By Imad Moustapha
Sunday, December 10, 2006
U.S. engagement -- or rather reengagement -- with Syria has become a salient topic in almost every political debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly regarding Iraq.
But while commentators argue over whether the United States should engage Syria and whether Syria has the will to cooperate or even the capability to deliver intended outcomes, it appears that the Bush administration remains incapable of searching for a comprehensive approach to the strife in Iraq.
According to top officials in the Bush administration, engagement with Syria would yield no benefits. What is Syria's reaction to this viewpoint? Well, we believe that if U.S. officials continue to regard a dialogue with Syria as a matter of "dictating" -- that is, telling Syria what it ought and ought not to do -- then their predictions are correct.
Given such a "dialogue," Syria would have to agree with the Bush administration officials who say that nothing can be achieved by such engagement. It would be a waste of valuable time for both sides, and in the meantime the situation in Iraq would continue to spiral downward from disastrous to catastrophic.
But if the Bush administration comes to realize that truly engaging consists of an honest dialogue in which all parties are involved, then positive results will be possible -- for Iraq, the United States, Syria and the entire region.
Contrary to what many in Washington believe, past Syrian-American collaboration has yielded many beneficial outcomes, a fact that several former U.S. officials could confirm. These include, among other things, Syrian cooperation on the Middle East peace process, on al-Qaeda and, yes, on Iraq.
What motivates Syria to engage on Iraq? Let us be clear: Syria is not looking for a "deal" with the U.S. administration on any issue. The situation in Iraq is a matter of paramount concern to Syria, particularly the unprecedented levels of death and destruction and the possibility of Iraq's disintegrating, which would have terrible repercussions for the entire Middle East.
Thus Syria has the will and the capacity to assist in Iraq. This help is imperative to Syrian national interests. Syria can cooperate on security issues with the Iraqis and can give considerable support to their political process. The visit of our foreign minister to Baghdad, and the resumption of diplomatic ties between Damascus and Baghdad after a 25-year lapse, clearly illustrates our commitment to a free, peaceful and unified Iraq.
But Syria recognizes that no magical solution exists to instantaneously achieve the desired objectives. A rigorous and comprehensive approach is required. This approach should include a reconsideration of U.S. policy in Iraq, starting with the recognition of the necessity to include all parties involved: neighboring countries and all factions of the Iraqi political and social spectrum.
No party should feel defeated or excluded. All stakeholders in the future of Iraq should feel that it is in their own interest to help stabilize the situation.
A solution should also include U.S. acknowledgment that the majority of Iraqis regard the occupation as only exacerbating the situation and causing further violence and instability. A U.S. plan for withdrawal should be on the table. Only such a step will prove to the various parties involved that the United States genuinely plans to return Iraq to the Iraqis.
Syria believes that engagement of all parties will ultimately become inevitable and the only route forward. Until this happens, all parties will continue to lose. Above all, if it does not happen, Iraq will continue to pay the terrible price for such lack of vision.
The writer is Syria's ambassador to the United States.