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About 'The Road to the White House'
Question #6
Which Assad do you believe? The one who threatens war or the one who says he wants to make peace? Contributors: (read it all or click on name to read post) Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (D) Senator John McCain of Arizona (R) Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (D) Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina (D) Senator Joe Biden of Delaware (D) Barack Obama: The question is not which Assad we should believe. The question is which Assad he chooses to be. So far, the Syrian regime has given all the wrong answers. It is providing help and safe harbor to Iraqi insurgents. It continues to arm and assist terrorist groups such as Hizbullah (directly or as a transit point for Iranian shipments). Its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad threatens Israel's security and undermines efforts to move toward a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is seeking to destabilize the government of Fuad Seniora in Lebanon, perpetrating political assassinations and instigating acts of violence that could trigger another civil war. Its close ties to Iran add to the threat posed by that regime. Meanwhile, it has resisted any hint of political or economic reform, clinging to an archaic and repressive system of single-party rule. The US and its allies should directly present the Syrian regime with a clear choice: fundamentally alter its policies and enjoy the political and economic benefits of closer integration into the world community or face greater isolation and tougher sanctions. The current administration has not done that. Instead, it has eschewed bilateral talks on the full range of issues, failed to present a convincing roadmap to a different kind of relationship, and issued empty threats. President Assad ultimately may feel that changing his policies would threaten his hold on power; he may calculate that the regime benefits from continued conflict with Israel; and he may believe that the alliance with Iran serves Syria's interests. But these are propositions that must be tested and they cannot be tested by ignoring Syria and simply announcing that the Syrians know what they need to do. Today, we have the worst of both worlds: talking tough without consequences, and not testing what might be possible. I would engage Syria in direct bilateral talks. We should insist on our core demands: cooperation in stabilizing Iraq; ending support for terrorist groups that threaten Israel; and respect for Lebanon's sovereignty and independence. We should make plain there are two paths ahead: greater engagement, improved political ties and economic cooperation or greater isolation through imposition of the full range of sanctions in the Syria Accountability Act which will make it difficult for companies and financial institutions that do business in Syria to continue to do business in the US. In this process, we should work closely with our European partners; incentives and disincentives will be far more effective if the EU is on board. As for peace negotiations with Israel, this is a decision Israel must make based on its own interests and assessment of Syria's intentions. The US should not pressure Israel to move, nor should it stand in the way. And should negotiations begin, the US should do what it has always done in close partnership with Israel: lend them its full diplomatic and political support. John McCain: Far from seeking peace, the dictatorship in Damascus has aided and abetted the violence in Iraq. Syria's Assad has refused to crack down on Iraqi insurgents and foreign terrorists operating from within its territory. Furthermore, we should be deeply concerned by the ongoing subversion of Lebanese sovereignty by Syria and strongly support efforts to move forward on the investigation of the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister. The international community must also do more to hold Syria accountable for its past and current actions in Lebanon - including its support for Hizbullah which seeks Israel's destruction. Lasting peace and security in Lebanon must include a democratic government that has a monopoly on authority within Lebanon's borders. That means no independent militias, no Hizbullah fighters, no weapons and equipment flowing to Hizbullah across Lebanon's borders. So long as that is not the case, Hizbullah is likely to further regroup, reconstitute, and rearm. There is one bottom line: to achieve lasting peace, sooner or later, one way or another, Hizbullah must be disarmed and its patron in Damascus confronted. The US and the international community must face Syria from a position of strength and apply real pressure on the Assad regime to change its dangerous behavior in the region. Hillary Clinton: The Syrian regime led by President Bashar Assad is a repressive dictatorship that has attempted to destabilize the Lebanese government, supports terrorist groups including Hizbullah and Hamas and has played host to many of Israel's sworn enemies. Moreover there are reports that foreign fighters in Iraq have used Syria as a transit point. I supported exerting greater pressure on the Assad regime including co-sponsoring the Syria Accountability Act that passed Congress and placed additional sanctions on Syria. In addition, I have long argued that diplomatic discussions with Syria can aid our efforts to assess and ameliorate their behavior, including such important interests as preventing the transit of foreign fighters into Iraq and the spread of sectarian violence. John Edwards: The Assad regime has not been good for the Syrian people or for the Middle East. The regime continues to be involved in a concerted campaign to undermine the stability of Lebanon's elected government and support Hizbullah's aggression in Northern Israel. The recent assassination by car bomb of Walid Eido, the chairman of Lebanon's parliamentary defense committee and a member of an anti-Syrian movement, was a terrible blow for Lebanon and for the region. Eido was the seventh prominent anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated in Lebanon since the beginning of 2005, when former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others were killed by another massive car bomb. Intrusion by Syria into Lebanon's internal affairs is bad for the Lebanese people, threatens the safety and security of Israel, endangers democracy, and must end. We must approach Bashar Assad's motives with hard-eyed skepticism, but this does not mean we should abandon engagement or the hopes for diplomacy. On the contrary, the difficult situation means we should reengage with tough diplomacy. The Administration has essentially severed all relations with Damascus. I believe this is a mistake. We must reengage Damascus today with tough diplomacy aimed at highlighting the costs repeating its illegal and destabilizing decisions of the past and at integrating the Assad government as much as possible into the mainstream community of nations. We must also work with the Syrians on Iraq, because they have a strong interest in helping find a regional political solution that will ultimately resolve the conflict there. I support the executive order signed by President Bush last week that would freeze the property and assets of any parties who attempt to undermine Lebanon's democratically elected government. The executive order was a good step in the direction of using diplomacy and carrots and sticks to support stability and the rule of law throughout the Middle East. Joe Biden: There are plenty of reasons to mistrust Assad, but there could be real benefits to hard-headed diplomacy. Syria is the common denominator of many problems - in Lebanon , the Palestinian territories, and to a lesser extent Iraq . They are Iran 's closest ally. But it is also a fundamentally weak and isolated regime. We should work to break up its marriage of convenience with Iran. If Syria could be encouraged to act less irresponsibly it could have a real impact in the region.