Posted by Joshua on Friday, November 17th, 2006
So long as President Bush believes that the US is winning in Iraq, there will be no rapprochement with Syria. Syria's price will be too high. Syria is asking the US to make a clear statement about leaving Iraq. In other words, Syria is saying that if Bush will admit defeat in Iraq, Syria will help. And, by the way, Syria wants an expanded Lebanese cabinet, an end to the Hariri investigation, the Golan up to the water, and an independent Palestinian state in all the occupied territories. Thank You.
"President George W. Bush said Friday that the American experience in Vietnam contained lessons for the war in Iraq. Chief among them, he said, was that "we'll succeed unless we quit."
"The Maliki government is going to make it unless the coalition leaves before they have a chance to make it," he said of Iraq's prime minister. "And that's why I assured the prime minister we'll get the job done."
Nir Rosen's anatomy of a civil war. [Excellent: Gives a real sense of who Muqtada al-Sadr is.]
No posts for a few days: I will be leaving to Boston to attend the Middle East Studies Association Conference tomorrow, which will keep me from posting for. I will be speaking with Andrew Tabler on Syria's relations with the US Saturday evening at the Syrian Studies Association meeting at 7:00 pm. On Monday I will speak with Juan Cole, Asad Abu Khalil, Helena Cobban and Abu Aardvark on blogging: "Is it good for your career?"
In the article, Baker Met Syrian Envoys to Urge Cooperation Against Iraq Unrest By Janine Zacharia, Nov. 17, Syria's Ambassador to the US, Imad Mustapha explains what influence Syria has in Iraq that can be used to help the US. He explains that Syria can help bring the Sunnis and Muqtada al-Sadr toward a deal. In exchange, "We are just telling them there should be a very clear announcement about, a commitment for, withdrawal,'' Moustapha said. Here is a bit of the article.
Syria believes it can play an important role in restoring stability because many Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, “have started looking at Syria as someone who can protect their interests,'' Moustapha said in the interview. He also cited Syria's close ties with anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al- Sadr, who he said frequently travels to Damascus, once for a two-week stay.
“Most of these guys feel disenfranchised today in Iraq, so we can have some leverage on them,'' he said…
Syrian officials told the Iraq Study Group that the U.S. needs to announce a readiness to withdraw troops if Iraq is to be stabilized.
“We are just telling them there should be a very clear announcement about, a commitment for, withdrawal,'' Moustapha said. “As long as certain Iraqis believe you are not planning to withdraw, they will continue to fight against you.''
Baker's spokesman, John Williams, while calling the Syrian account generally correct, noted that Baker “never asked'' the Syrians for help in advance of the 1991 war, and only explained to them why it would be in their interest to get involved.
U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran — an idea that is gaining traction among Democrats, in particular — is emerging as a possible element of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. Such a proposal might set up a conflict with the Bush administration, which has shown little openness to engage in dialogue with the Syrian leadership…
“The last time the Syrians engaged with the Americans it was substantial, it was solid and we delivered,'' Moustapha said.
U.S. policy makers accuse Syria of meddling in Lebanon and sheltering Palestinian terrorists.
“I don't think we should expect a revolution in the administration,'' said Dennis Ross, who served as special Middle East envoy under President Bill Clinton. “They are six years in power. There is a certain set of attitudes. There is a certain approach.''
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reflected that skepticism in comments to reporters en route to Vietnam on Nov. 14. “There's no indication that Syria wishes to be a stabilizing force,'' Rice said.
Here is a bit of Nadim Shehadi's article in Chatham House's "The World Today," which I received in PDF. Namid adds in an email:
I have always been in favour of engagement with Syria and Iran and think it is absurd to ask the neighbours 'not to interfere'. This should have happened before, now may be the wrong time. Iran and Syria feel too strong and victorious after this summer's fiasco and this will be perceived by them as capitulation.
IRAN-US CONFRONTATION IN LEBANON by Nadim Shehadi
After a test run in Lebanon, the choice for the US is between capitulation via Syria or escalation via Iran. October, 2006
CAPITULATING TO DAMASCUS
If the choice [of the US] is capitulation, then Syria could play a pivotal role. There is already talk of re-engaging Syria, the only state in the region that holds all the strings. Damascus hosts the political leadership of Hamas, led by Khaled Meshaal who is seen to be more in control of the issue of the captive soldier in Gaza. It has good relations and a strategic alliance with Iran, influence over Hizbollah, and links with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. Syria also has influence in Iraq and could cause problems there.
Capitulation can come in various forms. US President George Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have been threatening Syria for the past three years, putting pressure on, getting it out of Lebanon, imposing sanctions, isolating it, calling for regime change and supporting the opposition.
If after all this, they cannot stomach the possibility of grovelling to Damascus asking for favours, they can always do it by proxy under the cover of an Arab initiative. This would be made up of Qatar and Saudi Arabia with their cheque books and Egyptian diplomacy. Syria would reap the benefits. This would be capitulation light but capitulation nonetheless, and it would be costly.
Syria will extract a very high price which may involve it regaining power in Lebanon, concessions over the Hariri investigation, changes of policy on the Iranian nuclear issue, Iraq, Palestine, the Golan Heights, an end to its isolation and lots of economic incentives.
A deal with Syria for the sake of stability would also be costly if it is seen as a complete reversal of declared US policy and the collapse of its more recent justification of the Iraq invasion and the regional democratisation agenda. If the west went through all this to end up making a deal with another President Assad to resolve problems that he helped create, it might as well have done a deal with Saddam or Osama Bin Ladin in the first place. The US has heavily invested in this project and it would not be as easy to ‘redeploy’ or cut and run as it did in 1983. Iraq has already cost well over $200 billion.
Israel would be more in favour of capitulation than the US.
It never took the US democratisation agenda seriously and wouldbe more comfortable dealing with a reliable dictator than thecomplexities of democratic neighbours. Both Syria and Israel have shown some enthusiasm for the resumption of bilateral talks and there is a significant lobby in the US calling for that. The more important dilemma from the Israeli perspective is that capitulation may allow Iran to continue developing its nuclear capacity and become a more serious problem in ten to fifteen Years.
ESCALATION WITH IRAN
If it is too difficult for Israel to admit defeat by Hizbollah andtoo awkward for the US and its allies to grovel to Damascus,knowing how high the price is going to be, then the second choiceis escalation. Escalation is essentially going to be with Iran. Escalation light with Syria will not do, the two countries signed adefence pact before the hostilities, so an attack on Syria isconsidered to be an attack on Iran. The threat of sanctions is not credible and would have to be diluted to be politically feasible. Iran’s complex and deep-rooted relations with China, Russia, India, Turkey, Central Asia and most of the Arab world would render such actions all but ineffective. Sanctions or the attempt at sanctions would only gain time.
A military escalation or attack on Iran would be the only option, but this also has very serious consequences. It is possible that such a confrontation would cause a transatlantic rift similar to the one over the Iraq invasion. It would endanger Gulf security and as a result energy supplies would be at risk, Tehran has already indicated that the Strait of Hormuz would be threatened. Iran can also cause a lot of trouble in Central Asia and all these factors are of great concern to both Russia and China. Escalation can quickly acquire global dimensions and get out of hand.
The collision can still be avoided with greater European intervention, resolving the outstanding border issues between Syria, Lebanon and Israel and making a serious move on the Israeli-Palestinian question. Washington has lost much of its credibility as an honest broker and it is time for Europe to provide a new direction.