Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative (and the former editorial page editor of the New York Post who abandoned neoconservatism in part because of the neocon disdain for “people of color”), is recently returned from a trip to the Mideast sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace, a group dedicated to getting mainstream Christians involved in these issues.
McConnell found Damascus just as pleasurable as I found it a few months back. He met President Assad and judged him to be “wonkish” and sincere, looking to some day reap the rewards of peace with Israel, trying to modernize his country in the face of Islamicism. Then at the U.S. Embassy, McConnell relates the following encounter, very layered:
We spent part of an afternoon at the American ambassador’s residence, hearing our diplomats explain how they are keeping economic and political pressure on the Assad regime and about Syria’s lack of progress towards real reform. Off the record, around a table of drinks and snacks, the tone softened. They all loved being stationed in Damascus and were delighted with their encounters with unofficial Syria. I told one diplomat that the evening before we had attended a concert at the city’s largest Greek Orthodox church, hearing men’s, women’s, and children’s choirs perform religious and folk songs. It was a large and formal event, a milestone in the Damascene Christian calendar. Watching the young choir boys fussing shyly with their uniforms or their mothers coddling younger brothers and sisters or gathering the kids together after the event, one could easily imagine this as a pre-Easter break convocation at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York or any large parochial school in the Western world. I told the diplomat that there are many in the corridors of power in Bush’s Washington who want nothing more than to smash the Syrian regime in the service of the “global democratic revolution” or whatever is the slogan of the moment at the American Enterprise Institute, and this smashing would have incalculably tragic consequences for the community whose celebration we had witnessed the night before. He nodded with a look of weary resignation.