Another Saddam In Syria?

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In "Nunn and the Mideast" [op-ed, Nov. 6, shown below], Rowland Evans and Robert Novak charged that the Center for Security Policy is part of a "campaign to turn U.S. policy against Syria and its president Hafez Assad." For the record, while we are not part of — nor indeed aware of — any such organized campaign, we are deeply concerned about the Bush administration’s policy of coddling Assad’s Syria. In important respects, it is horrifyingly reminiscent of Bush’s earlier, admittedly failed effort to bring Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into the "family of nations."

In particular, we are troubled about a reality Evans and Novak seemed prepared to trivialize, namely that Assad is "a missile-toting terrorist." First, even the State Department continues to identify Assad’s Syria as one of the world’s six state sponsors of terrorism. Damascus permits more than a half-dozen terrorist groups to operate from its territory. Still others, such as the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah, make their home in Lebanon’s Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley.

Following a recent meeting in Damascus, these groups have undertaken a new wave of terror directed at Israel. On the weekend of Oct. 24, for example, six Israeli soldiers were killed in two separate incidents as a result of these attacks. Other terrorist assaults have followed, including Katyusha rockets strikes at villages in northern Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Rabin has properly laid the blame for these attacks directly at Syria’s doorstep.

Second, the Syrian arsenal is increasingly equipped with formidable missiles capable of raining weapons of mass destruction and deadly conventional firepower on Israel and other U.S. allies in the region. The emerging threat from Syria is hardly limited to missile attack, however. Indeed, the willingness of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to indiscriminately share advanced military systems — and even nuclear weapons technology — with Damascus ensures that Assad will soon have unprecedented offensive power.

The Center for Security Policy has argued that Assad’s continuing support for terrorism against Israel and his ominous military buildup raise serious questions about his reliability as a negotiating partner. We think his failure to implement the September 1989 Taif accords, which require the relocation of Syria’s army of occupation from most of Lebanon, is further evidence of this tyrant’s willingness to disregard international obligations he finds inconvenient.

We believe it reasonable to suggest that those in Washington and Jerusalem — who appear to be disregarding these aspects of Assad’s behavior in their determination to conclude agreements — are indulging in "wishful thinking" about the value of any agreement reached with Syria. That governments are capable of basing policy initiatives on hope rather than experience is amply borne out by the futile U.S. effort to woo Saddam Hussein.

It is a serious misrepresentation of our analysis, however, to suggest — as Evans and Novak do — that such arguments are designed to get the incoming Clinton administration to "undermine Rabin and his moderate Labor Party while elevating the hard-nose Likud." The Center is a nonpartisan institution both with respect to American and foreign political affairs. We do, however, hope that the occasion of a new administration will lead policy-makers in the United States and Israel to reassess the wisdom of ignoring Assad’s malevolent activities and putting at risk Israeli security in the name of bringing Syria into the "family of nations."




Rowland Evans and Robert Novak

Nunn and the Mideast

Advice circulating in high quarters around Bill Clinton that Sen. Sam Nunn would be a shrewd selection for secretary of state is partly rooted in Nunn’s prestige, high enough to protect the president elect from domestic lobbies in foreign policy battles soon to engulf his administration . These include moves aimed at Syria that could hurt Mideast peace talks

Even before Nunn came under Clinton’s scrutiny, Warren Christopher, deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration who has been mistakenly considered Clinton’s first choice for the foreign policy portfolio, was being savaged by rumors of being "too close" to Carter’s Middle East policy. Translated, that means pro-Arab.

Clinton has given no hint of what he will do. But key advisers are committed to safeguarding the new president from becoming captive to the potent pro-Israel lobby, still enraged over what it sees as President Bush’s Arab tilt. These advisors view Nunn’s political reputation and prestige as an insurance policy against Clinton’s being taken for a ride before he has time to start.

That the inexperienced Clinton is even pondering Nunn shows he is well aware of the high political stakes in his conduct of foreign policy — particularly the Middle East account.

Clinton would be unlikely to bypass Christopher just because the pro-Israel lobby tells him to. But the president elect knows Christopher as a cautious lawyer bred for quiet argumentation and persuasion, not an infighter who could go toe-to-toe with that lobby.

Nunn is the product of a rougher school. Hardheaded conviction dictated his voting no on the Persian Gulf War, a bold decision taken at a time he was thinking about running for president. If Christopher is suspect to pro-Israel Democratic activists for having brushed elbows with Jimmy Carter, Nunn would be an apostate for having voted against Desert Storm. But so far, there is no evidence of any overt campaign against him for secretary of state.

Pressures on Clinton to change the rules in the Bush-sponsored Arab-Israel peace talks are pervasive. A Clinton insider told us privately that Steve Rosen, a key political activist in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been working on contributors to the Clinton-Gore campaign and walking the corridors of Congress to warn against Christopher’s supposed Carter-era bias against Israel.

"Chris is under fire both for the top job in the transition and for secretary of state," this informant, one of the Democratic Party’s most respected Jewish leaders and a former high officeholder, told us.

Symptomatic of the campaign to turn US policy against Syria and its president, Hafez Assad, was a toughly worded Nov. 2 statement from the Center for Security Policy, a think tank admired for its East-West analyses but considered in Mideast matters to be on the cutting edge of extreme pro-Israel sentiment, with a bias toward the hard line Likud Party.

The statement derided what it called "wishful thinking" in Jerusalem — a direct crack at Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s cautious policy of opening up serious land-for-peace talks with Syria over the Golan Heights. It accused Assad of being an "unreliable negotiating partner" who wants "continued conflict" with Israel, and it asked the new administration "to revisit the premises" of U.S. Syria policy even though it appears to parallel Israel’s own.

One objective of this campaign against America’s Syria policy — and Israel’s — is to stigmatize Assad as a missile-toting terrorist and eliminate Syria’s military power. But Clinton may not understand a second apparent objective: to use U.S. policy under Clinton in a way that would undermine Rabin and his moderate Labor Party while elevating the hard nosed Likud. Just such concerns were privately expressed to a prominent Clinton supporter by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres at a small dinner given by U.S. Ambassador Peter Secchia in Rome last week

Likud’s leader, Yitzhak Shamir, lost to Rabin in the election last June. Many Shamir admirers among the Democrats’ pro-Israel lobby blame Bush for Shamir’s defeat. Such Machiavellian infighting would not get far if Clinton had Nunn as his secretary of state.

Frank Gaffney, Jr.
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