K-Drum writes: “Conservatives often accuse liberals of elevating negotiation into an end in itself. It’s a fatuous charge, but its mirror image isn’t: as a matter of principle, contemporary conservatives really do seem to have broadly rejected even the idea of negotiating with our enemies.”
True, and yet I’d press further. Conservatives combine this with an oddly expansive view of who “our enemies” are. Iran is plausibly characterized as an enemy who liberals think we should negotiate with. Our lack of diplomatic relations dates back to the hostage crisis in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, and the Revolution was loaded with anti-American rhetoric and ideology from the get-go. It’s a bona fide enemy, and we should negotiate with them.
But in what sense is Syria “our enemy” except in the sense that the Bush administration won’t conduct diplomacy with the Syrian government? Syria isn’t pushing for regime change in the United States. Syria isn’t trying to conquer Mexico as part of a first step to restructure the politics of North America. Syria was part of our coalition during the first Gulf War. Throughout the Clinton administration there were frequent US-Syrian diplomatic talks running parallel to US-Israeli diplomatic talks aimed (unsuccessfully) at resolving the dispute over the Golan Heights and normalizing relations between Syria and Israel. After Operation Grapes of Wrath the US and Syria worked together on the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Agreement. After 9/11, Syria offered intelligence cooperation against al-Qaeda.
Syria’s not an ally of the United States. But it’s not our enemy in any meaningful sense. It’s just a country the administration more-or-less severed diplomacy with unilaterally for no real reason.