Remember Nancy Pelosi's spring break in Damascus? Condoleezza Rice apparently does not. When the House Speaker paid Syrian strongman Bashar Assad a call back in April, President Bush denounced her for sending "mixed signals" that "lead the Assad government to believe they are part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact they are a state sponsor of terror." Today, said sponsor of terror will take its place at the table Ms. Rice has set for the Middle Eastern conference at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.What does the US get out of Syria joining the party? Syria's attendance may add an air of legitimacy, and give the impression of a diplomatic victory by seemingly driving a wedge between Syria and Iran. But the better question is what does Syria expect to get out of its cameo appearance.
Only at Foggy Bottom would Syria's last-minute decision to go to Annapolis be considered a diplomatic triumph.
In a word--plenty.
Contrary to popular belief, recovering the Golan is neither Syria's single nor primary goal; if anything, the regime derives much of its domestic legitimacy by keeping this grievance alive. What's urgently important to Damascus is that the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri be derailed, before the extensive evidence implicating Mr. Assad and his cronies becomes a binding legal verdict. No less important to Mr. Assad is that his grip on Lebanese politics be maintained by the selection of a pliant president to replace his former puppet, Emile Lahoud. Syria would also like to resume normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. (which withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after Hariri's killing), not least by the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the 2003 Syria Accountability Act.The Beirut Spring has a post, 7 Reasons Why Syria’s Annapolis Attendance Is Inconsequential, which also believes that Lebanon is as important to Syria, if not more so:
3- Syria’s real demand is Lebanon, not the Golan.Stephens points out that it is unlikely that the US can provide Syria with any of the things it wants--and even if it could, Syria would only demand more. So what we can expect is for Syria to continue to exactly the things it has done so far--including assassinations and inviting North Korean technicians back to Syria.
Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 was a humiliation the regime hasn’t gotten over. Syrians believe the historical fallacy that Lebanon was cut-off from Syria after the French colonialists left. Also, Lebanon was to Syria what Hong Kong was to China a few years ago: A cash-cow and window to the international financial system that helped prop its corrupt security services. Adding to this all, the Syrian regime is threatened by the International Tribunal that will try the killers of Rafic Hariri, the popular ex-prime minister of Lebanon who was killed in in February 2005.
So what has been accomplished by bringing Syria to the conference?
Put simply, there is nothing the U.S. can offer Mr. Assad that would seriously tempt him to alter his behavior in ways that could meaningfully advance U.S. interests or the cause of Mideast peace. Yet the fact that Ms. Rice's Syria policy is now a facsimile of Speaker Pelosi's confirms Mr. Assad's long-held view that he has nothing serious to fear from this administration.Well, at least Rice didn't have to put on a burka.