Posted by Joshua on Sunday, October 29th, 2006
Jim Lobe once again has the best article summing up how "Bush Is Under Growing Pressure to Engage Syria" October 28, 2006. He maintains that the hawks centered in the National Security Council, particularly Elliot Abrams, and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, notably his national security adviser, John Hannah, and Middle East specialist, David Wurmser, have enough clout to fight back the growing tide of heavy-weights in the administration who want to engage Syria. They are the crowd that has been most adamant about bringing regime-change to Syria. The silent treatment that Syria is getting from the Bush administration is designed to keep the regime-change option open. The moment dialogue begins with Syria, the train will have left the station and the regime-change crowd will have to wave their hankies and wipe the tears from their eyes, as they watch Syria's Baathist regime ride out of the station into a future that will be brighter for it.
This small handful of hawks would not have the muscle to hold back the growing number of officials recommending engagement if President Bush were not four square behind them. Bush gave a long and rambling press conference to a handful of conservative journalists this Wednesday in which he made it clear that he believes America is winning in Iraq and can stay the course. Dan Fromkin in the Washington Post does an excellent job of explaining "Why Bush Thinks We're Winning," in which he parses the president's words.
So how does the NSC and Defense Department think they are going to further isolate Bashar al-Asad and bring down his regime?
One method is to open a dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood and ex-Vice President Khaddam who combined forces a year ago to form the National Salvation Front or NSF. The Levant Institute in London, which is connected to the Muslim Brothers, has announced that Michael Doran of the National Security Council (He was hired by Elliott Abrams) "met with members of the National Salvation Front on Thursday October 26 and discussed possibilities of meeting with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leadership in the future."
Farid Ghadry in his most recent circulars has been rather upset by this news. He is no longer the preferred Syrian opposition member. Last week, Ghadry sent around a circular claiming that Ammar Abdulhamid was opening an office in Washington for the NSF. Ammar and the Brookings Institute, where Ammar is a non-resident fellow, denied it.
Nevertheless, Ammar explained on Monday Oct. 23 to the audience at the Brookings Institute that although he is in no way officially connected to the NSF office that will be opened, he will be assisting the NSF in making contact with administration figures, which he has done in facilitating the meeting with Doran. The NSF is opening an office in Washington and will be doing the same in European capitals. If Washington is interested in democracy, it will have to turn to the Muslim Brotherhood, the most respected and deep-rooted Islamist party in Syria and throughout the Middle East.
Even if the Bush administration is merely interested in regime-change, it will have to turn to the MB if it hopes to have any chance of success. Even then, the Brotherhood is weak. Although it can tap into the broad and growing current of Islamist thought in Syria, the MB was destroyed institutionally by the regime during the crackdown that followed the Hama uprising of 1982. It has never really rebuilt itself within Syria, where belonging to the Party is punishable by death.
The Saudis are also reaching out to the NSF and Khaddam. UPI reported on Oct. 20 that the Saudi monarch and crown prince met Tuesday with Khaddam. UPI's source, who refused to elaborate on Khaddam's meeting in Saudi Arabia, said King Abdullah will hold a similar meeting with Rifaat Assad, Syrian President Bashar Assad's uncle who has been living in exile for several years after being evicted by the late President Hafez Assad in the late 1980s following a coup attempt.
Another option the Bush administration is most likely pursuing is the training of Syrian Kurds in Iraq in military tactics and the art of subversion. I have no knowledge if US forces are training Syrian Kurds in Iraq. I do, however, have good information that the US is training Iranian Kurds to act as a cat's paw for US policy in Iran, which leads me to suspect that the same is being done with Syrian Kurds.
Asad Regime is Strong
Regime-change in Syria seems like an extremely remote possibility. Bashar al-Asad's regime is much stronger than the hawks in Washington believe. They are listening to Khaddam, who claims that the regime is on its last legs. WINEP's Robert Satloff has been arguing the same thing, claiming that "The Syrian regime is profoundly fragile." Of course this is not true. Interestingly, Denis Ross, Satloff's (boss?) at WINEP, contradicts Rob. He claims that "It's pretty clear to me that the regime is not on its last legs."
Satloff has gotten some of his best intelligence on Syria from Ammar Abdulhamid. He has frequently quoted Ammar's powerful quip several years ago questioning whether Bashar is Fredo or Michael Corleone – after the two brothers in the God Father film. Of course they always answer their own question by insisting that Bashar is Fredo. This got them lots of laughs a few years ago.
The only problem is…… bada da boom
Fredo seems to have taken up residence in the White House !^&*%$@
I used that line at Brookings on Monday as I sat next to Ammar. It got a few laughs from the hawkish crowd. It was a calculated risk. After all, one doesn't want to look disloyal or outrageously radical, but the point must be made that Bashar is looking increasingly prescient on a number of issues compared to Bush.
Several years ago, the pundits were saying that Asad just didn't get it and that he didn't realize how "9-11 had changed everything." But 9-11 didn't change everything. Bashar was right about Iraq, right about Hamas, and right about Hizbullah. He bet on the winner in each of these issues. Bush bet on losers: in Iraq he bet on pro-American secular forces winning and standing up democracy; in Palestine, he bet on the PLO over Hamas; in Lebanon, he bet on disarming Hizbullah.
Satloff still claims that "Assad’s record is dismal." and that Bashar “achieved a stunning degree of incompetence,” based on his opposition to America's invasion of Iraq and failure to understand America's commitment to the war on terror. I would argue that Bashar got both of these about right. He has survived to see both Bush policies become mired in the merde. Satloff is still shocked that Bashar could have "declared [that] Arab friendship with the United States was “more fatal than its hostility.”
Syria Frightened of Democracy, Cling to Authoritarianism
Bashar owes what popularity he has in Syria and throughout the region to his anti-American stand. In the Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer explains in her article: "In Syria, Iraq's Fate Silences Rights Activists," how Syria's pro-democracy advocates have been silenced and marginalized by Washington's failure in Iraq. Syrians are clinging to their authoritarian leader like a ship-wrecked crew clings to driftwood. They are not eager to experiment with democracy and end up like the Iraqis. Knickmeyer writes:
"Since Iraq's descent into sectarian and ethnic war — and after Israel's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, even Syrian activists concede that the country's feeble rights movement is moribund. Advocates of democracy are equated now with supporters of America, even "traitors," said Maan Abdul Salam, 36, a Damascus publisher who has coordinated conferences on women's rights and similar topics.
Omar Amiralay, a movie maker and critic of the regime, is quoted saying,
"I think that people at the end said, 'Well, it is better to keep this government. We know them, and we don't want to go to this civil war, and to live this apocalyptic image of change, with civil war and sectarianism and blood.' "
If one needs anymore proof of the desperation of Iraqis in Syria, one only need read the excellent articles by Hugh Macleod on the latest wave of young Iraqi women to "fall prey to sex traffickers" in the Guardian. Of course Syrians witnessed some 200,000 Lebanese refugees come into their country this summer to help usher in what Condoleezza Rice described as America's effort to assist in the birth pangs of a new Middle East. That was an example of US democracy promotion at its most exiting. But it is the Iraq example that really gives democracy a bad name.
Ron Redmond, UNHCR chief spokesman, according to an IRIN news report, said some 40,000 Iraqis are now arriving in Syria each month. The condition of the 700,000 Iraqis already in Syria is deteriorating rapidly as they run out of money. They cannot hold work permits although they can send their kids to school in Syria and gain access to health care. The UNHCR says their budget for Iraqis has been slashed since 2003 because the country is supposed to be "liberated." In Syria the UNHCR office is funded with less than one dollar for each refugee a year.
Europe Wants Dialogue with Syria
A British parliamentarian, Richard Spring, the Conservative MP for West Suffolk, argues forcefully why Syria is not Iran and why "We must work with Syria to secure peace in the Middle East – only this can break the deadlock," he writes. Britain's conservatives are positioning themselves behind dialogue with Syria.
The European Union is asking for new incentives to Syria for peace. A report adopted by the European Parliament included this line: "Parliament requests the Council to consider additional incentives and benefits for Syria, going beyond those granted through the association agreement … to encourage Syria to review its current foreign policy …"
New Issue of Foreign Affairs on Syria-Lebanon
Even if President Bush doesn't get that his Middle East policy is in a shambles, the rest of the foreign policy crowd does. Richard Haass has an excellent lead article, "The New Middle East," in Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006. He argues that America's moment in the Middle East is over. Growing Islamism in the region and chaos in Iraq are undermining US authority.
Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun. It will be shaped by new actors and new forces competing for influence, and to master it, Washington will have to rely more on diplomacy than on military might.
Volker Perthes, "The Syrian Solution," in the same issue is also excellent. A year ago, Perthes was predicting the end of the regime. Now he argues that Western powers must engage the Asad regime – a testament to how things have changed in a year.
Summary: Damascus did not commission Hezbollah's raid into Israel, but it did see the ensuing crisis as a chance to prove its importance. Western powers should realize that Syria is ready to be part of a regional solution — as long as its own interests are recognized.
Whose eyes are these? Hint: She lived 4,500 years ago in Syria and was burried with 27 complete donkeys.
"Forbidding" an oppinion piece from Oct. 22 Asharq al-Awsat, translated by mideastwire.com
On October 22, Diana Muqlid wrote in the Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al Awsat: "The Syrian authorities forbade the Damascus Declaration's Follow-up and Coordination Committee to hold a press conference on the first anniversary of the launch of that famous declaration, which was written by Syrian academicians and politicians who are opposed to the regime to call for radical democratic changes in Syria. The ban was implemented according to the familiar intelligence method: the Jamal al-Atasi Club for Democratic Dialogue, where the meeting was supposed to be held, was surrounded, the Discipline Preservation Police members spread out, all outlets leading to the place were closed, and the people in charge of the conference were told that it was forbidden. Perhaps the only good thing was that nobody was beaten, jailed or killed, as has happened in many previous accidents in Syria. The harm, in addition to the ban, was limited to some damage done to th! e car of Suhayr al-Atasi, the club's Administration Council chairman.
"This seems familiar in the course of Syrian official treatment of any opposition or of the voices that argue with the Syrian Ba'th regime over its policies inside and outside Syria. Muzzling the mouths of opponents or would-be opponents is a constant and old procedure carried out by the "forbidding" state. But the state itself does not mind releasing a lot of fabricated and false news against personalities, politicians and countries through official newspapers, platforms and websites for which writers of reports who are famous for their loyalty to the regime and for the adoption of "forbidding" are asked to write. "Forbidding" here has become a commonplace and exaggeratedly public expression that means steadfastness in the face of Israel and the West. In order not to lead people into the confusion that is intended by some people, we must say that criticizing Syria surely does not harmonize with what the USA and its allies want, or with the genius of President George Bush, w! hich aims at aggravating the crises and kindling divisions in the region.
"In a report by the Journalists' Protection Committee on the 10 countries with most censorship of the press and media, both Libya and Syria were mentioned, while Iraq, of course, remained at the top of the list of countries that are most dangerous for journalists. This categorization does not exempt the miserable conditions of press and information in other Arab countries, but it gives precedence to the worst over the worse. Between killing journalists in Iraq and arresting their colleagues in Syria, there is a clear line of the harmony of terrorism with "modernism" in the Ba'thist way. Both sides despise people of opinion and knowledge, and both hate being criticized for being an evil that should be fought. The hostility of the "forbidders" to the press and to culture has become an identity more than a current stand, for when freedom is seen as a Western colonial product, forbidding is required in order to perfect the characteristics of nationality and this bu! ries any dis! agreement and disparages any questioning.
"We can also direct no less severe criticism against the USA, but the difference may be summed up by the state of the great US journalist Bob Woodward, who exposed a series of scandals in the USA, including Watergate. He recently wrote a book entitled "A State of Denial" in which he exposes Bush's era and the war on Iraq, accusing the US administration of lying in regard to the US casualties there. Woodward is still at his home, and his books and articles continue to be published in great newspapers and to shake the fortress of the Republican administration, while, in the "forbidding" countries, the likes of Woodward are put in prison." – Asharq Al Awsat, United Kingdom