In the News Archives 2008


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21 December 2008
Asma al-Assad: The woman who dethroned Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama
By Margarida Santos Lopes, Público

“Authoritarian regimes have to modernize to survive, and beautiful, cultured and secular Asthma is a vehicle to neutralize criticism, especially from the outside,” said the public by telephone, Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma and author of the influential blog Syria Comment (http://joshualandis.com/blog/). Bashar al-Assad knows the value of media that his wife has. “There are thousands of applications for U.S. television networks to interview. The types of the CBS program 60 Minutes are always calling. Even Oprah Winfrey has made it known that I would like to see on your show. “

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20 November 2008
Britain revives its links to Syria
By The Australian

A US expert on Syria, Joshua Landis, said the Miliband visit was “a message from the British to Obama”.

“Like the French, they want the US to push Syrian-Israeli peace,” he said.

“Negotiations between Syria and Israel began last May, but the Bush administration was unhappy about the dialogue and refused to support them.”

19 November 2008
SYRIA: Report says Britain hammers out Damascus intelligence agreement
By Raed Rafei, Los Angeles Times

One blogger, Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, wrote that the U.S. refused a similar Syrian offer to combine efforts on intelligence matters when Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year.

2 November 2008
The Road to Damascus
By David Kenner, Foreign Policy

This is less of a scoop than ABC would have its readers believe. Joshua Landis, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies 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 stated desire for cooperation. Landis reported that “there are real issues at the border,” and that Petraeus’s interest in going to Syria stemmed in part from a desire “to read Syria the riot act about compliance [on border security].”

31 October 2008
Someone should tell ABC News what “exclusive” means
By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

On October 26 — 5 days ago — Joshua Landis wrote on his blog, Syria Comment, about the U.S. bombing raid inside Syria, and said this (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

The Bush administration seems to be ratcheting up action against Syria during its last days in power. . . In late 2007 then-Coalition commander General David Petraeus praised Syria’s cooperation in reducing violence in Iraq . . . . Petraeus sought to go to Damascus in December 2007 to restart intelligence sharing, but was forbidden from doing so by the White House.

30 October 2008
Following Deadly US Attack on Syria, Questions of Bush Admin Motives in its Waning Months
Joshua Landis and Robert Dreyfuss, Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Joshua Landis teaches Middle East history at University of Oklahoma and writes a daily newsletter on Syrian politics called “Syria Comment.” He joins us from Norman, Oklahoma. And we’re joined from Washington, D.C. by investigative reporter and contributing editor at The Nation magazine, Robert Dreyfuss, author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. His latest piece is called “The End of International Law.”

30 October 2008

By Mark MacKinnon, Globe and Mail

“Syria has its hands tied behind its back. It can’t allow its anger to rule this moment,” said Joshua Landis, co-director of the Centre for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma and editor of the syriacomment.com website. “In the past, clearly, the [U.S.] military in Iraq would have been very anxious about what Syria could do in retaliation.”

29 October 2008
How will they handle the world?
By Julianna Parker, The Norman Transcript

Joshua Landis, an expert on the Middle East and Syria specifically, said the two candidates’ foreign policies diverge greatly in the area of the Middle East. McCain wants to win the war in Iraq, as long as it takes. Obama wants to pull the troops out of Iraq as soon as possible and put them in Afghanistan.

29 October 2008
Behind the U.S. raid in Syria
By Nicole Colson, Socialistworker.org

But why did the U.S. choose this moment to strike inside Syria? As Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies, pointed out in a statement, “Syria has been improving border compliance steadily. General [David] Petraeus announced this month that Syria has brought down infiltration from 100 to 20 a month.”

29 October 2008
Syria Monitoring US, Israeli Elections
By Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post

Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “They believe he will get out of Iraq sooner and give …

28 October 2008
Syria orders American school closed
By Katy Clark and Matthew Bell, The World

Joshua Landis is with the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma: “I don’t know what the protocol is, but I assume that once there’s a new president elect, it would polite–at least–for President Bush to consult with him before launching into something like this.”

27 October 2008
Surging Into Syria: American Incursion Opens New Front in Quagmire
By Christ Floyd, Baltimore Chronicle

Of course, petty murderous spite can never be overlooked in anything the Bushists do. From the Guardian:

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commented last night: “The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a “freebee” – taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price.”

28 October 2008
US MIlitary Forces Attack Syrian Village, Killing Eight
By Patrick O’Connor, countercurrents.org

According to Syria expert and University of Oklahoma Professor Joshua Landis: “Both the State Department and DOD [Department of Defense] have consistently pushed for intelligence sharing with Damascus only to be shot down by the vice president’s office.”

28 October 2008
US attack on Syria has many baffled
By Menassat

Josh Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote on his blog Syria Comment that “with the raid, the Bush administration may have been giving Syria a parting shot for its unwillingness to comply with intelligence-sharing and other US demands.”

29 October 2008
The strike that shattered US-Syria ties
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times Online

If the Americans thought it was a base for al-Qaeda, they clearly were mistaken. Syria specialist Joshua Landis wrote that the attack “was probably constructed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and not [Vice President Dick] Cheney’s office. Evidently, there are real issues at the border and [supreme US commander for Iraq and Afghanistan General David] Petraeus has been warning the Syrians that they must do more. Satellite intelligence probably picked up smugglers, which were interpreted to be al-Qaeda. Quite possibly these poor people killed in the raid were a family of smugglers.”

26 October 2008
SYRIA: WHat’s behind U.S. raid?
By Babylon & Beyond

Joshua Landis at Syria Comment says the attack “seems to fit into a broader pattern of the Bush administration initiating cross border attacks into countries that it is not officially at war with,” including Pakistan.

27 October 2008
US forces kill eight in helicopter raid on Syria
By Ian Black and Ewen MacAskill, guardian.co.uk

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commented last night: “The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a “freebee” – taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price.”

26 October 2008
Did We Just Strike Syria?
By the Atlantic

Joshua Landis at Syria Comment on the US allegedly launching a helicopter attack inside the country from Iraq:

[Syria] has refused to restart intelligence sharing with the US, which was broken off following the deterioration of relations in 2005. Petraeus sought to go to Damascus in December 2007 to restart intelligence sharing, but was forbidden from doing so by the White House.

22 October 2008
Syria envoy: Future generations will pay if Israel scuttles peace talks
By Haaretx

…..”If the Israelis are merely interested in the ‘process’ and not the ‘peace’, they will ultimately be held accountable… Future Israeli and Arab generations will pay a dear price for this shortsightedness and obstinacy,” Ambassador Imad Moustapha said in an interview with the Syria Comment Web site….

3 October 2008
Danger lies in ties with Kurdish opposition
By Michael Howle, The Scotsman

He claims Mr Yakob could be arrested for any ties he might have with Kurdish groups. Joshua Landis, the co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said: “They will be watching him like a hawk.”

2 October 2008
Experts doubt Syria has resumed nuke activity
By Jerusalem Post

…. “It’s clearly time for a rethink of [Syria] policy, and I think Rice and others in the administration are trying to shepherd it forward,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma who publishes the widely read Syria Comment blog. “Rice is definitely open to it – and the whole Department of Defense has been kicking for this for a long time – but she can’t get it past the White House.”….

2 October 2008
Syria’s unlikely shepherd
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times

“It’s clearly time for a rethink of [Syria] policy, and I think Rice and others in the administration are trying to shepherd it forward,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma who publishes the widely read blog ww.syriacomment.com. “Rice is definitely open to it – and the whole Department of Defense has been kicking for this for a long time – but she can’t get it past the White House.”

29 September 2008
Syria’s intelligence community again hit by major car bomb
By World Tribune

“Two theories are developing on little evidence so far,” Josh Landis, a leading American analyst on Syria, said. “One is that the bombers were targeting a state security center. The other theory is that they were targeting Shi’ites. So far we don’t know what the truth is.”

13 September 2008
Going for Broke
By Ian Munroe, Trends Magazine

….“There are two trends. One’s a slow liberalization of the economy,” says Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the creator of Syria Comment, a popular website that covers current events there. “Number two is a Western attempt to isolate Syria, and to strangle it economically…”

27 September 2008
Car bomb near Syrian security base kills 17
By Marwan Mekdessi, Reuters

“The attack is very disturbing. It’s scary because it reminds every Syrian of the late 1970s and early 1980s when the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood was blowing everyone up,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University…

1 September 2008
US may join the peace talks in Turkey
By Sami Moubayed, gulfnews.com

… Everybody is worried about progress on the indirect Syrian-Israeli talks, currently underway in Turkey. According to Syria commentator, Joshua Landis, they have either reached a breakthrough, or a dead end. …

30 August 2008
Damascus emerges from isolation
By James Gavin, Middle East Economic Digest

After being abandoned by its Arab allies and economically isolated by US sanctions, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has made a remarkable comeback in recent months…. “On one side, Israel is seeing what it can do to isolate Iran, and to find out to what extent Syria will move against Hezbollah,” says Joshua Landis….

28 August 2008
Former Aipac Head Leads Push for American-Syrian Rapprochement
By Marc Perelman, The Jewish Daily Forward

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, offers another explanation: “Syria wanted to use Dine to open up doors in Washington, and he was supposed to get a meeting between Daoudi and Welch but could not deliver.”

To Landis, the administration’s backtracking on the Welch meeting suggests that “Washington is not ready to become a part of the discussion, which means that the Israel-Syria talks will not be able to reach a decisive phase.”

27 August 2008
Syria, Iran warm to Russia as US tensions grow
By Sam Ghattas, The Associated Press

“The Russian move into Georgia has begun a tectonic shift in the (Mideast) region,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert in the United States. “It has emboldened Syria, Hezbollah and Iran to push harder against Israel and the U.S.”

25 August 2008
Analysis: Shifting Middle East alliances
By Claude Salhani, United Press International

Russia’s aggressive response in Georgia has unleashed what Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies and a specialist on Syrian …

24 August 2008
Russian embrace of Syria tightens, but for what purpose?
By Yoav Stern, Ha’aretz

Syria expert Joshua Landis wrote in his blog Syriacomment.com that “Syria’s bad negotiating position is leading it to look for more weapons and to try to grow more teeth before returning to the table with Israel,” adding, “Both Assad and Hezbollah are hoping to get new weapons systems from Russia and greater diplomatic backing.” But despite the preoccupation with weapons, he asserts that all eyes are on the peace process.

20 August 2008
Assessing stability in Syria
By Ben Judah, ISN

Syrian political expert Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma argues that most western understandings of Syria are still very caricatured. …

12 August 2008
Middle East expert Joshua Landis sees U.S. policy in the region at a “crossroads.”
By Daniel Luban, Right Web

Landis … describes the Syrian regime as making an unprecedented push to normalize relations with the West. But neoconservative hardliners in Washington continue to resist any engagement with Syria, presenting the possibility that this window of opportunity will be lost…..

Syria is engaging in a major charm offensive. And significantly, they’ve been courting people like [former American Israel Public Affairs Committee president] Thomas Dine to help set up meetings in Washington. This is new! For Syria to reach out to the Israelis not just through the negotiations in Ankara but through the Jewish community in the United States is a potential game-changer in many ways….

4 August 2008
‘Murdered Syrian officer knew too much’
By Jerusalem Post

But Syrian expert Joshua Landis, the co-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said he doubts the veracity of many …

31 July 2008
The Syrian bride
By Ha’aretz

Joshua Landis, editor of the daily news roundup SyriaComment.com, which is read by many Syrian expatriates in the United States, says that Asma Assad is the …

15 July 2008
Syrians applaud Bashar’s Paris trip
By Sami Moubayed, GulfNews

Joshua Landis, an expert on Syrian affairs who runs the much-read blog in Washington DC, Syriacomment, told Gulf News: “President Assad’s Lebanon policy has been vindicated. Three years ago, Chirac said Assad didn’t understand the ‘new Middle East.’ Today, Sarkozy is stating, in effect, that Chirac was wrong.”

25 June 2008
Can Syria avoid sanctions with a UN nuclear inspection?
By Julien Barnes-Dacey, Christian Science Monitor

“What’s driving Syria right now is an anxiety about becoming a pariah,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. …”Iran can afford to thumb their nose at the West because they have so much money coming in from oil that will help insulate them from sanctioning,” says Mr. Landis. “Syria doesn’t have a cushion like that.”

20 June 2008
Syrian leaders in upbeat mood despite IAEA visit
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters

Syria, whose troops left Lebanon in 2005, was delighted by last month’s Qatari-brokered deal among rival Lebanese leaders which translated a military victory won by Hezbollah and other Syrian allies against U.S.-backed factions into political gains.

“The Syrians were thrilled to see them wiping away the facade of U.S. power,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma University. “It was clearly very sobering for the Americans, who are trying to figure out where to go from here.”

19 June 2008
Thaw Between Syria and Israel Puts Hezbollah on Front Burner
By Nathan Guttman, Forward

“Syria is bending over backward right now to be accommodating to Israel and France by pushing Hamas to compromise and by pushing the Lebanese opposition to moderate their demands,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at Oklahoma University. Syria and Israel are finding common ground on the issue of Hezbollah, Landis added, but while Israel would like Damascus to break altogether with the terrorist group, Syria believes it can encourage Hezbollah to focus on politics.

13 June 2008
Independent Analysis and Political Risk
By Gulf States Newsletter
ISSN 0953-5411 Volume 32 • Issue 831

…. Respected Syria watcher Joshua Landis, author of the blog Syria Comment, had this to say:“For two years we have been hearing stories that the Assad family is at daggers drawn and ready to kill one another. Never were they true in the past … [But] we have not seen any sign of Asef Shawkat in months. Also, several people I trust tell me that Asef is no longer the head of military intelligence – at least that part of the story seems true.”

6 June 2008
Upbeat in Syria: Why President Bashar Assad is feeling cock-a-hoop
By The Economist

…..Mr Assad said that when the Doha talks seemed to be on the brink of collapse, the ruler of Qatar called on Syria to provide some suggestions. “The ideas we provided were the exact same ideas we provided the French last year when they were mediating”, Mr Assad said, according to a transcript provided on the Syria Comment blog. “However, the French then did not comprehend or did not implement the ideas correctly.” He attributed this failing on the part of the French government to the mistaken assumption that Syria could speak and act on behalf of its allies in Lebanon, whereas in fact Syria was merely interested in furnishing practical solutions…..

5 June 2008
Syria Defiant on Ties With Iran
By Institute for War and Peace Reporting

Joshua Landis, co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University, said the new agreement “clearly complicates” the peace process, but would not jeopardise the negotiations.

“The only reason that Israel is talking to Syria today is because Syria is Iran’s ally,” he said. “Israel is talking peace because they’re frightened of Syria, they’re frightened of Hezbollah and they’re frightened of Iran.”

Landis said that apart from a desire to curb ties between Damascus and Tehran, Israel was also interested in talking to the Syrians about securing its northern borders with Lebanon from attack by the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia. He also noted that Israel wants the Syrians to reduce their support for the Palestinian group Hamas.

If Syria can deliver on some of these demands and make the Israelis feel more secure, Tel Aviv might be willing to back down on the issue of ties with Iran.

Analysts note that the security pact is a continuation of the long-established Iranian-Syrian axis and therefore cannot have come as a surprise to either Israel or the US.

The alliance took off in 1980, when Syria backed Iran against Iraq when those two countries embarked on their eight-year war.

Landis predicted that Syria would maintain a strong relationship with Iran as it continued to be isolated internationally. “As long as everyone is trying to boycott Syria and isolate it, it’s going to keep its friends,” Landis said. “And Iran is a friend.”

2 July 2008
INN World Report
By International News Net



27 May 2008
“No solution but war” in Somalia
By Eric Randolph, openSecurity

It was announced on 21 May that Turkey is mediating talks between Syria and Israel on a comprehensive peace agreement. Middle east experts say that such an agreement is feasible, but will require major concessions on both sides that could take a long time to achieve. In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Syria expert Joshua Landis said that the return of the Golan Heights in exchange for Syria’s ending of aid to Hizbollah and Hamas was in the ultimate interest of both sides, but would be a “bitter pill” to swallow. A more positive assessment from the International Analyst Network says the mere existence of talks was an important step, and that a deal makes “great economic sense” for the Syrians.

22 May 2008
Something happening in Damascus
By metimes.com

Professor Joshua Landis’ respected and usually well informed blog site, Syria Comment, has published the following, part of what he calls an “intelligence….

1 April 2008
Syria risks more isolation over Lebanon
By Reuters

“Tough times are ahead for Syria,” Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma, told Reuters. “Syria thinks it can persevere another year and then it will be a new day. But the U.S. Treasury is laying landmines that Syria will find it difficult to negotiate,” he added.

Landis said Syria could find it tougher to play for time as Washington already expanded sanctions on Damascus and Arab states siding with Lebanon’s government showed no willingness to welcome Syria back to what they regard as the Arab mainstream.

1 April 2008
News From the Israeli and Palestinian Front
By Jeb Koogler, The Moderate Voice

Joshua Landis, an expert on Syrian politics, writes that Israel is not serious about pursuing a peace agreement with Syria, despite the recent rumors….

28 March 2008
Mideast rift upstages Arab League summit
By Julian Barnes-Dacey, The Christian Science Monitor

“Syria thinks that being stubborn will pay off and that the US effort in Lebanon will collapse,” says Joshua Landis, a Syrian expert at the University of Oklahoma.

He compares the situation to the long Lebanese civil war in the 1980s. After the Americans and other regional players withdrew, Syria was the last country standing….

7 March 2008
US Takes Aim at Shadowy Syrian Businessman
By Marc Perelman, The Jewish Daily Forward

“There will undoubtedly be many Syrians who take some satisfaction from this move, but many will also be anxious because the U.S. has penetrated a new level of sovereignty,” said Joshua Landis, an expert on Syrian who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. “This is a big blow to Syria, and means an entirely new level of bad blood between the two countries,” Landis said.

22 February 2008
Sanctions on Businessman Target Syria’s Inner Sanctum
By Robin Wright, Washington Post

“Once you hit Rami Makhluf, you’re at war with Syria,” said Joshua M. Landis, a former Fulbright scholar in Syria who teaches at the University of Oklahoma. “When you sanction Rami Makhluf, you’re also sanctioning all the people who deal with him, including the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.”

“A lot of people think of Makhluf as a highway robber, and in some ways he is. But he is also one of the few people who can work through the system to get things done,” said Landis, referring to Rami Makhluf. “All kinds of banks and people and foreign investors who want to join in Syria’s development are going to think twice and think ‘What’s going to happen to me?’

13 February 2008
Hezbollah Commander, Wanted by U.S., Killed in Syria
By Massoud A. Derhally, Bloomberg

“There seems to be a steady attempt to push Syria, and right now the United States and the West has very little leverage over Syria, and I think this is frustrating everybody in Washington as they see Syria asserting its authority in Lebanon,” said Josh Landis, a specialist on Syria and director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “They’ve run out of tools and the only thing Bush can say now is that he’s going to get a fully funded investigation” into Hariri’s assassination.

14 February 2008
Killing of top Hezbollah operative may be costly for Syria
By Hamza Hendawi, International Herald Tribune

Al-Qaida has not made a concerted effort to act in Syria, not because of the strength of its security services, but because of Damascus’ anti-Western stance, according to Syria expert Joshua Landis.

“It’s not just because the police are good. Syria’s been given a pass by al-Qaida and others because of its anti-American position, but Americans and the West don’t want to admit that because they don’t want to admit that there’s a cause and effect,” said Landis, director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He also maintains a widely read blog on Syria.

22 February 2008
Your enemy’s enemies: Lebanon and Syria still have common cause
By Taylor Long, Now Lebanon

Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt might be the one exception. The Druze leader has opened his home in the past to prominent leaders of the Syrian opposition like Bayanouni, and met with other opposition leaders in exile in Europe. Dr. Joshua Landis, a Syrian specialist at the University of Oklahoma and the publisher of “Syria Comment,” agreed that Jumblatt has served in recent years as “the spearhead of the Syrian-Lebanese opposition nexus.”

Landis’s logic is that March 14 had been strategic about its detachment. “The Syrian opposition is extremely weak and vulnerable,” he pointed out. “Anyone responsible knows that to freight opposition figures with too much responsibility is to send them to prison.” The US has reportedly tried to mobilize the Syrian opposition through the International Republican Institute (IRI), much as it did in 2004 and 2005 during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Those who met with IRI representatives, however, were subsequently interrogated by the Syrian authorities, and several were expelled from the country. March 14 leaders like Saad Hariri, it seems, did not want to make the same mistake. “If Hariri reaches out to Syrian opposition people, they will be arrested and imprisoned,” said Landis. “Many Syrians would blame Hariri and not their own government for their arrest. Perhaps only Jumblatt is willing to go down this road. He has nothing to lose with Syria.”

5 February 2008
Once-Socialist Damascus Displays New Wealth, Glitz
By Deborah Amos, NPR

That’s the result of a country rapidly transforming a 40-year history of economic control from the top. Josh Landis, an American academic who specializes in Syria, says China is Syria’s model: Keep a tight lid on political opposition, open the economy and try to manage the growing income gap.