Did Alec Ross and Jared Cohen attempt to sow the seeds of Bashar al-Assad’s downfall during last year’s State Department-led technology delegation to Syria? Perhaps they’re not such “silly Jewish boys,” asMarty Peretz would have us believe. Check out this report from Reuters:
The trade mission was led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top technology adviser, Alec Ross, and Jared Cohen, a member of her Policy Planning Staff.
U.S. tech companies expect Syria’s population to double in the next 17 years and they want to tap into the youth to promote U.S. businesses and Washington’s human rights agenda.
The talks last week represent a new stage in U.S. diplomatic efforts in which the issue of Internet censorship is increasingly placed on the agenda during direct talks with other governments.
Sheldon Himelfarb, an expert on technology and diplomacy at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said U.S. officials need to become smarter about relationships between sanctions and the impact on citizen activists in closed societies.
“We need more trips like this,” Himelfarb said.
The trip also follows an issue of waivers by Washington in March to allow U.S. technology companies to export chat and social media software to Iran, Sudan and Cuba, with the hope the move will help their citizens communicate with the outside world.
The Internet was an important communication channel for Iranian protesters disputing election results last year.
“If the next generation of Syrians are able to get access to these tools of technology, then they’re going to have connections to the outside world,” another delegation member said.
Jay Solomon, writing in the Wall Street Journal, interpreted the trade mission’s objective differently, however:
The State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, according to senior U.S. officials, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran.