Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria and America: The End of the Honeymoon Period | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It seems that the American – Syrian honeymoon has come to an end, and to make matters worse, the Republican Party has gained control of the US Congress following this week’s mid-term elections. Damascus wasted two years of Obama’s presidency, failing to achieve anything; during this period the Syrians dealt with Washington in the same manner that they deal with certain Arab countries, and this is something that can be seen in their response to the statement made by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, in which Damascus called on Feltman to “recognize historical and geographical facts.”

Two years after Washington extended its hand to Damascus, the US is outraged by the Syrian behavior in Lebanon, with the Americans believing that Damascus is contributing to undermining security and stability there. This is something expressed by US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, and Feltman himself reiterated this in his statement that provoked the Syrians. If we add a Republican-controlled Congress to this equation, then we can say that Obama cannot continue opening up to Syrian in this manner, especially as there have long been demands in Washington that the US reassess the manner in which it is dealing with Syria.

When we say Damascus has wasted opportunities, this can be seen in the number of times that US members of Congress have visited Syria, especially the Democrats, without making any progress worth mentioning. Apart from the Republican’s hostility towards Damascus, the Syrians also made a mistake by antagonizing the Democrats, and it is enough to recall the visit made to Damascus by House Speaker Congresswomen Nancy Pelosi during the presidency of George W Bush, and how this was portrayed as a move by the Democrats to attack Bush’s policies on Syria. The Democrats similarly did not benefit from this visit.

The situation in Washington will be worse today for the Syrians now that the Republicans have gained control of Congress; for the US is not a marginal state, and Damascus cannot afford to be unconcerned with any disputes with Washington. Rather it is a genuine superpower, and what is most dangerous of all is that Syria is snubbing Washington, not thanks to its own strength, but relying upon cards that are entirely in the hands of Iran.

It seems that the Syrians were not provoked by the advice contained in Feltman’s statement, but when he directly and frankly asked “do they [the Syrians] think the Iranians are able to get the Golan [Heights] back for them? I find that improbable.” Feltman went on to enumerate the deficiencies in the Syrian – Iranian alliance with regards to Lebanon and Iraq, and he also expressed his commitment to the Hariri tribunal. Just a few days after this, Washington announced it was making a financial donation to the Hariri tribunal. As for Iraq, Feltman said “Iran tried to have a unified Shia front for the [Iraqi] elections. They failed. Iran summoned Iraqi politicians after the elections to form a government. They failed. Iran tied to unify all the Shia behind one prime minister candidate. They failed. Going back earlier, Iran tried to prevent the Iraqis from approving the security agreement as well as the strategic framework agreement.”

On the other hand, and two years after Obama extended his hand to the Syrians – and with Republican now in control of the Congress – we find that Damascus has made little progress with America; the international tribunal is ongoing, the US sanctions on Syria have not been lifted, and the US Ambassador to Syria has yet to take residence, whilst Damascus has not achieved anything in Iraq.

This is truly sad, for Damascus has missed a lot of opportunities over the past two years, and today it is returning to square one with regards to its relations with Washington.