"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared after her visit to Syria and her meeting with its hereditary dictator Bashir Assad last week. "We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria."
The woman second in line for the presidency (after Vice President Dick Cheney) seemed to believe she was on a Henry Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy mission from Jerusalem to Damascus. But Henry Kissinger she ain't. Pelosi said she was delivering a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. A seeming breakthrough. Not so, said a statement speedily issued by Olmert's office. It said that Olmert had not made "any change in the policies of Israel."
Pelosi said Assad indicated he was ready to "resume the peace process." That wasn't the impression other members of Congress took away from their meeting with him a few days earlier. Syria under Assad pere et fils has steadfastly refused to make peace with Israel, despite diplomatic efforts considerably more assiduous than Pelosi is in a position to undertake. Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, traveled the road to Damascus to meet with the elder Assad 22 times. End product: nada.
The Washington Post, not a backer of all Bush policies, called Pelosi's road-to-Damascus statement "ludicrous." "As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri." The Post concluded, "Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish."
House International Affairs Committee Tom Lantos, who accompanied Pelosi, has defended her, without addressing the Post's conclusion that her claims to have set Israel and Syria on "a road to peace." In USA Today, he noted that she "publicly declared that she supports the administration's goals regarding Syria." He said he and she are "convinced that direct communication with Syria's leader cannot worsen Syrian behavior. Rather, over time, it may just lead to improvement."
That's dubious. Coming in "friendship" to Damascus may make Assad more confident he has a free hand in Lebanon, and "may just" doesn't sound very promising. But the bigger issue here is the thinking that gave Pelosi confidence she could produce progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.