Syrians and Riyadh…

A closer look at Syria’s rapprochement with "moderate" Arab states, that are pro-Western, is seen as a stepping stone for dialogue between Damascus and Washington. It comes after Syria announced in late May that it had started indirect talks with Israel, via Turkish mediation. Depending on how one wants to see it, it is also a step away from Tehran. The Iranians are not pleased at the Syrian-Israeli talks, fearing that if they materialize, they will lead to a break between Syria and Iran on one front, and Syria and Hezbollah on another.

The Syrians have repeatedly stressed that they will not abandon their allies if peace is signed with Israel, but in effect, if peace does materialize, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Syrians to continue supporting Hezbollah or Hamas.

When you’re in a position of relative weakness, the best way to survive is to play off your opponents (and in the Middle East, that’s just about everyone else) against each other.  The Syrians, for geographical reasons, are in a strong position to do that.  And their Ba’athist, secularist government isn’t ideologically beholden to radicals, Sunni or Shi’ite alike.

This is simple survival.  But for most of the Boomer pseudosophisticates that haunt our halls of power, with their love of set-piece diplomacy and bureaucratic certainty, this is inconceivable.  Syria obviously can make more progress with this with George Bush gone, which will be so shortly.

But will Bush’s successor be any better?  Obama’s idea of a quick withdrawal from Iraq indicates stampede disengagement from the Middle East, duplicating our feat after Vietnam.  That won’t be of much help in this process.  And McCain?  In all honesty he’s so busy being defined by friend and foe alike as "Bush the Sequel" that it’s hard to tell.

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