In: Syrian-US Relations. Syrian-US relations are at present in the forefront of President Obama's path to a Middle East peace largely because of Syrian-backed Hezbollah's surprising loss in the Lebanese elections. Whether Ahmadinejad wins or loses the Iranian elections tomorrow, Syria will be key because if it makes a peace with Israel, Iran will be isolated. And should Ahmadinejad lose to a more moderate opponent in what would be regarded as a referendum on his hard line Presidency, it would present a nearly unprecedented opportunity to negotiate with Syria -- an Iranian ally -- from a position of strength. Then -- the theory goes -- an isolated Iran would be much easier to negotiate with on the subject of their not-so-secret secret nuclearization.
There are, to be sure, a lot of moving parts to that theory. And only one part -- a pro-Western victory in last week's Lebanese elections -- is in place. But Syria's longtime desire for a return of the the strategically-important Golan Heights is not an inconceivable feat with the help of Turkish mediation. And Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has been remarkably amenable to diplomacy of late, telling Foreign Policy:
"... I don't know [former] Senator Mitchell, but I have worked closely in the past with Fred Hof, who is one of his assistants. What we've heard about Mitchell's work in Northern Ireland and on the Mitchell commission on the Palestinian issue is encouraging to us. We are very ready to work with him.
"We approve of Barack Obama a lot. The man put a comprehensive peace back on the agenda. He also intends to pull out of Iraq completely. We are ready to help with that, but we need our conditions in the matter addressed, too."
Perhaps after decades of players hunkered down in intractable positions -- fingers crossed -- the time of peace may finally be at hand.
Out: Tobacco. On the domestic side of things, we are in the early days of a battle over President Obama's health care agenda that will involve Town Hall courtings and, on the other side of the spectrum, scorching condemnations on right-wing radio. Tobacco's harmful effects on American health made it the perfect tangible target for first blood. From CNN:
"A bill that increases the power of the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products cleared the Senate on Thursday.
"The Senate voted 79-17 for the Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act, which is similar to a bill already passed by the House of Representatives.
"An aide to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the chamber will vote Friday on accepting the Senate bill, which would send the measure to President Obama for his signature.
"Most Senate opposition came from tobacco-producing states including Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In a break from tradition, the two senators from Virginia -- another tobacco state -- supported the measure, indicating a moderate shift in the state's politics."
Jesse Helms is, somewhere in the boiling bowels of Hell, suffering in the news. Sorry, dead bastard! The legislation, we cannot fail to note, grants the FDA legal authority for the first time to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.