John Kerry is back from Damascus. Apparently, there are no French restaurants left in the Syrian capitol. And, according to the country's Ministry of Tourism, there is only one first class restaurant in town. Maybe that's where Kerry and his companion, Chris Dodd, ate. Maybe not. And maybe they didn't stay overnight either. When Nancy and Henry Kissinger were doing shuttle diplomacy, they never stayed overnight. My guess is that even James Baker, so fond of Assad père, was content to retreat to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem every time dusk came. He had had enough of Arab hospitality, presidential style: six hours of discussion, as Fouad Ajami pointed out, and two glasses of lemonade. In any case, you tend to get the runs in Syira which doesn't much happen in Israel. Here is a shrewd appraisal by the very reliable journalist Michael Young in the Lebanon Daily Star of the Baker-Kerry two step as it plays itself out with Hafaz Assad's son, Bashar.
There's a photograph of Kerry in the bazaar of Old Damascus in Thursday's Boston Globe. I don't know if he bought any trinkets or fake antiquities. But, if he did acquire something, he was probably taken for a ride. Kerry is usually taken in by soothing-sounding foreigners. I can imagine some local merchant telling him, "You are my brother." And the senator momentarily believing him. Oops, where did the merchant prep? Not St. Paul's. He can't be his brother. Wrong class.
O.K., so Kerry didn't believe him. But the senator certainly believed Assad when the tyrant told him that he was ready to help the U.S. out of its pickle in Iraq. "Clearly, definitively, specifically," as Kerry told NPR on Thursday morning. Or as Kerry was quoted saying in the Globe, Assad "offered some very direct and concrete ways in which they could be helpful in Iraq...I came away with a distinct feeling that there are opportunities here. There are fronts in which we can work together if people are inclined to." And what does Bashar receive in return? Lebanon, maybe. The Golan Heights. Well, the senator said that there was "unanimity of Democrats" about an independent Lebanon. If Kerry believes that Assad will allow his neighbor to go free, he probably still believes in Santa Claus.