Friendship and Hope?

Of her visit to Syria and her three-hour meeting with the Syrian President, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, had this to say:

“We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace.”

Pelosi_assad_2Friendship? Hope? For whom exactly? My dissident colleagues, that is, the few who were granted an audience with her Congressional Highness, felt completely snubbed by her, their entire encounter did not last but for a few icy minutes, I am told. Mrs. Pelosi’s friendship and hope seem reserved to the corrupt and oppressive bunch responsible for letting jihadi elements cross freely into Iraq, except, that is, when they need a headline in the proliferating journals out there willing to celebrate their anti-Bush stances, the criminal nature of their various enterprises notwithstanding. The realists are now out full-steam ahead to reestablish old ties with the very despotic regimes that thrive by exporting their problems elsewhere. How very creative. And how very conducive to peace.

But the reaslits are not all Democrats of course. Pelosi’s visit was preceded and followed by Republican delegations.

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Meanwhile, my colleague, Kamal Labwani, is rotting away in a morbid cell in a Syrian prison. His crime: speaking out against the oppression of the realists’ new friends, the Assads:

Kamal, as we are told by his recent visitors, is now

“in a solitary cell. He looked very tired and yellow.  He has lost about 10 kg in weight. He cannot eat properly because of the dirty smells that come from the toilet in his cell. The toilet is broken and full of sewage. His clothes are very dirty and he has not been able to wash with soap for fifteen days. They have not allowed him to take a bath. He is wearing a thin and dirty uniform. His skin is red and bleeding. He has scabies and lice. Also the room is cold and no sunlight enters it. We think he has been put in this cell because of his defense statement. The next hearing will be on the 10th April and it will be the final judgment session. The worst signals are that now, before the final session, they have changed all the judges in the case. We think they have changed them because they have prepared the verdict and want the chief justice just to read it. People say that this justice is weaker than the former one… His beard and hair are very long now. They are trying to kill him slowly because they cannot do it fast.”

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Oh how quickly people forget in these civilized parts that the prime organizer of 9/11, one Muhammad Atta, was initiated into the path that led him to al-Qaeda circles while carrying out his Islamic studies in Aleppo, Syria, under the auspices of the current regime. No, the Assads may not be directly involved in this, but they are most definitely and directly involved in setting up the “right” environment where such a development can place with their penchant for supporting extremist groups, while cracking down on the voices of reason and moderation.

If attempting to promote democracy through invasion was wrong, and indeed it was, ignoring democracy promotion all together while commiserating with the region’s most unsavory autocrats, in the name of whatever lofty ideals, is even more so. Two wrongs don’t make a right as we all know. Indeed, successful engagement cannot take place in a moral and ethical vacuum. There are so many people these days who claim to be realists, but their actions and stands betray a deeply cynical nature rather than a realist one. Yet cynical leaders have often been as guilty of moral turpitude as messianic ones.

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More on Pelosi’s visit in this excellent article by Nadim Khouri and Radwan Ziadeh writing for the Daily Star:

“Journalists and commentators will use a lot of ink debating the merits of Pelosi’s visit. But one thing is clear. She missed an opportunity to send a strong message to the Syrian authorities that Washington’s desire to cooperate with Syria does not mean it will turn a blind eye to Syria’s human rights violations. She also missed the opportunity to send a message to Syrians and other Arabs that the US still values respect for human rights.”

9 thoughts on “Friendship and Hope?

  1. For the record, I received word that Dr Labwani was removed from solitary confinement today.
    Of course, it was a serious mistake on Pelosi’s part not to bring this issue up while she was there–but I think that the idea of resuming diplomatic ties with Syria is a good one. The boycott of Damascus was not because of a new international consciousness that was aware of human rights abuses, nor was it about democracy promotion in Syria, Lebanon, or Iraq; it is a mistake to think that the Bush policy is democracy promotion. I don’t think this belief holds water, and, even if it does, he sure doesn’t know how to do it! My amateur inclination would be to say that the domestic opposition is safer and has a larger space for operation when there is not an international crisis looming. It is good that democracy activists cannot be linked to foreign interference.
    I don’t really like the last sentence of the Daily Star opinion piece. “She also missed the opportunity to send a message to Syrians and other Arabs that the US still values respect for human rights.” As if Arabs don’t themselves value respect for human rights.
    I think it’s time to drop the idea that America is an international symbol for freedom and human rights, and accept the more instrumentalist view that statements by American officials are not meant to advance one ideal or another, but to get something done by placing greater public scrutiny on the authorities and hopefully encouraging them to reform their actions. If America was the same democratic state but did not have the same international power and influence as it does today, we would not be working so hard to get Americans to say something about these crimes. It is not about competing “values” it is about manipulating power to our advantage.

  2. Ammar & Yaman… Totally agree with both of you.
    Pelosi let down everyone who expected more of her. At the same time she was serving her own “American” interests -from her point of view at least, which are not aimed in the end to promote moral values or democracy prophecies. This doesn’t make the Non-realists better in any way, and it is good to know that the “Democratic” Congress passed the bill (or what ever it is called) to support the American army in Iraq with more money, and some extra support into 2009! While we were expecting to stop the invasion that was based on lies, and start the timely withdrawal at once.
    It looks like betting on the support form the Americans; on the condition of advocating there policies will only put us into worse situation all the time.
    What I don’t agree with you Ammar is trying to put all the blame on the Syrian regime –totally guilty, I agree- without mentioning the support it received from the same people you are waiting them to do good for the sake of democracy in the country, and THEY ARE GOING TO DO IT AGAIN!
    Realists, both D’s and R’s, are always going to serve there own agenda regardless what you and me might think or hope, I am sure you know that.
    I remember from past in the Middle East, that every time we thought the next US president is going to fix things and will be thoughtful and wise, with regard to the dilemmas of the area, we were shocked at the level of apathy and stupidity they enjoyed.
    I am afraid, Kamal, and many others will rot in jail, simply because they are not valuable enough, or have nothing to offer the American vultures.
    Yes… the Core belief USA is establishing for it self in the aspiring-for-freedom Arab world is:
    Don’t trust them, they are here only to rob us, they don’t really care.

  3. A lady wrote an article captured the real meaning of Pelosi’s visit to Damascus when she wrote a headline “Pelosi been put in jail by Bush” was one of the best thoughts regarding the visit meanings. I do have nothing against Pelosi’s visit and I think she has done great job so far because America needs to change course, however the democrat fairly have criticized her for some of the blunders she made during the visit. The biggest one related to Syrians is not mentioning these guys in prison. Actually some were in prison because they paid a visit to America mirroring what she is doing. The funny part how the Syrian regime laughing and enjoying the visit of a lady from the USA government who went against her administration’s wish contrasting similar case like Kamal Labwani. One is Syrian citizen got rotted in Syrian’s jail for similar act like Pelosi and the other one is American citizen the regime are welcoming and taking pictures with. Off course it would have been nice if Mrs. Pelosi used the moment to push for open press free speech and the release of prisoners of conscious building on the regime euphoria to equalize her own act. I think she missed the opportunity, but still more will come in the future. It is much better to find the bright side of each moment if you want to succeed.

  4. Yaman, Hammam, indeed you have legitimate points. Anonymous, really excellent points as well. I have no problem with engagement per se, I never did. My problem has always been that realists seem to picture things as an either-or situation: either you focus on geopolitical issues, and forget about human rights, or you raise human rights issue at the expense of geopolitical interests. They still fail to see the inter-linkages in this regard, which is all too unfortunate, and all too convenient considering the partisan politics involved.
    Oh well, I guess, next time, we should record our objection on IPODS and hand it to all visitors for future exchanges of gifts.

  5. Bush and Pelosi are like husband and wife who are in a power struggle. So, when Syrian president and the regime got Mrs. Pelosi’s ear, they actually slept with their enemy who they are pretending that they are seeking his friendship. In general, the visit is a bad news for the regime, it is no news for the Americans, and it is good news for Syrian people. Sometimes, I see Syrian’s opposition does not play it smart and use the event to their advantage they play it reactionary. I noticed lot voices tempered their tone, however they should have engaged instead of outcast. Time is a positive factor in the freedom lovers’ equation and no one should get dispirited.

  6. Wasting Political Capital:

    “Pelosi’s adventure in Damascus has cost her a lot of political capital.” (The Morning Call Online) That’s certainly so with Syrian reformists, who felt snubbed by the speaker of the House. (Amarji)…

  7. “Oh well, I guess, next time, we should record our objection on IPODS and hand it to all visitors for future exchanges of gifts. ”
    That’s a pretty funny joke, actually. Makes for good interview material no? Haha..

  8. Actually, Pelosi’s visit bordered on illegality and treason to the U.S.; Congresswomen, even majority leaders, have no authority under U.S. law to make any kind of deal or even pronouncements about U.S. foreign policy. Make no mistake: her visit was aimed purely at trying to undercut Bush for domestic political advantage. She demonstrated deep willful ignorance of Syrian autocratic abuse before, during, and after her stay there.
    If you have any hope of internal reform, you had better hope that Bush succeeds in stabilizing Iraq and cutting the Assads off at the roots.

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