“Lessons of the Franco-Syrian Fiasco” by Peter Harling

Here is an excellent article by Peter Harling of the International Crisis group

The key to ending the stalemate between Syria and the West starts with understanding why the French initiative failed.

French mediation efforts in Lebanon were based above all on the assumption that initiating a dialogue with Syria would bear more fruit than the pressures exerted by the Bush administration. The failure of this enthusiastic push now leaves many Western and Arab officials under the impression that dialogue is in itself sterile, thus reactivating a policy of isolation and sanctions, of questionable effectiveness. If the next American administration is to break the stalemate, it will have to learn the lessons of this aborted rapprochement.

It is a mutual disappointment for Paris and Damascus. President Sarkozy wanted to score a rapid, spectacular success, in accordance with the image that he seems to cultivate of politics and of himself. More fundamentally, his credibility in Washington was at stake: having obtained “carte blanche” in Lebanon, he could not tolerate for long a situation of uncertainty and stagnation.

But a hasty solution was not to Damascus’ liking, as – from its perspective – the stakes involved should induce caution. Indeed, since the Syrian withdrawal in 2005, the Lebanese scene has undergone dramatic changes, creating both temptation and angst. Syrian influence may emerge strengthened or considerably weakened – a stated objective of Washington and its Lebanese allies. Notably, the replacement of the pro-Syrian President Lahoud is likely to have profound repercussions on a political system founded on subtle balances and on rules that are up for renegotiation.

The question of whether Syria wants to restore its full hegemony over its neighbour remains open to debate. What is certain is that Lebanon is of crucial importance to Damascus, something French enticements could not eclipse. The feeling that Beirut is historically the beachhead through which all attempts at destabilising Damascus are initiated, remains firmly rooted. Hezbollah, which remains a bargaining card for the return of the Golan Heights (occupied by Israel), appears at present as Syria’s key asset in maintaining its influence in Lebanon, thwarting the perceived malevolent projects of a pro-Western majority, and projecting its strategic importance. Thus it is doubtful that Damascus would try to force a solution that Hezbollah would begrudge. However, the French, by delegating dealings with Hezbollah to Syria, deprived themselves of the means to understand – and therefore overcome – its red lines. The Elysée expected Damascus to twist Hezbollah’s arm, while treating the other major player of the Lebanese opposition, General Aoun, as though his only option was political suicide. 

But Syria is only part of the solution in Lebanon, and dialogue is no substitute for a genuine mediation effort aiming to reduce the still-yawning gaps. From Syria’s point of view, France also was only part of the solution.  The rapprochement only made sense if it initiated a wider dynamic, heralding a package deal: recognition of its interests in Lebanon, reconciliation with Arab states, a change of mind of the United States and negotiations over the Golan. Damascus first wanted to see if Paris could alter Washington’s policies. Then, as the first effects materialized, Syria made some timid overtures, by approving the principle of a consensus president, facilitating the departure of Lahoud and participating in the Annapolis peace conference – which sowed doubt among its allies with regards to its potential change of camp.

Given the potentially high price for Damascus of any further concession, matters stopped there, to the Elysée’s frustration. Irritation climaxed as Damascus, seeking to gain time, repeatedly reassured its French partners about the imminence of a solution which was each time postponed by the Lebanese opposition. The latter’s multiplying and shifting demands, provocative Syrian declarations and renewed political assassinations finally convinced Paris that Syria was playing a double game; a forceful return of the Bush administration in Lebanon led Damascus to draw the same conclusion.

As a result, the Elysée has been weighing up various ways to punish Syria. President Sarkozy, who could have been President Assad’s best friend, could now become his worst enemy, if his efforts at sanctioning him are as energetic as was his seduction campaign. In Damascus, a belligerent discourse has come back into vogue. It refers in an almost obsessive manner to the dignity and sovereignty of a country that will not yield to pressure. But no one doubts this anymore. The question that arises is which approach has a chance of resolving a crisis that is doomed to worsen. Mere “dialogue”changes nothing, ultimately. The incoming American administration will have to engage in tough negotiations aimed at a package deal, to know if an agreement in Lebanon is possible… and ascertain, if not, that a showdown is inevitable.

Peter Harling is the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon project director at the International Crisis Group.

Comments (10)


1. wizart said:

Obama and Islam

a US university student wrote recently..

Barack Obama represents “the only hope for the US in the Muslim world,” according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama’s father was a Muslim, he “could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US.” With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, “we’re facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims.”

Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was “raised a Muslim,” but says he was a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.

Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We’ve already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said “No to Obama Osama.”

Hersh did not hold out much hope for improved relations between the US and the Muslim world. “The only good news I can bring you is that tomorrow morning there will be one less day of the Bush presidency,” he told an overflow crowd in a public lecture at UC Irvine. Bush “doesn’t care about” his low standing in the polls, and as a result “he’s going to keep going until 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009.”

Even after Bush’s term ends, “much of the damage is yet to come,” Hersh said. “The problems for the next president may be intractable.”

“They say the surge has worked,” Hersh said. “But do you think someday we will get an oil deal in Iraq? They’ll burn the fields first. We’re hated in Iraq.”

As for Afghanistan, “we became more of a threat to the people than Taliban,” Hersh said. We’re “losing the war there,” he said, and concluded that “Afghanistan is a doomed society.”

Hersh said he had just returned from Syria, where he was working on his next New Yorker piece, on the mysterious bombing carried out by the US and the Israelis. “The Syrians have a much longer-term perspective than we do,” he said. “They say ‘we’ve been here for 10,000 years; we’re not going away.'”

As for the short term, Hersh said, “Cheney thinks war with Islam is inevitable, so we might as well have it now.” Administration plans for bombing Iran call for targeting the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s response, Hersh said, is likely to be “asymmetrical” – instead of striking back directly at the US, they will “hit the oil” in the Gulf. The result will be oil prices of “$200 or $300 a barrel,” double or triple the current price.

But will Bush bomb Iran? Hersh’s answer: “How the hell should I know?”

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 6:53 pm

 

2. wizart said:

Obama and Islam
Jon Wiener

Barack Obama represents “the only hope for the US in the Muslim world,” according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama’s father was a Muslim, he “could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US.” With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, “we’re facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims.”

Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was “raised a Muslim,” but says he was a “confirmed atheist” by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.

Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We’ve already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said “No to Obama Osama.”

Hersh did not hold out much hope for improved relations between the US and the Muslim world. “The only good news I can bring you is that tomorrow morning there will be one less day of the Bush presidency,” he told an overflow crowd in a public lecture at UC Irvine. Bush “doesn’t care about” his low standing in the polls, and as a result “he’s going to keep going until 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009.”

Even after Bush’s term ends, “much of the damage is yet to come,” Hersh said. “The problems for the next president may be intractable.”

“They say the surge has worked,” Hersh said. “But do you think someday we will get an oil deal in Iraq? They’ll burn the fields first. We’re hated in Iraq.”

As for Afghanistan, “we became more of a threat to the people than Taliban,” Hersh said. We’re “losing the war there,” he said, and concluded that “Afghanistan is a doomed society.”

Hersh said he had just returned from Syria, where he was working on his next New Yorker piece, on the mysterious bombing carried out by the US and the Israelis. “The Syrians have a much longer-term perspective than we do,” he said. “They say ‘we’ve been here for 10,000 years; we’re not going away.'”

As for the short term, Hersh said, “Cheney thinks war with Islam is inevitable, so we might as well have it now.” Administration plans for bombing Iran call for targeting the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s response, Hersh said, is likely to be “asymmetrical” – instead of striking back directly at the US, they will “hit the oil” in the Gulf. The result will be oil prices of “$200 or $300 a barrel,” double or triple the current price.

But will Bush bomb Iran? Hersh’s answer: “How the hell should I know?”

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 6:55 pm

 

3. wizart said:

What is Jihad?

In the classical manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, the rules associated with armed warfare are covered at great length. Such rules include not killing women, children and non-combatants, as well as not damaging cultivated or residential areas. More recently, modern Muslims have tried to re-interpret the Islamic sources, stressing that Jihad is essentially defensive warfare aimed at protecting Muslims and Islam. Although some Islamic scholars have differed on the implementation of Jihad, there is consensus amongst them that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.

Jihad has also been applied to offensive, aggressive warfare, as exemplified by early movements like the Kharijites and the contemporary Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization (which assassinated Anwar Al Sadat) as well as Jihad organizations in Lebanon, the Gulf states, and Indonesia. When used to describe warfare between Islamic groups or individuals, such as al-Qaeda’s attacks on civilians in Iraq, perpetrators of violence often cite collaboration with non-Islamic powers as a justification. The terrorist attacks like September 11, 2001 planned and executed by radical Islamic fundamentalists have not been sanctioned by more centrist groups of Muslims. This kind of terrorism has often been condemned by Muslims all arround the world.

When Muslim populations are attacked on the basis of religion, Jihad becomes mandatory on the government of that particular state (and all Muslims) until all hostile forces are either eliminated or negotiated out of the occupied land. If the threat continues to persist, the Islamic State may have to eliminate the threat through force.

The word itself is recorded in English since 1869, in the Muslim sense, and has been used for any doctrinal crusade since c. 1880.

Non-violent jihad

Some Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad regarded the inner struggle for faith a greater Jihad than even fighting [by force] in the way of God, and quote the famous but controversial hadith which has the prophet saying: “We have returned from the lesser jihad (battle) to the greater jihad (jihad of the soul).”

In Modern Standard Arabic, jihad is one of the correct terms for a struggle for any cause, violent or not, religious or secular (though كفاح kifāḥ is also used). For instance, Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for Indian independence is called a “jihad” in Modern Standard Arabic (as well as many other dialects of Arabic) even though it was neither an Islamic struggle nor conducted violently; the same terminology is applied to the fight for women’s liberation.

In modern times, Pakistani scholar and professor Fazlur Rahman has used the term to describe the struggle to establish “just moral-social order”, while President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has used it to describe the struggle for economic development in Tunisia.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 7:19 pm

 

4. wizart said:

“Peace starts with a smile”

Mother Teresa

“Without inner peace, it is impossible to have world peace.”
His Holiness Dalai Lama

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Matthew 5:3

“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us: ’That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.’”
Abdul Ghaffar Khan

“Love Thy Enemy”
Matthew 5:43

Do you want long life and happiness? Strive for peace with all your heart.
Psalm 34:12,14

Nonviolence is the supreme law of life.
Indian Proverb

“Hatred can be overcome only by love”
Mahatma Gandhi.

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
The Buddha

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Albert Einstein

“Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Peace is its own reward.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“To my mind, to kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder.”
Albert Einstein

“One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”
Agatha Christie

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 7:54 pm

 

5. Shai said:

Wizart,

I think you’re attempting a hijack of this forum… Isn’t that terrorism? 🙂

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 8:04 pm

 

6. wizart said:

Shai,

That’s a pretty peaceful way to define a controversial concept!

Are you familiar with “cognitive behavioral therapy?” it’s what we need to do on a massive scale to help people see the world in a more positive, hopeful, peaceful and productive way.

We need to make fun of stupid concepts..humor maybe the way to peace because peace is like business..too important to be taken seriously 🙂

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 8:43 pm

 

7. Shai said:

Wizart,

I’ll second that! … the part about humor.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 19th, 2008, 10:00 pm

 

8. TheOtherPointOfVieW said:

Wizart,

I recommend that you help (a) start AAPAC (second A=Arab), and (b) post your Jihad article (with some editing for enhancement) on the OP-Ed pages of the NYTimes.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 20th, 2008, 12:22 am

 

9. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Oh, I must be at the wrong blog. This is WIZARTComment. Sorry.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 20th, 2008, 1:10 am

 

10. wizart said:

The Other Point of View,

Your point is well taken.

I failed to mention earlier the Jihad part (credit) belongs to google which as you know has a freely circulated encyclopedia.

Are you familiar with http://www.ADC.org? It’s the closest thing to an American Arab Political Action Commitee with thousands of members.

They have annual conventions usually in June in Washington, D.C.

One of their first founding officers was killed in Los Angeles allegedly by some secret agent working for a foreign government.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

March 20th, 2008, 9:37 am

 

Post a comment