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Viewpoints
Debra Saunders
Nancy Pelosi’s rocky road to peace
Article published on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013
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In 2007, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional visit to Damascus, where she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi famously proclaimed. She met with Assad in defiance of then-President George W. Bush and his efforts to isolate Syria for its role as a “state sponsor of terror.”

Now Pelosi supports the use of military force against Damascus. I asked Pelosi as she visited the high-tech firm Square in San Francisco on Wednesday: What changed since her famous proclamation?

“Since then, this regime has used chemical weapons on its people,” Pelosi responded. Opposition to chemical weapons is a “pillar” of U.S. society, she said.

U.S. intelligence officials report that they “assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.” An estimated 1,429 are dead, including at least 426 children. This intelligence, Pelosi told reporters, is solid, unlike the intelligence supporting the case for war against Iraq.

Pelosi also said she opposes putting U.S. boots on the ground: “This isn’t about going to war. It’s about not ignoring the use of chemical weapons with a strategic strike.” Under an acceptable congressional resolution, said Pelosi, U.S. military force would be “finite” in duration. “It’s tailored. It’s targeted. It’s over.”

Never have the drums of non-war sounded so softly. They’re like the San Francisco fog coming in on little cat feet. There’s a spurt of outrage followed by a long list of no-can-do’s.

I share Pelosi’s outrage at Assad’s use of chemical weapons. It’s about time she saw through Assad.

I also fully appreciate why Democrats and Republicans would support President Barack Obama in his drive to strike back at the Assad regime for gassing its own people, but I don’t see how Pelosi’s idea of non-war helps Syrians or the United States.

Secretary of State John Kerry told senators they must ask themselves, “What is the risk of doing nothing?”

I ask: What is the risk of doing not much of anything?

When the top House Democrat argues that morality demands U.S. military action, but only if it’s short and sweet, she has announced a military withdrawal before the first bomb drops.

No matter what Pelosi says about how an attack is not a real war, it will feel like war in Syria. And who wants to die in a military strike designed not to change the country’s leadership but to make a point?

As The New York Times reported, some insiders “believe that a cosmetic attack would help rejuvenate Mr. Assad’s fortunes, at least temporarily, adding to the decades-long list of confrontations with the West in which Syria has prevailed merely by waiting out the uproar, by surviving.”

Assad has outlasted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi. He’s tangling with two people – Pelosi and Obama – with so little resolve that they’re arguing about whether Obama himself drew a verbal “red line” against the use of chemical weapons.

Does Assad think he can outplay these not-war warriors?

Of course he does.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.
Article published on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013
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