World Citizen: Did Damascus Defeat Washington?

World Citizen: Did Damascus Defeat Washington?

Of all the changes that have transpired on the global political scene in the last year or so, few are as dramatic as the re-emergence of Syria from a Washington-led campaign of international isolation. Just a few years ago, in the aftershocks of a ground-shaking political assassination in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad governed a country well on its way to becoming an international pariah. With Beirut and much of the world pointing an accusing finger in Syria's direction after the killing of two-time former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, Damascus' power quickly started shrinking. Shunned by its neighbors and by the world's major powers, Syria's only remaining friend back then was Iran, another nation with few friends beyond its own borders.

Now, however, all that unpleasantness is looking like a minor asterisk of history. Syria, by all indications, has regained its footing. Most amazing of all is that, in exchange for rejoining the community of nations, Syria has made no concessions at all.

After the assassination of Hariri, an outspoken critic of Syria's behavior in Lebanon, the United States withdrew its ambassador to Damascus, tightened economic and other diplomatic sanctions, and demanded a series of concessions in return for normalization. U.S.-friendly regimes in the region cooperated with the diplomatic squeeze, and political leaders in Lebanon threw in their lot with the U.S. In addition to believing that Damascus had pulled the strings behind the assassination, Washington has long accused the Syrians of actively supporting terrorism and obstructing America's operations in Iraq. And Syria, as a key ally of Iran, stood as an obstacle in Washington's diplomatic encircling of Tehran. If Syria wanted to return to the good graces of America and its allies, it needed to reverse course on these matters -- or so it appeared.

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