I vaguely recall a time — I think it’s the period known as “before 2001″ — in which the United States would play a key diplomatic role in bringing Middle East countries to the table for talks. Now, discussions like these seem to fall into the White House’s category of “appeasement.”
After eight years of stalemate and periodic tension, Israel and Syria announced Wednesday that they have launched “serious and continuous” indirect peace talks aimed at ending one of the region’s longest-running disputes.
In identical statements issued from Damascus and Jerusalem, the rival neighbors said that they are taking part in indirect negotiations with Turkish diplomats serving as mediators.
“The two sides stated their intention to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind,” according to the statement. “They decided to pursue the dialogue between them in a serious and continuous way, in order to achieve the goal of comprehensive peace.”
If successful, the talks could lead to a broader shift in regional dynamics by returning the Golan Heights to Syria, cutting off critical support for Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, and diminishing the influence of Iran in the region.
Paul Salem, director of the Beirut-based Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has talked with negotiators directly, said some Syrian leaders see the rising influence of Iran, and they’re worried.
“Peace between Syria and Israel would cause a serious rupture in the Syrian-Iranian relationship as it would represent a fundamental parting of the ways,” said Salem. “And it would also cut off Iranian influence into Lebanon and Palestine.”
All of this productive diplomacy isn’t what the Bush administration had in mind at all.
Indeed, just last week, the president denounced the very idea of diplomacy with state sponsors of terror, describing discussions as “appeasement” on par with Chamberlain at Munich with Hitler.
Now that peace talks are advancing anyway, it appears the Bush administration is trying to catch up to the bandwagon.
A U.S. official in Washington praised the talks. “I think Turkey played a good and useful role in this regard,” senior State Department official David Welch said of the talks, according to the Reuters news agency. “Israel and Turkey have apprised us in the past of these discussions and kept us informed.”
Yeah, if they could maybe keep us in the loop, that’d be great. We’ll be over here parsing the word “appeasement.”
This has been in the works for a while, so there’s not really anything all that new or surprising here. But even if Syria and Israel manage to reach agreement, Syria almost certainly needs direct assurances from the United States too before it would enter into any kind of comprehensive deal — something which would, among other things, have the salutary effect of cutting off Iran from an ally and increasing Hamas’s isolation. President Obama has made it clear that he’d be willing to be a part of that. President McCain, not so much. That’s your foreign policy choice this November in a nutshell.