The Strategic Positioning Of 150,000 Troops Can Do

A Road Map for Syria Too (washingtonpost.com)
It’s not time to break out the champagne yet, but Syria, a Ba’athist regime like Iraq, seems interested in discussing peace with Israel and an end to their occupation of Lebanon. The war against Iraq was an astounding success, though we haven’t yet shown we can rebuild a country. But we will.

What we have demonstrated — and this didn’t go unnoticed in Syria or any other Arab country — is that we are damned good at destroying regimes we consider hostile and with a bare minimum of civilian casualties. The bad guys might as well be wearing pink jumpsuits when it comes to the accuracy of our munitions and it’ll only get better — or worse, if you’re a bad guy.

Syria is a known state sponsor of terrorism. This alone bodes ill for the future of their regime, particularly if they pursue WMD. They’ve been occupying Lebanon since 1976 and Israel has been in the Golan Heights since the Six-Day War. If this column is to be believed, Syria is ready to pursue some measure of peace.

I haven’t blogged much on Israel lately because of the Iraq war and because I get tired of what I consider intractable problems. Israel seemed like such a problem, but the war in Iraq may have changed the dynamic in the Middle East. I’m still not a big fan of the peace proposals I’ve read about because they don’t solve 100% of the problem and could very well lead to a worsening of events in the long run. One example on the Palestinian side is their insistence on owning the Gaza Strip, formerly part of Egypt. Making it part of a Palestinian state will mean building a bridge over Israel to connect Gaza with the West Bank. This seems absurd on its face.

If it were up to me, any solution would include Israel taking Gaza — it’s a slum so it’s not like they’re getting prime real estate — and giving a like amount of land to augment the West Bank. In other words both states should be contiguous on land and in the air. Anything less than that will be a source of tension even after any peace agreement is reached.

Likewise, the Israelis would need to abandon settlements in the West Bank. Nothing less than that will satisfy the Palestinians that do want peace. Also, Palestinians will need to give up this imaginary right of return to parts of Israel. It won’t happen. In addition, Arafat will need to stay out of the picture. He’s a terrorist and Israel will, rightly, never trust him.

Some of these things may be settled now that we have 150,000 troops in the Middle East and have shown a willingness to use force where necessary. If Syria embraces reform and stops supporting terrorism — a very big “if” since the current President doesn’t have his father’s influence over the Ba’athists — we could actually see progress towards Middle East peace.

The war against Iraq got the ball rolling and for the first time in years I have a glimmer of hope that a happy resolution can be found.

When Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Damascus last month, sources here say, Syrian President Bashar Assad asked him a blunt question: “Where is our road map?”

That’s a welcome sign, if Assad is indeed signaling that he wants to negotiate a settlement of the interlocking issues of Syria, Israel and Lebanon. Opening a Syrian track could add momentum to the fledgling peace process, which takes a symbolic step forward tomorrow when President Bush meets in Aqaba, Jordan, with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers.

For the cautious Assad, just talking about a road map is a step in the right direction. Until now, his public comments have mostly been a reprise of the hard-line rhetoric of his father, the late President Hafez Assad. But he needs to embrace the full legacy of his father, who for all his tough talk came within inches of closing a peace deal with Israel in 2000, a few months before his death. Assad realizes that Syria needs change — and that it needs the stability of a peace agreement to implement reforms. The Syrian president also understands political reality: More than 100,000 U.S. troops are just across the border in Iraq, and American pressure has prodded Israelis and Palestinians into endorsing their road map to peace. If Syria wants to play in this game, it must start soon. But the young Syrian president is worried that a failed peace effort could add to his political problems in volatile Syria. That’s where smart American policy can help.

“The U.S. should support Assad in implementing these big changes,” advises Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in an interview here. “American assistance is indispensable.”

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