Dear Liz: Here’s Some Truth for You

Dear Liz,

I read with interest your recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post, which told us "The Truth About Syria." It’s always a treat when Bush Administration officials have the opportunity to reveal the objectives of their foreign policy in the mainstream press for all concerned Americans to see.

First of all, my congratulations to you for holding the post of "principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs." As a registered Republican who voted not once, but twice for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, I am naturally inquisitive to learn how they have translated the mandate given them by myself and millions of other American voters into a hiring strategy to recruit individuals with proven foreign policy expertise and diplomatic acumen to fill strategic roles in the State Department.

Under your leadership, Liz, I am sure there is hope that leaders of nations like Syria might follow our example and run their country as a meritocracy, instead of practicing chronic nepotism and offering key government positions to relatives, leading to a climate of mistrust and micromanagement. Take for example Maher Assad, a commander of the Syrian Republican Guard, the most strategic division of the Syrian Army. Is he really qualified to hold that post? Would he be in that position if not for his last name?

Now Liz, a lot of people criticized your op-ed and defended the recent visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Mostly, they sounded quite amateurish. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing unsophisticated arguments like "The Republican Congressman met with Assad too!" or "The Iraq Study Group said to engage Syria!" So I’m not going to waste your time and repeat such simplistic comments. Instead, I’d rather reflect on your advice, starting with the comprehensive list of actions you suggest should be taken against Syria, or "How to try to beat Syria into submission, but fail miserably, in 7 easy steps."

One of these is for the US to "implement all remaining elements of the Syria Accountability Act and launch an aggressive effort to empower the Syrian opposition." I could insert a standard libertarian argument here to explain why the unilateral sanctions proposed by the Syria Accountability Act don’t work, but I won’t waste your time.

Instead, I’d rather focus on one of the specific sanctions on the "menu" that Congress offered the president – "Restriction on travel of Syrian diplomats to within a 25-mile radius of their posting in the United States." Now, Liz, certainly someone with the extensive diplomatic experience required to be named "principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs" recognizes the collateral damage that would be caused by such a spiteful action. Can you imagine the harm done to US objectives if other nations decide to flex their muscles and reciprocate this restriction? Do we really want to provide the likes of Hugo Chávez justification to stifle covert espionage operations based out of our embassies abroad? Is scoring a vindictive and merely symbolic victory for the "Lebanese democrats" that you laud in your op-ed really that central to American interests?

The other problem with restricting the travel of Syrian diplomats, like Ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha, is that it would create a PR embarrassment that would further undermine America’s image. Have you seen Moustapha’s personal blog? I suggest you take a look – you might be surprised at the lack of much content that is even remotely political, let alone anti-American. You will find however, art and literary critiques, a diary of his trips around the United States to speak to student groups and cultural organizations, plus lots of photos of his wife Rafif and their baby girl Sidra.

Now, Liz, you may not like Moustapha (I observe him to be a highly cultured fellow, despite the fact that he’s a self professed "left leaning liberal" and I’m a conservative), but he’s no dummy. He probably created the blog as a preemptive defense against your proposed travel sanction, casting him as a likable human being, and not a Ba’athist monster who eats the raw hearts of "Lebanese democrats" for breakfast. Too bad he has such rotten bosses. Perhaps one day, he’ll have a "Road to Amman" experience that will inspire him to change his evil ways and embrace "democracy." Then I’m sure you and he can become great friends.

By the way, Liz, I too have significant qualms with the Syrian government and am 100% in support of political competition; thus, I concur with your desire to empower the Syrian opposition. There are some outstanding individuals within that movement who have voiced appealing criticism of the regime. Undoubtedly, your personal endorsement will lend them loads of credibility. Just one piece of advice: when your opposition "allies" set up their websites, advise them not to use as a registrar, because that company’s compliance with the very same US sanctions against Syria that you vigorously endorse prohibits anyone inside Syria from accessing any site that they host or register. Therefore, webpages designed to encourage the Syrian people to demand more democracy from their government will be invisible because of the sanctions that punish Syria for its lack of democracy. I’m not sure what geniuses in the State Department dreamed up that brilliant scenario. Perhaps the hiring practices of the Bush Administration are not as meritocratic as I thought…

But getting back to your article, I also found your mention of the American Revolution quite bizarre in the context of Lebanese political assassinations.

"Imagine if, in 1776, James Madison, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson had been struck down by assassins. Could America have been born without them?"

Now, Liz, all of us at times have evoked the legacy of America’s founding spirit in our political discourse. I know I have. But normally, such rhetorical comparisons are best reserved for light-hearted analogy, not for grave situations like the one currently facing Lebanon. I only regret that you did not enlighten us as to which of the slain "Lebanese democrats" corresponded to America’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th presidents? Who represents Rafik Hariri, a subject of a nation in which citizenship is only offered to adherents of one religion; or George Hawi, a decades-long communist leader? I’m sure your original draft mentioned those facts, but those pesky editors at the Washington Post must have edited them out.

It is also a shame that you did not continue this curious analogy and bring more personalities into the mix, such as Michel Aoun, so adored by American "conservatives" like Joe Lieberman, Richard Perle, and Chuck Schumer – all Board Advisors for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies – that he was a invited to Washington in 2003 to deliver a lecture to that organization, which ended with the words:

"I am personally convinced that the return of free democracy to Lebanon is also the return of the true image of the United Sates of America. This will pay genuine homage to the memory of the fallen Americans who gave their lives for the defense of freedom and democracy in Lebanon. They came to Lebanon for peace and real peace must be achieved."

Sadly, Aoun’s tenure as the neoconservatives’ "Maronite of the Month" has since expired, and now he is aligned with Hezbollah in a political opposition to the "Lebanese democrats" hailed in your article. I suppose that makes him Benedict Arnold in your 1776 analogy. Then there’s Samir Geagea. I’m not sure which American revolutionary he would correspond to, but it would probably be someone from the colony of Georgia.

Furthermore, Liz, I question in general the historical validity of this analogy. In 1776, the United States of America, which had existed as a possession of a European power, asserted its independence and was born. Lebanon also did that, but it was not in 2005, it was in 1943, when Lebanon declared itself a Republic independent from France, for whom it was an intra-war mandate. Thus, to a true Lebanese patriot, your analogy would be exclusionary, revisionist, and downright insulting. What about the many "Lebanese democrats" who gave their lives not only in Lebanon’s struggle for national independence over 60 years ago, but in its vicious 15 year civil war?

Nevertheless, I’m sure you have been bombarded with emails from certain Lebanese individuals showering you with praise for making this comparison. To me, flattering such a historically misinformed view that disregards their own nation’s history indicates a self-hating tendency on the part of these individuals. I suppose some of them feel such enmity toward Syria that it overrides even their own Lebanese national pride. Ironically, they are hurting Lebanon, as their efforts to lobby members of Congress (who may lack the in-depth understanding of the Middle East required to be principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs) to adopt their views have caused confusion on Capitol Hill and may delay the passage of legislation granting much-needed aid to Lebanon.

These factors are symptomatic of an identity crisis that the Lebanese people have yet to solve in aggregate. Until they do, I wonder how it serves American interests to take sides in a nation so deeply and internally conflicted. I know that you and others in the Bush Administration consider Lebanon as a regional example of a "remarkable success" (which is how Lebanese journalist Michael Young, whom your op-ed quoted, describes our policy – despite the fact that America backed the 2006 bombing of civilian targets in his country) but given these challenges, it is folly to make this tiny country of approximately 10,451.999 square kilometers the centerpiece of our regional policy and tout it as the major lever of success. Lebanon has great potential and many strong points, but in terms of regional political trends it will always be a peculiarity due to the confessional nature of its political constitution and a perpetual national identity crisis.

How, Liz, do you presume that the United States can solve the problems of a country in which the scion of the nation’s most prominent political dynasty cannot even find two accompanying security personnel he can trust? No wonder when you quoted your friend from the Lebanese parliament mourning Pierre Gemayel’s death, you did so anonymously. Maybe the United States should send a detail of US Marines to protect Pierre’s cousin, 25-year-old "Sheikh Nadim."

I suspect, Liz, that this letter may confuse you, because it concerns US policy in the Middle East and is written by a person of Semitic extraction (and by Semitic, I mean Semitic), but only promotes the interests of one nation: the United States of America. That is the only nation in which I hold citizenship and the only nation to which I pledge allegiance. Can the gadflies who flatter your approach to the Middle East say the same? You know the type – sycophants like Farid Ghadry, head of the Reform Party of Leba…I mean, Syria, who at one point simultaneously claimed citizenship in 4 different countries (that we know of). Oh, come now, Liz. Surely the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs possesses the finely honed instincts to determine that there is nothing whatsoever Syrian about "Frank" Ghadry.

Does it occur to you that this ilk have pleaded their case before respected members of Congress of Lebanese descent, such as Republicans Darrell Issa and Ray LaHood, but have been rebuffed? Foreign agents know they will get nowhere with honorable individuals who have sworn an oath to the American people and will be voted out of office if they betray that oath. Furthermore, these federal legislators have a de facto constituency beyond their districts, consisting of Arab-Americans nationwide who look to Issa, LaHood, as well as John E. Sununu, Charles Boustany and Nick Rahall to represent the interests of the Arab-American community on Capitol Hill. Those interests do include pressuring the Syrian government to change its behavior, but not in the reckless, spiteful way that your op-ed advocates. Thus, they have shown your cronies the doors to their offices.

You, on the other hand, have no such constituency. Your constituency consists of one very well placed person. Thus, these foreign agents, who care nothing for America and are only interested in grinding their own axes, view you as the cheapest date in Washington. They are your "allies." And by "allies," I mean the people who throw flowers upon you today but will stab you in the back as soon as you are no longer useful to their shortsighted, vengeance-driven worldview.

Thus, your proposals basically sound like a bad remix of an even worse one-hit wonder from the early eighties. Remember, Liz: politics in Lebanon are a lot like that country’s infamous "Dog River" – the scum rises to the top. You may wish to take a swim there, but don’t drag the rest of America with you.


George Ajjan