In the Arena

The Pelosi Flap

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The Wall Street Journal editorial page, with typical judiciousness, gets the Pelosi trip quite wrong. First, George Logan was not a member of the Congress when he made his “pacifist” trip to France. (He was elected to the Senate three years later, in 1801.) Second, Pelosi did not make the trip to negotiate with Assad, but to talk with him. Third, this is not a “wartime” situation–in fact, we continue to have diplomatic relations with Syria. Fourth, as others have noted, numerous Republican members of Congress have gone to speak with Assad. In fact, it was a Republican, Chris Shayes, who first told me that I should go over and interview Assad. Fifth, the media coverage of this on CNN and elsewhere has been abysmal. (Do you think CNN would repeatedly call itself the best political team on television if it actually was?)

Finally, what is the real scandal here: that Pelosi spoke with Assad or that the Bush Administration won’t?…Or, as I reported last week, that the Bush Administration won’t even let the Israelis talk to Assad?

And even more finally, the Assad family is a mafia, brutal and corrupt. I’ve recently received an email from the family of Dr. Kamal Labwani, a gentle and civilized Democracy activist I interviewed in Damascus just after he was released from prison. He had a question he wanted me to ask Assad: “Mr. President, you’re a doctor and so am I. Why did you put me in jail?” I asked and Assad said, “I’m not in charge of everything in this country!” Hmm.
Labwani is not only back in prison now, but in isolated detention and his health is declining. This is completely outrageous…and, I believe, all the more reason for Americans to talk to Assad and try to shame him into releasing Labwani and other political prisoners. It’s a long shot, but it certainly can’t hurt. If we can talk to Hosni Mubarak–another free-range oppressor–there’s no reason why we can’t talk to Assad.