The Obama presidency has been obsessed with remaking the Damascus-Washington relationship. Some of his experts told him it was both imperative and just beneath the surface. All you had to do was try. For some comic relief, I suppose, the State Department also sent two oh-so-brilliant men from the “wired” life-style: Alec Ross and Jared Cohen—yes, of course, Jewish—to Damascus to entice the Arabs into the future. (For more, see here and here.) Apparently, the hi-jinks went nowhere, although the mission’s utter failure did not keep Google from offering suave Jared a high paid, high exposure job as director of Google Ideas. In yesterday morning’s International Herald Tribune, Cohen and his boss, Eric Schmidt, have dispatched a letter telling how tyrannies are both reinforced and undone by high technology. And the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power on the wings of millions of cassettes. What marvels!
Le Figaro is a very serious French newspaper, a bit to the right but, for all that, one that does not want the West to disappear from the Levant. France, after all, had been Europe’s designee in Lebanon and Syria since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, after World War I, it fought a diplomatic battle against Great Britain over the particular spoils of Versailles. London’s neo-imperial design (for which self-determination was the label) intended for the Emir Faisal to be the king of Damascus. After all, his family, the Hashemites, descendants of the Prophet himself, had allied itself with T.E. Lawrence’s designs in the great war and deserved substantial compensation, especially in as much as the al-Saud who were brigands was about to be vested with Mecca, Medina, “the empty quarter” and other vast stretches of sand below which lay the hugest deposits of oil and natural gas not yet known to man.
Well, Faisal received Baghdad, a cradle of civilization. The city itself had a plurality of Jews going back to the destruction of the First Temple “yea, we wept when we remembered Jerusalem.” And his brother, Abdullah, later King Abdullah, ancestor of the present Abdullah, had to make do with Amman, really not more than a village of perhaps 10,000 Bedouin. But even this has some connection to the Jews. The British Mandate had also promised “the other side of the Jordan” to the Zionists, both sides, that is. It was not to be. Now, Abdullah II sits on a throne, and the large majority of his subjects, the Palestinians, dearly hope will not last.
Now back to our story.
The news in Tuesday’s Figaro reports that Damascus had succeeded in transferring to Hezbollah fully 40,000 missiles of longer range and with more exact targeting capacity than the Shi’a militia employed in the last Lebanon war. Hezbollah now also deploys 10,000 fighters to man this supply of projectiles. The report also details improvements in the command structure of Nasrallah’s organization, which makes thinking about the Beirut government putting it under some official discipline nothing more than a joke. The regime does not rule. Its army is made up of perfume soldiers.
Ancillary news based on Figaro’s dispatch can be found in the Jerusalem Post, Ynetnews and Ha’aretz. No, this has not been reported in the New York Times, which still every day has an article on settlements.
There is substantial evidence that Washington knew of these material developments in Hezbollah’s capacity to make war and, as important, in the role of the Assad regime in facilitating it. Neither the president nor his secretary of state said anything. It did, however, pursue its craven diplomacy both with Damascus and in Beirut. That’s what the administration calls the “reset button.” Actually, that button has worked nowhere, sorry to say.
Associated Press has reported an elliptical response to these stirrings by Bashar Assad in an interview with Al-Hayat. According to the A.P., Assad charged the U.S. with “created chaos in every place it entered.” I don’t think that the Times reported this interview either.