Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Biden schools Coleman but will the student learn ?

Elections have consequences but can provide opportunities even for those that are not involved.

Case in point, last November’s elections saw the defeat of incumbent Republican Senators Lincoln Chaffee and George Allen who had served on the Foreign Relations Committee. With the new Congress, the composition of the committees, and sub-committees, has changed. Now with the realignment in the committee, Coleman has been named the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs. This Subcommitte is the big one as illustrated by Coleman’s comments : “I intend to use this Subcommittee to bolster the full Committee’s oversight of our Iraq policy. I also want to focus attention on the destabilizing effect of Iran and its nuclear program and support for terrorism. Additionally, I will use this position to continue to articulate my strong support for our allies as well as the need for an even-handed approach to Middle East peace and an end to terror.”

During Coleman’s first four years on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Bush Administration dominated foreign affairs as the Republican leadership allowed Bush to operate with minimal oversight.

Now, Joe Biden has started hearings that have featured an array of experienced and knowledgeable experts on international relations. The participants so far have ranged from military generals to former Secretaries of State. Although the impetuous may be Iraq, the general assessment is that is a regional problem.

For example, Lt. Gen. William E. Odom (Ret.) in his testimony stated : “Any new strategy that does realistically promise to achieve regional stability at a cost we can prudently bear, and does not regain the confidence and support of our allies, is doomed to failure. To date, I have seen no awareness that any political leader in this country has gone beyond tactical proposals to offer a different strategic approach to limiting the damage in a war that is turning out to be the greatest strategic disaster in our history.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski in his testimony encouraged the United States and the Iraqi leadership to engage Iraq's neighbors in serious discussion regarding the region's security problems, stating “It is ironic, however, that both Iran and Syria have lately called for a regional dialogue, exploiting thereby the self-defeating character of the largely passive -- and mainly sloganeering -- U.S. diplomacy.”

But most insightful were comments came from the Iraq Study Group Co-Chairmen, James A. Baker and Lee Hamilton. It was reported that Baker stated that the single biggest failing of the Bush’s current foreign policy strategy is a failure to deal with Syria and draw that country away from Iran.
“The diplomatic effort has not been full enough,” said Mr. Hamilton. And he added, “We don’t have the time to wait.” Secretary Baker said, “At the president’s approval, I spoke directly with the Foreign Minister of Syria.” Baker told a silent and stunned committee room, “I think we can get Syria back. I think Syria is ready to embrace a new direction.”

With all these experts focusing the attention on diplomacy, it’s time for the student to take a road trip to Syria. Coleman’s view of Iraq changed after his visit … and it’s time for him to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

ABC’s Good Morning program visited with President al-Assad yesterday.
The Syrian leader insisted that “we can stop the violence." Al-Assad felt that Syria could help because "we have a good relation with all the parties, including the ones participating in this government, and the one that opposed this process.” He added that the US has "to stop looking for scapegoats and whipping boys. (If) you cannot start the fire and put it out if you start it, it will burn you." "This chaos in Iraq will spill over into Syria and other countries."

The Senate’s obsessive focus on Iraq resolutions has fogged them from pursuing actions that will resolve the crisis. I’m optimistic that Biden will lead an effort to improve relations with other countries in the region. It is in Coleman’s duty to actively participate in actions and not just in press releases.

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