Since January 2009, a procession of high-level officials, including Under Secretary of State William Burns, Sen. John Kerry, and George Mitchell (three times) has trooped to Damascus for talks with Bashar al-Assad. The administration also announced the appointment of an ambassador, Robert Ford, for the first time in five years (though Republicans have so far effectively blocked him). The Obama White House also relaxed export licenses, invited the Syrian deputy foreign minister to Washington, and withdrew U.S. objections to Syrian admission to the World Trade Organization. Kerry stressed that his visit and the decision to send an ambassador to Damascus reflect the fact that engagement with Syria is "a priority at the highest levels of our government."
Others drank the Kool-Aid as well. Newsweek magazine praised the engagement initiative as recently as February, saying, "President Bashar al-Assad may finally be ready to play ball . . .. Those small steps (like Ford's appointment, for example) are exactly the thing Syria is looking to respond to."
Or not. Just a day after Secretary of State Clinton conveyed to Damascus Obama's hope that the Syrians would draw closer to the U.S. and distance themselves from Iran, al-Assad hosted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a lavish state visit. At a grinning joint press conference, the two competed to spew insults at the United States. Ahmadinejad looked forward to a new Middle East "without Zionists and without colonialists." Al-Assad, referring snidely to Clinton, said, "I find it strange how they talk about Middle East stability and at the same time talk about dividing (our) two countries." Regarding the suggestion that Syria distance itself from Iran, al-Assad noted coyly that he must not have understood "maybe because of translation error or limited understanding."
Apparently, al-Assad was too subtle for this crowd. For even after this, and even after the SCUDs, and even despite the radar, the Obama administration truckling continues. According to the June 15 Wall Street Journal, "The State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, according to senior U.S. officials, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran."
This is beyond naive. This is profoundly dangerous. Who can possibly fail to notice that the Obama administration not only imposes no costs on those who cross it, but redoubles its efforts to appease?