"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared after her visit to Syria and her meeting with its hereditary dictator Bashir Assad last week. "We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria."
The woman second in line for the presidency (after Vice President Dick Cheney) seemed to believe she was on a Henry Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy mission from Jerusalem to Damascus.
But Henry Kissinger she ain't. Pelosi said she was delivering a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. A seeming breakthrough. Not so, said a statement speedily issued by Olmert's office. It said that Olmert had not made "any change in the policies of Israel."
Pelosi said Assad indicated he was ready to "resume the peace process." That wasn't the impression other members of Congress took away from their meeting with him a few days earlier. Syria under Assad pere et fils has steadfastly refused to make peace with Israel, despite diplomatic efforts considerably more assiduous than Pelosi is in a position to undertake. Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, traveled the road to Damascus to meet with the elder Assad 22 times. End product: nada.
The Washington Post, not a backer of all Bush policies, called Pelosi's road-to-Damascus statement "ludicrous." "As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri." The Post concluded, "Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, who accompanied Pelosi, has defended her without addressing the Post's conclusion about her claims to have set Israel and Syria on "a road to peace." In USA Today, he noted that she "publicly declared that she supports the administration's goals regarding Syria." He said he and she are "convinced that direct communication with Syria's leader cannot worsen Syrian behavior. Rather, over time, it may just lead to improvement."
That's dubious. Coming in "friendship" to Damascus may make Assad more confident he has a free hand in Lebanon, and "may just" doesn't sound very promising. But the bigger issue here is the thinking that gave Pelosi confidence she could produce progress toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
At the heart of that thinking is this proposition: We're the problem. America, or rather George W. Bush, is the problem. We're not doing enough to get the Israelis and Syrians together; we're not doing enough to address the grievances of the Palestinian people (than whom "nobody is suffering more," according to Barack Obama); we're not doing enough to mollify the dictators who are working against us.
Akin to this is the feeling shared by most Democrats and, it seems, by most American voters, that if we can just get our troops out of Iraq all will be well in the world.
I recall reading a few weeks ago an article on Democratic fund raising that quoted a woman as saying that "we were very safe under the Clinton administration." No, we weren't "very safe" we just thought we were. Bill Clinton knew we weren't "very safe," and he took some steps unfortunately, not enough to make us safer.
You can say the same of George W. Bush during first eight months in office. There are evil leaders out there the mullahs of Iran, Assad and his thugs, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his pal Fidel Castro who hate the United States and want to do us as much damage as they can.
They don't hate us just because the Republican Congress didn't raise the minimum wage or because George W. Bush has a stubborn streak and speaks with a West Texas accent. They hate us because of our freedoms and because we have worked to export those freedoms around the world.
Friendship, hope and a determination to be on the road to peace are not enough to protect us in this world. A speedy exit from Iraq might make many Americans less unsettled while watching cable news for a while. But it wouldn't make us safer. It will just leave us more likely to face the kind of surprise we had on Sept. 11, 2001.