Syria and Mr. Reagan
(Page 2 of 2)
Just a few days after Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens returned home from the US, the Israeli Air Force proceeded with bombing raids against positions of Palestinian and Lebanese radical factions, positions located well behind Syrian lines. The same day US reconnaissance planes flew over sensitive areas. Are the Syrians obliged to know that this was not a prelude to an actual American attack? Are they supposed to believe that information about Syrian positions collected by the planes would not be passed to the Israelis? And remember all this is happening literally at Syria's doorstep, just about 30 miles away from Damascus.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Surely, President Assad and his colleagues feel threatened and provoked. A case can be made that such a feeling in Damascus may be entirely constructive. Intimidating the opponent is a perfectly acceptable technique when the forces of the two sides are eyeball-to-eyeball. But then the administration has to explain the purpose of the intimidation. There should be a connection between the magnitude of the threat made to an adversary and the concessions you want him to make.
What is Reagan's threat to Assad? More military pressure in Lebanon? But that only makes the Syrian leader a hero in the eyes of other Arab nations and his own people. Any military equipment Assad loses is going to be quickly replaced by the Soviet Union. And the prospect of suffering casualties among Syrian soldiers never seemed to deter those who ruled in Damascus in the past.
However, neither the Reagan administration nor the Israelis are prepared to launch a major war against Syria. If that is the case, there is no alternative to making a serious effort to reach an agreement with Syria. A deal does not preclude attempting to squeeze Damascus as hard as possible. But it also requires realism and flexibility. And all the Reagan administration is willing to offer to Syria is essentially - if rhetoric about respecting legitimate Syrian interests is discounted - to get out of Lebanon on terms developed jointly by Israel and the US. To expect Assad to oblige is daydreaming.
Unfortunately, this would not be the first time that the White House has appeared to be living in a world of fiction. Mr. Reagan fails to see why calling Soviet leaders liars and cheaters and promising to put their regime on the ''ash heap of history'' should complicate arms control negotiations with Moscow. He does not see why most states in the world see US action in Grenada as an invasion rather than a rescue mission.
Up to now, a remarkable combination of luck and Soviet ineptness has saved the US from foreign policy disasters. Relying on luck is no substitute for a foreign policy. If there is a banana peel in Mr. Reagan's political future he may well find it in Lebanon. The trouble is that if he slips in that war-ridden land, chances are that US standing in the Middle East and elsewhere may go down with him.