From an American perspective, there is something odd about Syria's foreign policy conduct, especially after William Burns announced, on Feb.17th in Damascus, that Robert Ford will be the next American ambassador in Syria. Syria did not have an American ambassador for 5 years.
Syria welcomed Ahmedinajad's long visit to Damascus few days after this announcement. Both Ahmedinajad and al-Assad held a joint press conference in Damascus announcing the "New Middle East" as defined by both Iran and Syria. A celebration of a regional alliance that is based on mutual interests and the stability of the region. Stability understood as friendly regimes in Lebanon and Iraq, increased nuclear capability in Iran balancing that of Israel, and an increasing role for both Iran and Turkey as regional power brokers.
Nothing is wrong with this picture except for the fact that US foreign policy is not up to speed with the regional counter reaction to its mid-east policy since 2003. The basic message of the recent Iranian Syrian alliance parade is that the rules have changed in this region. American mid east hegemony is declining as far as the ability of the U.S. to exert control over international outcomes and patterns of inter/intra state behaviour. Yet, U.S. foreign policy makers are criticizing, reacting and denouncing as if we are in the 1990s. Nationalism, the revolutionary style, is making a comeback with a distinctive Moussadigh ring. A part from earlier revolutionary versions such as pan -Arabism or Islamic Caliphate, which were guided by ideologies, this regional resistance front is guided by regional interests, with security, regional and economic stability at the forefront. A united front that does not hesitate to announce with pride its alliance with Hezbollah and Hamas.
The article by former U.S. ambassador to Morocco at the Huffington post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amb-marc-ginsberg/kissing-cousins-assad-han_b_476585.html is a clear example of the debilitating detachment from regional reality expressed by American officials. If the only reaction to such alliance is to encourage Israeli and American strikes or to play on minority (ethnic or religious) cards and the threat of potential internal unrest in both Iran and Syria, then my fear is intellectual bankruptcy on this side of the Atlantic.
Syria is not shackled to Iran. Syria is getting a great payoff from its relations with Iran. Cheap oil, scores of Iranian tourists, trade relations, strategic defence agreements, military capabilities..etc. A U.S. foreign policy focused on detangling this relation is a waste of time if it does not include the return of the Golan Heights, all of the Golan without Israeli sovereignty detracting security stations and /or military posts, and regrettably accepting a nuclear Iran. A U.S. foreign policy that ...... (this space was designated to say something about the Israeli Palestinian ordeal, but what's the point).
Hmmm, now thinking about it...Accepting a nuclear Iran could make an Arab Israeli deal a possibility. For one, Israel military power is relatively balanced by that of Iran. Negotiation leverage is tilted towards the Palestinian and Syrian side. Israeli military strikes will be regionally scrutinized. In addition to having an upperhand on Gulf politics. Actually a deal could be struck were by the U.S. could have a say in the "how" of Iranian nuclear developments and secure strategic agreements with the Iranian regime in order to secure nuclear facilities.
Another option would be to declare war on Iran as advocated by recent war rallying cries in the Washington post and NYT. Another option is to work really hard on destabilizing Iran from the inside. There are the Arab Sunni population in the south who have numerous grievances against the Iranian regime.. there are the Iranian Kurds in the north east and of course Alqaida in the Khurasan region. And maybe the U.S. can get Iran to follow the Pakistani scenario, with military coups, nuclear capabilities, civil unrest, ethnic and religious divisions and put additional strains on an already struggling civil society.
I will try to think about a fourth option.
Meanwhile, knowing that he still has to be confirmed by the senate.. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Ambassador Robert Ford to Damascus. Syria is a happening place!