This evening I had the pleasure of attending a BENS event, co-hosted by Lead21, at the home of David Blumberg, founder of Blumberg Capital, at which Gen. (Ret.) Charles Boyd was the featured guest. Gen. Boyd bears the unique distinction of being the only former Vietnam POW ever to achieve the rank of 4-Star General (a “General General”), and is now the CEO of BENS (Business Executives for National Security, a well-known and well-respected non-partisan group of business leaders).
Gen. Boyd reported the following very interesting story regarding his recent trip to Syria. It was, he reported, unlike any other authoritarian country he’s ever visited: President Assad himself met the General at the door to the Presidential Villa and spent a candid two hours with the General discussing US Syrian relations, and US national security interests as perceived by the General and his group. Repeatedly, President Assad indicated to the General his desire to begin dialogue with the United States regarding the region–and especially his country’s relationship with Iraq and Iran. And President Assad indicated that he has been equally repeatedly rebuffed by the administration.
Now Gen. Boyd is no Syrian apologist–far from it! But he made an excellent and convincing point: The Syrians are predominantly Sunni (76% according to Wikipedia), and thus are not natural allies of the predominantly Shi’a Iraqi or Iranian majorities. Somehow, by lumping the secular authoritarian regime of President Assad in with the fundamentalist Iranian regime and the Shi’a side of the Iraqi Civil War, we have managed to position Syria on the “wrong side” of our national security crisis over Iranian nuclear ambitions.
All of this, of course, took place before the recent events in Lebanon, and nobody (not least Gen. Boyd) think that the Syrians have done anything more than pull their uniformed troops out of Lebanon, leaving behind a decades-long infiltration of their security and intelligence forces. But the point is nevertheless interesting: the Syrians want a stabilized, secularized regional power structure as much as we do, because they are at, if not as much risk from a nuclearized, fundamentalist Shi’a Iran as we are, certainly substantial risk from that prospect. And if our interests are, at least in this respect, aligned, why aren’t we talking to them?