Posted by Joshua on Monday, December 8th, 2008
Forces of Stability: Syria and Iran or the USA?
By Jihad Makdissi, Spokesman of the Syrian Embassy-London
(Partial and edited transcript of a talk delivered at University College of London on 2nd of December 2008)
President George W Bush changed the course of history — unfortunately, in the wrong direction. This dubious distinction may earn him a prominent position in America’s pantheon of famous presidents, somewhere above the cherished founding fathers. In the continuing debate over America’s military and moral role in the world, his legacy is bound to loom very large.
A quick review of President Bush’s fiascoes:
- America’s image has been badly damaged in the hearts and minds of the millions of Arabs and non-Arabs who have been perplexed by the needless blood spilled in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, and more recently Syria when four US helicopters killed nine unarmed civilians. Scandals such as Abu Ghraib Prison, flying Prisons, renditions, Guantanamo, and the needless violence of security firms such as Blackwater in Iraq have tarnished the moral underpinnings of America’s once sterling reputation in the world.
- Instead of guaranteeing peace and stability in the world, the USA has become a rogue nation, attacking friend and foe alike. Washington has recently expanded its regional wars to attack both Syria and Pakistan.
- The US has prepared to attack Iran for no legitimate reason.
- Iraq is destroyed but allegedly democratic, (the death toll among Iraqis is as high as one million by some estimates; among American soldiers it is 4,300). Rather than discuss how it can help Syria and neighboring countries cope with the millions of Iraqi guests it has caused to flee Iraq, America has targeted Syria and pushed Iraq to approve the SOFA agreement.
- The US has helped to drive a wedge between Palestinian factions by supporting the PLO and isolating Hamas which was democratically elected. The result is the further impoverishment of the population, which has already tasted its share of despair and hopelessness. The life of Gazans has become too miserable to describe.
- In Afghanistan, the US is discussing the need to talk to the Taliban. There is much anxiety that it is engaged in an unwinnable war. (The Death toll of American soldiers is 700).
- Finally, one must point to the world financial crisis that has its origins in the mountain of bad and risky debt fobbed off on a trusting world by American financiers. The world has never seen such a pyramid scheme before.
What has Syria done to limit the damage of these foolish policies?:
- Syria, although subject to both indirect and direct military intimidation, met US aggression with patience and resilience. It avoided confrontation and pursued proactive policies to counter false accusations, limit the chaos and divisions instigated by the US, and unify the Arabs around the common objective of negotiating peace and freeing themselves from foreign occupation.
- Syria has fostered dialogue between Palestinian factions in order to build Palestinian national unity, which is a prerequisite to any lasting peace or long-term solution. When Israelis throw up their arms, pretending that there is no Palestinian partner to talk to about peace, Arabs become exasperated. Israel and the US rub salt into Palestinian wounds in order to weaken them, and then accuse Syria of being a spoiler. By pushing for Palestinian unity, Syria seeks to build the only condition that will allow for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state.
- In Lebanon, a neighbor so vital to Syria’s own stability and security, Damascus pushed for the unity exemplified by the Doha agreement. It helped promote a consensus president and cabinet that represented the interests of all. The US did what it could to generate division and rancor among Lebanon’s factions, hoping to promote the subjugation of one half of Lebanon by the other. The irresponsibility of this winner-take-all policy cannot be exaggerated when one considers how recently Lebanon emerged from its brutal fifteen-year civil war that caused the death of close to 200,000 and the displacement of so many more. Nothing captures the Orwellian spin of Washington’s disinformation machine more than Secretary Rice’s insistence that the sounds of Israel’s exploding bombs over southern Lebanon were in truth “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
- America’s politics of division extended to the entire region in its promotion of sectarian distrust. By mobilizing Sunnis against Shiites, Washington undermines the difficult task of nation-building, Arab Unity, and the promotion of tolerance and coexistence so crucial to the region’s happiness and progress.
- Syria exerted its good offices with its Iranian Friend following a request from president Sarkozy in order to clear up misunderstandings between Iran and the West regarding the peaceful nature of their legitimate nuclear program. The unique Syrian-Iranian relationship is crucial to the peace and stability of our region.
- Syria has fully cooperated with the UN Commission investigating the al-Hariri assassination because Syria is interested in the truth. Every UN report has included a phrase attesting to Syria’s full cooperation with the commission.
- Syria has completed four rounds of indirect talks with Israel using our Turkish friends as interlocutors. We seek common ground for direct negotiations and a just and comprehensive peace.
- We fully support the political process in Iraq. We want to help Iraq keep its Arab identity. We recently appointed an ambassador to Baghdad and will soon receive an Iraqi Ambassador in Damascus
- Syria has stretched its military capacity and spent money it can ill afford to secure the long border with Iraq in order to prevent the insurgency from disrupting good relations between us. We called upon the Americans to help us, or at the very least to form joint patrols along the border that could put an end to misunderstandings and allow for better coordination in apprehending infiltrators. We requested that the Americans provide us with much needed high technology equipment that would permit Syrian soldiers to patrol more effectively, but to little avail. The US preferred to use Syria as a scapegoat for its inability to bring stability, prosperity, or a modicum of protection to Iraq’s long suffering population. Washington persists in blaming its own senseless shortcomings on Syria. Although American officers belatedly praised themselves for the novel idea of treating Iraqi Sunnis as human beings during the “Awakening,” rather than as cardboard cut outs of terrorists, it was completely beyond their capacity to deal with Syria with similar common-sense. Americans clung to their ideological bombast and arrogance. How many lives could have been saved had the US been able to treat Syria non-ideologically? Always ready to accuse, pontificate, and posture, American political leaders allowed one Syrian demarche after another to go unanswered. What were we to conclude but that Washington was seeking to justify its failures at Syria’s expense and could not learn from its mistakes?
- Syria is part of the answer to the global war against terrorism not part of its cause. After September 11th, America thanked Syria for its contribution in fighting terrorism and saving American lives. Syria has every interest in thwarting al-Qaida and its affiliates. When America is prepared to extend its hand to Syria in a gesture of understanding and cooperation, Syria is ready to resume its cooperation against a common enemy. Syrian interests, however, cannot be ignored.
- Syria is working with countries, such as Turkey, Qatar, France and Iran, to maintain stability in the region. Syria held a summit in Damascus for these countries in order to discuss stability and way to attenuate the growing radicalism and extremist groups in our region. President Assad made it clear that this is an open club for all countries to join.
- It is not Syria that has brought suffering and turmoil to Iraq anymore than it is Syria that has increased radicalism, anger, and a growing sense of injustice among Middle Easterners whether in Mesopotamia, Palestine or Afghanistan. On the contrary, Syria has been the most generous refuge for the unfortunate victims of Washington’s hapless diplomacy in the region. Syrians have opened their homes to over a million Iraqis and half a million Palestinian refugees. One out of every ten people in Syria is a refugee or child of a refugee. No country has done more to alleviate the suffering of its neighbors. We took in the Armenians, Syriacs, and Kurds when they fled Turkey’s nation-building wars at the start of the last century. We took in Iraq’s Assyrians when they fled persecution in the 1930s. Now Syria is welcoming the ancient Christian and Sabian communities of Iraq which face extinction in their own country thanks to Washington’s merciful “freedom agenda.”
- For America to brand Syria a rogue nation and troublemaker is perverse and cynical. Syria has done more than any other country to preserve the pluralism of the Levant and make the region safe for all regardless of religious and ethnic origins.
- Syria can be tough; it will not shrink from using force when it is pushed against the wall; it will defend its land and its friends, but Syria does not look for a fight. To the contrary, Syria wants a just and comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. I do not suggest that Syria is the only or primary source of wisdom in the region, but it understands the needs of its people and ideological currents of the Middle East. It is a central regional player and an important Arab opinion maker. If the United States hopes to make a positive contribution to settling the region’s ills and working toward just and lasting solutions to the many outstanding issues in the Middle East, it will do well to coordinate its efforts with Damascus.
Spokesman of the Syrian Embassy-London