Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Senator Coleman needs to follow Sen. Specter’s path in Foreign Relations.

On Sunday’s This Week program, Senator Sam Brownback was asked to explain his reversal of position from supporting a temporary troop surge on December 31 to being against it on January 10th. His response was that he visited Iraq. A simple answer. He went and talked with the participants (Prime Minister Maliki. Kurdish leadership, U.S. Generals Raymond Odierno and George Casey, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, etc.) and gained a better appreciation of the problems. Brownback stated “We cannot achieve a political solution while a military solution is imposed.”

Brownback is just the most recent of our elected officials who after visiting Iraq have changed their thinking. Senator Norm Coleman, Senator Susan Collins, Senator John Warner, Representative Chris Shays, former Representative Gil Gutknecht are all Republicans who changed their positions after being able to discuss the situation face-to-face with principals in the country.

This commentary is not about troop surges and military tactics; it is about political dialogue.

Foreign policy is best practiced when Senators receive a wide range of opinions from experts and most importantly interact face-to-face with other country’s leadership.

Today, the Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing and among the experts is Robert Malley. He is the Director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group and advocates “a clean break in the way the United States deals with the Iraqi government and the region. The United States should seek to enlist broad international support for a new political compact among Iraqis; cease treating the Iraqi government as a privileged partner and start seeing it as a party to the sectarian war; and engage in real diplomacy with all Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria included.”

The last part is the key – a diplomatic discussion with Syria.

The Iraq Study Group recommendations stress dialogue with Iran and Syria. If productive discussions can be held with Syria and relations improved, then that may lead to discussions directly with Iran.

Discussions with Syria does not mean going in with a blank checkbook willing to concede everything … just the opposite, we find joint interests and expand upon them.
Syria clearly has problems. They, as well as Jordan, have a refugee problem and an uncontrolled border. Syria should want a stable Iraq as it wants to run an oil pipeline from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to an outlet at the Mediterranean.
America also has goals. An independent Lebanon, free of Syrian interference, would be a big step toward a peaceful region. Syria is seen as being behind the arming Hezbollah and that needs to stop. The Iraqi Sunni population may be more supportive of the US if they feel that Syria is supporting America's desire for a stable Iraq.
Clearly, the State Department has a role in this, but so does the Senate.
Senator Coleman sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. He needs to follow the paths of Senators Arlen Specter, Bill Nelson, Christopher Dodd and John Kerry and visit Syria first hand. They visited Syria this past December and Specter after meeting with Bashar Assad, stated "Assad stated an interest in negotiating with Israel to try to bring a peaceful settlement to the Syrian-Israeli dispute under the U.N. doctrine of land-for-peace."

Not only do Jim Baker and the Iraq Study Group feel that engaging Syria is part of the Iraq solution , so does Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Just last Sunday, he said “I will seek to encourage our American friends to have a dialogue with Syria." "Syria wants ... stability in Iraq and is backing us in fighting terrorism. There is no justification for a stern (U.S.) stance on Syria," said Talabani, who lived in Syria in exile in the 1970s.

Coleman and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should not follow the path of blindly accepting the Bush Administrations viewpoint, they must visit the areas and engage in dialogue themselves.

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