President Bashar Assad of Syria knows enough about the workings of the U.S. government to realize who's responsible for making and executing U.S. foreign policy: the White House and Foggy Bottom. The Syrian strongman was not likely to be confused by the visit to Damascus this week of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a delegation of Congress members.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney roundly denounced the Pelosi visit, declaring it would send conflicting signals to Mr. Assad about the Bush administration's intention to isolate what it regards as a state that participates in and supports terrorism. The Bush-Cheney huffing and puffing was unnecessary. It's clear what U.S. policy is, as unproductive as it may be.
Mrs. Pelosi herself told Mr. Assad that 'there is absolutely no division between this delegation and the president of the United States on the issues of concern.'
Those issues, she said - echoing the president - are Syria's support for the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas and Washington's assertion that the Assad government gives sanctuary to Iraqi insurgents who slip over the border into Iraq to cause trouble.
What really sticks in the president's craw is not that Mrs. Pelosi's visit will confuse Syria's hard-liners about Mr. Bush's devotion to isolating Damascus, but that almost anybody else with their eyes open will see, if they haven't already, that diplomacy is a better way to make progress on those concerns common to the Republican White House and the Democratic Congress.
In fact, there is growing bipartisan support in Washington for diplomatic initiatives involving the United States, its allies and Mideast states with a stake in securing a stable Iraq and making progress on peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, made up of distinguished members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, emphasized diplomacy as one of the essential ways forward.
Mr. Bush's policy of war, bluster and isolation has been, so far at least, pretty much a failure. One recent success is a tentative deal for North Korea's nuclear disarmament - produced by multilateral diplomacy. It doesn't take Mrs. Pelosi's visit to Damascus to show that talking is better than isolating.