• 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
    nepotism
    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
    Syria
    Accountability Act
    and launch an aggressive effort to
    empower the Syrian opposition."
    I could insert a standard
    libertarian
    argument
    here to explain why the unilateral sanctions proposed
    by the Syria Accountability Act don't
    work
    , 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
    individuals
    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
    GoDaddy.com as a registrar, because that company's compliance with
    the very same US sanctions against Syria that you vigorously endorse
    prohibits
    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.

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

    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
    leader
    ? 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
    .

    Furthermore,
    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?

    Nevertheless,
    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
    Nadim."

    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
    Ghadry
    , 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"
    Ghadry
    .

    Does it occur
    to you that this ilk have pleaded their case before respected members
    of Congress of Lebanese descent, such as Republicans Darrell
    Issa
    and Ray
    LaHood
    , 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
    Boustany
    and Nick
    Rahall
    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
    worldview.

    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.

    Sincerely,
    George Ajjan

    May
    3, 2007

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