By Brigitte L. Nacos
However short the “businesslike” and “very constructive” meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem at the side of an international conference on Iraq in the Egyptian resort Harm El-Sheikh happened to be, it was hopefully a positive change in the administration’s stubborn refusal to have direct contacts with adversaries, most of all Iran and Syria. Indeed, talking to your foes in order to gain first-hand knowledge of their thinking is far more important than interacting with your friends whose positions you are familiar with. Taking to your enemies does not mean giving in to their unacceptable demands but rather searching for common ground, for common concerns and common interests. As the Iraq situation shows day-in and day-out, even a superpower cannot do without soft power approaches—most of all diplomacy. Syria’s ambassador asked Dr. Rice reportedly that the United States ambassador to Syria returns to Damascus. The ambassador was withdrawn after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister al-Hariri because of Syria’s alleged involvement in his killing. The return to full diplomatic relations would allow ongoing contacts between Syrian and American officials. Even in days before the meeting in Egypt and an anticipated meeting between Rice and al-Moallem, there were reports of Syria making efforts to stem the flow of terrorists crossing its borders into Iraq. So, why not trying for more cooperation to improve the situation in Iraq and, eventually perhaps, to solve other problems in the region?
With the exception of Dr. Paul, who obviously marches to his
own drummer, all of the Republican contenders for the presidency revealed
themselves as hawkish in the so-called war on terrorism, approved of the Iraq
war (although not with the execution of the post-invasion phase) and several of
them, including Senator McCain, seemed to threaten military actions against a
nuclear Iran. But what is needed now is to engage in American-Iranian
direct contacts starting with discussions on Iraq and moving on to a host of other problems,
among them Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in
the region and, of course, its nuclear program. Again, nobody would expect
either side to forget the deep-seated differences and ill-feelings in a sudden
love fest but both parties would be better off to talk directly to their
adversaries in search of common concerns and possible solutions.
As much as one would hope that Dr. Rice’s meeting with Syria’s foreign minister and the short encounter between the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a senior Iranian official at Harl El-Sheikh signaled a moving away from the neo-conservative reliance on hard power and their distaste for soft power, it does not bode well that the guardian of neo-conservative ideology, Vice President Cheney, is visiting the Middle East next week with stops in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.