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By Barry Rubin

Yes, it is as bad as it seems. When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton protests the fact that the Syrian government lied to her about its missile supplies to Hizballah, she instructed those meeting with the Syrians on their talking points.

It is amazing how the Obama Administration let the Syrian regime walk all over them. Yet it also fits with their philosophy:

“While our commitment to principled engagement with Syria — as demonstrated by Under Secretary Burns’ recent visit — remains strong, we must enlist additional French, British, Turkish, Saudi, Jordanian, and Qatari support to help dissuade Syria from expanding its ties to Hizballah any further, especially via the transfer of additional sophisticated weaponry.”

Get that? It’s multilateralism in action. The United States cannot do anything on its own but has to enlist a half-dozen others. But, of course, the French government is soft on Syria, the Turks are now Syrian allies, Qatar wants to keep in good with Iran and Syria, while Jordan is timid. As for the Saudis, they were struggling against Syria a year ago but given the lack of U.S. support they gave up.

In other words, this threat is a joke and trying to implement it would certainly fail. Moreover, note how the U.S. position begins by reaffirming engagement when it should start by threatening to cut it off. Once the Syrians know they aren’t going to lose anything why should they give up anything?

Also, the United States is no longer a great power. For when the Obama Administration wants to threaten Syria it is in these terms:

“…It is especially important to stress that Syria’s actions constitute serious violations of Security Council resolution 1701–which will be taken seriously by the international community–and belie its claims to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.”

Ah, the “international community!” That should make them tremble. What an admission of impotence! Don’t these people realize that this approach sabotages their own policy by making them look ridiculous?
But there’s something else in this document that shows the weakness of this government’s approach:

“Iran and Hizballah both have interests that are not in Syria’s own strategic interest. I know you are a strategic thinker, which is why I want to underscore for you that, from

our perspective, your operational support for Hizballah is a strategic miscalculation that is damaging your long-term national interests.”

Have you noticed that Obama Administration officials keep telling people in the Middle East what they are supposed to want?

–The Syrians know that backing Iran and Hizballah are in their strategic interest.

Of course, allying with Iran and Hizballah isn’t in their interest if they want to join the West, open their doors to foreign investments, put the emphasis on raising living standards, make peace with Israel, and then what? Give up their dictatorship and have a democracy?

But it is in their interests because they want to try to dominate the Arab world, wipe out Israel, control the Palestinian issue, and continue to be a dictatorship because that gives the elite all the power and money they want.

–The U.S. government, in fact President Barack Obama himself, told the Saudi king that he is supposed to want most an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement.

But the Saudis know it is in their interest to put the priority on stopping Iran.

–The U.S. government tells Israel that it is in its interest to give up a huge amount to get a Palestinian state.

But Israelis know it isn’t in their interest to make countless concessions to create an entity that will probably be backing terrorist attacks against them within a month of achieving independence.

–The U.S. government tells the Palestinian Authority that its interest is to get an independent state as fast as possible by making peace with Israel.

But the Palestinian Authority defines its interest as proving its militant credentials by not making any compromise peace with Israel. Its short-term goal is to get an independent state while giving up nothing (unilateral independence); the long-term objective is to continue the struggle for decades in order to try to destroy Israel.

–The U.S. government tells Iran that it is not in its interests to get nuclear weapons.

The Iranian regime laughs. It doesn’t want to be America’s friend. Up until now, Iran has succeeded in its aggressions. While sanctions are a burden, the regime can put up with pressure when the prize is so great: a bid for hegemony in the Middle East and in the Muslim world.

–By the way, this isn’t only true for the Middle East. Recently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated, “It’s hard to know why China doesn’t push harder” to use its influence on North Korea to rein in that renegade state. As Christina Lin explains:

“Westerners are perplexed at China’s behavior if it is a responsible stakeholder. However, the
Chinese themselves declare they do not want to do what is only of interests to the U.S.—perceived as China’s peer competitor. They want to do what is in China’s core interests.”

That model applies also to the Middle East: countries do what is in their interests. Western states, especially the United States, must deal with those interests as those leaders and countries comprehend them and not what Obama or various American officials and experts think they should be.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).      

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