Posted by Joshua on Saturday, October 7th, 2006
The following Chicago Tribune editorial, copied below, is pretty standard gruel these days. Everyone’s got to hate Syria and demonstrate what a bad government it is. Of course they add the obligatory stuff about how weak and scared Bashar is. Plus, how Bashar is two faced, claiming he wants peace with Israel and then suggesting that if he doesn’t get it, he will go back to war. Then it is on to confirming that Syria is a “troublemaker” and “spoiler.” This is all expressed in a tone of gravitas and jaundiced sorrow. Syria is the arson who wants to play fireman and help put out the flames of the trouble it has started. This is the phrase that Bernard Lewis loved to use about Syria at Princeton in the 1980s. Today, the simile is often attributed to Michael Doran, Lewis’ research assistant then and member of the National Security Council today. Only after demonstrating how wise they are in the ways of Araby and in reading the skullduggeries and camel trading ways of Arab leaders, does the editorial writer drop his little bomb by suggesting: “Let’s talk to Syria. It could be important.”
I suppose Syria should be thankful for this imperial graciousness and kind condescension.
I love lines like the “arson-wanting-to-play-fireman.” As if this actually says something about the nature of diplomacy. Every power does this in pushing its objectives. Has not the US perfected the arson as fireman role? Let’s see – why not set Iraq on fire, threatening the stability of the entire Middle East, and then demand the world’s indulgence as we struggle to put it out. We can ask for the world’s help in tamping down the flames – or else extremism will set the whole region on flames.
Or – Let’s light a fire under Lebanon, make sure the UN cannot call for a ceasefire until the flames are really large, then swoop in and offer resolution 1701. We can call it birth pains of a new Middle East. “Destruction is creation,” I think some European dictator once explained. That seems to be the mantra of the Bush crowd – creative chaos. They have reached the acme of arson – arson Wallas supreme.
As for the “two-faced” charge. Doesn’t everyone want peace and threaten war if they don’t get it? We want peace with Iran, but threaten to blow it up if it doesn’t stop developing nuclear refineries. Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, but will kill them if they demand too much land. Syria wants peace with Israel but threatens to go to war to get the Golan back if Israel won’t accept land for peace. We want Pakistan on our side during the invasion of Afghanistan, but threaten to go to war against it if it isn’t. What is strange or two-faced about this? It is normal operating procedure. The US would never make a demand without a creditable threat to back it up. If it didn’t, the world would laugh at it. When Western powers do this, it is not two-faced, but good foreign policy. To carry a carrot in one hand and a stick in the other is correct behavior. Americans should be the last people to tisk-tisk over such tactics.
As for fear of the Hariri murder investigation isolating Syria further. It doesn’t seem like anyone expects this to actually be the case. Today the members of European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee vote 34 to 1 to strengthen cooperation with Damascus and support signing the long-stalled association agreement with Damascus. It doesn’t sound to me like the EU members believe the UN investigation is going to come up with any surprising goods to embarrass them as they renew relations with Syria. In the same vein, Israel and the US would not have been so keen on war against Hizbullah to take down the Syria-Shiite duo had Washington believed that the Asad regime or Hizbullah could be nailed by the UN inquiry. Europe, Israel and the States know that the Hariri investigation is going nowhere and will not be the instrument of Asad’s ruin, as many wish it to be.
As for skullduggery, Syria is refreshingly honest and straightforward about its lack of freedoms and distasteful dictatorship. It is true that the red-lines of dissent are lower in Syria than in most other Arab dictatorships and monarchies. It is also true that many Syrians would prefer to enjoy more ambiguous redlines, such as exist in Egypt. But much of this is a game, a game that leads to Egypt arresting a larger number of prisoners of conscience – roughly 20,000 being held in Egyptian jails at last count. Syria holds 500 to 1000. The larger political prisoner rate in Egypt is due to the larger ambiguities and skullduggery. Pretend to promote democracy, but then arrest gobs of people when they actually take the government at its word and act on the false promises. Few people risk dissent in Syria, because the government is not two-faced. It tells citizens they will go to jail. It is depressingly honest and one-faced.
If one wants to insult Syria, at least do it correctly and for things Syria is guilty of. Certainly there are plenty. Here is most of the editorial:
Is Syria looking to deal?
Published October 6, 2006
Chicago Tribune, Editorial
Syrian President Bashar Assad has been crowing lately, proclaiming the stirring “victory” of Hezbollah against Israel in Lebanon. But he’s also probably sweating. The UN probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is likely tightening the noose on Syria. A preliminary report last year said: “There is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act.”
Investigators are still pursuing the identities of the suspects. They’re pursuing so hard, in fact, that the chief investigator narrowly escaped a remote control bomb attack last month. Think Assad and the Syrians aren’t worried? Last week, Assad tried to change the subject. He talked about peace with Israel. He rejected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s proclamation that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” “We want to make peace–peace with Israel,” Assad told the German magazine Der Spiegel. Really?
Assad has proven himself the master of the mixed message. He says he believes in making peace with Israel. But he also talks of a “new Middle East” in which Israel’s “weapons, warplanes, rockets and even your atomic bombs will not protect you in the future.”
During the Israeli-Hezbollah war, there were suggestions that U.S. diplomacy should focus as much on Syria as its ally, Iran, both of which cooperate to supply arms to Hezbollah. Until its forces were tossed out, after Hariri’s assassination, Syria essentially ran Lebanon. It still has enormous political influence–for good or ill. The thinking was that if Syria could be nudged from Iran’s orbit, if it could be persuaded to stop allowing weapons shipments to Hezbollah, to toss out the terrorist groups that make Damascus their headquarters, to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, then there could be a dramatic opportunity to reshape the Middle East, potentially as significant as Israel’s peace with Egypt decades ago. That’s a lot of huge “ifs.”
Here’s another: What if high-level Syrian officials are named in the UN’s probe of Hariri’s assassination? An international tribunal will likely be created in Lebanon to bring them to trial, further isolating Syria as a rogue state and quashing hopes of fresh negotiations….
With talks on Iran’s nuclear program stalemated, with the Europeans slowly backing away from any tough sanctions, with Russia and China apparently content to let the clock expire and allow Iran to join the nuclear club, the U.S. needs new options. Many Arab countries are also increasingly desperate to blunt Iran’s growing power. Peeling Syria away from Iran would be a huge coup. It’s still the longest of long shots, but it’s worth another look.