Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The Engagement's Off
Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows last month when he dispatched two top advisors to Damascus in an effort to engage Syria on resolving the Lebanese presidential standoff. Sarkozy claimed at the time that he'd gotten Washington's tacit approval on the initiative. The move was at best a gamble and at worst an act of desperation, trading off the enhanced prestige it would lend to Syria for a face-saving outcome to France's months-long effort to mediate the crisis.
In the end, the continued failure to arrive at an agreement -- which this week led to a tit-for-tat series of declarations from Paris and Damascus announcing the suspension of cooperation -- amounts to a confirmation that Syria's influence in the region can't be wished away. On the other hand, those who have criticized the Bush administration for failing to engage Syria (and I count myself among that group) need to acknowledge that engagement is a tactic, not a strategy, and that for it to work, there needs to be willingness on both sides of the table to reach an agreement.
Meanwhile Lebanon remains without a President.