An Open Letter to Liz Cheney

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Dear Liz,

I read with
interest your recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post,
which told us "The
Truth About Syria
." It's always a treat when Bush Administration
officials have the opportunity to reveal the objectives of their
foreign policy in the mainstream press for all concerned Americans
to see.

First of all,
my congratulations to you for holding the post of principal deputy
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. As a
registered Republican who voted not once, but twice for President
George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, I am naturally inquisitive
to learn how they have translated the mandate given them by myself
and millions of other American voters into a hiring strategy to
recruit individuals with proven foreign policy expertise and diplomatic
acumen to fill strategic roles in the State Department.

Under your
leadership, Liz, I am sure there is hope that leaders of nations
like Syria might follow our example and run their country as a meritocracy,
instead of practicing chronic
and offering key government positions to relatives,
leading to a climate of mistrust and micromanagement. Take for example
Maher Assad, a commander of the Syrian Republican Guard, the most
strategic division of the Syrian Army. Is really qualified to hold
that post? Would he be in that position if not for his last name?

Now Liz, a
lot of people criticized your op-ed and defended the recent visit
of House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi to Damascus
to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Mostly, they sounded quite amateurish. I'm sure you're tired of
hearing unsophisticated arguments like "The Republican Congressman
met with Assad too!"
or "The Iraq Study Group said
to engage Syria!"
So I'm not going to waste your time and
repeat such simplistic comments. Instead, I'd rather reflect on
your advice, starting with the comprehensive list of actions you
suggest should be taken against Syria, or "How to try to
beat Syria into submission, but fail miserably, in 7 easy steps."

One of these
is for the US to "implement all remaining elements of the
Accountability Act
and launch an aggressive effort to
empower the Syrian opposition."
I could insert a standard
here to explain why the unilateral sanctions proposed
by the Syria Accountability Act don't
, but I won't waste your time.

Instead, I'd
rather focus on one of the specific sanctions on the "menu"
that Congress offered the President — "Restriction on travel
of Syrian diplomats to within a 25-mile radius of their posting
in the United States."
Now, Liz, certainly someone with
the extensive diplomatic experience required to be named "principal
deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs"
recognizes the collateral damage that would be caused by such a
spiteful action. Can you imagine the harm done to US objectives
if other nations decide to flex their muscles and reciprocate this
restriction? Do we really want to provide the likes of Hugo Chavez
justification to stifle covert espionage operations based out of
our embassies abroad? Is scoring a vindictive and merely symbolic
victory for the "Lebanese democrats" that you laud in
your op-ed really that central to American interests?

The other problem
with restricting the travel of Syrian diplomats, like Ambassador
to the US Imad Moustapha, is that it would create a PR embarrassment
that would further undermine America's image. Have you seen Moustapha's
personal blog
? I suggest you take a look — you might be surprised
at the lack of much content that is even remotely political, let
alone anti-American. You will find however, art and literary critiques,
a diary of his trips around the United States to speak to student
groups and cultural organizations, plus lots of photos of his wife
Rafif and their baby girl Sidra.

Now, Liz,
you may not like Moustapha (I observe him to be a highly cultured
fellow, despite the fact that he's a self professed "left leaning
liberal" and I'm a conservative), but he's no dummy. He probably
created the blog as a pre-emptive defense against your proposed
travel sanction, casting him as a likable human being, and not a
Baathist monster who eats the raw hearts of "Lebanese democrats"
for breakfast. Too bad he has such rotten bosses. Perhaps one day,
he'll have a "Road
to Amman
" experience that will inspire him to change his
evil ways and embrace "democracy." Then I'm sure you and
he can become great friends.

By the way,
Liz, I too have significant qualms with the Syrian government and
am 100% in support of political competition; thus, I concur with
your desire to empower the Syrian opposition. There are some outstanding
within that movement who have voiced appealing criticism
of the regime. Undoubtedly, your personal endorsement will lend
them loads of credibility. Just one piece of advice: when your opposition
"allies" set up their websites, advise them not to use as a registrar, because that company's compliance with
the very same US sanctions against Syria that you vigorously endorse
anyone inside Syria
from accessing any site that they host or
register. Therefore, webpages designed to encourage the Syrian people
to demand more democracy from their government will be invisible
because of the sanctions that punish Syria for its lack of democracy.
I'm not sure what geniuses in the State Department dreamed up that
brilliant scenario. Perhaps the hiring practices of the Bush Administration
are not as meritocratic as I thought…

But getting
back to your article, I also found your mention of the American
Revolution quite bizarre in the context of Lebanese political assassinations.

if, in 1776, James Madison, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson had
been struck down by assassins. Could America have been born without

Now, Liz, all
of us at times have evoked the legacy of America's founding spirit
in our political discourse. I know I have. But normally, such rhetorical
comparisons are best reserved for light-hearted analogy, not for
grave situations like the one currently facing Lebanon. I only regret
that you did not enlighten us as to which of the slain "Lebanese
democrats" corresponded to America's 2nd, 3rd,
and 4th Presidents? Who represents Rafik Hariri, a subject
of a nation in which citizenship is only offered to adherents
of one religion
; or George Hawi, a decades-long communist
? I'm sure your original draft mentioned those facts,
but those pesky editors at the Washington Post must have
edited them out.

It is also
a shame that you did not continue this curious analogy and bring
more personalities into the mix, such as Michel Aoun, so adored
by American "conservatives" like Joe Lieberman, Richard
Perle, and Chuck Schumer — all Board Advisors for the Foundation
for the Defense of Democracies
— that he was a invited to Washington
in 2003 to deliver a lecture to that organization, which ended with
the words:

"I am
personally convinced that the return of free democracy to Lebanon
is also the return of the true image of the United Sates of America.
This will pay genuine homage to the memory of the fallen Americans
who gave their lives for the defense of freedom and democracy
in Lebanon. They came to Lebanon for peace and real peace must
be achieved."

Sadly, Aoun's
tenure as the neoconservatives' "Maronite of the Month"
has since expired, and now he is aligned
with Hezbollah
in a political opposition to the "Lebanese
democrats" hailed in your article. I suppose that makes him
Benedict Arnold in your 1776 analogy. Then there's Samir Geagea.
I'm not sure which American revolutionary he would correspond to,
but it would probably be someone from the colony
of Georgia

Liz, I question in general the historical validity of this analogy.
In 1776, the United States of America, which had existed as a possession
of a European power, asserted its independence and was born. Lebanon
also did that, but it was not in 2005, it was in 1943, when Lebanon
declared itself a Republic independent from France, for whom it
was an intra-war mandate. Thus, to a true Lebanese patriot, your
analogy would be exclusionary, revisionist, and downright insulting.
What about the many "Lebanese democrats" who gave their
lives not only in Lebanon's struggle for national independence over
60 years ago, but in its vicious 15 year civil war?

I'm sure you have been bombarded with emails from certain Lebanese
individuals showering you with praise for making this comparison.
To me, flattering such a historically misinformed view that disregards
their own nation's history indicates a self-hating tendency on the
part of these individuals. I suppose some of them feel such enmity
toward Syria that it overrides even their own Lebanese national
pride. Ironically, they are hurting Lebanon, as their efforts to
lobby members of Congress (who may lack the in-depth understanding
of the Middle East required to be principal deputy assistant
secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs) to adopt their
views have caused confusion on Capitol Hill and may delay the passage
of legislation granting much-needed aid to Lebanon.

These factors
are symptomatic of an identity crisis that the Lebanese people have
yet to solve in aggregate. Until they do, I wonder how it serves
American interests to take sides in a nation so deeply and internally
conflicted. I know that you and others in the Bush Administration
consider Lebanon as a regional example of a "remarkable success"
(which is how Lebanese journalist Michael Young, whom your op-ed
quoted, describes our policy — despite the fact that America backed
the 2006 bombing of civilian targets in his country) but given these
challenges, it is folly to make this tiny country of approximately
10,451.999 square kilometers the centerpiece of our regional policy
and tout it as the major lever of success. Lebanon has great potential
and many strong points, but in terms of regional political trends
it will always be a peculiarity due to the confessional nature of
its political constitution and a perpetual national identity crisis.

How, Liz, do
you presume that the United States can solve the problems of a country
in which the scion of the nation's most prominent political dynasty
cannot even find 2 accompanying security personnel he
can trust
? No wonder when you quoted your friend from the Lebanese
parliament mourning Pierre Gemayel's death, you did so anonymously.
Maybe the United States should send a detail of US Marines to protect
Pierre's cousin, 25-year-old "Sheikh

I suspect,
Liz, that this letter may confuse you, because it concerns US policy
in the Middle East and is written by a person of Semitic extraction
(and by Semitic, I mean Semitic),
but only promotes the interests of one nation: the United States
of America. That is the only nation in which I hold citizenship
and the only nation to which I pledge allegiance. Can the gadflies
who flatter your approach to the Middle East say the same? You know
the type — sycophants like Farid
, head of the Reform Party of Leba…I mean, Syria, who
at one point simultaneously claimed citizenship in 4 different countries
(that we know of). Oh, come now, Liz. Surely the principal deputy
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs possesses
the finely honed instincts to determine that there is nothing whatsoever
Syrian about "Frank"

Does it occur
to you that this ilk have pleaded their case before respected members
of Congress of Lebanese descent, such as Republicans Darrell
and Ray
, but have been rebuffed? Foreign agents know they will
get nowhere with honorable individuals who have sworn an oath to
the American people and will be voted out of office if they betray
that oath. Furthermore, these federal legislators have a de facto
constituency beyond their districts, consisting of Arab-Americans
nationwide who look to Issa, LaHood, as well as John
E. Sununu
, Charles
and Nick
to represent the interests of the Arab-American community
on Capitol Hill. Those interests do include pressuring the
Syrian government to change its behavior, but not in the reckless,
spiteful way that your op-ed advocates. Thus, they have shown your
cronies the doors to their offices.

You, on the
other hand, have no such constituency. Your constituency consists
of one very well placed person. Thus, these foreign agents, who
care nothing for America and are only interested in grinding their
own axes, view you as the cheapest date in Washington. They are
your "allies." And by "allies," I mean the people
who throw flowers upon you today but will stab you in the back as
soon as you are no longer useful to their shortsighted, vengeance-driven

Thus, your
proposals basically sound like a bad remix of an even worse one-hit
wonder from the early eighties. Remember, Liz: politics in Lebanon
are a lot like that country's infamous "Dog River" — the
scum rises to the top. You may wish to take a swim there, but don't
drag the rest of America with you.

George Ajjan

3, 2007

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