David Lesch Testimony on Syria-Lebanon before the Senate

David Lesch's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Near East on November 8, 2007 is a must read. I have copied it below. David is a Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio and has been visiting Bashar al-Asad regularly since he wrote a biography of the president in 2004.

Rob Maley's testimony is also important reading. It is posted on the Senate site.

Mr. Robert Malley
   Middle East and North Africa Program Director
   International Crisis Group
   Washington, DC

Here is Lesch's oral testimony, which is not posted, alas.

     Mr. Lesch?
 
     LESCH:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me here.
 
     I think my value added here today is not to reiterate a lot of
what Rob said, but to provide some insight into President Bashar al-
Assad, with whom I've met on a regular basis since early 2004, and met
with this past Sunday — in fact, I arrived quite late last night from
the Middle East, and so, if I appear incoherent, then I hope you'll
understand — also to provide some insight to the Syrian regime, as
well as the perspective from Syria.
 
     I think a positive Syrian role can be transformational in terms
of U.S. interests and regional stability in the Middle East — one
that could lead to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, the diminution
of Iranian influence, the rapid dissipation of rampant anti-
Americanism in the region, which as we all know, is fertile ground for
terrorist organizations — and the exertion of positive Syrian
influence in Iraq, where, as Rob stated, the threat perception has
changed, and where their interests coincide much more with U.S.
interests now, and where there are markedly different interests with
Iran, as well.
 
     So, there's fertile ground for cooperation, I think, in Iraq.
Also, the exertion of positive influence in Lebanon, and the war
against global terrorism, in general.
 
     Now, Syria, in my opinion, is a key to this, because of its
unique ability in the Arab world to play both sides of the fence, so
to speak.  It has been the traditional beacon of Arab nationalism and
the vanguard of the anti-Israeli front.  Yet it has also a member, as
we all know, of the 1991 Gulf War Coalition, and participated
seriously in bilateral negotiations with Israel throughout the 1990s.
 
     As a result of the post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy shift and
circumstances surrounding the war in Iraq, the Bush administration
essentially said to Syria, you have to choose which side of the fence
you want to be on.  And if you want to be on our side, you have to
give up everything on the other side.
 
     President Bashar essentially said no to this.  Syria is a
relatively weak country, with few strategic arrows in its quiver, and
Bashar was not about to give up these arrows before any negotiations.
 
     And it is all about strategic assets to Bashar, as it was with
his father.
 
     As he told me on one occasion regarding Iraq, about a year ago,
he said, quote, it is not — excuse me, Iran.  He said, quote, it is
not about ideology, our close relationship with Iran.  "It is about
interests.  Whoever is better for Syria's interests will be its
friend."
 
     Now Bashar is securely in power.  And I'm 100 percent sure of
that, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, in my
estimation.
 
     It is a shame that our image of him was so skewed and unrealistic
at the beginning of his tenure in power, simply because he was a
computer nerd, ophthalmologist, who liked to Phil Collins music.
 
     There was no way he could meet the expectations, given the
dilapidated, broken-down country he inherited, and the regional and
international baptism by fire he immediately encountered.  Therefore,
he, and some of his successes, were dismissed much too quickly by
many.  And certainly, he feels this way.
 
     Much of the congressional testimony regarding Bashar surrounding
the Syria Accountability Act in 2002-2003, was grossly ill-informed
and unfortunate.  He's been fighting that image ever since.
     Unfortunately, Bashar doesn't help matters at times, with his own
less-than-prudent comments, which were made for domestic and regional
consumption, but fed into the construction and confirmation of the
negative image of Bashar and policy against Syria that was going on at
the same time in Washington.
 
     Bashar didn't adequately adjust to the shifts in U.S. foreign
policy.  And also, Syria is just pretty bad at public diplomacy.
Although Bashar has done a better job at this than his father, the
Syrians still have a long way to go.
 
     Now, although Bashar has a progressive and modernizing outlook,
we must remember that he is Hafez al-Assad's son.  He spent all of 18
months in London with advanced study in ophthalmology.  And he is a
child of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a child of the superpower Cold
War.  Therefore, he felt compelled to defend traditional Syrian
interests.
 
     Now, he's no longer the untested, inexperienced leader.  He has
been in power seven years, and one doesn't do that in Syria without
having some level of capability.
 
     And I have seen him grown into the position with more confidence
and more of a comfort level since I've been meeting with him.
 
     He has been on the upswing politically, domestically and even
regionally, since surviving the intense pressure of the (inaudible)
report in the fall 2005 — the investigation into the Hariri
assassination, in part by default, because of mounting U.S. problems
in the region and also partly due to his own maneuvering.  I think the
makeup of the February 2006 cabinet reshuffling in Damascus was a
clear reflection of this upswing.
 
     Now, Bashar has built up a reservoir of popularity, domestically
and even in the region, for keeping the country together, despite the
external pressures, and also the instability in neighboring countries,
and for being perceived as not having caved into the United States —
or, as they say in the region, for having refused to give into the
American project.
 
     He has effectively funneled the expected nationalist response and
need for resistance into support for the regime that has also given
the regime something of a pass, unfortunately, in terms of quelling
signs of internal dissent.
 
     Now, having said this, Bashar does not have absolute authority.
 
     It would be wrong to see the Syrian regime, or Syrian security,
as a tightly-knit, well-oiled, hierarchical machine — particularly
Syrian security.
 
     In fact, here I was seeing president Bashar, and when I landed at
the airport in Damascus last Friday, I was detained and told I was
blacklisted from the country, because of some other projects in which
I am involved — rather innocuous cultural tourist projects.  Security
in Syria, obsessed with control, they had some concerns about this
project.
 
     One hand — the right hand of security doesn't know what the left
hand is doing.  They don't know that I meet regularly with President
Bashar.  And they were very upset and apologetic when they found out.
 
     Now, Bashar has to reach consensus, negotiate, bargain and
manipulate the system.  Implementation regarding domestic issues is a
serious problem in Syria.  He is fighting against systemic,
institutional, bureaucratic and cultural inertia that seriously
retards any reform progress.
 
     There's also an array of Faustian bargains erected under his
father, i.e., unswerving loyalty in return for casting a blind eye
toward personal enrichment and corruption, that sometimes has the
regime sincerely saying and wanting to do one thing, while actions by
important groups connected to the regime, or actually in the regime,
do something quite contrary to this.
 
     There's really not much Bashar can do about it without
undercutting his support base, especially in a threatening regional
environment.
 
     Bashar has, however, acquired control over foreign policy
decisions, although the decision-making process still relies on too
much ad hocism — what I call "ad hocism."  There's no national
security council coordinating policy.  Instead, there seem to be
informal committees that focus on various foreign policy issues.
 
     But Bashar, in my opinion, is the prime decision-maker now.  This
hasn't all been the case.
 
     Now, despite this ad hocism, Syrian officials have a way of
getting in line with regime policy, mimicking declarations and
pronouncements, often word-by-word.  As such, and I am confident an
agreement with Syria — Syria and Israeli peace treaty, whatever —
would be acidulously maintained, as they have been in the past.
 
     Finally, in my opinion, and echoing a little bit of what Rob was
saying, while many see Syria's ties with Iran, Hezbollah and various
Palestinian factions, such as Hamas, as a liability, I actually see
them as a potential asset, in the current environment and state of
things for the United States.
 
     If Syria is given a real seat at the diplomatic table, certainly
with the Golan on the agenda, which it very much wants, whether it be
at this proposed conference in Annapolis or some other setting, it
could certainly be utilized as a conduit in a positive influence
process.  This is definitely how Bashar is trying to position Syria.
 
     He has touted, and rightly so, the crucial Syrian role in
orchestrating the Mencken (ph) agreement earlier this year between
Fatah and Hamas, in the role in mediating with Iran for the release of
the British sailors captured in the Persian Gulf, and in steering
Hezbollah toward political compromise in Lebanon, particularly with
the Berri initiative recently — although Berri is not with Hezbollah,
but the Shiite response.
     Now, Bashar has repeatedly stated that the Palestinian track —
he reiterated this on Sunday — can go out in front of the steering
one, which I thought was quite clever.  And Bashar and Syrian
officials have repeatedly held out an olive branch, as Rob mentioned,
to Israel, unconditionally calling for the resumption of negotiations,
albeit with U.S. involvement — in fact, as many have pointed out,
including many Israelis.  It is unprecedented that Israel is refusing
to take up the unconditional offer of an Arab state with which it is
not at peace.
 
     Indeed, the Israelis are the ones making the conditions, in line
with U.S. policy.
 
     Now, again, the ineptitude sometimes of Syrian public diplomacy
makes this an awkward process at times, in terms of communicating
their positions to the West, and certainly to the Israeli public.
 
     Finally, in closing, the United States has a history of
negotiating with countries with whom it has a clear disagreement.  It
is unfathomable to me, knowing what the Syrians want and the role that
they can play, why we continue to refuse to engage in a sincere
dialogue with Damascus.  The missed opportunities of the 1990s led
directly and indirectly — the Madrid peace process, to, among other
things, the election in (inaudible) the war in Iraq, the 2006
Hezbollah-Israel war.  In fact, Hezbollah probably would have been
totally emasculate by now if there was an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty.
And there should have been — a historic missed opportunity in the
late 1990s — and some might even argue, 9/11.
 
     I fear what happens if this opportunity is missed.  Now, if the
U.S. says jump, Syria will not say how high.  It either will be
cautious, primarily because of the tremendous level of distrust that
has built up between Washington and Damascus in recent years.  But
with hard work and Syria's intent, the relationship can move forward.
 
     And I want to mention two things in reaction to what Assistant
Secretary of State Welch said.
 
     One of the members of the committee asked a question about the
meeting between Secretary of State Rice and Syrian foreign minister,
Walid Muallem, that occurred — was it in May of this past year — or
this year, in Sharm el-Sheikh, regarding the situation in Iraq.
 
     The Syrians tend to discount Secretary of State Rice, rightly or
wrongly.  They consistently tell me — both Bashar, as well as the
Syrian foreign ministry, that after that particular meeting, Arab
officials — probably foreign ministers — informed the Syrians that
Vice President Dick Cheney's office or himself had called these
foreign ministers, saying to dismiss everything that Rice had said,
because she does not speak for the administration.
 
     I have no idea whether this is true or not.  The Syrians seem to
believe it is true, and they're acting accordingly, in terms of
discounting the initiatives of Secretary Rice.
 
     Also, on one last thing, on the Lebanese assassinations, Syria
certainly is a suspect.  And I agree with — was (inaudible) suspect.
 
     But inter and intra-sectional rivalries are so antagonistic in
Lebanon, that it is difficult to pinpoint who is doing what.
 
     In the Middle East there is a tendency to have conspiracy
theories about the CIA.  There are CIA conspiracy theories galore,
which, of course, is ludicrous.  And we need to make sure that we
don't do the same thing and ascribe similar capabilities to Syrian
security.  They do some things well, but overall, it's a pretty inept
group.
 
     Thank you for your time.
 
     ACTING KERRY:  Thank you, Mr. Lesch.

Comments (16)


1. Honest Patriot said:

” Also, on one last thing, on the Lebanese assassinations, Syria
certainly is a suspect. And I agree with — was (inaudible) suspect.”

Well, in all analyses, discussions, blogs, etc., how can any decent person accept the murderous actions of the Syrian regime which – as loudly stated by a former Syrian Vice President (Khaddam), now of course shunned and accused of treason – so callously assassinates Lebanese leaders left and right ?

To the Syrian leadership, the end justifies the means,(Remember Hama?), pick a mean, any mean: murder, massacre, assassination.

Hizbollah in Lebanon is maneuvering brilliantly to justify keeping its arms, with the ultimate deterrent they have being their unspoken military superiority and threat of a vicious civil war. To be sure, there are many decent folks in Hizbollah. But the underlying religious fanaticism and utter foolishness in wanting to attack Israel discredits the movement.

It is time to apply real pressure with teeth onto the Syrian regime. Force is the only language Assad understands.

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November 13th, 2007, 3:05 am

 

2. Enlightened said:

“In the Middle East there is a tendency to have conspiracy
theories about the CIA. There are CIA conspiracy theories galore,
which, of course, is ludicrous. And we need to make sure that we
don’t do the same thing and ascribe similar capabilities to Syrian
security. They do some things well, but overall, it’s a pretty inept”

Is Lesch saying that one of the most feared security services in the Mid East is comparable to a Maxwell Smart outfit? LOL you do not keep a regime in power for close to 40 years and be described as inept. You have got to love those Americans.

Josh where is this biography about Assad, is it finished or a current work in progress?

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November 13th, 2007, 4:32 am

 

3. Youssef Hanna said:

HONEST PATRIOT,

If the KSA or the US or France do not have recourse to assassination in Lebanon, it may be because they do have the means to exert their influence thru economic support.

On the other end of the spectrum, there r people poor to the bone, with no other means to fight for their cause than their own flesh, blood and soul. This is the stuff of suicide attacks.

The Syrian regime does not have the money to buy Lebanon into subservience. Fifty years of socialism, corruption, and mismanagement, emptied the coffers. It does not appear to have men ready for sacrifice on the altar of an all too old cause (of socialist arabism).

If the Shawkat regime wants to exert influence, what is it left with? secret service assassination.

Not a Syrian on this board honestly challenges the fact; not one is proud of this decadence; not one is ready to fight it.

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November 13th, 2007, 5:54 am

 

4. Disaffection said:

of course the syrian security is inept. Lesch mentioned that they do somethings well. sure, like suppressing the locals and wiping out challenging discourse. but completely inept when it comes to defend the country against IDF. “security” in tis a paradox in this sense. or may be they implication is the lack of it.

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November 13th, 2007, 2:24 pm

 

5. norman said:

Israel trying to reopen peace track with Syria: Report
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has renewed his secret peace overtures to Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling him Israel is willing to return the captured Golan Heights if Damascus severs its ties with Iran and militant groups, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported Tuesday. Olmert dropped a hint to an influential parliamentary committee Monday. In response to a lawmaker’s question, Olmert responded, “I don’t have to tell you about everything that I do.” Yediot also said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has asked reserves Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, a former intelligence chief, to review the situation and formulate recommendations about the prospect of renewing peace talks with Syria, although Saguy denied that to Israel Radio.

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November 13th, 2007, 2:27 pm

 

6. Losing Hope Quickly said:

Enlightened,

These are the details of the biography:

Lesch, David Warren. “The new lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Asad and modern Syria.” New Haven, Conn., London: Yale University Press, 2005.

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November 13th, 2007, 2:33 pm

 

7. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Youssef Hanna,
You write:
“Not a Syrian on this board honestly challenges the fact; not one is proud of this decadence; not one is ready to fight it.”

I am just curious, why is not one ready to fight it?

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November 13th, 2007, 2:42 pm

 

8. Bashmann said:

Josh,

Great testimony. Thanks for sharing it. However, the efforts of Mr. Lesch to elucidate Bashar’s behavior falls far short of the truth.

What I like most about this testimony is the part where they actually detained Mr. Lesch at the airport. It just shows who is running the show in the country.

I’ve been following all these testimonies in congress and I thought an article would give you how the opposition feel regarding Syria’s engagement. Here is one that answer to many who think Syrians are not fighting such tyranny. Hope you enjoy it.

Engaging Syria; A Fatal Mistake

The schism in the Administration foreign policy over Syria portrays the overall division in Congress over the wisdom of the policies of President Bush who have committed his administration to implement his new vision in creating the New Middle-East where the promotion of democracy, freedom and the rule of law are the cornerstone for the region long term stability and the world security.

One camp led by Vice President Dick Cheney, still believe in the ideals which instigated the war in Iraq and led the President and Congress to carry out the military adventure to topple one of the most atrocious dictators the world has known. The other camp, led by the newly reformed Secretary of State Condoleza Rice who is seeking new pragmatic channels in diplomacy to achieve the Administration objectives.

The schism in the ideologies of course, seem to manifest itself on how to deal with an authoritarian regime like Syria without committing another disastrous military adventure in the region that would bring on more chaos to an already troubled region.

Since the democracy promotion project in the Middle-East turned out to manifest undesirable results for the Administration by bringing to powers elements of radical Islam in the West Bank and Gaza led by Hamas dominated government, and just before that a huge parliamentary win for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan, many in the administration have found themselves perplexed on how to avoid further pitfalls and proceed with such project.

It seems the old advise of the many Arab Authoritarian leaders to the West have come to be true. When Western democracy pushers excreted their “Trump Card” of Human Rights and Democratic Reforms on those regimes in the past in order to obtain concessions and compromises, the usual answer to those Western Capitals from those Arab leaders was the alternative would be religious radicalism.

But now the same excuse is being once again shot at those corners in the Administration that are still sticking to their ideals of democracy promotion but this time, the proof is evident on the ground. How then should they proceed? And in the case of Syria what would entice the regime in cooperating with the Administration?

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Policy Affairs David Welch, on Nov 8 testified to Congress for the Administration in front of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle-East and South East Asia and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees on Lebanon and Syria. In his testimony Welch seemed to echo the Administration lack of clear strategy towards Syria. In fact, he reiterated that the ball rests in Syria’s court to modify its actions towards meeting what the US and the rest of the international community expects of it by cooperating in bringing stability and security to the region, two things which Syria seemed to have worked against in the past and today continues to do. Mr. Welch testimony seemed to highlight the things Syria have failed to do throughout the past 25 years. While the US seems to be open for talks with Syria, Mr. Welch indicated that Syria still sees Lebanon as a vassal state and refuses to demarcate the border and exchange embassies. In addition Syria engineered the political crisis in Lebanon by urging its allies to bolt from the cabinet in order to stop the Lebanese government from requesting an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Mr. Welch was careful not to directly accuse Syria of being responsible for the assassination campaign, yet he did point that all targeted individuals were well-known for their “pro-Lebanon, pro-freedom and anti-Syrian positions”. Mr. Welch also noted that Syria has taken some measures to enhance its control over foreign fighters that are using the country as a transit point and feeding the insurgency in Iraq. However, Syria can do much more if it were serious such as requiring visas for Arab males of fighting age entering its border. If Syria took more positive steps, the US would consider “purposeful” engagement.

This clearly shows the US is willing to deal, yet we find that Syria still advances its political and strategic alliances with Iran and solidify its support to Hezballah and Hamas two organizations which have been labeled as terrorist ones by the US government.
Then why is it that we still hear the debate regarding Syria’s engagement? What is in the US interests and the region for the US and the international community to engage in a dialogue with a state that seems hell-bent on working against the collective efforts of the world’s community to resolve the problems in the Middle-East?

Many have pointed to the old famous quote by the late US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger where he declared that “No war without Egypt and No peace without Syria” in the Middle-East as the ultimate truth in the region. A statement that carried deep knowledge of the political deadlock the region seems to experience for the past 50 years. Yet the same statement can be adversely interpreted as to Syria’s position. True there can be no peace without Syria because Syria is the problem to peace. Syria continues to work clandestinely against every effort of Arab and International players to undermine a settlement in the region. Starting with Lebanon to Iraq and ending in the West-bank and Gaza. As if a settlement will never be possible ‘till the Hariri International tribunal is eliminated and the Syrian despot gets his Golan back! In the same time it refuses to acknowledge the fact that most Arab neighbors seem to have accepted as a fait accompli. The US is intent on securing its interests in the region, mainly the oil resources that are in abundance. So why is it a matter of discussion how to deal with Syria?

Engagement with the regime would be the most disastrous thing the US can do to its long term goals in the region. If the US seems to lack popular support among the Arab populace now, it is for a litany of legitimate reasons that have been in play for over half a century. Among the most evident of those reasons is its bias towards Israel and its friendly alliance with authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Libya and the rest of the Arab world governments, a position which has proved to be paradoxical to the common man. On one hand the US is supporting the real enemy from without and on the other the enemy from within. The Iraq war contributed to reinforce such antipathy. Engagement with the Syrian regime will only prove to the Arab street that American politics chose the easy way out and capitulated to a dictator’s will by sacrificing Lebanon and Iraq. Such move will only reinforce the lack of credibility in US policies throughout the Arab world.

No one can argue that Syria is a police state. Its multi-faceted security agencies still deal with political dissent ruthlessly while its Ba’ath party monopolizes the electoral process.
Human rights abuses are abundant and prisoners of conscious languish in prisons under an emergency law that has been in effect for over 44 years. The similarities to Iraq under Saddam are strikingly close, yet Syria managed to appease the world community in the past through careful balance of its tyranny inside the country and its willingness to play politics in its foreign relations. At times even the US praised Syria stands with the international community against Saddam invasion of Kuwait. But today there is more at stake. Lebanon nascent democracy needs a helping hand from the West and Iraq needs to stem the flow of Jihadists through its western borders. But the most in jeopardy of losing an ally for freedom and democracy are the Syrian people. People like the respected human rights lawyer Anwar Albuni and Journalist Michele Kilo and others. People who believe that the West will continue to stand for those ideals which helped bring about the fall of tyranny and the rise of democracy. US interests dictate that the mission for the New Middle-East must move along ‘till at least these two states have become an example of freedom, democracy, and the rule of the law for the rest of the Arab world.
The Syrian regime is standing in the way of both these goals. Will we let extortionists and terror laden governments sabotage our mission? Engaging Syria now is a fatal mistake that the US and its allies can not afford to make.

Alenfetah Party of Syria

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November 13th, 2007, 3:33 pm

 

9. norman said:

Israel’s Barak supports comprehensive peace initiative including Syria

JERUSALEM, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak supports a comprehensive peace initiative that would include promoting a peace deal with Syria, local Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Tuesday.

Barak believes that this initiative would determine Israel’s needs and demands as well as what it would need to give in return in its talks with the Palestinians, after the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference, said the popular newspaper.

The much-touted peace conference is expected to be held in Annapolis in the U.S. later this month.

According to the report, Barak has told his associates in recent days that only such an initiative could stop other peace plans, like the Arab Peace Initiative, from being forced on Israel.

“We must conduct extensive work which would determine all of Israel’s crucial interests in the region. We must examine this opposite Syria, opposite the Palestinians, opposite the Jordanians and opposite any other Arab country,” he said.

“Israel must push for its own initiative and not be dragged by initiatives from the other side,” the defense minister was quoted as saying.

In Barak’s view, Israel’s crucial interests would be harmed in a situation where Israel would have to respond to initiatives such as the Arab Peace Initiative, said the daily.

The Arab Peace Initiative, which was first approved in 2002 and reactivated during the 19th Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in March this year, offers to extend recognition to Israel by all Arab countries provided that it withdraws from all Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights.

Barak also said that the issue of talks with the Syrians should be reexamined, and a change of policy may lead to positive results.” Such a change may lead to good and unexpected results for Israel,” he said.

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November 13th, 2007, 3:38 pm

 

10. Joshua said:

Dear Bashmann, Thanks for the counter-argument. We have heard the argument for regime-change in Damascus frequently. This anonymous article claims that Arabs will begin to like America if it helps to change-regime in Syria. Isn’t this the same argument that got us into Iraq? Arabs hate us much more now.

Arab liberals have failed in Iraq. Convince me that they will win in Syria.

You want the US to isolate Syria and assist Israel to keep the Golan until Syria becomes democratic. This strikes me as tantamount to helping Israel acquire the Golan for good. Why not encourage the US to help Syria get the Golan back and continue working for democracy and liberalism in Syria? Would such an agenda be better for a Syrian reform party?

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November 13th, 2007, 4:57 pm

 

11. Peter H said:

If you haven’t read the Robert Malley testimony and his case for cautious engagement with Syria, go ahead and do so. It’s by far the best analysis I’ve read of Syria, especially on its relationship with Lebanon. Malley recognizes that Syrian attempted domination of Lebanon is a genuine concern and is motivated by factors other than recovering the Golan Heights. On the other hand, he also recognizes that a policy of continued confrontation with Syria will only further destabilize Lebanon and the rest of the region:

“The purpose behind the tribunal should be clear: to offer justice and accountability but also, and no less decisively, ensure that Syria turns a page in its relationship with Lebanon. Given current US/Syrian relations, the tribunal will do nothing of the sort. Even if Syria’s implication in Hariri’s murder were firmly established, under existing circumstances Damascus would refuse to hand over any culprit. At best, it would handpick its own suspects – or scapegoats – before trying and convicting them for high treason. At that point, Syria would face calls for greater sanctions and isolation; some in Lebanon and the US would renew pleas for forcible regime change.

And then what? Such an outcome would not serve any parties’ interests. A tighter embargo would hurt Lebanon more than Syria, given Beirut’s economic frailty and dependence on its neighbor for trade and commerce. Seeking regime change would leave Lebanon more vulnerable than ever, as Syria is far from having fully exploited its destabilizing potential. A successful effort to oust the regime would represent a mortal threat to a fragile and multi-confessional Lebanon. In short, pursuit of the current course of action will not deliver the guilty, protect Lebanon or lead to the kinds of changes in Syria the US would like to see.”

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November 13th, 2007, 8:36 pm

 

12. Youssef Hanna said:

ANOTHERISRAELIGUY,

It could be that westernized Syrians support the dictatorship as an antidote to ikhwan, in particular, and islamism in general.

They were held hostages to the fear of these, after the regime put off the Damascus Spring, and suppressed the chance of emergence of the urbane sunni alternative.

As much as westernized Syrians, Lebanon suffers of the repercussions/exportation of the blocked intra-Syrian struggle.

The Hariri assassination indeed, the tremors of which Lebanon continues to live in since early 2005, makes part of the quenching of the urbane sunnis alternative.

Lebanon can only breathe when its comparatively giant eastern neighbor settles its internal crisis.

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November 13th, 2007, 8:40 pm

 

13. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Peter H,
Isn’t the strategy Malley is proposing basically accepting the balckmailing of the region by Syria? Sure, Syria can destablize the region more. Is that a good reason not to stand up to it? The blackmailer has the habit of never going away. He will always blackmail you. The only solution is to get rid of him once and for all.

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November 13th, 2007, 9:10 pm

 

14. Sami D said:

AnotherIsraeliGuy wrote: “Syria can destablize the region more. Is that a good reason not to stand up to it? The blackmailer has the habit of never going away. He will always blackmail you. The only solution is to get rid of him once and for all.”

The “blackmail” by Syria is more like this: “If you, the superpowers, don’t allow minimal justice to prevail and give me my rights back, I will be a nuisance to you”. In other words, it is the blackmail of the weak victim refusing to completely bow down, and insisting on resisting domination. The real blackmail, of course is the one by those who dominate the region implicitly/explicitly threatening it with nuclear weapons, the latest in conventional weapons, those who continue bomb and to colonize and continue to deny basic justice, to which Syrian “blackmail” is the response.

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November 14th, 2007, 11:56 am

 

15. Disaffection said:

Sami, what AIG seems to dismiss and pretend tis not a proffered reality is that His government would much rather deal with the current regime than a democratic one. A democratically elected govt will not live up to Israel’s or western expectations. They can kiss any hope of a peace treaty goodbye . Not sure what he or his like are banging on. no alternative democratic government in syria will want to sign a peace treaty with israel under Israeli terms. the public are clear about this if they had a representing government in power . They are better off with Assad and his superiors know it. Deluded little soul indeed.

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November 14th, 2007, 2:37 pm

 

16. Bashmann said:

Josh,

I’m glad to have finally gotten the interest of the esteemed professor. I would be more than glad to put forth an argument for regime change, however, my article do not call for such action. Although a regime change would be the preferred method on how to deal with Syria, yet the realities on the ground dictate for a wiser action by the US which I’ll do my best here to highlight here. But first let me introduce myself to you and your readers as I’m sure I’ll be the recipient of some just and plenty of unjust criticism.

I’m the Vice President of Alenfetah Party of Syria, a liberal party that was established over two years ago in the lovely setting of South Florida. Our members reflect the desires of Syrians ex-patriots in bringing democracy, freedom, and the rule of law to our beloved Syria and establishing a true republic that stands for justice, liberty, and an institutional democracy where true separation of powers and accountability are the cornerstones for the republic.

Now to get back to your comment regarding Arab liberals failing in Iraq a statement which I find to be the source of your misconception and to the dilemma in Washington over Syria. I beg to disagree with you on such a statement. As much you would like to believe to be the case for the initiation of hostilities against Iraq, Arab liberals were not the ‘cause of the invasion or the war. Saddam Hussien was ultimately responsible for his aggression against his people, neighbor states, and the West which eventually led to his final demise. Many other factors also played part, mainly oil resources, and personal vendetta which I find to be the main reason we are in Iraq. All others such as, WMD’s and terrorist links have been proved to be smokescreens. I’m surprise you seem to blame the US invasion on Arab liberals! If you are referring to the Chalabi affair, we can count it as an opportunist seeking to capitalize on events that were beneficial to his ‘cause.

As for the second part of the statement “convince me that they will win in Syria”, well we are certainly trying. Arab liberals are the only ones in the Arab world that are prepared to bring all sectors of Syrian societies into their fold. Sunni, Shi’a, Alawi, Druze, Christians, Ismaelis, Kurds, Assyrians, and the rest of the mosaic that makes Syria such a diverse country which has proved to be an example of sectarian tolerance in a tough neighborhood. In fact Alenfetah party is a microcosm of this; we have a Sunni, Alawi, Druze and Shi’a in our presidential and executive bodies. It’s strange to me that a US academic such as you would think negatively of Arab liberals. In fact we are hoping that Arab liberalism would do exactly what American liberalism did during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century in America, mainly improving the well being of all people. Since Arab Nationalism proved to be a failure, the vacuum in ideologies left us with corrupt authoritarian regimes that seem to be the problem and the cause to the popular anger which created religious radicalism that reverberated with violence throughout the Arab world during the past century and eventually reached the West.

Now you can argue that the Ba’ath secular and socialist messages are already in Syria doing the same, yet the difference between the two is widely evident. Ba’athist ideologies tend to be streaked with socialist agendas which are proving to be the source for the economic mess Syria is in currently. In fact, the economic reforms proposed by prime minister Dardari are designed to torpedo the socialist programs which have proved to be the biggest burden on the economy, therefore he is going against many die hard Ba’athists. On the other hand Arab liberalism embrace capitalism and free market economy, in fact you can hardly find an Arab liberal who would disagree with this.

With this said, lets get back to the rest of your comment;

“You want the US to isolate Syria and assist Israel to keep the Golan until Syria becomes democratic. This strikes me as tantamount to helping Israel acquire the Golan for good.”

I look at things from different perspective. My argument in the article was to not engage Syria now as it will only prove to be detrimental to US policies in the long run and I’ll try to elucidate this as much as I can.

First, we all know that getting the Golan back is the Holy Grail for the Syrian regime as it will bring legitimacy to it and erase from memory the abusive manner in which Bashar came to power. Israel knows this and does not seem to be willing to give up land for the sake of Bashar popularity. Israel also knows that Bashar is weak now and has only few weak cards to play, what incentive does Israel have to give up the Golan back? In fact Israel is content with the current arrangement and would not want it to change for the time being. What benefits would Israel have by giving up such a strategic piece of land that seems to be the best line of defense for future wars? A friend of mine, had a father who served in the Syrian Army and led “Alsa’eka” company during the ’67 war. Upon a casual conversation with him, he pointedly told me that he will be utterly surprised to see Israel give up the Golan in the future. His skepticism comes from experience in the geographical importance of the Golan to Israel and to Syria. The location is every military admiral dream in terms of advantage in conventional warfare.

Second, the argument that Israel can keep the Golan for good is a hoax. In part this is because we should give thanks to the late Asad, and this is the only time you will hear me praising him, every country in the world knows the price for a peace deal between Syria and Israel is the Golan. There are clear UN resolutions to this effect. Both Syria and Israel know this and will have to work out a compromise on the details in order to carry this through.

Third, just like the Iraq and Lebanon issue, the US should play the democratic reform card and move it to the top condition in order to engage Syria which would put the ball in the regime court. If the US is serious about democratic reforms in the Arab world then Syria should be the first example for the rest of the Arab leaders who are considered republics in terms of liberalizing their rules and relaxing the grip on power for alternatives. US foreign policy should hold these ideals as sacred and never compromise. If the US helps bring Israel and Syria to the table now, wouldn’t you think we would end up with another friendly authoritarian ally the likes of Egypt and Libya and the rest? Do you really think reformers and liberal’s democracy advocate’s would have a chance then?

My dear professor, the US is great country and the people of the Middle-East know this and love it. The problem is not Arabs hating America, the problem is America’s past policies for the ME. It is American lack of fairness and vision that have created such animosity in the Arab street. If America stands up for the common man on those streets, the results would be a change from within and that is the true spirit of Americanism that we must export.

Cheers

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November 14th, 2007, 4:10 pm

 

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