Syrian President Bashar al-Asad accused the United States of creating chaos in every country it enters in an interview with al-Hayat newspaper published Tuesday, snubbing the Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Asad asked, referring to U.S. intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
In response, State Department spokesman P.J.Crowley fired back, accusing Syria of causing “a destabilizing effect” on Lebanon by continuing to arm Hezbollah militants and meddling in Lebanese political affairs. Stressing that Syria has not lived up to its commitments to strengthen Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty, Crowley added, “…we stand by our pledge to support a sovereign, stable and independent Lebanon” and for this “We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Washington severed ties with Damascus in 2005 by recalling its ambassador following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, an act largely blamed on Syria and Hezbollah. In a misguided attempt to re-engage Syria and turn it away from Iran as part of a wider effort to reach out to U.S. adversaries in the Middle East, President Obama made repeated overtures to Damascus after entering office, nominating an ambassador (whose confirmation remains stalled) and sending top diplomats to meet with Asad.
It’s safe to say the president’s attempts have failed. Asad confirmed that Syria’s ties remain strong to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran earlier this month when the two met for a one-day visit for the second time in two weeks. During the gathering, Asad and Ahmadinejad proclaimed that expansion of ties between, and political domination by, their two countries would benefit the region politically and economically. Asad also reassured his counterpart that Tehran-Damascus ties could strengthen resistance groups against Israel.
Only time will tell if the Obama administration has learned that Syria and Iran’s ties run deep and will not be severed by an American president’s outstretched hand.