Politics & Policy

Assad’s Speaker

Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria is part of a larger problem.

Last week the public sat stunned as Speaker Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. official to sit with Syrian dictator and terror-sponsor Bashar al-Assad. If Speaker Pelosi’s diplomatic foray into Syria weren’t so harmful to U.S. interests in the Middle East, it would have been laughable.

#ad#In one fell swoop, the Speaker legitimized and emboldened a ruthless thug whose unyielding support for terrorism has bogged down our attempts to bring stability and peace to the region at every step of the way. The excursion, condemned by most major newspapers, undoubtedly won Pelosi plaudits from her reflexively anti-Bush liberal base.

But most instructively, it revealed why Democrats remain woefully unfit to set the nation’s foreign policy.

Presenting Assad with “a new Democratic alternative” — code for making President Bush look feckless — Mrs. Pelosi usurped the executive branch’s time-honored foreign-policy authority. Her message to Assad was that congressional Democrats will forbid the president from increasing pressure on Damascus to stop its murderous way. Several leading legal authorities have made the case that her recent diplomatic overtures ran afoul of the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for any American “without authority of the United States” to communicate with a foreign government to influence that government’s behavior on any disputes with the United States. Regardless of the law, Pelosi proceeded to make Assad an important regional player without first having to become a responsible one. At such a critical moment in the volatile Middle East, this is no time for the United States to be sending out mixed signals to our enemies.

How must our troops in Iraq, who live in daily fear of Syrian-supplied IEDs and weapons, feel about Mrs. Pelosi cozying up to Assad and telling him that “we came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace”? How about our allies in Lebanon’s fledgling democratic government, who for years have chafed under Syrian occupation and are currently struggling with Syrian attempts to reassert its dominance over the country? Knowing all too well that Syria’s meddling and support for Hezbollah always formed their greatest obstacle, government supporters have understandably reacted with outrage to Pelosi’s assurance that the “road to solving Lebanon’s problems passes through Damascus.” And then there are the Israelis, principal victims of Syrian support and succor for Hezbollah and Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was rightfully angered by Pelosi’s bungled message to Assad that Israel was “ready to engage in the peace process.” In fact, our ally Israel is determined not to engage with Syria until it renounces terrorism. With Pelosi and other Democrats sending such soft signals, the Israelis would be well advised not to hold their breath.

Of Assad’s positions toward Israel, the Speaker exhibited stupefying naiveté by claiming to be “pleased” with Assad’s reassurances that Syria was ready to resume the peace process. Have Assad’s myriad prevarications fallen on deaf Democratic ears over the years? Assad’s promises have reflected never a scintilla of his true intentions. A signatory of 2003 legislation calling on the president to sanction Syria for its misbehavior, Mrs. Pelosi should have known better. Syria’s support for terrorism has grown markedly worse over the past four years.

The Speaker and many of her Democratic allies have become so drunk with grandiose visions of deposing Bush that they break bread with terrorists and enemies of the United States. What she fails to see is that it is in Syria’s interest to destabilize Lebanon and Iraq. By weakening the United States and its allies in Iraq and Lebanon, Syria has a greater chance to regain power in the region and distract the international community from the 2005 assassination of anti-Syrian Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Speaker’s words and actions carry consequences for U.S. policy, and they certainly did our allies no favors last week. Instead of standing united with the president and Congress against the Syrian menace, Mrs. Pelosi chose to needlessly divide us. President Assad, now with a green light to continue to sew discord in the region, probably still hasn’t stopped laughing.

– The Honorable Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, is chief deputy minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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