The US must get real leverage before talking to its better-prepared and a tougher-minded adversary, Syria.
Washington’s strategy of selective engagement with Syria has not produced any tangible results. The question is: Why does Damascus continue to do the opposite of what the Obama administration wants it to?
There are two reasons:
First, Washington still lacks real leverage in its talks with Damascus. To make things worse, Syria currently enjoys a relatively comfortable position in the region, partly because of Washington’s lack of a coherent Syria policy but also because of its own efforts to develop its military alliance with Iran, enhance its political relations with Turkey and Iraq, and restore its power-broker role in Lebanese politics.
The second, and perhaps more important, reason why President Obama’s strategy has failed is because Syria is not interested in what Washington is currently selling.
Consider: The chief US goal of selective engagement is to try to take away from Syria a number of cards it holds in the region (though not all of them, given the price it would take to do so), be it Hamas, Hezbullah, or its link to militants in Iraq.
But what Washington needs to realize is that Syria’s aggregate power and influence in the Middle East is defined by these very cards. Syria will not let go of any of these, primarily because these are what keep its regime going.