Why Syria will keep saying ‘no’ to Washington
The US must get real leverage before talking to its better-prepared and a tougher-minded adversary, Syria.
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Indeed, such an all-inclusive package – which Washington would be unable to (and must not) offer given its stated policy of support to Lebanon’s freedom – is the Baath regime’s only realistic long-term insurance policy.Skip to next paragraph
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Syria looks at its relationship with the US from a holistic perspective, while the US is currently viewing its relationship with Syria much more narrowly. Syria wants to completely overhaul the relationship and normalize it to ensure the survival of its regime, whereas the US just wants to bargain on a specific set of issues. It doesn’t take a genius to see that it simply won’t work because the two countries want different things.
One can understand why Obama is pursuing a strategy of selective engagement, given the setbacks of his predecessor’s policy of isolating Syria and the vast differences between the two countries on vital issues such as Lebanon. But US officials should keep this in mind as they talk to the Syrians: Syria will not lift a finger on any of the issues that touch US interests in the Middle East unless Washington recognizes first its hegemonic position in Lebanon and possibly its military return.
So what is the alternative? There is no easy answer, hence the very real and legitimate debate that took place on April 21 on Capitol Hill between members of Congress and US assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman, following his testimony on Syria. As Washington contemplates a more viable strategy for Syria, it would benefit from taking note of an old piece of advice: Get real leverage before you talk to your better-prepared and tougher-minded adversary.
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