Syria Comment Returns + News Roundup

Some readers may have noticed that Syria Comment was down for about 2 days. We are sorry about this. Alex, and a wonderful techie of his, have been repairing and servicing the site, which forced us to take it off line for a few days.

The 1 trillion bail out. At the end of the Clinton administration in 2000, US government debt was $5,676,989,904,887 and falling for the first time for decades. After 8 years of Bush leadership, the national debt stands at 9.6 trillion dollars. The financial crisis of the past few weeks is estimated to have already cost the American taxpayers over 1 trillion, which means that in a few weeks the debt has increased by over 10% to bring it over the 10 trillion dollar mark. The average American owed $31,721.81 a week ago. Today, that debt has been increased by roughly $3,000 per American, or $12,000 for a family of 4, like mine.

The Bush administration will have presided over the doubling of US debt in a short 8 years. The financial crisis may end up costing Americans more than the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The impact of this growing debt on America’s foreign power is unclear. One can assume that Washington’s hands will be increasingly tied by its poverty. More of the budget will be spent on servicing the debt. Foreign countries, such as China which owns America’s debt, will have greater influence over the US economy, and, presumably, its politics as well. Washington will have to hesitate before going to war or imposing economic sanctions on countries.

In the mean time, the US remains confident enough to continue economic sanctions on Syria. A friend writes:

Just this week, I have heard from other American friends in Syria (I am currently in the US – I’ll be back in Syria in a week) that America has blocked Americans from using ATMs in Syria. Some of my friends have been able to use their cards while others have not. I called my bank here to check and they said there was no problem. We’ll see next week once we’re back. Perhaps you could get confirmation from some of your readers in Syria?

The explanation for blocked ATM use may be simply that banks stop cards if they see irregular activity. For Americans, traveling to Syria will be cause for their banks to block their cards. To avoid this, Americans should call their banks and explain where they will be traveling before departure. I have taken this precaution before and still had my card blocked because bank employees have neglected to read the notes placed on my computer account before blocking the card. It can be fixed by a call or email to your bank. Don’t leave home without your bank information and telephone numbers.

A second explanation for irregular blockage of bank cards may be that some companies are taking no chances and blocking all commerce with Syria, while others do not. For example, Google has blocked the use of its new web-browser, “Chrome”, in Syria.

If readers have intelligence on this matter, please let us know.

Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian who was sent to Syria for torture by US authorities, is interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR.

$500 billion bailout of financial firms

The government rather than the cold judgment of the marketplace will decide the winners and losers from the crisis that has shaken the U.S. economy for the past year.

Paulson and Bernanke held a morning conference call with more than 100 House Republicans, making the case for their plan and describing in “strong and serious” terms the dire situation facing the financial system, according to a participant on the call. Hours later, the House Republican leadership met with members and lobbyists to warn against cluttering the legislation with amendments or trying to delay its passage. The message, according to a person at the meeting: We want a clean bill. …

“If you have hundreds of millions of mortgage-backed securities on your books that you cannot value, much less sell, you can now unload them to the U.S. government.”

Ten Russian warships have docked at Syrian port
Debka, 20 settembre 2008

Israeli military and naval commanders were taken by surprise by Rear Adm. Andrei Baranov’s disclosure that 10 Russian warships are already anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus, DEBKA file’s military sources report.

Moscow and Damascus have worked fast to put in place the agreement reached in Moscow on Sept. 12 by Russian navy commander, Adm. Vladimir Wysotsky and Syrian naval commander Gen. Taleb al-Barri to provide the Russian fleet with a long-term base at Syrian ports. Israel was not aware that this many vessels were involved in the deal.

What most worries Israeli military leaders is an earlier announcement by Adm. Wysotsky that Russia’s Mediterranean assets would subjected to its Black Sea fleet command, thereby placing Russia’s warships near Israel’s shores at the service of Moscow’s contest against the US and NATO in the Caucasian. It is feared that Israel will be dragged into another cold war.

Rear Adm. Baranov disclosed that the warships in Tartus had brought engineering crews to widen and dredge the harbor to accommodate additional, fleet vessels. The crews were also working on expanding Latakia, another Syrian port, possibly for aircraft carriers or guided missile cruisers.

The Russians are making no secret of their intention of using their naval presence in Syrian ports as a deterrent to a possible Israeli air strike against Syria.

Israel says Russia passes intelligence it gathers about the Jewish state to Syria and indirectly to Hezbollah… “…The allegations …came at a touchy time in relations with Moscow, given Russian arms talks with Syria and the involvement of a Russian state-owned company in building a nuclear power plant for Iran at Bushehr on its Gulf coast.
Russia has, in turn, complained about Israeli arms and training for Georgia, with which it fought a five-day war last month over the Georgian province of South Ossetia. “My assessment is that their facilities cover most of the state of Israel’s territory,”

Friday Lunch Club reports that: Fmr. head of NSA, Adm. Bobby Inman: “The US government has told the Israeli government in no uncertain terms that they can not kill Nasrallah”

Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria, Tehran Times: “”When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,”” Muallem added.

Cheney Linked Hussein to Al-Qaeda, Ex-GOP House Leader Says in Book
By Jeff Leen
The Washington Post, September 16, 2008

A GOP congressional leader who was wavering on giving President Bush the authority to wage war in late 2002 said Vice President Cheney misled him by saying that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had direct personal ties to al-Qaeda terrorists and was making rapid progress toward a suitcase nuclear weapon, according to a new book by Washington Post investigative reporter Barton Gellman.

Cheney’s assertions, described by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (Tex.), came in a highly classified one-on-one briefing in Room H-208, the vice president’s hideaway office in the Capitol. The threat Cheney described went far beyond public statements that have been criticized for relying on “cherry-picked” intelligence of unknown reliability. There was no intelligence to support the vice president’s private assertions, Gellman reports, and they “crossed so far beyond the known universe of fact that they were simply without foundation.”

Armey had spoken out against the coming war, and his opposition gave cover to Democrats who feared the political costs of appearing to be weak. Armey reversed his position after Cheney told him, he said, that the threat from Iraq was actually ” more imminent than we want to portray to the public at large.”

Cheney said, according to Armey, that Iraq’s “ability to miniaturize weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear,” had been “substantially refined since the first Gulf War,” and would soon result in “packages that could be moved even by ground personnel.” Cheney linked that threat to Hussein’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, Armey said, explaining that “we now know they have the ability to develop these weapons in a very portable fashion, and they have a delivery system in their relationship with organizations such as al-Qaeda.”

“Did Dick Cheney . . . purposely tell me things he knew to be untrue?” Armey said. “I seriously feel that may be the case. . . . Had I known or believed then what I believe now, I would have publicly opposed [the war] resolution right to the bitter end, and I believe I might have stopped it from happening…”

Report: Syrian authorities arrest activist
The International Herald Tribune, September 16, 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria: A human rights group says Syrian intelligence agents have arrested a political activist.
A statement Tuesday by the Syrian Organization for Human Rights says Majed Alloush was picked up Saturday from his home in the Deir al-Zour province in northeastern Syria and taken to an unknown destination. It says Alloush has written numerous articles on “public issues” and is a member of the so-called Damascus Declaration, a coalition of pro-democracy and opposition activists and groups.
Twelve members of that group are standing trial in Syria on charges that include spreading false information and weakening national morale. Three more are in detention.

The organization says Alloush suffers from a heart condition.

IAEA Iran Report
By Judah Grunstein
World Politics Review, September 16, 2008

The IAEA issued its latest Iran report yesterday. Here’s the report itself (.pdf) from the ISIS site, here’s Elaine Sciolino’s write-up for the IHT. The short version is that little has changed in the way of Iranian compliance since the last report. So, declared materials are still accounted for, the nuclear fuel at Bushehr is still under IAEA seal, and Iran’s declared facilities have not been altered or engaged in suspect activity. But it has continued its enrichment program, gaining substantially in the efficiency of its centrifuge cascades and expanding their operation, and has done almost nothing to increase transparency or otherwise respond to documentation of past weaponization efforts.
Sciolino flags this passage from the IAEA report, too:

With reference to the document describing experimentation in connection with. . .an implosion type nuclear device, Iran has stated that there have been no such activities in Iran. Since the Director General’s previous report, the Agency has obtained information indicating that the experimentation described in this document may have involved the assistance of foreign expertise.

No mention yet of where that foreign expertise originated from, but look for that as the next front in the campaign of intelligence leaks on past Iranian weaponization efforts.

Says Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, “Overall, the Iranians seem to be moving right along,” and clearly, the status quo plays into Iran’s hands. What’s more, as Adam Wolfe pointed out in a WPR piece last week, between the American presidential election this fall, the Iranian presidential election next summer, Russian resistance to sanctions and Iran’s stonewalling, it looks like things are going to be in status quo mode until at least this time next year. By then, the Bushehr reactor will be online, and Iran will have not only continued to improve its enrichment capacity, it will also have a not insignificant amount of enriched uranium at its disposal. Meaning its leverage at the negotiating table will be significantly airstrike would strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners and pollute the negotiating atmosphere. But the logic…..

Former U.S. secretaries of state say they support talks with Iran
By Natasha Mozgovaya,, September 16, 2008

Five former U.S. secretaries of state on Monday announced their support for talks with Iran, with all five saying the United States should not wait to launch diplomatic engagements with the Islamic Republic….. Albright added that the issue is more serious because the war in Iraq has strengthened Iran. She also said the U.S. has an inaccurate view of Iranian society, saying, “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is not particularly popular, and we don’t understand Iranian society, it’s not monolithic.”Powell issued a harsh rebuke to those who would stonewall the Islamic Republic, saying, “we should start to talk to them and not wait till later. What are we afraid of?”….

Former Clinton administration secretary of state Warren Christopher highlighted U.S. military
shortcomings in the need to pursue talks, saying, “We cannot afford not to have a dialogue, the military options are very poor.”….

Talking with Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah By: Manuela Paraipan, World Security Network, September 15, 2008

Before entering the gate of Sheikh’s Fadlallah’s residence, the man in charge of security verified if indeed I was expected and also checked the car. ….

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut’s Shelled Synagogue
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, September 18, 2008

Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) — In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

Arazi, a leader of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country’s tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut’s only synagogue, damaged during the war.

“Those who don’t have a past don’t have a future,” Arazi said to explain his push to rebuild the synagogue.

Beirut’s Maghen Abraham Synagogue opened in 1926 in Wadi Abou Jmil, the city’s Jewish quarter, located on the edge of west Beirut near the Grand Serai palace, where the government meets, and within walking distance of parliament.

Lebanon then was something of a haven for Jews, some of whom were the descendants of those who had fled the Spanish inquisition; it later served a similar role for refugees from Nazi Germany. With “no history of anti-Jewish tensions,” it was the only Arab country whose Jewish population rose after Israel’s creation in 1948, according to Kirsten Schulze, a lecturer at the London School of Economics and author of “The Jews of Lebanon.”

By the mid-1960s, there were as many as 22,000 Lebanese Jews, said Arazi, 65. In addition to heading the Jewish Community Council he owns a food-machinery business with 1,000 customers…

Antoun Issa argues that Saudi Arabia may have been behind the assassination of Aridi in Lebanon in his post: “Lebanon Killing a Sign That Not All Are Happy

It’s Time for the US to Engage Syria in “Serious” Talk By Bashar Elsbihi [Bashman]
Damascus Spring, September 12, 2008

In the past 3 years the current U.S administration has opted to follow a policy of disengagement and isolation with the Syrian regime. Today this policy continues to be the cornerstone of the Bush administration, yet developments on the ground are proving it fruitless. This administration must open the way to the next one and lay down the ground work for a new foreign policy towards Syria that will be pivotal in securing U.S interests and restoring some of the U.S influence lost in the region since the start of the Iraq war. Syria is begging for Washington’s attention, The White House ought to listen…

Comments (63)

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51. AIG said:

[deleted by admin]

And you are banned for a month as warned earlier today.

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September 24th, 2008, 3:10 am


52. Zenobia said:


I really can’t understand why you continue to address me, and think that you can spew your usual revolting insults masked in some kind of pseudo objectivity.

I think you imagine that if enough time goes on, then you can speak to me. and that I have given up my ban or ignore AIG campaign. but if you talk to me again, or say anything about me, i am going to be on you again with renewed efforts.

go call someone else, NAIVE, IRRATIONAL…ETC. Because clearly some other people are willing to tolerate your garbage spew.

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September 24th, 2008, 3:16 am


53. AIG said:

I will continue to address you because you are the perfect example of a stuck-up pseudo intellectual. You are a great example of the shallow and muddled thinking perpetuated in liberal circles in the US and therefore you are very important to the discussion here.

Please feel free to ignore me if you wish, after all it is your right. But it is not you right to shut someone up because he is provactive. Or are you really a closet dictator?

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September 24th, 2008, 3:25 am


54. Zenobia said:

Yeah, continue to spew some more stereotypes why don’t you… you are the one who looks…like the cliche really.

actually it is my right to petition for you to be eliminated from this blog. This is not a free service we are offering you here. I have no power to ban you, obviously, or it would have happened a long time ago. Not for your content, but for your baiting that you do to people constantly. Straw man baiting… bullshit.

I am not a dictator. YOU are a provocative destructive person actually. Using cliche issues, obvious issues, non- issues actually… to poke and prod people and draw them into a meaningless stupid interchange.

and i resent it deeply. I have every right to complain about you. As do many many many many other people who write on this blog. I think we could take a vote on that… actually, how valuable is AIG… what is his purpose? Is it to inform? Is it to engage with others in productive or helpful way? Is it even to give voice to thoughts that others can benefit from?

HELL NO. Your only purpose is to spew your own repetitive attacks on others character.
So,why should I refrain from telling you what a piece of crap you are as a person.

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September 24th, 2008, 3:39 am


55. Shai said:


Your health is more important… leave it.

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September 24th, 2008, 3:57 am


56. AIG said:


For you labeling Palin as a country hick is not a cliche, but discussing Asad’s credentials is. Saying Bush ended democracy in the US is not a cliche but probing why people who say that also support Asad’s program in Syria is. Go figure.

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September 24th, 2008, 4:05 am


57. Jad said:

I think a ban for some provocative people here become a necessity. They don’t understand that letting them comment and communicate with the best and most open minded Syrian they can ever dream of talking to in real life is a luxury that they don’t understand or appreciate but the opposit they insult them in many ways and nobody is willing to accept that.
The internet is full of like minded people as them, why don’t they take thiere garbage and go there, we don’t want them here, It’s getting very annoying.

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September 24th, 2008, 5:29 am


58. Zenobia said:

I haven’t mentioned or made comment on any of the issues you just brought up. You must be confusing me with some other liberal pseudo intellectual around here.

In case anyone is interested, I would like it to go on record, that I AM a liberal and I am proud of it. I am a PROGRESSIVE! even worse!! and proud of it.
I am also proud of having gone to the University of California at Berkeley and had a superior ‘liberal’ and highly humanistic oriented education. I am proud to have gone to one of the top two highly competitive public universities in one of the largest states in the United States, in a one of the most famous LIBERAL college towns in the world.

I find the continuing and worsening trend of ‘anti-intellectualism’ and anti-cosmopolitan and reverence for the supposed ‘non-elite’ everyman leader… bizarre.

On another note.
‘Elite’ used to mean superior in a good way, as in exceptional, the top of your class, excelled, etc and so forth. (And you know I don’t mean boston brahmin kind of elite, or well known family tribal elite nonsense, but the real accomplished acquired achievement kind of elite person.)
Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Shouldn’t we WANT and exceptional leader? a superior person at the helm of our ship?

Why would I want the leader of my country to be an average person, with a non-exceptional background, who I just happen to like the look of, and who makes me feel happy to be american with no need for self criticism, and as if they can relate to my particular little life (rather than say, appearing to have a grasp on the collective whole of all the incredibly varied lives going on in america today -some of which many of us can barely relate to at all). It’s a pathetic way to choose our leaders.
I think I prefer to vote for someone who I deem to be an elite. We need an elite brain right about now.

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September 24th, 2008, 5:32 am


59. Off The Wall said:


You have accused me on several occasion of being inconsistent. Yet, what you seem to miss the origin of my commitment to freedom and to human life and dignity, which is much more grounded and solid than you are willing to acknowledge. You have not met that source, and you will never do. My father has been dead for more than 17 years.

1. On Freedom fighters and Terrorists:

1.A. One of the largest recipients of CIA/KSA funds among the “Mujahidin” was a guy with the name Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, who according to Juan Cole, had a long history of being violent extremist, with a history of throwing acid on the face of unveiled women. So please do not give me the non-sense of freedom fighters crap. During that same time, Syria was fighting our own branch of your freedom fighters, who were assassinating civilians, targeting some of our most educated and bright people simply because they are Alawite. Some of them went to fight alongside those Mujahidin. There is no doubt in my mind that Reagan used them like a tissue to be thrown away after their usefulness to his cause is done. Otherwise how would one explain the contemptuous abandonment of Afghanistan to these ruthless killers who turned on their own country men and murdered thousands in Kabul alone in one year after liberation. You can not tell me that no one knew what these rascals were, for their ideology, administrative practices, and treatment of women, whenever they “liberated” a village was out in the open for CIA officers to see. An added insult to injury is the knowledge of who was their intellectual womb, the religious leadership of a country who now produces fatwa for killing Mickey Mouse (not far from edicts about telle-tubbies, or whatever these poor animated characters were). If you are willing to suspend, for a minute, you detestation of me, please check what many Asians think of Reagan’s legacy

Reagan never stopped. Hell, not for a minute. What do you call marine mines around Nicaragua, what would you call the war crimes committed by his Contras against their own citizens, the death squads in Latin America, need I say more. And yet, some try to present him as a moral leader. I do not accept that, nor should anyone with a shred of decency and love for humanity. The world is not black and white, but Reagan’s world knew only one color, blood red, and his legacy disgusts me. Come to think of it, he is the grandfather of our economic woes today. I give him the first batch of credit for that and will not be wooed by all the hyperventilation you or anyone in your camp throws at me.

Your recognition of the right of Palestinians to fight the occupation army is commendable. Yet, I would support holding those who plotted and executed attacks against innocent civilians accountable. Of course not through selective and so called targeted assassinations, which are not better, but through courts including international courts. If Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal, a general pardon may be worked out, but that is their own issue and I would leave it to them

2. Every election there is a regime change in the US. So if you don’t like a government, you get to vote it out.

I do vote, you argument is true in principle, but it does not address my contention of the fact that our current regime has been an anti-democratic regime. But as for a possible, but not highly reliable differentiation between regime and government, please refer to the discussions about the monopoly of the two parties system. Nevertheless, I argue that we may change a government but not necessarily the regime. As long as lobbying is legal, the regime will remain the same. Today was an extraordinary day and a rare occasion when my point is proven wrong, but that will be addressed in my next answer

3 I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! (Barry Goldwater)

Hyperbolic, but inspiring statements aside, I never said democracy has to be purest of the pure, but you are wrong to your own ideal and advocacy for immediate democracy in Syria. Well , the US is my adoptive country, and I love it no less than you do. And if I am to want what I think is better for my beloved country, them let me be.

Can you for a moment argue that the bush administration shares our democratic value of accountability, which was the point I was trying to answer AP on. I think that in the past 8 years, more accountability was observed in Morocco than in the US. Constant refusal to abide by the congressional right of oversight, excessive and unjustifiable use of executive privilege, secrecy, ramming legislations through the congress and blackmailing legislature by wrapping everything with the flag and by that desecrating the flag and the values it stands for more than any radical can dream of doing burning it.

I am proud to join both republican rebels such as Chuck Hagle, and many democrats, libertarians, and progressive in our commitment to defend our constitutions. But it seems that som of our countrymen are willing to take the expedient way. And to those I would let Benjamin Franklin speak. We want to keep our republic, and will not let that camp of moral relativism kill it in our names or in the name of our security. If that is inconsistent to you, so be it. It suite my purpose for my country not be a hypocrite. It is consistent with what I am and with who my friends are.

4) Utter nonsense. Advocates of your theory or of the theory AP subscribes to have been playing games with dictators worldwide. So I will not even take this seriously and attempt to answer it. And in fact, you place yourself and your likes as world dictators.

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September 24th, 2008, 7:27 am


60. Alex said:


You are banned for a month (see site rules and my clear warning earlier).

>> Come back October 24th.


I edited your comments for now but next time you use that language, even with AIG, I will have to also ban you.

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September 24th, 2008, 7:45 am


61. Off the Wall said:


Funny how agitated you got at my slight attempt to mimic your own tactic of answering AP theory in manners similar to that you have been using to answer others’ posts. I confess to my unintentional imitation of your tactics, would you agree that It was really annoying and agitating.

By your own tactics i mean short cynical bites. I was guilty of that. But that does not change my conviction regarding what I said

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September 24th, 2008, 7:51 am


62. Off The Wall said:


KUDOS to you, your education, your cosmopolitanism, and your progressiveness.

Never fear to be called elitist. Especially by those who own 7 homes and who knows how many cars, and much more specifically, by someone with the title Lady and three last names.

But after all, you are an elitist, aren’t you our Syrian queen 🙂

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September 24th, 2008, 8:01 am


63. Siria e Iran monocromatici - Appunti Digitali said:

[…] riporta Mediashift, che lo ha appreso a sua volta da Syria report. Tanto per fugare ogni dubbio di problemi tecnici, nemmeno  Google Talk e Gmail notifier sono […]

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October 15th, 2008, 6:31 am


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