Specter and Kennedy go on a road trip to Syria

One of the questions Americans are trying to answer for ourselves is which of the presidential candidates we’d prefer to represent us at the table when we have to deal with the world’s worst regimes and figures. I haven’t answered that question in my own mind in the affirmative, but I can sure answer it in the negative: Whoever represents us when dealing with rogue regimes ought not be Arlen Specter and Patrick Kennedy.

A pair of U.S. lawmakers visited the Syrian capital on Sunday in an attempt to persuade the Arab state to make peace with Israel and woo it from the Iranian sphere of influence.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) visited Syria after a trip to neighboring Israel, which gave its blessing to the lawmakers’ mediation effort. Israel and Syria have been in a state of war for decades despite occasional diplomatic forays between the two nations.

Well what is Israel going to do if two US lawmakers ask about going to talk to Syria, tell them no? The relevant question isn’t whether Israel gave approval, but whether the Bush administration gave approval. If Specter and Kennedy are conducting their own foreign policy in meeting with Syria, they ought to stop. If the administration sent these two, then it’s hard but not impossible to imagine fielding a less stellar team.

It’s also hard but not impossible to imagine more slanted reporting on the subject. Check out the issue framing here.

Still, Syrian officials voiced doubt that much would come out of the mediation effort as long as there is no movement on the issue of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

Peace talks between the two countries collapsed in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli pullout from the plateau. In one poll this year, only 10% of Israelis supported a full withdrawal.

“Syria will appreciate any positive act to push for resumption of the peace process, but going into the details of the negotiations will need a different process,” said a Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There is no point of a peace process on the Israeli-Syrian track if the occupied Golan Heights are not guaranteed back.”

Another possible irritant in the relations is an Israeli airstrike against an unspecified military target deep inside Syria in September.

“Another possible irritant” might be whatever it was that the Israelis felt was threatening enough that they had to risk war to destroy, but the story framing puts the blame on Israel rather than the Syrians. It looks like Specter accepts his own version of that biased framing.

He told reporters that he would convey Syrian responses to Washington and Israeli officials along with his “sense of what should happen next.”

He said that Israel understands that any peace treaty with Syria must include a return of the Golan Heights.

“I am confident that Olmert wants to have a peace treaty with Syria and he is ready to do what is necessary in a reciprocal arrangement to get it done,” the senator told reporters.

Specter would give the Golan Heights away if he could. It seems almost strange to say this, but the French seem to have the better approach to Syria these days than we do: Isolate them.