News Round Up (21 March 2010)

Thanks to Greg Gause for setting the record straight on the “nature of the Syrian regime” in this rebuttal of Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Cook explained “What the Neocons Got Right” in a short article for Foreign Policy last week. The three things they got right, Cook argues were: “Syria, Iran, and democracy.” His first line on Syria reads:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime’s is all about: violence, repression, and duplicity. For all their faults, the neocons can read recent history pretty well, and they understood that endless shuttle diplomacy of various U.S. secretaries of state (with the exception of James Baker) brought the region no closer to peace and did nothing to alter Damascus’s strategic posture.

Here is Gause: [By the way, I am using his new book on the Gulf in my fall class: "Foreign Relations in the Middle East." It is excellent.]

Strikeout: How Cook fails to bring the neocons back
Posted By F. Gregory Gause, III Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Foreign Policy

…. First, Syria. Cook contends that the neocons were right about the true nature of the Assad regime, that it would never make peace with Israel and always be hostile to the United States. He argues that all during the Syrian-Israeli negotiations of the 1990s, Damascus never laid out what it was willing to give Israel for the return of the Golan Heights. This is just wrong. The memoirs of both Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, neither known as defenders of the Syrian regime, make clear that in fact the Syrian side gave a quite detailed outline of how they defined “peace” with Israel and what they were willing to give to get back the Golan.

Gregs New Book

Greg's New Book

Those who followed those negotiations closely at the time will recall that these elements were leaked to the press, first in less detailed form to the international Arabic daily Al-Hayat and later in a fuller form to the Israeli daily Maariv. This was later leaked by the Israeli government itself, which was responding to domestic critics who accused it of being ready to give away the store to Damascus. The leak about a draft of a proposed Syrian-Israeli treaty that had been agreed to by both sides was meant to show how well and hard then Prime Minister Ehud Barak had bargained. Both Indyk and Ross show Barak to have been all over the place on the Syrian negotiations, pushing for a quick conclusion, then backing off at Shepardstown (having to be coaxed off his airplane, in fact, to join the negotiations), and then begging President Clinton to meet with Assad — even though Barak had nothing new to offer on the maddeningly minor territorial compromise he was demanding.

In the end, both Ross and Indyk blame Syria for backing away from peace with Israel, arguing that the elder Assad was pressured domestically not to take the final step. This does not ring true with me, as the Assad regime was not known for its gentle consideration of domestic criticism. More likely, Assad just decided that the Israelis were not serious. But neither Ross nor Indyk say that Syria failed to set out in detail what it was willing to offer in exchange for the Golan.

More generally, Cook gets the dynamics that drive Syrian foreign policy wrong. He forgets that Damascus was willing to ally with the U.S. in the Gulf War of 1990-91 and that with the end of the Cold War, it slowly but surely accommodated itself to American unipolar leadership in the Middle East. It hedged its bets, to be sure, by maintaining its ties to Iran (which had their origins in the two regimes’ common antipathy toward Saddam Hussein) and never gave up its desire to dominate Lebanon. But its overt anti-Americanism of the post-2003 period was a response to the neo-con-inspired hubris of American policy after the fall of Saddam, characterized by loose talk about further regime changes in the region. Damascus was balancing American power, which is not a particularly unexpected foreign policy reaction. It is hard to understand why Bashar al-Assad engaged in indirect talks with the Israelis through Turkey for years (until they were scuttled by the Gaza conflict of late 2008-early 2009) if the neocons were right about the nature of the Syrian regime. ….

Syria’s quiet revolution-
To understand the real impact of Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution, look across the border at neighbouring Syria
By Sakhr al-Makhadhi
guardian, Sunday 21 March 2010

Five years after the Cedar Revolution promised to change Lebanon forever, the country is back to its old ways. The political earthquake that followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri may have left Lebanon looking almost untouched, but in neighbouring Syria it has had profound, and unexpected, effects.

One million people marched through the streets of Beirut, in the biggest demonstration Lebanon had ever seen. It was 14 March 2005 – the date which gave its name to the anti-Syrian political movement founded in its wake. But five years on, many of March 14′s founding politicians have disowned the group and switched sides, and some of those who remain have apologised for their earlier angry statements.

This U-turn of an entire political class has left today’s Lebanon looking almost identical to the Lebanon of 2005. Syrian troops may no longer be on the streets (they left the capital Beirut years before their complete withdrawal in 2005), but little else has changed. A Syria-friendly member of the Hariri family is back in power, Rafiq’s son Sa’ad, who visited Damascus in December to make his peace with President Bashar al-Assad. And the Hizbollah-led opposition is back in government.

If you want to understand the real impact of the events of March 14, look across the border at Syria. Lebanon’s neighbour is changing more every month than it did in an entire year back in the 1990s.

As George Bush almost immediately sought to blame Assad for the 2005 killing, many were predicting the fall of the regime in Damascus within months. Later that year the interior minister committed suicide, and the vice-president defected.

Five years on, those expecting regime implosions have been proven wrong. Assad is stronger now than he has been at any point during in his 10 years in power. Socially and economically, though, Syria is almost unrecognisable.

Syria is now officially a “social market economy”, ending decades of socialism. Private banks have started appearing on the Syrian streets, many offering credit cards for the first time. Institutions from neighbouring countries dominate, although a recent decision to allow foreign companies to hold a majority share in their Syrian subsidiaries may encourage large western banks to enter the Syrian market. Imports now flow in freely, and the long-awaited stock market is finally (albeit very slowly) getting off the ground.

The results of this economic revolution are astonishing. While the global economy contracts, Syria expands. Real GDP was up 4% last year, according to the IMF. And inflation halved, from 14.5% in 2008 to 7.5% last year.

The US is realising it has failed to hold back this Syrian gold-rush. It imposed an economic embargo in the wake of the Hariri assassination, which looks like it could finally be eased this summer. Assistant secretary of state Jeffrey Feltman admitted: “So you ended up at a point when we isolate – we were the ones isolated. It was no longer Syria being isolated. It was the United States that was being isolated.” Remarkable words from the man who was George Bush’s ambassador to Beirut at the time of the Cedar Revolution.

The EU, too, knows it can no longer ignore Syria’s emerging economy. In 2004 it was about to sign an association agreement with Syria. This would have allowed a degree of free trade between the two economies. But as international political pressure on Syria mounted, it put the deal on hold, infuriating Syria. Last October, the EU suddenly offered to finalise the agreement but an economically emboldened Syria says it wants to wait and see.

Five years ago, doors were being closed in the faces of Syrian businessmen. Now, Arab states, America and finally the EU are trying to get their hands on this untapped market. But those Damascene entrepreneurs aren’t so sure they want foreigners to have easy access to their home territory. They are already struggling to compete against cheaper, higher-quality imports from Turkey, following a free-trade deal with Ankara. The EU association agreement would mean handing a bigger chunk of their market over to foreigners.

But not all foreigners are bad for Syrian business. The country is awash with tourists, even a few Americans, following the New York Times’s decision to name Damascus as one of its top 10 destinations for 2010. The country, whose economy has traditionally been dependent on tourism, received another boost when the US lifted its warning against travel to Syria last month. To cater for the influx of western visitors, around 70 traditional courtyard houses have been converted into hotels, breathing new life into the Old City of Damascus, which was on the verge of collapse earlier in the decade.

In January, Syria’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad, announced that she wanted civil society to play a bigger role in Syria. NGOs, she said, would be given more freedom, and even legal protection. The president’s London-born wife was speaking at a conference that itself would have been unthinkable five years ago. Former British foreign office minster Lord Malloch-Brown was one of the keynote speakers at the event where some local NGO leaders dared to get on stage and publicly challenge the government to do more.

This new social and economic optimism is drawing back thousands of Syrian expats. The length of military service has been reduced, and it is easier for Syrians born abroad to gain exemption. There’s a Beirutisation of parts of Damascus, with the English language more common than Arabic on the upmarket streets of Shaalan. Private universities have been established, and they’re teaching – for the first time – in English.

It wasn’t Lebanon that changed following the so-called Cedar Revolution, it was Syria.

See Helena Cobban’s summary of Yezid Sayigh’s lecture delivered at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on Hamas and Fayyad. It is excellent. Hats off to both Sayigh and Cobban.

The concluding paragraph of a Fareed Zakaria in the latest Newsweek “Bibi’s Bluster”: (Thanks Ghat)

“Meanwhile, the central problem persists: Israel rules more than 3 million Palestinians who will never become citizens of Israel and yet do not have their own state. As they multiply, Israel’s status as a democracy becomes more and more complex; the country looks more and more like an island of rich Israelis set in a sea of Palestinian serfs.”

Kurdish sources write that three Kurds were shot dead my Syrian security officers during Nayrouz festivities.

Edward Djerejian in Haaretz, the director of the Baker Institute, was Baker’s assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs. Before that he was ambassador to Syria, and afterward, ambassador to Israel.[...]

“Obama cannot remove himself from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because this issue affects the United States’ core national security interests,” continued Djerejian. “The Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially the Palestinian issue, remains one of the most contentious and sensitive issues in the entire Muslim world. Osama bin Laden exploits the plight of the Palestinians, as does [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad … This has a direct influence on the United States, which is expending its blood and treasure fighting insurgencies in overwhelmingly Muslim Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We would be naive to think that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will eliminate the problems of terrorism and radicalization in the Islamic world, but it will go a long way toward draining the swamp of issues that extremists exploit for their own ends.”

Hillary Clinton: “Paying Off” in Politico

“In an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the toughness of the U.S. reaction to the Israeli government’s East Jerusalem housing announcement last week is “paying off” as the U.S. now expects negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

She also said that contrary to some reports, the U.S. is not interested in forcing a shuffle in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She said, however, that it’s Netanyahu’s responsibility to “make sure that he brings in everyone else” to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians. “It’s not something that the United States can or is interested in doing,” she said.

Ghattas: You took a risk in escalating the tone with Israel last week, I understand the relationship is solid but the Israelis could have said we never promised restraint on settlments in east Jerusalem,- is the risk paying off?

Clinton: I think we’re going to see the resumption of the negotiation track and that means that it is paying off because that’s our goal. Let’s get the parties into a discussion, let’s [get] the principle issues on the table and let’s begin to explore ways that we can resolve the differences.

Ghattas: Is the pressure on the Israeli prime minister meant to be a moment of clarity, either he delivers on his commitment to peace, or his right wing coalition falls?

Clinton: We’re not taking any position and we have no particular stake in who the Israelis choose to govern them.They’re a democracy and they make that choice. I think that different parts of govern make action or statements that are not in the best interest of the government as a whole and I think what the Prime Minister has said repeatedly is that his government and he personally are committed to pursuing these negotiations and he just has to make sure that he brings in everyone else, that’s his responsibility it’s not something that the United states can or is interested in doing…”

Telling Israel – and ourselves – difficult truths By Henry Siegman[A must read]

For all the anger and indignation of the White House and Department of State over the humiliation of Vice President Joseph Biden by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government during Biden’s visit to Israel, it is difficult to deny that we virtually invited that treatment. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Netanyahu it was the substance, not only the timing, of the announcement of new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem that the U.S. found so objectionable. Presidential advisor David Axelrod added that it was Netanyahu’s attempt to deceive us about the purpose of this construction that is particularly offensive. For the massive Jewish incursion into Arab East Jerusalem is a deliberate effort to prevent a peace agreement and a two-state solution. No Palestinian leader can sign a peace accord that denies a Palestinian state its capital in Arab East Jerusalem.

US silencing Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer
Haymarket Books,
19 March 2010

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States.

Syria, Italy pledge to deepen standing dialogue, boost cooperation
10:34, March 19, 2010

President Assad reiterated his doubts about achieving peace since there is no partner on the Israeli side. He warned against the perpetuation of the status quo. And called on EU to participate in  finding plausible solutions for the issues in the region.

He said: “the current israeli government can’t be relied upon as a partner for peace, as long as it continues policies like settlements, changing identity of east Jerusalem and violation of Holy Sites”, he stressed that “Syria is serious about achieving just and comprehensive peace based on UN resolutions and indirect negotiations through the Turkish mediator”

About his talks with the Italian president, he said:

“we’ve discussed the peace process and agreed that peace in the middle east will reflect on the EU and the entire world in terms of peace and stability. I’ve warned against the conditions staying as they are, and I’ve called at Italy and European country–given their geographical proximity, historical relations and their understanding of the region affairs– to participate in looking for solutions for regional issues”, he also stated that the catastrophic living conditions the Palestinian people are suffering from were the core issue of discussion: “I’ve called on the EU to intensify their efforts to lift the oppressive siege off the Palestinians, and to exert pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Arab lands that had been occupied in 1967, and to remove settlements…”, he stressed that settlements and occupation “present a real impediment to peace and push the region towards more tension and wars…”

Comments (3)


1. almasr said:

What is jumurderka? Is it some kind of hi-tech missile which targets settlements designed by Zionists? Where can you find such a thing?
And what is ersatz? It sounds like something very odious.

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March 22nd, 2010, 5:46 pm

 

2. almasri said:

Bondo,
What is jumurderka? Is it some kind of a high-tech missile which targets settlemets designed by Zionist terrorrists? Is there such a thing? And where can you find it? And do you know how much it costs per piece?
And what is ersatz? It sounds like a very odius thing.

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March 22nd, 2010, 6:14 pm

 

3. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The lecture by Dr. Yezid Sayigh in Helena Cobban’s site is worth watching. Fascinating visit-report to Gaza and to the west-bank, and his impressions from the two states solution: the Salam Fayyad state and the Ismail Haniyyeh state.
.

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March 23rd, 2010, 12:22 am

 

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