Bush’s Policy of No Dialogue with Syria is Costing US Lives

Bush's Policy of No Dialogue with Syria is Costing US Lives
By Joshua Landis
for Syria Comment, 29 August 2008

Washington's latest refusal to talk to Syria does not make sense. There is no hope of changing Syria's behavior by the refusal to talk. On the contrary, it is costing the lives of US soldiers.

General Petraeus wanted to travel to Syria last December in order to restore intelligence sharing between the two countries. He believes that by working with Syria on joint policing of the long Syria-Iraq border, lives of his soldiers will be saved. Petraeus's people are convinced that dialogue will help stop foreign fighters from penetrating into Iraq; cooperation will reduce the number of suicide bombers and US dead. This is not complicated. Petraeus was refused permission to visit Syrian.

Syria is eager for this cooperation. It welcomed renewed intelligence sharing at the famous Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Rice and Muallem in May 2007. Syria was prepared to receive two top US generals in Damascus to find ways of catching infiltrators. Muallem asked that the US re-assign an ambassador to Damascus as a token of the renewed cooperation between the two countries. (The US withdrew its ambassador in 2005, following the Hariri assassination. The UN is pursuing an investigation into his murder.) Rice could not send a new ambassador to Syria or restart official communication between the two countries. Damascus demurred in its willingness to receive clandestine generals.

Petraeus's officers are likewise forbidden from contacting their Syrian counterparts in order to work on joint security measures and to catch the 30 or so jihadists believed to be getting across the desert border into Iraq. Likewise, State Department officials are forbidden from talking to their Syrian counterparts. This policy of silence precludes an easy and obvious method to reduce the deaths of American and Iraqi soldiers.

One could justify this higher death rate among American soldiers, if Washington had a reasonable chance of winning political concessions from Syria. Unfortunately, Washington has no workable plan for gaining Syrian concessions.

Yesterday, the White House restated US policy to preclude dialogue with Syria unless Damascus decides "to play a positive role, stay out of the internal affairs of Lebanon, stop supporting terrorists and be a productive player on the world scene." Syria cannot do this without US help.

Syria supports both Hizbullah and Hamas as instruments to pressure Israel to give back the Golan, territory Israel conquered from Syria in the 1967 War. By refusing to support Syria's peace talks with Israel, Washington ensures the Golan will not be returned and that Syria continues to support its allies in reconquering occupied territory. So long as Washington refuses to be a productive player itself, it cannot expect Syria to be one. The White House could save US soldiers' lives through intelligence sharing with Damascus. Why it refuses to do so is a mystery.

[End of Landis Analysis]

News Round Up:

US refuses to follow France's lead and talk with Syria
August 28, 2008

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States refuses to follow France's lead and will not talk to Syria until it decides to take a "positive role" in international affairs, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday.

Wood declined to comment on French President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement Wednesday that he would visit Damascus on September 3-4, after welcoming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Paris last month.

The spokesman, however, restated US policy that precludes any dialogue with Syria unless it decides "to play a positive role, stay out of the internal affairs of Lebanon, stop supporting terrorists and be a productive player on the world scene."

"Today, it has not been" the case, Wood added.

"Until Syria plays a positive role in the region, it is going to continue to isolate itself," he said.

Washington continues to blacklist Damascus as a state sponsor of terrorism.

On announcing his trip to Damascus, Sarkozy rejected the idea of isolating Syria, preferring to take "another route, more risky it is true, but more promising: open dialogue leading to tangible progress."

Making a diplomatic comeback after years of ostracism, Assad was among more than 40 leaders who on July 13 in Paris inaugurated the new Mediterranean union, Sarkozy's flagship project to bolster cooperation between Europe, the Middle East and north Africa.

Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac severed ties with Syria in response to the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, after accusing Damascus of involvement in the murder. Syria has denied the allegations.

[Landis Comment] The following Washington Times editorial arguing that the US should not advance the peace process that both Syria and Israel say they want, would seem to be based on misapprehensions. One can only presume it is an effort by the Washington Time's editorial board to justify the latest refusal of thee Bush administration to allow open dialogue with Syria. President Clinton in his memoirs said it was not Assad who "sabotaged" the peace process; rather, he wrote that Barak got "cold feet." The problem was that from Israel's point of view, Syria was asking for too much land. The price was not right. Getting to the right price is something Washington should be helping with, not hindering.

EDITORIAL: An Israel-Syria 'deal'?: Washington Times

…….. Maybe there is a geopolitical sea change taking place in Damascus. If so, the Assad government has thus far hidden it very skillfully. In March 2000, President Clinton put the prestige of his office on the line in the hope that Mr. Assad's father was ready to make a peace agreement with Israel. Hafez Assad showed by his actions that he was not, and then proceeded to sabotage Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's efforts to withdraw from southern Lebanon. We shouldn't be deluded again.

US sanctions could derail Airbus deal with Syria
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Reuters, August 28, 2008

DAMASCUS- Airbus is finalising a deal that could secure it a multibillion-dollar order from the Syrian government, but U.S. sanctions could torpedo the purchase, sources familiar with the talks said on Thursday.

Habib Feqih, president of Airbus Middle East, is in Damascus to sign the cooperation framework agreement, which involves the possible lease and purchase of a total of 54 aircraft between now and 2028, and help by Airbus to restructure Syria's flag carrier Syrianair, the sources told Reuters.

But the U.S. sanctions, imposed on Syria in 2004 for its support for anti-American groups, could complicate any Airbus sale to Syria, if not make it impossible, since the planes use American components, an industry executive said.

"I cannot see a way for Airbus to sell planes to Syria. I do not think it would be able to obtain export licences for the U.S. manufactured parts," he said.

A way around the sanctions could be if a limited number of aircraft were to be purchased by another airline or operator outside Syria, and then leased to a Syrian company, the executive added.

Under such a lease, the lessor would also provide the crew and take care of maintenance and insurance. Sham Wings, Syria's only functioning private airline, has leased at least one aircraft, a medium bodied McDonnell Douglas.

Another source said the cooperation agreement would amount to little if no legal way could be found to conform to the sanctions, with French officials assuring the United States that Airbus had no intention of breaking them.

"Someone has to convince the American government to make an exemption for a deal with Syria to go through. Airbus has a huge business in the United States," the source said…

Syria Issues Listing Rules for Its Bourse, Al Watan Says
By Nadim Issa
Bloomberg, August 28, 2008

The Syrian Commission on Financial Market Securities ratified the rules and regulations required to list on the Damascus Securities Exchange, Al Watan reported, citing a statement by the commission.

In order for companies to list they have to be established for over three years from the start of their activities, have an average net profit of at least 5 percent in the past two years and their paid up capital should not be less than 300 million Syrian pounds ($6.5 million), the Syrian newspaper reported.

In the secondary market, the companies' capital should not be less than 100 million pounds and they have to be established for over two years from the start of their activities, the newspaper reported.

For non-Syrian companies to list, they have to get the approval of the commission; have an average net profit of at least 5 percent for the past three years and be listed in their country for over two years, Al Watan reported.

Russia's case on Georgia territories: Like Kosovo or not?
By Robert Marquand
The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2008

In the wake of Russia's recognition of two separatist Georgian republics Tuesday, Moscow is moving swiftly in another war – how to define and present its legal case to the world. One chief area of this battle is Kosovo, the Serbian province that declared its independence in February – something Moscow had long warned would "legitimize" the separation of territories such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia.

Yet hours after Russia recognized the independence of those republics Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov turned the tables. Taking a new legal tack, he called any parallels between Kosovo and Georgia "irrelevant," and offered an interpretation of events that essentially makes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili a worse war criminal than former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Despite strong warnings from then-President Vladimir Putin leading up to Kosovo's declaration of independence, the US and 20 of 27 European Union nations have since recognized Kosovo's new status.

Now, much of the world's media is explaining how Kosovo led to Russian tanks in Georgia. This week, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, something that took the West a nine-year process of careful negotiation, minority rights clauses, and statebuilding to do in Kosovo partly because of due diligence over Russian warnings about a "Kosovo precedent."

Russia looking for China's backing….

Europe must stand up to Russia says UK
By Julian Borger and Ian Traynor
The Guardian, August 28, 2008

Britain yesterday raised the stakes in the scramble to contain Russia, pledging support for Moscow's regional rival, Ukraine, and calling on the international community to stand up to Russia's campaign to redraw the map of Europe and make it pay a higher price for its actions in Georgia.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary tipped as a future Labour party leader and potential prime minister, went to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to deliver a speech aimed at flying the flag of western democracy on Russia's doorstep, while seeking to avert a new crisis boiling over on the Crimean peninsula, home to an ethnic Russian population and Moscow's Black Sea fleet.

The speech represented the strongest criticism of the Kremlin from a leading European government official in years, delivered in a country that is Russia's neighbour and which Russians view as the cradle of their civilisation.

Miliband declared a turning point had been reached in Europe's relations with Russia, ending a nearly two decade period of relative tranquility. He said Tuesday's decision by the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia represented a radical break and a moment of truth for the rest of Europe.

"[Medvedev's] unilateral attempt to redraw the map marks a moment of real significance," the foreign secretary said. "It is not just the end of the post cold war period of growing geopolitical calm in and around Europe. It is also the moment when countries are required to set out where they stand on the significant issues of nationhood and international law."

"The Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening," the foreign secretary said. He responded to Medvedev's boast that he was not scared of a new cold war, saying: "We don't want a new cold war. He has a big responsibility not to start one.

Miliband arrived in Kiev at a time when Ukrainian officials are jittery over concerns that Russia could orchestrate a conflict over its Black Sea fleet, which is based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, under a lease agreement with Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials say Russia has been distributing passports to ethnic Russians living in Crimea, as it did in South Ossetia, and fear that a row over the use of the base may be employed to stir up separatist sentiment as a precursor to calling for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine. Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, has riled Moscow by suggesting that Russia should pay a higher rent for Sevastopol and could be subject to more stringent conditions on its use. Miliband urged the Ukrainian government to "stick to the letter" of the lease agreement.

In bilateral meetings yesterday, Ukrainians pressed for British support in their bid to begin membership proceedings for both the EU and Nato. They are looking for positive signals from an EU-Ukraine meeting next month, and hope to be offered a membership action plan at a Nato ministerial meeting in December. Miliband signalled that Kiev had Britain's backing.

"My visit is designed to send a simple message: we have not forgotten our commitments to you," he told Ukrainians, asserting that the relationship between Moscow and Kiev could not be that of "master and servant".

In the harshest criticism of Russian conduct since the Caucasus crisis erupted three weeks ago, he accused the Kremlin of shredding the rulebook governing international relations and of "torpedoing" the work of the UN security council.

"Over Georgia, Russia has moved from support for territorial integrity to breaking up the country in three weeks, and relied entirely on military force to do so. In between, it signed a ceasefire agreement which included international mediation as the way forward. If her word is not her bond then she will not be trusted by anyone … Russia needs to ask itself about the relationship between short-term military victories and longer term economic prosperity." Miliband said the west must now "raise the costs to Russia of disregarding its responsibilities". In particular, Europe should hit back on the oil and gas market, with measures aimed at loosening Russia's powers as a monopoly seller.

"Europe needs to act as one when dealing with third parties like Russia," he said. To do that, the EU should invest in gas storage facilities, build up an internal market and negotiate as a single entity, rather than cutting separate deals.

Russia, Miliband said, "must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis: there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law."

But the foreign secretary argued against isolating Russia. "Russia is too enmeshed in the world economy. It would be counterproductive," he said. The approach should be one of "hard-headed engagement". For example he opposed Russia's expulsion from the G8 group of industrialised countries, but instead called for the G7 (the group minus Russia) to hold discussions when necessary without Russia.

Last night G7 foreign ministers issued a joint statement condemning Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and deplored Moscow's "excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia".

While Miliband delivered his broadside in Kiev, his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, warned that Ukraine and Moldova, which also has a pro-Russian breakaway region, Transnistria, could become the next targets of a newly assertive Russia.

Yushchenko, who met Miliband yesterday, said Russian actions in Georgia were unacceptable. "What has happened is a threat to everyone, not just for one country. Any nation could be next. When we allow someone to ignore the fundamental right of territorial integrity, we put into doubt the existence of any country."

The Biden factor in US-Iran relations
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
Asia Times Online, August 28, 2008

Senator Barack Obama's choice of Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate for the Democratic ticket for the US presidency is a good omen for troubled US-Iran relations and will likely translate into positive developments on that front in the event Obama moves into the White House.

Biden, who has chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a strong advocate of engagement with Iran and a vocal opponent of any military action against Iran as a result of the nuclear standoff. He has participated in a number of forums sponsored by Iranian expatriates in the US, and has denounced some anti-Iran measures, such as the US's labeling of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist outfit.

With Iran looming as one of the major foreign policy issues in the presidential elections, Biden brings a measure of legitimacy to Obama's call for direct dialogue with Tehran, a position soundly rejected by his Republican rival, Senator John McCain.

The trouble with McCain's position on Iran, however, is that it does not sit well even with the Iran policy of the George W Bush administration, in light of the recent meeting of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, with US Under Secretary of State, William Burns, in Geneva. This meeting marked a clear turnaround from the previous US policy of setting stringent preconditions, such as the suspension of Iran's uranium-enrichment program, for any direct contact.

At the same time, the downside of having a clearer position on Iran is that it is not particularly favored by the strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington that tilts in favor of McCain. It is therefore possible that Biden's selection may cost Obama a share of the Jewish vote, particularly if between now and November hostilities between the US and Iran escalate. In the absence of any breakthrough in the Iran nuclear stalemate and the ongoing tensions in Iraq, that is not hard to imagine.

In turn, the chances are that, faced with the prospect of a Jewish backlash, the Obama-Biden ticket may harden its stance towards Iran, just as Obama did during his recent trip to Israel, when he stated categorically that he was in favor of keeping all options open (such as an attack on Iran) and that he would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The danger is that Biden might now sing the same tune and escalate his rhetoric against Iran, rather than remain consistent with his earlier positions that prioritized diplomacy almost to the exclusion of hard power.

This is an important issue that could be addressed in the near future, in light of a key article in the Washington Post by Michael Rubin, a staunch pro-Israel pundit at the American Enterprise Institute, indirectly criticizing Biden for his soft Iran positions, as well as his connections to Iran lobbyists.

It is almost a sure bet that Biden and Obama will show sensitivity to such subtle attacks on them and will try damage control by using more strident rhetoric against Iran. Equally possible is that Biden will resist pressure from Obama and his team and refrain from sounding bellicose against Iran, in which case we must anticipate a bifurcated Obama administration, should the Democrats win the presidential contest, with vice president Biden leaning more in the direction of soft power diplomacy toward Iran than the new president in the Oval Office.

However, should Iran respond well to the Democratic victory through a more flexible nuclear posture that would be amenable to reaching a compromise, then the Biden factor will definitely weigh in positively, both in the area of confidence-building as well as substantive progress in the divisive issues that remain between the US and Iran.

From Tehran's point of view, the replacement of hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney with the dovish Biden would be welcome news reflecting the beginning of an overdue adjustment of US foreign policy toward Iran. …….

Obama has shown only a superficial understanding of the Middle East in general and Iran in particular and this is a weakness that can be remedied by giving Biden considerable room to maneuver. Should the Obama team put a tight leash on Biden when it comes to Iran, it would mean sacrificing the potential for a breakthrough with Iran that Biden brings to the ticket. This is not to underestimate the difficulties in coordinating a unified and homogenous Iran policy between Obama and Biden.

Simply put, the Democratic ticket has no better chance to provide a serious change in US foreign policy than by charting a less-bellicose and more-conciliatory approach toward Iran. This is likely to be reciprocated by Tehran's leaders, including Ahmadinejad, who is still waiting for a response to his letters – one to Bush and the other to the American people.

Ahmadinejad's missive to Bush is unlikely to draw a response, but the chances are good to excellent that such an overture toward the US's first African-American president will elicit a productive response.

Should McCain be the next president, we should expect nothing more than business as usual in the troubled waters of the US's ties with Iran.

Make a Deal with Iran
By Nikolas K. Gvosdev
The National Interest Online, August 27, 2008

Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the presumptive Democratic nominee for vice president, last year listed both Iran and Russia as threats to U.S. interests. Unfortunately, he did not offer a way to prioritize the challenges posed by Tehran and Moscow. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for his part, has shifted his public statements in recent months, giving greater attention to Russia as a challenge for Washington and the West, and de-emphasizing (at least in his speeches) the threat posed by Iran.

Leaving aside whether their assessments are correct, let’s address a different question. How does one’s stance on Iran (or Russia) affect other foreign- and domestic-policy promises? Both Senators McCain and Obama have made a series of statements about what they would do as president. Among both their laundry lists: bring down the cost of energy—both to help American consumers but also to deprive “rogues” of petrodollars; help Europe diversify its energy supply so as to reduce dependence on Russia; bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO; make progress in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan—both to permit the withdrawal of U.S. forces and to prevent chaos; and deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

To achieve all of these goals—not just the last one—the next president needs a major breakthrough on Iran—one that would end the standoff that has lasted since 1979.

OPEC president Chakib Khelil has repeatedly noted that one of the factors keeping oil prices higher than they ought to be is the perception among traders and speculators that a clash between Iran and the United States—especially a prolonged military confrontation—is likely. Khelil recently observed that oil should be trading at about $70 per barrel, rather than the significantly higher prices we’ve seen in the last several months….

And with all of the concern about the concentration and consolidation of Eurasia’s energy resources by Russian firms and transport routes, Iran is the only feasible alternative to supplying Europe’s thirst for natural gas. Iran has an estimated 974 trillion cubic feet of natural-gas reserves, the second largest in the world. Pipeline projects like NABUCCO, designed to give European consumers feasible alternatives to other routes owned or controlled by Russia’s GAZPROM, are only cost-effective if some of Iran’s natural-gas bounty is committed.

Iranian energy flowing westward to European markets would balance Russian influence—not remove it altogether—but would guarantee that the Kremlin’s ability to wield a potential “energy weapon” would be lessened significantly.

And speaking of the Eurasian space, any fundamental reorientation of the region away from its traditional trade and economic links to Moscow can only occur if the Iranian “doorway” to central Asia and the Caucasus is unlocked and unbarred. Landlocked countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would benefit from having high-speed land links to Iran’s Persian Gulf ports.

The stabilization of both Iraq and Afghanistan would also be served by a rapprochement with Tehran. India has recognized this with its new transport policy of linking central-Asian states via Afghanistan to Iran—….

Finally, the United States would like to see Iran cease and desist its efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran has presidential elections scheduled for 2009. It may be useful to recall that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, not on a platform of developing nuclear weapons or destroying Israel, but instead by promising to tackle corruption and deliver economic growth. If, prior to the forthcoming election, the United States and its European allies laid out a very specific and detailed program that included actual projects and the projected benefits to the Iranian people—rather than more generic assurances about goodwill and some small nickel-and-dime measure …

The United States is not in a position to “dually contain” both Iran and a resurgent Russia—if Washington decides that Moscow must be contained rather than engaged. ….As we have seen, Iran can “limp along” based on its trading links with Asia—especially India and China…..

Druse women join pilgrimage into Syria for first time
By Brenda Gazzar
The Jerusalem Post, August 28, 2008

Noflea Shker, a Druse resident of the Golan Heights, was nearly at a loss for words Thursday. She was about to cross the border into Syria, where she would see aunts and uncles for the first time in 25 years, her mother, who she had not seen in five years, and her seven-month-old grandson for the first time. "It's an indescribable feeling," said Shker, her eyes brimming with tears while she waited to disembark from a bus at the border crossing.

But Najwa Hamzi Amasha, another Druse resident, made no attempt to hide her disappointment at the rejection by Israel of her repeated requests to cross – she would not be meeting her siblings in Syria; she hasn't seen them in nearly three decades.

"The Jews of Sweden come to visit Jerusalem, their homeland, and their families," she said. "Why don't they let us – and we are 40 kilometers away – visit our families?" …..  "We want there to be continuous visits to our homeland, to our country, to our families," said Amasha, a widow with four grown children.

Thursday's crossing was the first time in more than eight years that the visit had taken place amidst open, albeit indirect, peace talks between Israel and Syria…. The Druse of the Golan Heights – who consider themselves to be Syrian and long to be reunited with their families across the border – perhaps more than anyone wish to see a peace agreement signed between the countries. ….

… "God willing, our president, Bashar al-Assad, will achieve peace… and the Golan Heights will be returned… The life of occupation is not a life." …

Meanwhile, at the Kuneitra crossing, 28-year-old Fida el-Shaer from Majda al-Shams decided to try her luck at getting permission to visit her family in Syria, although her request had already been denied. About one hour after she was escorted in by army officials only to be denied again, el-Shaer, who had broken into tears earlier in the day, remained outside the crossing in the stifling August heat. Asked why she was still waiting, she responded: "I have hope that maybe they'll still let me through. Without hope, one's soul would break."

Comments (142)

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101. Rumyal said:

Dear Norman,

You say AIG needs excuses in order not to have peace with Syria, and that he doesn’t care becuase he lives in the US.

If this was true, what is he doing here at all?

I think the elected-Jihadist scenario you brought is likely. But isn’t it also possible that the Jihadists will take over anyway, even if peace was brokered soon? The plausibility of such an option should at the very least mean that raising contrarian views is not necessarily a sign of having bad intentions.

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August 30th, 2008, 11:45 pm


102. Ras Beirut said:


With all due respect, I hear your point, but I’m guessing (I could be wrong, since it’s not my blog) that the original intention of Josh & Alex to have a blog is that it would also atract participants from the other side of the fence to see how they feel and read things. This is a good thing and very healthy in many ways. It’s healthy, that even in Israel you have a Shai & an AIG with differing views regarding peace talks or AIG’s flagship of Democracy first.

Though, I do harbor respect for AIG’s commitment to his democracy call for Syria if it is genuine and from the heart. I think it is a bit off place, since the major issue at hand is peace between nations. Whether, Syria becomes democratic and such is for the Syrian populace to decide and deal with. It is their problem period, any outside involvment in that regard is not productive given what has been happening in the Levant since the 1920’s.

Needless to say, I do enjoy AIG’s posts. They do challenge the others. It would not take much effort to debate him on the stated premise that Israel is a true democracy, especially the point of seperation of state & church clause. Maybe it’s a delay tactic, who knows, but to insist that Syria overnight becomes Great Britton, before Israel sign a peace treaty, is either not genuine and using the good old delay tactic, or not solidly grounded to reality.

Making a just & valuable peace should be the overriding goal, and that’s why I have lots of respect for Shai. He would be an honest negotiator, won’t sell the farm as AIG keeps on suggesting, yet have a positive view of his supposed enemmies. He’s willing to sit down and talk, because he knows that his opponents are good people (from the same historical & DNA lineage) will also more than match him in goodness, hospitality, generosity & kindness if it is perceived & felt as genuine.

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August 31st, 2008, 12:10 am


103. Qifa Nabki said:

Ras Beirut,

It’s nice to have another Ras Beiruti around. And, of course, I agree with your points.

On the subject of Lebanon attending the peace talks in Turkey, stay tuned for my next contribution to SC, which I’ll post later tonight, on precisely this topic.

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August 31st, 2008, 12:15 am


104. jad said:

Dear Norman, he missed the fun part of your question, if he got it right I’m sure he will give you some accurate % of them.I would guess that he wax busy cleaning his royal, sorry, Sultani suite…
How can you get someone so indulge in his sect yet denying that he is more sectarian than anybody else and he write some unrelatd sentece in his comments about having 10 humiliated Christians ministers, like I give a dam.

Shai, I would be happy to have a drink with you.

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August 31st, 2008, 12:27 am


105. Ras Beirut said:

3la Rasna ya QN. Somehow, I had the feeling deep inside that you’re a Ras Beiruti ya sahbe. I was born there, but been in the US for a long, long, long time, but could never extingwish the magical feelings of my Ras Beirut childhood.

Alla ma3ak ya QN. Will wait for your report. I’m sure it would be great. Wouldn’t expect any less from a Ras Beiruti.

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August 31st, 2008, 12:37 am


106. norman said:


Ras Beirut answered you better than i could ever do.

So Thank you Ras Beirut,

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August 31st, 2008, 12:37 am


107. norman said:

You are right ,


I want to make it easier for you , most the minsters in Syria are Sunni aren’t they?.

Good and bad have no ethnic or religious exclusivity , some people are good and some people are bad , I like the good ones no matter what their religion is and do not like the bad ones no matter what their religion is.

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August 31st, 2008, 12:48 am


108. Qifa Nabki said:

Does anyone else find it the least bit humorous that the new commander of the Lebanese army is called General Qahwaji (“coffeehouse owner”)?

I guess that they want to stick with the hot beverage theme, after Adnan Daoud, the general who famously served tea to the Israelis.

May the draught he serves be bitter and grainy… 🙂

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August 31st, 2008, 2:33 am


109. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ras Beirut,
First, it is really not up to Syrians if they become a democracy or not. History has proven that the Arab despots are very good at neutralizing any public movements with ruthless force if need be. Heck, I find what you say extremely strange given the lack of freedom the Lebanese have in deciding how to manage their country. What makes you think Syrians have more options? A small part of the population in Syria has hijacked the country and is keeping the rest down by ruthless intimidation. Saying that Syrians have a choice in the matter is naive.

I am not advocating a war for regime change in Syria. But I am certainly advocating all non-violent means to get regime change. Peace with Israel is not really the problem of the average Syrian. How will the average Syrian be better educated or richer if the Golan is returned? The only thing that will bring those things to Syria are real democratic reforms. What will delay these reforms for decades is legitimization of the Syrian dictatorship. Landis has said it clearly himself: There will be no democracy in Syria because the Syrian elite do not want it. Ergo, the West must act to make the Syrian elites understand that democracy is the only way forward. This means sanctions, not legitimacy for the Asads.

Syria will not become a democracy overnight, but with enough determination from the West, it can have serious and real reform in a few years. How about letting free speech in Syria take hold so the Syrian can hold a genuine internal discussion about what THEY want? Is that such a “dangerous” demand?

AS for your allegation that Israel is not democratic because there is no strict separation of church and state, that is just plain wrong. There is no separation of chruch and state in the UK and it is certainly a democracy. Israel is a democracy because there is freedom of speech, accountability, one man one vote, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary etc. and most importantly because there have been many peaceful exchanges of adminstration in Israel in which the ruling power relinquished its power because it lost elections. The ruling parties are really accountable to the people unlike in Arab countries in which the rulers treat the people as dirt.

Syrians and Lebanese in general are good people. The people Israel has to negotiate with are not. Asad is a ruthless SOB who learned his trade from a mass murderer of his OWN people. He leads a corrupt regime where most of the spoils go to his close family. About the Lebanese politicians I do not need to tell you.

So, on one hand you complain correctly about how Asad treats Syria but then you recommend negotiating with this “good” person. Why should we in Israel take you seriously? This is just another manifestation of the March 14 politicians lining up to kiss Kuntar.

I say this to you and QN. What you are peddling is not “nuance”. It is appeasement. Either you stand up to the Syrians or you don’t. The Syrian (Asad regime) argument is and always has been the following: We are strong and will do in Lebanon as we please. And if not, we will destroy Lebanon. Talking is not going to change their opinion. So decide where you stand and let us in Israel know. Because for me and many other Israelis, actions count much more than words and right now you guys are firmly in the camp licking Asad’s butt.

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August 31st, 2008, 4:05 am


110. Karim said:

Norman ,i know the number of christians in the syrian government.1 or 2 but this is not important ,what can they do in front of Rami Makhlouf or Mukhabarat officers businesses ?I want 10 christians 10 alawites and 0 Sunnis ministers ;but with true power.And above all ,some dignity for our people ,justice,rule of law and freedom.

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August 31st, 2008, 4:07 am


111. Alex said:

Thank you so much Rumyal … you are welcome here anytime.

You and Shai are interested in communicating with Syrians with the hope of achieving good things … among those good things you would like Syrians to feel comfortable after talking to Israelis like you.

AIG has a different agenda.

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August 31st, 2008, 4:19 am


112. Shai said:


I appreciate your attempt to describe AIG in “lighter terms”. At first, I thought exactly like you. But then, after hundreds of hours with AIG on SC (literally), I realized this wasn’t the case. AIG has been suspended from SC by Alex more than anyone else. He’s been limited to 4 comments a day more than anyone else. And all that, by his Syrian “dinner hosts”. By the way, I completely agree with your depiction of a Syrian family here, and a few Israelis are barging in uninvited. I wrote Alex yesterday that I apologize for taking it too far with AIG. Most of you are certainly not here (at this “dinner table”) to hear two Israelis going at each other’s throats.

You should know, that the one question I’ve asked AIG more than any other is, in fact, why he keeps coming back to SC. He does have a single mantra, “democracy first”, and his endless anti-regime comments are, endless, boring, and exhaustive. This is not only my impression, it is shared by most commentators on SC, and AIG knows it well. Yet he continues.

Here’s a typical sentence by AIG (just from the comments above): “Peace with Israel is not really the problem of the average Syrian.”

Now be honest. Don’t you find that just a tiny bit arrogant of him? Who is he to say such a thing? Even a Syrian couldn’t say it. But he can?

Look at how he ends his long comment to Ras Beirut: “… and right now you guys are firmly in the camp licking Asad’s butt.”

Is this a way to talk to your Arab hosts, at their “dinner table”? So you might say “ok, he’s got a problem with style…” But in reality style is the smallest problem. It’s the repetitive content and, more importantly, the agenda. Alex, the chief moderator and our “dinner host”, knows AIG far better than all of us do. Ask him about AIG’s agenda. Please don’t think I haven’t tried a very different, more polite and understanding, style with AIG. I believe I gave him far more credit than he deserves.

Still, I will limit my exchanges with him, to the benefit of all… 🙂

Btw, I only go on SC when my girls are asleep, or out of the house. As much as I like this place, my daughters will always come first… (my wife might disagree with me, however).

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August 31st, 2008, 4:38 am


113. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Yes, my agenda, my mythical agenda. I just write what I believe and do not try to hide my beliefs or sugar coat them. Also, I attempt to argue the points I make unlike others that view unbridled optimism as a winning argument.

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August 31st, 2008, 5:06 am


114. Karim said:

Dear AIG ,if Syria and Egypt become prosperous democracies ,it will mean that they will become stronger than Israel ,no?so when we will be there ,how the small Israel would manage his policy in front of such neighbors ?

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August 31st, 2008, 6:17 am


115. Rumyal said:

Ras Beiruti,

I agree with your comments regarding the ultimate goal of peace and how to go about it.

I still feel uncomfortable when discussions here take a nose-dive due to the Israeli pull (OK let’s say it clearly—due to AIG), but I’m glad to know that you can sustain it and that it’s helpful for you overall. I feel I have belabored my point (which was tangential to begin with) way too much. This is something that the blog moderators ultimately have to decide how they want to approach.

PS: the first google hit for “Ras Beirut” is pretty interesting, seems like a cool place

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August 31st, 2008, 6:23 am


116. Rumyal said:


I will defer to your judgement. His style does make me cringe. I think limitting your exchanges with him is a good idea no matter how you look at it. I will not bother you with this any more.


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August 31st, 2008, 6:27 am


117. Shai said:


You’re certainly not bothering me. I do appreciate your attempt to also bring peace to this forum.

Btw, are you an Israeli? Your English is superb.

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August 31st, 2008, 6:31 am


118. Ras Beirut said:


You raise so many issues, where some are valid and some are not, it would take me writing a book to give you a real answers on a point by point and prove you absolutly wrong.

Why is Israel negotiating with Syria today? If there is no hope at all according to you. Then why do it. Is it just an exercise in buying more time?

You sound like you don’t welcome these talks at all, and throw in the catch of unless Syria becomes more democratic than Australia you wouldn’t talk to them and try to resolve differences that have costed endless and unwarranted losses on both sides of the divide.

It seems to me that even if Syria reaches the democratic system level of Australia, this won’t be enough for you, as you will then choose another measuring stick that is even higher. All just to hide your true intention of delay and killing time while you absorb lands that is not legally or rightfully yours.

Get down to earth AIG and face the truth. In the context of this this dispute, it is none of your business what government system Syria has, it is up to the Syrians to decide/suffer/struggle, whatever, it is theirs to do. They have good people and they will eventually figurfe it out, but it should theirs to do.

In the meantime, Mr. AIG, illegally you took someone else’s land using a gun, against any moral or legal rule. For you to demand how the other side government structure should be as a prerequesite for you to do what’s rightfull, will only bring your true intentions into question. You must love delay and killing time.

BTW, you seem to have such lofty standards about democracy, maybe you can advise your own PM on how to avoid money scandals. As they say about glass houses, etc…

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August 31st, 2008, 6:33 am


119. Rumyal said:


Thanks for the compliment. I’m an Israeli from Haifa, spent there the first 30 years of my life (excluding army service) but I’ve been living in the US for the last eight years, so my English has improved 🙂 I’m coming from an engineering background though so writing about politics and ethics is a little bit of a stretch for me, both in terms of language skills and in terms of basic knowledge. We’ll see how it goes 🙂

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August 31st, 2008, 6:53 am


120. Shai said:


So first of all, Baruch Haba.

Second, when Robert McNamara was asked by John Kennedy to serve as his Secretary of Defense, he responded: “But Mr. President, aside from serving in the Air Force for 4 years in WWII, I don’t believe I am qualified…” And JFK’s response to that was: “Well Bob, I don’t think there’s a School for Presidents either…”

So feel completely at ease talking about politics and ethics. Very often it is exactly those who have no “training” in this field, who are able to see things more clearly, and make the most sense.

Btw, I could have sent your regards to your home town yesterday. I took my wife and kids to the science museum in Haifa yesterday. They especially liked the dinosaurs…

So I guess you missed out on all the “fun” two summers ago, eh? I have some close friends from Haifa who felt quite a few of the missiles dropping very nearby… Let’s hope they don’t have to experience that again.

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August 31st, 2008, 7:03 am


121. rumyal said:


Thanks for your kind words and encouragement again. Now speaking of you, I would bet that you are a professional diplomat.

Just saw the addendum to your previous post: I was in Haifa this spring for 5 weeks and we also went to the science museum. Always loved the architecture of that structure. Yeah I did miss on the “fun” of 2006 but my wife and kids were there on “vacation”. They had a lot of stories to tell to their American classmates once they have finally returned to the US.

Hopefully we’ve all had enough of that!

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August 31st, 2008, 7:35 am


122. norman said:


By the way i was not trying to see how many Christians in the government , i was trying to show you that many of the minsters were Sunni and still were not to be proud of , so the religion has nothing to do with good work,

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August 31st, 2008, 9:07 am


123. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

YES! When Egypt and Syria will become successful democracies they will become stronger than Israel. That is inevitable. But I look forward to that day because people in successful democracies are much more self confident and more willing to compromise and are much less likely to fight wars that affect them directly.

Once Egypt and Syria become successful democracies we will be on our way to the United Middle East the Shai dreams about.

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August 31st, 2008, 3:59 pm


124. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ras Beirut,

Israel is negotiating with Syria in order to try keeping it out of a conflict with Israel once Iran is attacked and as a stunt for Olmert.

Why do you assume I have bad intentions and do not mean what I say? I specifically said that it would be enough for me to see a serious internal Syrian dialogue based on freedom of speech as a sign that Syria is on the right track.

And of course it is my business what kind of government there is in Syria just as it is the Lebanese and Syrian business what kind of government there is in Israel. Why are the Lebanese and Syrians worrying whether Livni and Netanyahu will be elected? What happens in Syria influences me and vice versa. And currently, the average Syrian has zero power to discuss what he wants let alone change his government.

Whose land did I take illegaly with the gun and when? Was the land taken in 48 legal and the one taken in 67 not legal? What is your position? And if you think all of Israel is illegaly taken land, why are you for talking at all?

As for your last comment about Olmert, it shows that you really do not understand Israel. I am happy he is under investigation. In Israel no one is above the law unlike in your country.

Attacking Israel verbally or otherwise will not solve any of Lebanon’s problem. Appeasing Syria and Hizballah will not solve them either. You better figure out another way of doing things.

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August 31st, 2008, 4:10 pm


125. Ras Beirut said:


It’s the 67 land that is not legal. Check UN resolutions for reference, as I’m not making these up. The UN resolutions on this subject are crystal clear. Look them if if you care. Hence, that’s why there are peace talks. Land for peace, get it?

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August 31st, 2008, 4:23 pm


126. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ras Beirut,
If you want to play the legalese game with me then I have a simple answer for you. There is no binding UN resolution regarding the 67 lands. There are pleny Genral Assembly resolution but there is not ONE UN Security Council resolution that is binding.

Second, the Arabs rejected the initial UN resolution partitioning Palestine and after 67 refused to negotiate at all (the three NOs at Kahrtoum).

And how about the BINDING resolutions regarding the dismantling of militias in Lebanon which you happily ignore but insist Israel follow non-binding resolutions?

And I can go on. But the truth is I think International Law is a joke. Why should I give any weight to something Kadafi, Mubarak, Asad and a bunch of other dictators voted for. The truth of the matter is that the Arabs wanted to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by force while they thought they were strong, and when they realized they cannot do it by arms they had an “epiphany” and suddenly they support international law. What do you think we are in Israel? Idiots? And if really the Arabs cared about international law they would implement such things as the Declaration of Human Rights which is at the core of international law. But of course that is very far from the case.

I am for giving back most of the 67 lands as a compromise with the Palestinians. But not because these lands are less legally Israeli than the lands of 48. Frankly, I do not see the difference and neither do many Arabs.

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August 31st, 2008, 4:37 pm


127. Qifa Nabki said:

AIG said:

I say this to you and QN. What you are peddling is not “nuance”. It is appeasement… So decide where you stand and let us in Israel know. Because for me and many other Israelis, actions count much more than words and right now you guys are firmly in the camp licking Asad’s butt.

I love it. Both you and Ausamaa agree that I’m a peddler of falsehoods masquerading as nuance. Except you disagree about whose butt I’m licking. Agree on that, and we’ll solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

PS: How exactly am I appeasing Asad? I barely know the guy and just because I give him free hot oil massages whenever he orders me to, that doesn’t mean that I’m not, you know, independent and stuff.

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August 31st, 2008, 6:15 pm


128. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What do you call a situation where you accept that Lebanon should negotiate with Israel only if Syria agrees? Is it appeasement? Beaten wife syndrome? Is your optimism based on the same optimism that a beaten wife has the this time her husband will change? How much more explicit do Syria and it supporters have to be about the fact that they are going to use the weakness of Lebanon primarily for Syria’s interest? And isn’t it clear that the interests of Syria and Lebanon regarding the “resistance” are diametrically opposed?

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August 31st, 2008, 8:06 pm


129. Ras Beirut said:


Thank you for the kind words. Do not worry about AIG spoiling the atmosphere, it doesn’t bother me one bit. He’s entitled to his opinion, eventhough, I think he has the wrong approach.

My wish is to break barriers with our neighbors in the south and resolve this never ending and useless conflict, based on recognizing each other rights, and we know what they are. It is the least that we can do for our children and their children. Enough blood have been shed, enough mayhem have been created. It is time to reconcile.

We are both good and strong people and share the semetic blood. It is time to heal and build a fruitfull future for the younger generation, void of hate and misconceptions.

Nchalla ya rab, we’ll get there, and I think we will eventually, since there isn’t any other viable alternative, and all can work hard to build a better future for the coming generation.

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August 31st, 2008, 8:09 pm


130. Shai said:

Ras Beirut,

We have a saying in Hebrew (though I’m not a religious person): “From your mouth to God”!

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August 31st, 2008, 8:17 pm


131. Jad said:

Shai, we have the same saying in arabic,
“from your mouth to the sky (heaven) gates”

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August 31st, 2008, 8:21 pm


132. Shai said:

JAD, how do you say it in Arabic? I want to collect (and learn) some useful sayings… 🙂

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August 31st, 2008, 8:24 pm


133. Jad said:

It’s a dialect not classical Arabic
min timak la bwab alsama
From, your mouth, to, gates, the sky,

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August 31st, 2008, 8:33 pm


134. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ras Beirut,
I am sorry I cannot share your optimism. We are not even in a situation where a Lebanese politician can say that peace with Israel would be good for Lebanon. We are in a position that Lebanese politicians, fearing public opinion, are compelled to line up to kiss Kuntar.

But apart for the Lebanese aspect, what is happening in the Arab world in general is that the young people are getting poorer and more religious while their number is growing exponentially. Something will have to give, and it will not give peacefully. Israel on its part has to be ready and understand the long term trends in the Arab world. Eventually the Muslim Brotherhood will first rule Egypt and then Syria just as it rules the Gazans. I think it is inevitable and not that bad and it is a step towards democracy in the Arab world. But pretending that the Islamic tsunami is not coming, especially since Mubarak and Asad are showing zero signs of willing to reform, is in my opinion not responsible.

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August 31st, 2008, 8:36 pm


135. Ras Beirut said:


Is the cup always half empty for you. Cheer up. Many difficult world conflicts have been resolved in the past, and foes became best friends. No reason, why it can’t be done in this case.

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August 31st, 2008, 9:12 pm


136. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Ras Beirut,
No, I am usually quite optimistic. There are many reasons why this conflict is so different. For example, the problem Israel has with Hizballah is directly related to the way the other sects treated the Shias in Lebanon. Do you see the Shias in Lebanon getting equal political rights in the near future? The reason Syrian ex-pats would fight for democracy in their adopted countries but in their homeland is because they are scared. The Arab world can only make real peace with Israel when it has made peace with itself. Otherwise, there will always be an extremist group willing to screw things up. That is why I think democracy is crucial for peace because it is a social contract people accept as fair.

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August 31st, 2008, 9:22 pm


137. Qifa Nabki said:

What do you call a situation where you accept that Lebanon should negotiate with Israel only if Syria agrees?

I give up. What do you call it?

Is it appeasement? Beaten wife syndrome?

Why is Lebanon always the wife in this duo? During the independence intifada days, she was the harlot who strayed from the conjugal bed, and now she’s the beaten wife? Sheesh.

Is your optimism based on the same optimism that a beaten wife has the this time her husband will change?

AIG, my optimism is based on the fact that Bashar al-Assad has said that he wants to negotiate an end of hostilities in exchange for the Golan Heights. What is the alternative? More war and misery.

What exactly do you want me to do? I’m not a politician, so I only have one option: to observe. Now, I can do this while being completely bitter and cynical, or I can be guardedly optimistic, which is what I am.

If time shows that Syria has absolutely no intention of following through on this deal and is only interested in continuing the resistance game in order to keep the Asads in power (which is, by the way, the default assumption of plenty of Lebanese) then the Lebanese opposition to Syria will re-emerge as it did in the 90’s and we’ll go through another long and painful process. Let’s cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

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August 31st, 2008, 9:53 pm


138. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Fair enough, if you define yourself as an observer.

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August 31st, 2008, 10:30 pm


139. Syria Comment » Archives » Imad Moustapha on Raid: Newsweek & FP said:

[…] at the University of Oklahoma who is sympathetic to the Syrian regime, reported back in August that General Petraeus tried to visit Syria in December 2007. However, there are signs that Petraeus remains skeptical about Syria’s […]

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November 1st, 2008, 8:38 pm


140. The road to Damascus | Blogging | Blogging For Business | Web News | said:

[…] at the University of Oklahoma who is sympathetic to the Syrian regime, reported back in August that General Petraeus tried to visit Syria in December 2007. However, there are signs that Petraeus remains skeptical about Syria’s […]

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November 2nd, 2008, 3:55 pm


141. Bush & Cheney still have until January!! « BuelahMan’s Redstate Revolt said:

[…] this is not the exclusive Karl claims. Joshua Landis writes that he “has been writing since August 2008 that Petraeus tried to go to Damascus in the fall of 2007, but was refused permission by the Vice […]

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November 3rd, 2008, 3:02 pm


142. Bush and Cheney’s Last Shot « Politics or Poppycock said:

[…] Comment blogger Joshua Landis writes that he “has been writing since August 2008 that Petraeus tried to go to Damascus in the fall of 2007, but was refused permission by the Vice […]

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November 3rd, 2008, 5:55 pm


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