Monday, January 22, 2007

Arabian Knights?

What is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad up to? Last week he hosted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for discussions on how to end the violence in Iraq. Today he has succeeded in engineering a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal over the violence in Gaza. The Syrians seem intent on disproving the wisdom of the US President George W. Bush's rejection of the Iraqi Study Group report which advocated talks with both Syria and Iran on resolving the Iraqi quagmire.

The Syrian diplomatic success stands in sharp contrast to the continuing American failure in Baghdad. With both American and Iraqi casualties mounting (last week a dozen US soldiers died and today a double bombing killed 75 in Baghdad), it seems that Bush has staked his legacy on the dubious ability of a limited number of US troops and Iraqi Government to impose order in Iraq. Or perhaps he expects that this latest "surge" in troop numbers will fail giving the US a plausible (though hardly believable) excuse to withdraw claiming they had done all that could be done.

Either way, the real winners in this Middle East tragicomedy will be the Syrians and their pals the Iranians, whose regional credentials will shine next to those of the US. As Assad feigns concern for the plight of Lebanese, Iraqis and Palestinians, Bush is seen to be primarily concerned with the reactions of Americans back home -a thousand Arab lives not being worth a thousand lost American votes.

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