The timing could hardly have been worse: Just days after President Obama shared a chummy hamburger with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev — the better to dramatize our newly “reset” relations — the FBI announced the arrest of eleven “deep-cover” spies who have been paid and plied by Moscow Center for decades.
The Obama administration seemed more embarrassed about it than the Russians, rushing to reassure the world that this will not affect our new relationship with Russia one bit. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon explained that “we would like to get to the point where there is just so much trust and cooperation between the United States and Russia that nobody would think of turning to intelligence means to find out things that they couldn’t find out in other channels.”
It’s not easy to divert the Obama administration from its pursuit of “engagement.” Not even repeated slaps in the face will do the trick.
Consider another diplomatic initiative — that toward Syria. This week it was revealed that Syria had obtained a sophisticated radar system from Iran (in violation of U.N. sanctions — but don’t hold your breath for an emergency Security Council session). The radar would make it much more difficult for Israeli jets to fly undetected over Syrian airspace en route to Iran. If shared with Hezbollah, a Syrian-Iranian client based in Lebanon, the radar would vastly improve the accuracy of Hezbollah’s missiles and bolster its air defenses.
This is merely the latest signal of contempt by Syria for the Obama administration’s sedulous courting. Two months ago, Israel announced that Syria had transferred SCUD missiles (range: 400 miles) to Hezbollah, permitting the terror group to hit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Dimona, and Ben Gurion International Airport. In 2006, when Hezbollah launched a war against Israel, its missiles had a range of 20 to 60 miles. But, never daunted, the administration interpreted this provocation as proof that even more friendliness was required of us. “Sending an ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion . . . is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House explained.
Since January 2009, a procession of high-level officials, including Under Secretary of State William Burns, Sen. John Kerry, and George Mitchell (three times) has trooped to Damascus for talks with Bashar Assad. The administration also announced the appointment of an ambassador, Robert Ford, for the first time in five years (though Republicans have so far effectively blocked him). The Obama White House also relaxed export licenses, invited the Syrian deputy foreign minister to Washington, and withdrew U.S. objections to Syrian admission to the World Trade Organization. Senator Kerry stressed that his visit and the decision to send an ambassador to Damascus reflect the fact that engagement with Syria is “a priority at the highest levels of our government.”
Others drank the Kool-Aid as well. Newsweek magazine praised the engagement initiative as recently as February, saying, “President Bashar al-Assad may finally be ready to play ball. . . . Those small steps (like Ford’s appointment, for example) are exactly the thing [sic] Syria is looking to respond to.”
Or not. Just a day after Secretary of State Clinton conveyed to Damascus President Obama’s hope that the Syrians would draw closer to the U.S. and distance themselves from Iran, Bashar Assad hosted Mahmoud Admadinejad for a lavish state visit. At a grinning joint press conference, the two competed to spew insults at the United States. Ahmadinejad looked forward to a new Middle East “without Zionists and without colonialists.” Assad, referring snidely to Clinton, said “I find it strange how they talk about Middle East stability and at the same time talk about dividing [our] two countries.” Regarding the suggestion that Syria distance itself from Iran, Assad noted coyly that he must not have understood “maybe because of translation error or limited understanding.”
Apparently Assad was too subtle for this crowd. For even after this, and even after the SCUDS, and even despite the radar, the Obama administration truckling continues. According to the June 15 Wall Street Journal, “The State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, according to senior U.S. officials, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran.”
This is beyond naïve. This is profoundly dangerous. Who can possibly fail to notice that the Obama administration not only imposes no costs on those who cross it, but redoubles its efforts to appease?
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.