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Diplomacy Works Better Than Bombs

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Message Randolph Holhut

DUMMERSTON, Vt. — The conservative noise machine has cranked up again, this time to sputter with outrage over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her trip last week to Syria to speak with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The conservative media claim Pelosi has undermined U.S. foreign policy. How? By ignoring the Bush administration's policy to not have direct talks with Syria, which they claim is one of the world's leading sponsors of international terrorism.

Some have gone so far as to call for Pelosi's prosecution under the Logan Act, which makes it a felony for any American "without authority of the United States" to communicate with a foreign government in an effort to influence that government's behavior on any "disputes or controversies with the United States."

If you agree with that line of argument, since we are at war, Pelosi is guilty of treasonous behavior. There's just one problem. The argument is total nonsense.

Leaving aside the fact that if any administration's foreign policy should be undermined, it is the Bush administration's, Pelosi was merely following one of the most important recommendations of the Iraq Study Group — the bipartisan panel whose recent report President Bush has decided to ignore.

The ISG's report recommended direct talks with Syria and Iran as a way of defusing tensions in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Pelosi, who was joined by some leading members of the pro-Israel lobby in Congress, justly ignored the petulant stance of President Bush and seized an opportunity that the administration won't.

Two weeks ago, the Arab League unanimously reaffirmed its offer to Israel of full recognition and an end to hostilities in exchange for a withdrawal to Israel's pre-1967 borders and some sort of compensation or resettlement for the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees.

This plan has been rejected by Israel before, but now the fear of Islamic radicalism has the moderate states in the region searching for a way to end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — one of the key sources of discontent in the Arab world.

The Bush administration ought to get behind this plan. Instead, it is threatening Iran and Syria with attack. President Bush thinks diplomacy is for wimps.

A telling example of this comes from The Guardian, a London newspaper. They reported on Saturday that the United States offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines who were recently held by Iran. The British government told the Bush administration that the best help was to stay out of it. They also asked the United States to tone down its military exercises in the Persian Gulf and for the Bush administration to be cautious in what it said about Iran.

Britain recognized that diplomacy, not confrontation and saber rattling, was going to get its service members freed. Iran never expected that so many other parties, including Syria, would intervene on behalf of Britain to urge for the hostages' release. As a result, Iran released the hostages after 13 nervous days and a potential international crisis was avoided.

By its systematic demonization of Iranian President Mohmoud Ahmadinejad and Syria's Assad, the Bush administration is assuring that no reasonable discussions about the future of the Middle East can take place. It fails to recognize that even these two governments have an interest in seeing a stable, peaceful Iraq and an end to decades of conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Pelosi apparently told Assad that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Omert is open to peace talks with Syria. She also expressed concern about the Bush administration's main issues — Syria's support for Hamas, its porous border with Iraq, the foreign fighters who are entering Iraq through Syria and the Israeli soldiers still being held captive by militant groups.

She managed to accomplish more in one visit than the Bush administration has done in six years, and all by treating Assad as a leader instead of a cartoon demon. By Britain extending that same respect to Ahmadinejad, it helped resolve that crisis.

There's a reason why, in a recent global opinion survey conducted by the University of Maryland and the British Broadcasting Corp., two-thirds of respondents said the United States is playing a "mainly negative" role in the world. It is because of the bellicose actions of a president who thinks he rules the world.

Pelosi's trip to Syria might be a sign to the rest of the world that change is coming and that the United States may once again be seen as a positive force in the world.

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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at
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