It has become clear now that the visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Syria has raised an unprecedented outcry by American officials and in American and British Media. The excuse was that it sends “Mixed signals” to Damascus and the reality is that it highlights an intrinsic weakness in this administration approach to the Middle East and gives the American people a vivid example of what can be done and should be done. Of course the administration knows that Pelosi cannot and will not cut deals with Damascus because she is not in the executive branch anyway, but they feared her example and what this example may unravel to the American people about the ground truth, which is the first victim of the war on terror.
The organized media campaign against Pelosi surprised me, but what shocked me was the language used by senior American officials and the world of difference that separates them from Nancy Pelosi’s extremely polite and responsible response. In a polite response to strong attacks on the visit Pelosi retorted: “our delegation was not trying to cut deals between Syria and Israel” but rather “assessing the ground truth” to inform spending decisions made by Congress. How could Vice President Cheney find this statement by Pelosi to be ” a non- statement, nonsensical statement”, describing her talks to Syria and Israel as “bad behavior,” while the National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe volunteered to weigh the impact of the visit on a ” Syria” that only exists in his mind: “these visits have convinced the Assad regime that its actions in support of terrorists have no consequences”.
Surprised by the huge media her visit received, Pelosi calmly explained: ” I was present at the inaugural address of president John F. Kennedy (January 20, 1961), and most people remember the following sentence by him: ” And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country”, and added, but they forget to remember the sentence that immediately follows this one: ” My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man”. It is this togetherness that the current administration fears and the promotion of the freedom of man everywhere which is the antithesis of what they are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.
This is, then, why they found Pelosi’s visit to Damascus so dangerous, because she doesn’t set “them” against “us” and she doesn’t subscribe to the slogan “Let’s kill them there before they come and kill us here.” She does not set the “civilized” West against the Middle East that Bush wants to civilize. If Cheney can describe the work of a third ranking woman as “bad behavior” one can understand the arrogant and cruel attitude they have to our people here in Iraq and Palestine.
The visit of Pelosi restored the light to the American moral ethic about justice, equality, peace and freedom all of which were dashed by this current American administration that supports and finances settlements, the collective punishment and imprisonment of the Palestinian people and the total destruction of the Iraq, its history, libraries, civilization and best men and women. The visit of Pelosi dug a hole in the black wall they built to shun information from American people and make them believe that they are trying to protect them.
In the name of the war on terror the Bush administration has launched wars against innocent people and supported evil occupation and its humiliating methods. In contrast, Pelosi came to the region embracing the spirit of Kennedy, the togetherness of the human family and the equal value of the freedom and dignity of man. Such a brilliant light by Pelosi would make the dark era of this administration too obvious to the American people as well as to Arabs and Muslims.
That is why they launched such an organized media campaign against the visit. The good news is that this very media campaign helped highlight the great and far-reaching value of the Pelosi approach in contrast to the destructive approach of the current administration.
Dr. BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Syria’s Minister of Expatriates.