Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman recently wrote in the pages of the (pre-Murdoch!) WSJ:
...the Damascus airport is the point of entry into Iraq for most of the suicide bombers who are killing innocent Iraqi citizens and American soldiers, and trying to break America's will in this war. It is therefore time to demand that the Syrian regime stop playing travel agent for al Qaeda in Iraq. When Congress reconvenes next month, we should set aside whatever differences divide us on Iraq and send a clear and unambiguous message to the Syrian regime, as we did last month to the Iranian regime, that the transit of al Qaeda suicide bombers through Syria on their way to Iraq is completely unacceptable, and it must stop.
We in the U.S. government should also begin developing a range of options to consider taking against Damascus International, unless the Syrian government takes appropriate action, and soon. Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International, as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror. Despite its use by al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways. Interrupting the flow of foreign fighters would mean countless fewer suicide bombings in Iraq, and countless fewer innocent people murdered by the barbaric enemy we are fighting there.
At a time when the al Qaeda network in Iraq is already under heavy stress thanks to American and Iraqi military operations, closing off the supply line through which al Qaeda in Iraq is armed with its most deadly weapons--suicide bombers--would be devastating to the terrorists' cause. Simply put, for the U.S. and our Iraqi allies, defeating al Qaeda in Iraq means locking shut Syria's "Open Door" policy to terrorists. It is past time for Syria to do so.
Where to begin? Perhaps the recently published NIE, which states:
Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-AQI groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.
Well of course the Syrians, like the Saudis, Jordanians, Turks, Iranians, and indeed all of Iraq's neighbors, are going to provide support to Iraqi factions they deem friendly to them. But note the NIE, the most authoritative judgment on national security issues produced by the Government, states explicitly that Syria has "cracked down" on Sunni extremists, and is providing support to non-al Qaeda groups.
But what is most fascinating about Lieberman's zealotry is its sheer ignorance, how devoid of any historical context it is. Does he remember Tom Friedman's "Hama Rules", born of the Hama Massacre? Hafez Assad brutally put down a domestic rebellion of the Muslim Brotherhood back in 1982, as the Alawite ruling elite feared the growth of Sunni extremism in their midst. Indeed, the Alawites in Damascus are not fans of Islamic extremists, because said extremists view the Alawites as heretics. So the notion that Bashar Assad plays "travel agent" to al-Qaeda is just laughable. And regardless, if Damascus International were really the Grand Central Station of al-Qaeda for the entire Middle East, per Lieberman's hysterical accounting, the 'blowback' would likely ultimately prove severe, and Assad's regime could well be toppled (in this Lieberman and al-Qaeda may have common cause).
Now, Lieberman is not alone in making these wild claims. We have Michael Gerson waxing rhapsodic about "Syria's Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorists" and "lower-hanging fruit" (to which George Will recently quipped: "In the other faction, there still are those so impervious to experience that they continue to refer to Syria as "lower-hanging fruit." Such metaphors bewitch minds. Low-hanging fruit is plucked, then eaten. What does one nation do when it plucks another? In Iraq, America is in its fifth year of learning the answer.")
And how can one forget our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite, Max Boot, who writes in Commentary's blog (deliciously named "Contentions") a post entitled (you guessed it!): "Low-Hanging Fruit", riffing on Gerson's piece in très excité fashion: "One possible idea: Hold Damascus International Airportthe entry point into Iraq for countless Arab radicals from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Algeriahostage. We could announce that we will use our airpower to shut down the entire facility, Syria’s only international airport, until Bashar Assad cuts off the influx of terrorists into Iraq. This would be a relatively low-risk option from the American viewpoint, but it would impose considerable pain on Syria."
A peachy idea! Save that using airpower against a sovereign nation's airport is an act of war, you know. But, little matter. Gerson, Boot and Lieberman are very, very serious individuals. Much more serious, say, than the members of the Iraq Study Group, people like Larry Eagleburger, Vern Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon Panetta, Bill Perry, Chuck Robb, Alan Simpson, and of course, co-chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton--all of whom counseled high-level dialogue with Damascus. Why? Because people who've been around the block and understand how the real world works know that when you're bogged down in a massive mess (read: Iraq), you seek to dialogue rationally with neighbors to help put the fire out, not scream for more adventures like shrill hysterics.
Ultimately, this is why it's much more alarming to see a sitting Senator displaying such a dangerous combination of ignorance and adventurism--as compared with assorted think-tankers screeching from the side-lines, to which we've become drearily accustomed. What happened to the Senator from Connecticut, one wonders, who in decades past seemed a reasonable man? Increasingly one has little choice but to see Joe Lieberman, as Joe Klein put it so well, simply as an " American embarrassment".
(Cross-posted at Belgravia Dispatch for those wishing to comment).
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