‘Good Amer­i­can’ Pelosi bol­sters Syria

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Betsy Pisik

DA­M­AS­CUS, Syria — The sec­ond most pop­u­lar politi­cian in Syria th­ese days may be an Amer­i­can: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat warmed Syr­ian hearts with her trip last month to Da­m­as­cus, an event that peo­ple still share with visit­ing Amer­i­cans as con­ver­sa­tional cur­rency.

“Nancy Pelosi is good, yes?” asked a Da­m­as­cus la­borer who found him­self sit­ting next to an Amer­i­can at a greasy gyro stand last week. “Nancy Pelosi, good Amer­i­can.”

Pic­tures of Mrs. Pelosi and Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad — of­fi­cially Syria’s most pop­u­lar cit­i­zen — still turn up on the lo­cal news chan­nels, es­pe­cially dur­ing cov­er­age of the dis­pute be­tween Pres­i­dent Bush and Congress over the Iraq war spend­ing bill.

Mrs. Pelosi’s two-day visit to Da­m­as­cus was a ma­jor news event here. Cam­era crews trailed her as she bought sweets in the an­cient Ha­madieh souk, made the sign of the cross

at what is thought to be the tomb of John the Bap­tist and donned a black abaya to visit the his­toric Omayyad Mosque.

Mrs. Pelosi, 67, is praised as “a friend of Syria,” and that makes her more in­flu­en­tial than Oprah Win­frey and more ap­peal­ing than the old Hol­ly­wood movies shown on satel­lite television.

Many Da­m­as­cus res­i­dents say her private visit with Mr. As­sad and se­nior min­is­ters shat­tered Wash­ing­ton’s at­tempt to iso­late the regime.

“She was enor­mously pop­u­lar here, a hero,” said one such res­i­dent, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “This is the best thing that has hap­pened here, if it proves [Mr. As­sad] was right not to give con­ces­sions.”

Along with re­cent vis­its by U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon and of­fi­cials from the Euro­pean Union, the res­i­dent added, Mrs. Pelosi’s trip “bol­sters the regime with the Syr­ian peo­ple, and it shows that iso­lat­ing Syria won’t work.”

More than bur­nish­ing the regime’s im­age in Syria, Mrs. Pelosi is seen as the well-dressed wo­man who stood up to Pres­i­dent Bush, pos­si­bly the most un­pop­u­lar fig­ure in the Arab world af­ter for­mer Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ariel Sharon.

The White House crit­i­cized her visit, both on the con­sti­tu­tional grounds that she was usurp­ing ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers and on pol­icy grounds that she was un­der­min­ing months of diplo­matic ef­forts.

Mrs. Pelosi said she raised sub­stan­tive is­sues with Syr­ian lead- ers, urg­ing them to stop in­sur­gents from en­ter­ing Iraq, help win the re­lease of Is­raeli sol­diers thought to be held cap­tive by Le­banese and Pales­tinian mili­tias, and end Syria’s sup­port for ter­ror­ist groups.

But no­body talks about that now.

“I love her,” said an Iraqi wo­man who has em­i­grated to Syria. “She’s a grand­mother, so hand­some, so cute. I see my­self, my old self, in her.”

De­spite the lin­ger­ing per­sonal af­fec­tion, few ex­pect U.S. pol­icy to change as a re­sult of Mrs. Pelosi’s visit.

“She is a dif­fer­ent face of Amer­ica, but she does not have ideas, any so­lu­tions,” the Iraqi wo­man said. “I watch TV all day, and I know that only the faces change.”

Mary F. Calvert / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Syria’s hero­ine: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, has been praised as a “friend of Syria” since visit­ing the coun­try last month.

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