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November 24, 2006
Empty Seats Defy The Realists

In the last few months, many in the US have been urging the Bush administration to open direct talks with Syria and Iran on security issues in Iraq, among other issues. They have stated that we have to engage with Syria in order to stabilize Lebanon as well as Iraq. However, Michael Young of the Beirut Daily Star writes in the London Times that Syria's record of assassinations in his country should signal the US that no partner for stability and democracy exists in the Assad regime:

In recent weeks the idea that the United States and the UK should “engage” Syria, but also Iran, to stabilise Iraq has been all the rage. On Tuesday, in an east Beirut suburb, Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel, showed what the cost of engagement might be. The scion of a prominent Christian political family was assassinated in broad daylight. This was the latest in a series of killings and bomb attacks that the UN investigator looking into the murder of the late Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, has determined are linked.

Mr Gemayel’s allies quickly accused Syria or its allies of the crime, and it’s difficult to disagree. With the late minister dead and six pro-Syrian ministers having just resigned, Lebanon’s Government is near the stage where it will be constitutionally forced to resign.

This is a priority for Syria as it would undermine Lebanon’s formal endorsement of the court being established by the UN to try suspects in the Hariri case. Syrian officials fear being fingered by the UN investigation.

Syria has encouraged its powerful Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, to bring down the Government. The recent ministerial resignations were led by the party which has been planning demonstrations to force the Government out.

Engagement only works when both parties have goals in common in an area or on an issue. It does no good when the parties have diametrically opposed goals, and that certainly appears to be the case with Lebanon, if not Iraq. Syria has assassinated two pro-democracy, pro-Western ministers in the past year and actively support the radical Islamist terrorists in the sub-Litani region of Lebanon. The US wants to help democracy succeed in Lebanon and opposes radical Islamists around the globe. Where is the overlap of mutual concerns? It doesn't exist.

Furthermore, the engagement of the assassin regime in Damascus will signal the Lebanese that we care more about "stability" than in democracy -- a message the realists from both parties have eagerly sent for the past four or five decades. The Cedar Revolution gained momentum from the shift in American policy towards open support of people's revolutions for democracies, but it succeeded because the Syrians knew that George Bush would have reacted militarily to any use of its army to quell the uprising that forced them from Lebanon. "Engagement" would remove that key containment of Assad's military options, both against Lebanon and against Israel.

Similarly, engagement with both Syria and Iran on Iraq sounds nice but will not further our goals for a free and independent Iraq. Neither nation wants Iraq to be either free or independent; they want Iraq under their control. We betrayed the freedom fighters of Iraq in 1991, and negotiating their security with the mullahcracy in Teheran and the Ba'athist dictatorship in Damascus will make them believe that we're preparing to do it again. We're not going to get a commitment for freedom from a couple of the most oppressive regimes in the world, and that's the basic problem with the entire realist agenda.

The other basic problem with a realist agenda is the people who won't be at the table, as Young points out ... people like Rafiq Hariri and Pierre Gemayel. They understood the reality of oppression much more clearly than the leftover realists from the previous Bush administration.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 24, 2006 11:21 AM

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