Conservative criticism of Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria needs to be tempered by some Middle Eastern reality:
- In the Middle East, terrorism is considered a means to an end, i.e., political victory, rather than an end itself. That’s why the phrase "war on terrorism" is misleading. A "war on Islamic careerism" is more appropriate.
- Syria’s status as a "terrorist state" is a survival strategy. The idea of allowing terrorists to operate in Syria is to export problems to the neighbours, thus taking the pressure off of oneself. In a tough neighbourhood like the Middle East, this makes sense for Syria, if not us.
- Syria is a Ba’ath state. As was the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Ba’aths are secular in nature. The al-Assad family are Alawis, who are considered vile heretics by the Sunni majority. Christians live relatively freely in Syria. The current al-Assad is not in the same league for brutality as his father and certainly not with Saddam Hussein. Thus, in Middle Eastern terms, Syria is considered "liberal," as opposed to real shar’ia places like Iran and Saudi Arabia.
- Toppling the al-Assads would doubtless bring the Islamicists out of the woodwork, as has happened in Iraq.
So should Nancy Pelosi talk with the Syrians? Probably not. In the U.S., we have only two alternatives to deal with foreigners that seem to be a problem to us, and neither approach will advance our real interests in the Middle East.