In the Arena

The Perpetual Warrior

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Ilan Goldenberg has an accurate assessment of John McCain’s latest negative ad–it’s hard to keep up–over at Democracy Arsenal today.

And David Ignatius, writing from Damascus, implicitly lays down a significant test for McCain: Bashar Assad wants direct peace talks with the Israelis, under the sponsorship of the United States and France. Assad has been sending these signals for years–he told me that he wanted direct talks two years ago–but the foolish U.S. policy of near-nonrecognition (we pulled our Ambassador from Damascus because of Syria’s complicity in the February 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

In addition to the obvious benefits to Israel of diplomatic recognition–and the less obvious benefits of reduced Syrian support for groups like Hamas and Hizballah, which would be an Israeli condition for any deal–these negotiations would have the additional benefit of putting some pressure on Iran: If Syria seems to be edging out of its orbit, Iran may feel more isolated–and more willing to open a real channel of negotiations itself. Of course, we can’t know any of those things if we don’t, at least, try to talk. It will be interesting to see if Condoleezza Rice trumps Dick Cheney on this issue.

The question is: How does John McCain feel about all this? His statements about Syria have been as bellicose and intractable as his statements about Iran. His Likudnik neoconservative supporters are totally opposed to any Syria deal–as is often the case, they’re way to the right of the Israeli government. This seems a no-lose proposition, though: If Israel wants to talk to Syria, why wouldn’t John McCain?