Posted by Joshua on Saturday, March 31st, 2007
Pelosi is traveling to Damascus next week. Five other lawmakers, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat. One Republican, Representative David Hobson of Ohio, is also on the trip. Bush Aide Perino Says Speaker Pelosi's Planned Syria Trip Is a `Bad Idea' A White House spokeswoman denounced the visit. A number of congress members traveled to Damascus following the initial publication of the Baker Hamilton report, but the US government cut off the opening with the launching of the troop surge in Baghdad. But few officials believe it can work. Richard Armitage, who was Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, was quoted recently in the excellent New Yorker article by George Packer: "Betrayed: The Iraqis who trusted America the most:"
“The President believes so firmly that he is President for just this mission—and there’s something religious about it—that it will succeed, and that kind of permeates. I just take him at his word these days. I think it’s very improbable that he’ll be successful.”
With hard-minded realists like Armitage claiming fatalistically that Washington will just wait until the President's plan completely fails, Palosi's trip to Damascus is much welcomed. It is high time that both parties begin figuring out what options are available to them once Bush moves on. Talking to Syria's president is only one step in this process. As Packer makes clear in his moving article about the Iraqi translators, the consequences of America's failure in Iraq have already devastated the lives of so many. The real impact is only in mid-stream. Many more refugees will be spit out of Iraq before it is over. The US has no plans to take in those Iraqis that have helped the US, as they tried to do in Vietnam, when departing US officials cleared the way for over 100,000 Vietnamese to get visas to the US.
Warren Strobel of McClatchy News explains that the Bush administration is religiously persevering in its campaign against the Syrian government. He writes the U.S. will step up it's campaign against the Syrian government.
WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has launched a campaign to isolate and embarrass Syrian President Bashar Assad, using parliamentary elections in late April as a lever, according to State Department officials and Syrian exiles.
The campaign, which some officials fear is aimed at destabilizing Syria, has been in the works for months.
It involves escalating attacks on Syria's human rights record, which is generally regarded as abysmal, as well as White House-approved support for Syrian bloggers and election monitors inside and outside the country to highlight the nation's lack of freedom, the officials and others said.
The State Department in recent weeks has issued a series of rhetorical broadsides against Syria, using language harsher than that usually reserved for U.S. adversaries. On Friday, the administration criticized a planned visit there by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif..
"It's the new Cuba – no language is too tough," said one of the officials, who like others insisted on anonymity to discuss internal government planning.
The campaign appears to fly in the face of the recommendations last December of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which urged President Bush to engage diplomatically with Syria to stabilize Iraq and address the Arab-Israeli conflict. The White House largely ignored that recommendation, agreeing only to talk with Syria about Iraqi refugees and to attend a Baghdad conference where envoys from Iran and Syria were present.
Some officials who are aware of the campaign say they fear its real aim is to weaken or even overthrow Assad and to ensure that he can't thwart the creation of an international tribunal to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A U.N. report has implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials in the murder.
The officials say the campaign bears the imprint of Elliott Abrams, a conservative White House aide in charge of pushing Bush's global democracy agenda.
The plan's defenders say the effort to support democracy and speak out against repression in Syria is no different from similar U.S. efforts aimed at governments in Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
The parliamentary elections scheduled for April 22 appear certain to be rigged, according to experts on Syria and critics of Assad's authoritarian regime.
Almost three-quarters of the seats in parliament are set aside for members of the Ba'ath Party, which has ruled Syria since a 1963 coup, and its allies. New campaign spending rules appear designed to undercut the few truly independent candidates.
"Our objective is to have real elections in Syria. . . . It's important to get that kind of message across and, number two, to expose what's happening in Syria," said Najib Ghadbian, who's affiliated with the National Salvation Front, a loose coalition of mostly exiled Syrian government opponents. The group gets no U.S. funding, he said.
Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma assistant professor who studies Syria, agreed that the election outcome isn't in doubt, but said U.S. pressure will have little impact. "The problem is, America's such a discredited bully pulpit for this kind of thing," he said.
Indeed, U.S. efforts to isolate Syria received a setback at this week's Arab summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi leadership, which has ostracized Assad since the Hariri assassination, appeared to welcome him back into the fold.
Ahmed Salkini, a Syrian embassy spokesman, said, "There is nothing not free" about the upcoming elections, and he called U.S. criticisms hypocritical in light of alleged U.S. rights abuses at the Guantanamo prison.
McClatchy Newspapers is withholding some details about Syrian groups and individuals involved in monitoring the April elections because their followers could face arrest in Syria.
But a classified government document that surfaced in December proposed a covert election-monitoring effort that would be funded by a State Department-run democracy promotion program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative. MEPI has set aside $5 million for activities aimed at Syria.
U.S. officials confirmed the existence of the document, which was first reported by Time magazine.
The document identified the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute as a potential partner in the effort. An IRI spokeswoman declined comment this week.
At least some elements of the plan appear to have gone forward.
Several Internet sites have been created to monitor and discuss the April elections, which are to be followed in May by a referendum on Assad's rule. One, largely in Arabic, is www.transparentsyria.com.
As McClatchy Newspapers first reported last year, the Bush administration also has orchestrated meetings of Syrian opposition figures under the auspices of the Aspen Institute's Berlin offices. White House officials have met with representatives of the National Salvation Front, a broad umbrella group that includes Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood and former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam.
In Washington, meanwhile, the State Department's verbal attacks on Syria have gotten harsher.
On March 8, in what several officials said was an opening volley, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement urging Assad to allow full media coverage of the elections and permit independent monitors. "The United States is deeply concerned that the Syrian regime will again fail its people by not holding free and fair elections," he said.
On Thursday, McCormack issued another statement, expressing concern over two imprisoned human rights activists in Syria, Anwar al-Bunni and Kamal al-Labwani. Al-Labwani was arrested in November 2005 after returning from a trip that included a meeting with a top White House adviser.
He again called for the establishment of an international court to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. 'We call for Lebanese national consensus about this,' he said.
Fox News reports that "U.N. Chief Warns Arms Smugglers From Syrian Could Threaten Lebanon Cease-Fire."
Seniora told reporters during the joint press conference that Lebanese forces with the help of German and Dutch UN troops were doing their best to stop arms smuggling across Lebanese borders. 'Up till now, not a single case of smuggling through the border has been put forward to us,' he said. He called on Ban to share any information about arms smuggling with the Lebanese government.
According the Levant News, the Syrian government bulldozed a number of houses in a Kurdish section of Raqqa following Nawrous celebrations. The houses it bulldozed were chosen at random because they were near the area in which the celebrations took place.
* نداء عاجل: أكراد الرقة تهدم بيوتهم بعد احتفالات النوروز
موقع أخبار الشرق – الجمعة 30 آذار/ مارس 2007
بعد مضي خمسة أيام على احتفالات النوروز وتنعّم الأكراد بالهدوء الذي ساد احتفالات العيد، بدأت العاصفة، عندما اقدمت السلطات (البلدية – مجلس المحافظة – الشرطة…) في يوم الاثنين المصادف 26/3/ 2007 الساعة الثانية عشر ظهراً على هدم عشرات المنازل في حي الأندلس الواقع في الجهة الشمالية من مدينة الرقة السورية والتي لا تبعد عن مركز احتفالات النوروز سوى ثلاثمائة متر.
وحسب المعلومات المتوفرة انه في يوم الاثنين ذاته كان هناك اجتماع لمجلس محافظة الرقة، وقد طالب احد الحضور المجتمعين بهدم المنازل في مناطق السكن العشوائي الواقعة فيما بين الجسرين وهذا الحي يسمى (حي الفرات) ويقع جنوب المدينة بمحاذاة نهر الفرات وغالبية قاطنيه من الإخوة العرب، والحي مخصص للجمعيات التعاونية السكنية، وبالفعل تم تنفيذ القرار على الفور، ولكن التنفيذ تم في حي الأندلس الواقع شمال المدينة والذي يسكنه الكرد، وهذا الحي من الأحياء الشعبية الذي يقطنها فقراء الرقة والذي يفتقد لجميع الخدمات.
Tony Karon at the Rootless Cosmopolitan assess US-Saudi relations in his "Birth Pangs of a Post-Bush Middle East."
I've marveled for some time now at the abundance of unmistakable evidence to the contrary, so much of the mainstream media in the U.S. appears to feel dutybound to parrot Condi Rice's giddy fantasies about processes underway in the Middle East, and her Administration's central role in shaping them. For months now we've been fed this pile of manure about the U.S. orchestrating a "realignment" in the region, with moderate Sunni Arab states joining with the U.S. and Israel to isolate and confront Iran, Hamas and others Washington dubs "extremists." Then, last week, as she set out on her umpteenth "Looking Busy" tour of the region, we were served up grand accounts of how Condi was choreographing a complex diplomatic dance aimed at revving the "peace process" (a word that, like "gold standard", has survived in the media's lexicon despite the institutions and practises it describes having long passed from the scene).
I wrote on this at length this week at the excellent web journal TomDispatch measuring the spin transmitted by mainstream news outlets against the real processes occurring in the region. And wondering why Washington-based correspondents seem to take Condi's fantasy narrative a lot more seriously than their counterparts in Israel and the Arab world.
But as the week wore on, it became blatantly obvious that Rice's efforts, and her perspective, are largely irrelevant to events now unfolding, and what much of the media appears reluctant to tell its readers — perhaps for fear of offending Condi and her handlers? — is that even those Arab leaders considered closest to the U.S. have taken to ignoring the advice and injunctions of the Secretary of State and the Administration she represents.
The bubble finally burst in Riyadh this week, when King Abdullah — who has already blatantly ignored failed U.S. policies of trying to isolate both, by engaging extensively with the Iranians on regional tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere, and by brokering a Palestinian unity government that put President Mahmoud Abbas into a power sharing arrangement with Hamas, against the express wishes of the Bush Administration — rhetorically slapped down the U.S. occupation of Iraq, calling it illegal, and also demanding an end to the U.S. led financial siege of the Palestinian Authority.
What's interesting about the sudden public break from Washington and assertion of political independence by the "Arab moderates" that were supposedly the vanguard of Bush Administration Middle East policy Version 7.4, is that it is a profound vote of no-confidence in U.S. policy. The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians could simply no longer sit back and watch the U.S. wreaking havoc throughout the region, because the resulting catastrophe would sweep away their regimes, too. It was as if Abdullah had given George W. Bush five years to pursue his fantasy of remaking the region through force, and now had to call time on the Bush era before it was too late for his own regime.
The Saudis are distancing themselves from the US out of self-interest. But the gestures towards discussing Israeli-Palestinian peace right now are a symptom of the combined political weakness of all the main participants — the Arab regimes, the Israeli government, President Mahmoud Abbas and the U.S. And the Arabs are making clear that no progress is possible unless the U.S. is prepared to press Israel, which is extremely unlikely both because of Bush's own preferences, but also, frankly, because of the grip of AIPAC on mainstream thinking in both parties in Washington. Etc etc.