US-Syria relations: time to hit the reset button?

by EHSANI2

(posted by Alex)

According to a recently released book on Cheney’s term at the White House, Middle East foreign policy was conducted on the premise that, “the U.S. must not exchange tangible benefits for the promise of regime behavior change in the future.”

Barton Gellman is a prolific writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of reports that he wrote for the Washington Post. The book entitled “Angler” was written as a sequel to the newspaper series. It is a must read for those who want to learn more about the Bush-Cheney White House.

The U.S. policy towards Syria is predicated on defining Syria as a weak and undemocratic pariah state. The Bush White House formalized the process by creating the axis of evil club. Though Syria was not a formal member of the club, Cheney may have thought of Damascus as part of a “nexus”, a term that the VP preferred according to Mr. Gellman.

Democracy versus dictatorship:

The democratic U.S. governing process uses a system of checks and balances to avoid the abuse of power by a single branch of government especially by the Presidency.

The events of September 11th however, convinced the sitting President at the time that the country is simply too democratic for these trying and extraordinary times. Mr. Gellman explains in painstaking details how Cheney’s core understanding of government changed once he convinced himself that the country faces an existential risk. In a post September 11th world, Cheney thought that the presidency ought by rights to function as an elected dictatorship. Seeking power without limit became the White House driving force.

Set below is a particularly interesting paragraph from the book:

“With Bush’s consent, Cheney unleashed foreign intelligence agencies to spy at home. He gave them legal cover to conduct what he called ‘robust interrogation’ of captured enemies, using calculated cruelty to break their will. At Cheney’s initiative, the United States stripped terror suspects of long-established rights under domestic and international law, building a new legal edifice under exclusive White House ownership.”

The fact is that once leaders convince themselves that they face existential risks, abuse of power becomes the norm. This notion epitomizes the way Israeli leaders justify their brutality against Palestinians. To them, the outside world simply does not understand the existential risks that only they can comprehend.

Similarly, when faced with its own existential risk following the uprising of the Moslem Brotherhood, the Syrian leadership felt fully justified in using all means at its disposal to stop the insurgency. Other countries in the region have behaved similarly when faced with the same risks. The Bush White House started walking the same path when confronted with similar risks. Domestic wiretapping and NSA surveillance was soon taking a shape not too unfamiliar to citizens of the Middle East and other “undemocratic” nations.

Weak versus strong:

Syria is often branded as a pariah state which is too weak to exchange tangible benefits with.  There is no doubt that Syria lacks the demographic card of Egypt or the financial might of Saudi Arabia. Aware of this, Syria’s leadership has had to improvise and keep pulling rabbits out of its hat to survive in this region. In spite of her apparent weaknesses, Syria has had measurable success in continuing to find rabbits to pull. Undoubtedly, her Iranian rabbit has proved to be her most successful trump card over the past 4 decades.

Rather astonishingly, Damascus is often asked to somehow give up on this card and “flip” to the other side.

But, if Syria is as weak as she is portrayed, why would she give up her cards and weaken herself for the hope of American promises?

The fact is that the new White House must hit the reset button when it comes to dealing with Syria in particular and the region in general.

The sanctions:

This past Thursday, former President Bush made his first major speech since leaving office. He of course defended the policies of his Administration as he thought the country faced an imminent attack. He also thought that the U.S. and its allies are locked in a long-term war with ideological fanatics, and that the war has many fronts.

“We should care about poverty overseas, for our own self-interest”, he said. “Ideologues can only recruit when they find hopeless people”.

If poverty leads to despair and terrorism, how can the U.S. justify economic sanctions on countries and expect this to help?

In a newly released study, a typical Syrian household includes six people, living on an average of $318 a month. While the sanctions are by no means the sole reason for economic underachievement, it is not difficult for the populace to be convinced that it is in this predicament because of the country’s resistance and the resultant sanctions against them.

The new President must lift the economic sanctions immediately. These have done nothing to harm the Syrian leadership. They have, however, turned more ordinary Syrians against the U.S. Washington must also stop referring to Damascus as a pariah state that is somehow different than the “moderate allies” in the shape of the governments of Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Syria must be brought to the table without “flipping” preconditions. If Mr. Obama truly believes that Bush and Cheney’s foreign policy was misguided, he must start with doing away with the first guiding principal of that Administration. The U.S. must look for ways to offer tangible benefits to foreign nations that have everything to lose once they are forced to give up what little cards they have up their sleeve.

Mr. George Mitchell is set to visit Damascus as the rapprochement between Washington and Damascus enters a new phase.

Hitting the reset button before Mr. Mitchell steps off his flight would be a good way to start.

Comments (35)


1. Alex said:

few more points

1) If the Untied States wants to respect “democracy” then why are they ignoring the latest opinion polls that show Syrian President Bashar Assad being the most popular Arab leader in Egypt and 5 other “moderate” Arab countries?

http://www.zogby.com/Soundbites/ReadClips.cfm?ID=18848

While President Obama is visiting Egypt and Saudi Arabia, his envoy is visiting Syria … the country whose policies most closely represent the wishes of the Arab people.

2) Syria’s “cards”, or Syria’s strength is not limited to its relations with Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas. But those are the only “cards” that the United States and Israel seem to understand… so they are the only ones that they value .. without them Syria is not worth talking to and definitely not worth giving back the Golan.

Syria’s strength comes from its history, its geographic central location, and its wisdom and understanding of the area. Syria’s strength comes from its admitting up to two million Iraqi refugees when Saudi Arabia was asking for bids from American companies to build a huge wall in the desert that will prevent Iraqi refugees trying to reach the kingdom through the hot desert .. America’s favorite “moderate” Arab ally wanted them dead, while Syria (“supporter of terror”) helped two million Iraqis stay alive. Washington can stay blind to the significance of what happened, but the Iraqi people will not.

Practically all of Iraq’s current leadership (including kurdish president) lived in Damascus for years and years when they opposed Saddam Hussein … when the United States and its Arab moderate allies were supporting Saddam, Syria supported his opponents …..

When the United States and its Arab allies supported the Palestinian Authority, Syria supported the more popular Hamas which won democratic elections in 2006 …

Turkish president last month said that Syria is Turkey’s door into the Arab world … Syria is Turkey’s main and closest and most trusted Arab ally.

Syria is the most trusted Arab country by both Turkey and Iran … Washington does not understand the significance of that either.

Ehsani is right … if President Obama does not hit the reset button, he might as well not waste his energy and let the Middle East alone.

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May 31st, 2009, 7:38 pm

 

2. Elie Elhadj said:

EHSANI2,

A timely and well articulalted piece with a important policy implications. It might be added that Syria’s fight against Islamist extremism at home and its opposition to Wahhabi encroachment on neighboring Lebanon (via Hariri’s Saudi Money) ought to be supported by Washington and by all those who fear being targeted by Islamists everywhere.

Elie

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May 31st, 2009, 8:30 pm

 

3. Ghat Albird said:

Mr. Obama’s much advertised speech to the socalled Muslim world must as a minimum include these two statements:

1. That the US is definitely negating the proposals that were used by previous administration in their approach to the Middle East and which were prepared by Mr.Bibi Netanyahu with assistance of Richard Perle and other zionist in the US and named “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, and making Israel top dog.

2. Revoking the content and policies of those US/Israeii neocons advocating the so called “clash of civilizations”
between the judeo-christian world and basically the Arab/muslim nations.

If the speech makes no reference to those two issues then it will not be considered anything more than sop.

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May 31st, 2009, 8:39 pm

 

4. AIG said:

How did Turkey and Syria become friends? They were about to go to war and then Syria stopped supporting the Kurdish terrorists. After that, relations got much better. Why was it reasonable for Turkey to befriend Syria only after Syria stopped supporting terrorism against it and this is not reasonable for the US and Israel to request?

Few countries so blatantly host and support terrorists like Syria does. This has cost Syria a huge economic price. Syria does not need to become pro-Israel to stop supporting terrorism. It can do both. As for the Golan, just as the Finns do not worry anymore about the 1/3 of their country taken by Russia, and concentrate on developing their country, that should also be the Syrian attitude.

Regarding Syria’s strengths, the world values today only 2 kinds of fstrength: Economic and military with economic strength the leading one. Syria is weak, because it is economically weak. If the statistics quoted by Ehsani are correct, then the average Syrian lives on less than $1.80 per day ($318/20/6=$1.77). These are Sub-Saharan numbers and talking of Syria having any strength in this context is just misguided.

Syria is weak because it has not figured out yet that is primary goal should be economic development and not “resistance”. As things stand, this looks like continuing well into the future. There is a small ray of sunlight. At least Syrians are acknowledging that the US sanctions sting. Before they were even reluctant to admit that.

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May 31st, 2009, 9:05 pm

 

5. Alex said:

Syria’s top dissident backs detente with U.S.
Sun May 31, 2009 12:15pm EDT

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria’s leading dissident said on Sunday U.S. efforts to improve ties with Damascus could help democratic reform in his homeland.

Riad al-Turk, 79, told Reuters in a rare interview that U.S. President Barack Obama’s initiative could also undermine what he called an “unconvincing alliance” between Syria and Iran.

Although arrests of opposition figures have continued despite U.S.-Syrian diplomatic contacts, mending relations between the two countries would make it difficult for Damascus to crush dissent, Turk said.

“The rapprochement helps stabilize the Middle East and puts pressure on the Syrian regime to improve its policies,” he said.

“It could be difficult for the regime to change its attitude toward Lebanon or Iraq and its role in the region without improving ties with its own society,” he added.

Such improvements would help reform, said Turk, who spent around 18 years in solitary confinement as a political prisoner under the rule of President Bashar al-Assad’s father, the late Hafez al-Assad.

“The regime would no longer be able to justify internal policy by talking about external dangers,” said Turk.

The United States started talking to Syria shortly after Obama took office in January, departing from a policy of isolation under his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush imposed sanctions on Damascus for what Washington described as Syrian support for insurgents in Iraq, its role in Lebanon and backing for militant groups such as Hezbollah — also backed by Iran.

The United States hopes that by talking to Syria and supporting efforts to resume peace talks between the Damascus government and Israel, Assad would break away from Iran.

OPPOSITION ALLIANCE

Undaunted by age, the scars of prison and six surgical operations, Turk remains the leading opponent of the Baath Party’s monopoly on Syria’s political system.

He has worked to spread democratic thought and maintain a broad opposition alliance known as the Damascus Declaration, after 12 of its younger members were arrested in late 2007 and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail each.

Senior U.S. officials have visited Damascus twice this year since March, but the talks have not prevented Syrian authorities from pursuing a campaign of arrests against dissidents.

Turk said he was under no illusion that Syria’s ruling elite might resist change, but ordinary Syrians also stand to benefit from a normalization of ties with Washington that helps revive Syria’s battered economy and unhook the noose of sanctions.

Among high profile Syrian figures to be convicted recently of political crimes was Meshaal Tammo, an advocate of Kurdish self-determination who was sentenced this month to three-and-a-half years jail for “weakening national moral.”

Michel Kilo, a leading writer, served a three-year term on the same charge and was released around 10 days ago.

“Kilo said that jails do not change convictions. Ruthlessness only undermines the regime,” Turk said.

Turk was jailed after he refused to strike deals with Hafez al-Assad and criticized Syria’s armed intervention in Lebanon and a crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists that culminated in thousands of deaths.

Turk spent 15 months more in prison for leading the Damascus Spring, a period dominated by calls for democratic reform that lasted almost a year after Bashar succeeded his father in 2000.

Bashar took limited steps to open the economy but made it clear political reform was not a priority with Syria under U.S. pressure, which he said threatened national cohesion.

Turk welcomed Obama’s commitment to seeking peace between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and the Palestinians. But he said the two tracks should go hand in hand and warned that peace alone would not guarantee Middle East stability.

“Since Israel was created in 1948, Arab countries, with the exception of Lebanon, have only been ruled by tyrannies that shattered their societies through terrorism, corruption and plunder,” he said.

“The crisis in the region cannot be solved without moving from tyranny to freedom and the rule of law.”

Turk urged Syria to mend ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as boost an Arab peace initiative launched at an Arab summit seven years ago that offers Israel normal relations in return for full withdrawal from occupied Arab land.

“Iran would no longer use the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to its own ends if a solution is reached,” he said.

“Syria must not allow any compromise with Israel to come at the expense of the Palestinian cause and to the advantage of the racist government in Israel, which just wants to cause delays.”

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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May 31st, 2009, 9:08 pm

 

6. kei & yuri said:

“This notion epitomizes the way Israeli leaders justify their brutality against Palestinians. To them, the outside world simply does not understand the existential risks that only they can comprehend.”

We find it existentially hard to existentially accept this existential nonsense. Existential is being used here as honestly as “anti-Semitism” or “Nihilist” or “Anarchist” or “hating America,” which is to say not honest at all and nearly the opposite of ts meaning. An existential threat would be like Hitler’s war machine once fully revved up or the Soviet Union after WWII or CIA and SFO creeps creeping about. Those are things that can end your nation overnight.
IX/XI terrible as it was is nowhere near existential, nothing like existential, does not meet one criteria for any kind of existential threat thing. Ten IX/XI’s would still not be existential.
What we think is the right analysis here (and maybe you can’t do this because of academic loyalty nonsense, which we totally respect) is the Israelification of American society. Israel has an extremely right wing tribalist defensive aggressive little society and some of its worst elements have been creeping into what should be ours. This idea that any and all terror is an “existential threat” is one of the most important ones and certainly one can easily see the real reason why former vice president Cheney saw IX/XI as “existential” in light of decades of Israelis viewing any sign of defiance whatsoever as “existential.”
The real reason was in this ideology, in this political subculture, that’s the right word for it, the meaningless conglomeration of phonemes correctly associated in accord with The Rules. Compare the language of 70s-era American Maoists.
The “scared Cheney” idea presumes to justify Cheney’s treason. In fact there is no justification here because there is no existential threat.
There are many other tells, such as the reliance on (and necessary, predictable, consequent of) a teratoma of hatred-filled religious nutcases as a political bastion that is more important than any other single group. Israel right now especially is governed by the equivalent of Jerry Falwell and certainly that’s the one group that everyone always listens to and respects.
When this was happening noticeably in America there was all kinds of criticism about theocracy and intolerance but nobody made the connection that right-wing Israelis, who regularly jet back and forth between the two countries and were strongly influencing the American right, were simply exporting their own system.

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May 31st, 2009, 9:32 pm

 

7. norman said:

Ehsani,

That is a good road map for president Obama,

Alex ,

What MR Turk said , you have been advocating for a while , you always said , that for politecal reform to move forward Syria has to feel secure and the Golan is in it’s way back to the mother land , It just took the opposition few years to read your postings,

Syria’s strength comes from it’s standing on Arab and Palestinian issues Syria always has principles in regard to it’s positions , never begs or sells out ,

If the US needs one state in the Mideast that can be a major help , It is Syria , the one where all have the same rights and obligations , where the minorities are treated fairly and where Christians can seek refuge if needed in the only Arab country that opens it’s arm to all Arabs and even non Arabs ,

That is Syria which i am proud of ,

And that is my take.

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May 31st, 2009, 10:45 pm

 

8. norman said:

The expectation from Obama,

MSNBC.com

Muslims want tangible change on Mideast from Obama
By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and KARIN LAUB
Associated Press Writers
The Associated Press
updated 4:18 p.m. ET, Sun., May 31, 2009
CAIRO, Egypt – Respect for Islam, a prescription for Palestinian statehood and assurances of a speedy U.S. pullout from Iraq — that’s what Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia say they want to hear from President Barack Obama this week when he addresses them from this Arab capital.

His speech Thursday from Cairo University will try to soften the fury toward the United States among so many of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, ignited by the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the hands-off attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama’s offer of a new beginning is seen as an attempt to stem the growing influence of extremists — particularly Iran, with its regional and nuclear ambitions — and to bolster moderate Muslim allies.

It comes just days ahead of crucial elections in Lebanon and Iran — where the appeal of militancy will be put to the test — and amid worsening violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The American leader’s soaring oratory and Muslim roots have kindled hope among Muslims. But they will judge him by his actions, not his words, said 20-year-old Mohammed Wasel, sipping sugar cane juice with friends after mosque prayers in Cairo’s Abbasiya neighborhood.

“There will be a lot of talk, but I seriously want to see something real coming out of this speech, something tangible,” Wasel said, expressing a view shared by an Eritrean social worker in Rome, a retired teacher in Baghdad and a Palestinian mayor in the West Bank.

Obama “has to walk the talk,” said social activist Marina Mahathir, daughter of Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

But with rising hopes come the risk of disappointment. Obama isn’t expected to present a detailed vision of a Mideast peace deal — potentially the most effective antidote to anti-Western sentiment — until later.

And there is doubt the U.S. president can change entrenched foreign policy, particularly what is perceived in the Muslim world as Washington’s pro-Israeli bias. What Muslims see as America’s repeated failure to hold Israel to its international obligations is a sore point. A construction freeze in Israeli West Bank settlements — Obama wants it, Israel rejects it — is shaping up as a major test.

“It’s true that Obama’s election created a new wave of hope,” said Jordan-based political analyst Mouin Rabbani. “But if he pulls the same tricks as his predecessor — making some nice statements and doing the opposite in practice — people will be disabused of their illusions quite quickly.”

Obama will also go to Saudi Arabia and meet King Abdullah on his Mideast trip. But he is not visiting Israel, though just a short flight away.

The president’s initial actions have earned him good will. He’s reached out to Muslims in an interview with an Arab satellite TV station, in video message to Iranians on the Persian new year and in a speech to the Turkish parliament. He ordered Guantanamo prison closed within a year and said the U.S. would not engage in torture, reversing two Bush policies seen here as having targeted Muslims.

After the Bush years, one of the darkest periods in U.S.-Muslim relations, there is now a chance for reconciliation, said Shibley Telhami, a Mideast scholar at the University of Maryland who conducts annual public opinion surveys around the Middle East.

“The most striking is the openness toward President Obama and the expressed hopefulness about American foreign policy, something profoundly new, given the last eight years,” he said.

In the latest survey, 73 percent of 4,087 respondents felt positive or neutral toward Obama. The poll had margins of error ranging from 3.6 to 4.5 percentage points, in the six Arab countries where it was conducted in April and May.

The positive results for Obama seem remarkable for a region where four in five people still hold unfavorable views of the U.S., and Venezuela’s stridently anti-American President Hugo Chavez was named most admired foreign leader.

If Obama wants to rally Muslim support to rein in Iran, analysts say, he will have to prove his good intentions elsewhere. In particular, he needs to move to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want for a state.

“If he wants to win the hearts of Muslims, then there must be peace for all of the Middle East,” said M. Salim Abdullah, 78, a Muslim of Bosnian descent who heads an Islamic research library in Soest, Germany.

A pullout of Iraqi troops according to schedule would also go a long way toward restoring Muslim confidence. But despite Obama’s timetable — he plans to withdraw most U.S. troops by September 2010 and pull all out by the end of 2011 — many are upset by the ongoing violence and fear Iraq could one day disintegrate.

Obama’s choice of Cairo as the venue for his speech highlights problems that have long fed militancy in the Arab world. Authoritarian rule, poverty and a lack of opportunity deprive many of the young of a say in their future.

Youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa is the highest in the world, with one in four young Egyptians sitting idle, the U.N. says. Nearly 20 percent of Egypt’s 79 million people live on less than $2 a day. Islamic militants from Egypt, including al Qaida’s No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, have exported their violent ideology. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, like other U.S. allies in the region, tolerates little opposition.

Obama will have to strike a balance between raising human rights violations in Egypt and elsewhere in the region, while not sounding like he is trying to impose U.S. values. The Bush administration’s pro-democracy campaign in the Middle East was widely seen as hypocritical, particularly after the U.S. refused to deal with the Islamic militant Hamas despite its 2006 election victory in the Palestinian territories.

“When someone talks to me with dignity and respect, then I will feel I could follow him,” said 19-year-old Mustafa Ragab. He spoke after Friday prayers at a Cairo mosque, where the preacher promoted the idea of dialogue ahead of Obama’s visit. “I think Obama will be able to make the Arabs feel that way.”

Beyond shared concerns, different parts of the Muslim world have particular issues.

While the U.S. draws down forces in Iraq, it is building them up in another Muslim country, Afghanistan, as part of its intensifying war on the Taliban. But the Afghan government says mounting civilian deaths are undermining support for the campaign.

Kabul shopkeeper Abdul Wasi, 34, said sending more U.S. troops is futile. “The experience of our three decades of war shows that in the end, it will not work,” said Wasi, 34. “Since Obama came in, nothing has changed for us.”

Iranians say they want Obama to ease economic sanctions, in place since 1995, and push for a resumption of ties.

“The sanctions the U.S has imposed so far have only damaged ordinary people in Iran,” said Tehran mechanic Abbas Taghizadeh.

Millions of Muslims in Europe struggle to win acceptance and shed the stigma of extremism, without sacrificing their customs. They have fought for the right to build mosques and have girls wear headscarves in schools, a sign of religious observance. Obama may not have much to offer in their struggles.

Still Obama gets some credit up front for just being himself. Many were inspired by his victory, emotionally connecting to his African and Muslim roots and his childhood in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

“It’s so exciting to have a black man run the entire world,” said Awni Shatarat, 45, a clothing store owner in the Palestinian refugee camp of Baqaa in Jordan.

___

Karin Laub reported from Ramallah, West Bank. AP reporters from across Europe, the Middle East and Asia contributed to this story.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31028969/

MSN Privacy . Legal
© 2009 MSNBC.com

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May 31st, 2009, 11:14 pm

 

9. Akbar Palace said:

A nuclear Iran and North Korea are “unacceptable” and other short stories

Syria must be brought to the table without “flipping” preconditions.

Eshani2,

I agree wholeheartedly. I was disappointed the Barack Obama administration continued with the sanctions against Syria. Who does he think he is, George Bush?

Anyway, I want Barry to give Syria, Iran and the rest of the anti-Israel crowd everything they want.

Then I can make faces at the 78% of American Jews who voted for this imbecile.

Please G-d, give me this one opportunity to say, “I told you so”.

Last night I mentioned something about this to my liberal Jewish friend (with the hebrew “Obama 08″ bumper sticker on his car), and the silence was so pleasing. Almost like incense.

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May 31st, 2009, 11:48 pm

 

10. nafdik said:

Ehsani,

I like your idea that the root of a lot of evil in government is committed under the cover of real or perceived existential threats.

US will normalize relations with Syria for the simple reason that Israel does not want another failed state at its borders.

The experiences of Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon has convinced the Israelis that the Assads of this world are the best guardian of its security.

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June 1st, 2009, 12:56 am

 

11. Majhool said:

Ehsani,

Although I agree with the spirit of your post, i.e. the need for an improved US-Syrian relations and lifting of the sanctions, I do want to highlight few things:
You said: The fact is that once leaders convince themselves that they face existential risks….Similarly, when faced with its own existential risk following the uprising of the Moslem Brotherhood, the Syrian leadership felt fully justified in using all means at its disposal to stop the insurgency…)
The “existential” threat that “they” felt is hugely different from that the regime felt in the 80s. Equating an external threat on the US to an internal power struggle is a stretch, I think. Also what MB did in the 80s is best described as a violent regime change attempt. Using the word insurgency which is used to describe those fighting the Americans in Iraq is also a stretch. Also comparing NSA surveillance carried out by a democratic nation that guarantee rule of law for its citizens to the brutality of a dictatorship is also a stretch.

Alex,

You said: “If the Untied States wants to respect “democracy” then why are they ignoring the latest opinion polls that show Syrian President Bashar Assad being the most popular Arab leader in Egypt and 5 other “moderate” Arab countries?”

You are using the poll in an inconsistent manner. The poll reflects a sentiment, no more no less. Squeezing democracy in the mix hurts your argument. The regime in Syria would not withstand democratic elections. Also, equating all the Arabs with the sample is a stretch.

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June 1st, 2009, 3:26 am

 

12. Shai said:

Majhool,

I agree with your comment about introducing democracy into the game. The reality is, that there are NO true democracies in the Middle East. Not in Egypt, not in Iran, not in Syria, and not in Israel.

I can speak for my country. To me, true democracy is when the people elect their leaders, nothing short of that. In Israel, we elect the parties. They elect their leaders. So a man like Dani Ayalon, who might not have gotten 100 people in Israel to vote for him for anything, has become Deputy Foreign Minister. His party (or his boss Lieberman) chose him. And we’ve already seen how terribly corrupt (ALL) Israeli political parties are. How easy it is to “buy” votes inside the party.

We’re also not a true democracy, because if we were we’d enable ALL people under our rule equal rights and freedoms. Last time I checked, 4 million people who were born Palestinian could not vote or work inside Israel proper. And whatever they do vote for in the “other Israel”, is not even accepted by their ultimate ruler, Israel.

So yes, Alex, I agree that the term “democracy” should be removed for the time being from the dialogue with the U.S., for otherwise we’re simply inviting them to become AIG, and make ridiculous preconditions upon us all. Can you imagine if Obama sent Mitchell with a message “First Syria must become a Democracy…”? :-)

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June 1st, 2009, 3:57 am

 

13. MAJID said:

In a recent thread, Trustquest pointed out that somewhere around 100 billion dollars are controlled by 25 people in Syria. Please see here comments 91 and 97.

EHSANI2 said in the main post “If poverty leads to despair and terrorism, how can the U.S. justify economic sanctions on countries and expect this to help?”

EHSANI2 also said “In a newly released study, a typical Syrian household includes six people, living on an average of $318 a month. While the sanctions are by no means the sole reason for economic underachievement, it is not difficult for the populace to be convinced that it is in this predicament because of the country’s resistance and the resultant sanctions against them.”

Obviously, Trustquest meant that the 25 Syrians who control the 100 billion dollars obtained that money through illegal means i.e. corruption, nepotism, embezzlement or whatever. So, I indulged myself in making few calculations based on the assumption that the money can be reclaimed and distributed evenly to the Syrian population, let’s say 20,000,000 people. The 100 billion dollars will in this case put $5000 in the pocket of every Syrian. Since the average family consists of six individuals according to EHSANI2, that will add $30,000 to the wealth of every family. Since each family lives on $338 a month, also according to EHSANI2, then the added wealth will be equivalent to a little over 7 years income for that family.

So in this case there will be no poverty in Syria and the problem is solved. In fact, the Syrian Government would stick its middle finger even higher to the Yanks when it comes to the question of bilateral relations. I am beginning to imagine a situation where the Syrians would tell the Americans to break their strategic alliance with the zionits before they even send any emissary to Damascus next time!!! Otherwise, the Syrians would not be interested in discussing such relationship.

As a side note, could you imagine what the $30,000 in the pocket of each family would do to the newly launched DSE? My head has just started spinning with astronomical figures. That’s for you, EHSANI2 the economist, to figure out.

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June 1st, 2009, 2:51 pm

 

14. EHSANI2 said:

Majid,

Think of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the total income/production that an economy generates for/by its economic agents every year. This is the total pie earned/produced.

I am not going to argue with your claim that 25 people “control” $100 billion. Let us assume that it is true.

The way you presented your argument implies that the $100 billion were stolen from the have-nots.

It seems to me that you are confusing the issue of income distribution (how you cut the cake) with the size of the cake itself.

In the U.S., Warren Buffett is reportedly worth $62 Billion. Did he steal it from a group of homeless people?

You will argue of course that the 25 people that you refer to are no Warren Buffetts. All I am trying to do is to highlight the difference between discussing the size of the cake versus the way it is distributed.

The author of the article that you cited is a communist. He is arguing that state production is on the decline and lacks much needed investment. I beg to differ with him. Syria’s economic problem stems from too much state control of the economy and not the other way around. The economy cannot perform up to potential when the government is in charge of 250 different industries, of which only eight make any money. This causes an enormous misallocation of limited resources and drains the state of much needed funds that could have gone to education and infrastructure just to name a few.

The reason the average Syrian household is poor is not because the pie is not cut equally. It is more because the size of the pie itself is small and is not growing at the required 8-9% a year which is the only way new entrants into the labor force can get absorbed.

This is not to say that is there nothing wrong with distribution in Syria. I have been writing about this issue for a while now. Please refer to an article I wrote on this forum where I discussed the two Syrias that exist – one for 19 million and another for the remaining 1 million. This is not unique to Syria though. Most countries in the less economically developed world share a similar profile. The country’s masses face tremendous challenges. The country’s elites enjoy tremendous advantages. No one can argue with that.

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June 1st, 2009, 3:47 pm

 

15. EHSANI2 said:

Majhool,

The Oxford English Dictionary defines insurgency as “the tendency to rise in revolt”. It seems to me that this fits the Moslem Brotherhood actions during the 1980’s relatively well. You may of course prefer a different word yourself.

You also said the following:

“Comparing NSA surveillance carried out by a democratic nation that guarantee rule of law for its citizens to the brutality of a dictatorship is also a stretch.”

Mr. Gellman’s book precisely covers this point. The rule of law was indeed trumped by the VP’s attempt to ignore the recommendations of the department of justice which warned that wiretapping and electronic surveillance of US citizens was unlawful. I did not say that the U.S. can be compared to dictatorship. I did say that the country started “traveling on a path” that few ever imagined possible once leaders convinced themselves that they face extraordinary times.

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June 1st, 2009, 4:06 pm

 

16. Akbar Palace said:

We’re also not a true democracy, because if we were we’d enable ALL people under our rule equal rights and freedoms.

Shai,

Israel DOES “enable ALL people under [their] rule equal rights and freedoms”.

Last time I checked, 4 million people who were born Palestinian could not vote or work inside Israel proper.

Perhaps you should have “checked” to see if these 4 million people were voting in the PA elections instead of the Israeli elections.

And whatever they do vote for in the “other Israel”, is not even accepted by their ultimate ruler, Israel.

Israel doesn’t “rule” Palestine, Palestinians rule Palestine.

Perhaps you can offer us a paragraph outlining the successes/failures of the PA.

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June 1st, 2009, 4:28 pm

 

17. Shai said:

Akbar,

“Israel doesn’t “rule” Palestine, Palestinians rule Palestine.”

And I guess those 600 roadblocks in the West Bank are controlled by the Palestinian Army, and the endless lines of people trying to get from point A to point B in their own territory are Jews, and not Arabs. And I guess the 3 year, ongoing blockade of Gaza is controlled by the Palestinians.

Oh yeah, Palestinians RULE Palestine. We’re just there as tourists…

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June 1st, 2009, 4:58 pm

 

18. majid said:

That was a good explanation, EHSANI2 that you provided in your comment 14 with regards to the oligarchs of the Syrian economy. However, I still have few observations.

As you pointed out correctly these 25 people are no Warren Buffets. I would also point out that what I proposed cannot be compared to the communist idea of dividing the pie evenly. As a matter of fact I don’t know who Aref is and whether he is a communist until you said so. I was mostly interested in the message and not in the person himself. If that money was accumulated through illegal means, then surely the question of reclaiming it becomes relevant. Communism calls for the division of wealth evenly regardless of how the Warren Buffets built that wealth. We know now that communism was a historical lie and it is no longer relevant. So that is beside the point.

What we have in the case of Syria is a problem of poverty. It seems that this problem is caused mostly by corruption. Because if you have a system which would allow so many few people to accumulate the wealth of 7-year family income of the whole country in their hands, then there is something obviously and terribly wrong with the system. I fail to see in this case how lifting the sanctions against Syria would benefit the vast majority of the impoverished, rather than those very few who have the keys to the economic treasures of the country. How would we be certain that lifting the sanctions would not in fact result in the doubling of the wealth in the hands of the oligarchs and slashing by, let’s say half, the meager Syrian family income as it was reported by the study you quoted?

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June 1st, 2009, 5:29 pm

 

19. EHSANI2 said:

Majid,

Corruption is inevitable when incomes of civil servants are as low as they are. Mother Teresa would accept a bribe if she had to live on $318 a month with her husband and four kids (she of course was smart enough to go it alone).

Why are incomes this low?

Economic growth is too low relative to the country’s labor force and population growth.

Why is growth too low?

I believe that the state needs to get out of the business of running businesses. It ought to allow the private sector to pick up the slack. It must attract foreign investments. It must attract foreign capital including those of expatriate Syrians. It must fully restore property rights. It must drop socialism from its constitution and fully embrace a proper market economy that allocates limited resources efficiently. The sanctions did not make your 25 people poorer but richer. The lifting of sanctions will tempt others to invest and compete with the 25 people who currently monopolize the place for themselves. Economic growth will rise as more investments pour in. This will employ more people who are currently desperate for jobs and are eager to immigrate the country.

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June 1st, 2009, 6:06 pm

 

20. Alex said:

Thanks Norman.

AIG,

Again we go back to “terrorism” .. you think Nasrallah (supported by Syria) is “a terrorist”, most of the Arab world see him as a hero. You probably admired former Prime minster Sharon, while most of the Arab world considered him a mass murderer.

If I am to take into account who is good and who is bad, I go with a more meaninglful measure … the numbers killed by leaders who take decisions that lead to death of innocent people, and not by what Israel’s friends in the media and among corrupt American politicians want us to define as terrorists … and not many Arab “terrorists” (supported by Syria) can match the Israeli killing machine in Gaza and Lebanon recently… your prime ministers are among the most lethal “terrorists”

And this is what Ehsani (and I) are trying to say here … if the United States wants to remain hostage to the black and white illusion created by “Israel’s friends” that Syria is a supporter of terror and a dictatorship, compared to the United States, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who are clean and sweet .. then too bad for the Middle East … again.

Only hitting the reset button will do … otherwise, the Obama administration will waste its time.

Syria has been playing this game for decades … this time there will be no more pretending we believe Israel is ready for peace. It is all up to the Obama administration to face the facts, or to abandon the Middle East.

Majhool,

“Democracy” is a big word … it means many things to many people. I was only referring to one aspect of it … respecting the wishes of the people.

When it comes to regional policies, Syria’s is the most popular in the Arab world according to the same Zogbi poll conducted two years in a row among the people of 6 moderate Arab states (not even including Syrians). Not only is President Assad the most popular Arab head of state (two years in a row) but the biggest perceived threats are again Israel and the United States … not Iran… 88% I think said the US and Israel are the biggest threat.

Clearly the Arab world is not buying Hosni’s line.

Mubarak is not popular … yet The United States continues to boost him and to try to weaken Syria. This is interference in the affairs of the Arab countries and it is interference that goes against the wishes of the majority of the Arab people … that does not sound very democratic on the part on the United States.

If the United States is to be an effective catalyst for political reforms in the Arab world (towards democracy), it has to start by respecting the wishes of the Arab people … it can not support unpopular Arab leaders who are American puppets while confronting the much more popular leaders who are not American puppets.

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June 1st, 2009, 6:48 pm

 

21. Alex said:

Syria’s Softer Side: The Obamas Should Embrace The Assads

As President Obama turns his attention to the Middle East peace process one country is glaringly absent from his schedule: Syria.

For all the face time he is spending this month with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Egyptian President Mubarak and Palestinian Chief Mahmoud Abbas, Pres. Obama would do well to welcome Syrian President al-Assad into the fold.

Without Syria on board to curb Hezbollah, resolve the Golan Heights issue and help contain Iran’s influence in the region, a final settlement will not be possible.

Moreover, despite Pres. Obama’s renewal of sanctions against Syria two weeks ago, Damascus remains willing to resume indirect peace talks with Israel.

Since the beginning of the Iraq War, Syria has suffered mass misrepresentation in the media. So, when I visited last month I was stunned to find that the country has a much softer side.

Often described as a hotbed of anti-Americanism, that eschews ties to the West under Iranian tutelage, in reality that reputation couldn’t be further from the truth.

One look at the country’s first lady Asma al-Assad should help prove so to disbelievers. The British-born, jeans-wearing wife of the current President Bashar represents a radically more modern regime.

Profiled by French Elle as the most stylish international first lady (oui, she beat out Mme. Sarkozy), the comparisons between Mrs. al-Assad and Mrs. Obama are surprisingly abundant. Both take a hands-on approach to national social work and raising their kids, both forgo formalities for the everyday at home, and both insist on date nights out with their husbands.

When the couple turned up in jeans to watch a play in Damascus in late 2008, the episode caused a furor of excitement. “What’s abnormal about it? We’re married, we’re young, why wouldn’t we go to the theatre?” she told the London Times in an interview.

Syria’s softer side can be found not just in the upper echelons, but also amongst the people on the street.

In April I toured the country and was overwhelmed by the welcoming response I found, nearly everywhere I went.

As a blond female tourist in this part of the world, it’s normal to attract a lot of unsolicited conversation. Whereas in Cairo though it was typically to sell me a souvenir or take a photo, and in Beirut it sounded more like wrangling for a date, in Damascus most people simply smiled and said “Hello! Where are you from?”

From the souks of Damascus to the ruins at Palmyra, the Syrians I encountered were warm and curious. They wanted to know what I was doing there, what I thought of their country, the food, the landscape and would I please tell my friends and family to visit?

Absolutely -Syria has become a safe, tourist-friendly place that everyone should consider visiting on a trip to the Middle East, particularly those who appreciate historical sites and like to shop (even VOGUE went for the May issue).

more here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-sterns/syrias-softer-side-the-ob_b_205163.html

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June 1st, 2009, 8:18 pm

 

22. Akbar Palace said:

We’re just there as tourists…

Shai,

Or as the leader of the Labor party suggests, perhaps you’re there (at the checkpoints) to protect your country. I don’t know.

However, the PA is in total control of Palestinian areas and cities: police, law, order, community services, etc etc.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/940630.html

B’Tzelem doesn’t count “600 roadblocks”:

http://www.btselem.org/english/Freedom_of_Movement/Statistics.asp

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June 1st, 2009, 8:22 pm

 

23. Akbar Palace said:

So, when I visited last month I was stunned to find that the country has a much softer side.

Alex,

I know it is difficult for you to understand, but Americans don’t think of a country that harbors jihadists like the PFLP-GC, Hezbollah, and other terrorists and being “soft”.

BTW – Have you hugged your jihadist today?

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June 1st, 2009, 8:28 pm

 

24. Shai said:

Akbar,

Well, I guess the Palestinians have nothing to complain about then – they’re in “total control of Palestinian areas and cities..” But you forget that the REAL rulers of the West Bank are not the tiny police force that resolves traffic jams in Nablus, but the massive force that controls the entire territory, and in practice does anything it chooses to, day and night. I don’t need B’tzelem to tell me that, I was there, dear Akbar, and I know. When there’s a “suspect” that the army is looking for, no Palestinian police and no “Palestinian control” in any city, town, village, or hut, is going to stop soldiers from going in, most of the time without warning.

By the way, there ARE around 600 permanent roadblocks in the West Bank alone. Most are not manned 24/7, but can become manned in a matter of minutes, and often are. In addition, on any given week there are approximately 150 of what we call “surprise roadblocks”, set up anywhere anytime by IDF soldiers. These function as any other roadblock. Again, ask your little Efrat buddies, since you continue to question my numbers.

Here’s something B’Tzelem reported a few years ago (since you like to refer to them so much): “While some (roadblocks) are located so as to restrict Palestinian access to Israeli areas, most of them “do not restrict the interaction between Israelis and Palestinians, but rather between Palestinians and Palestinians”.”

And did you notice what was written a bit further down the page you linked to? About 137 out of 430 kilometers of forbidden roads, where NO PALESTINIANS are allowed to drive? And on the remainder of the 430 kilometers, only ones with special permits can. But hey, the Palestinians are in control of “their own territory”, right?

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June 1st, 2009, 8:57 pm

 

25. Alex said:

Akbar

I have not … but have you hugged your mass murderer Israeli elected leader today?

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June 1st, 2009, 9:04 pm

 

26. Alex said:

Here is an article originally published in the August 2007 issue of Forward magazine.

It shows how things did not change much in the way they see Syria.

by Salma al-Shami

“[W]ould you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?”

This question that aired during the CNN/YouTube U.S. Democratic presidential debate in July 2007 generated what became the most talked-about and analyzed responses of the night from Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“I would,” Obama answered. “And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them […] is ridiculous.” Though stating that Iran and Syria had been acting “irresponsibly until this point,” the Illinois Senator suggested that engagement with the two countries was essential because of the role they would play in the event that the Iraqi government collapsed in the aftermath of American withdrawal.

Clinton took a decidedly different stance. “Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year.” Adding that she did not “want to be used for propaganda purposes,” Clinton, a New York Senator, indicated that while she would send envoys to “test the waters,” she did not intend to meet with the leaders of the mentioned countries without first “knowing the way forward.”

[…] At the end of the night, though, the consensus seemed to be that ultimately both would be willing to speak with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, with or without preconditions. But to what extent will any Democratic candidate, whether enthusiastic or reluctant to speak to these countries, mark a change from the Bush Administration’s rationale on regional “engagement”?

[…]

While Democratic candidates acknowledge that the Iraq fiasco has had one of the deepest negative impacts on the United States’ global image, when they speak of “restoring America’s standing in the world”, the issues they most commonly raise relate, for example, to conflicts in Northern Ireland and Darfur and to quests to eradicate world poverty and disease. The source of the problem and its proposed solution are disconnected in most campaign platforms.

This disconnect between the root and solution to the problem also underlies several candidates’ visions of engagement with Syria, which is primarily brought up as a tenet of the solution to the Iraq war. Even the candidates who advocate engagement with regional powers have been reluctant to fully detail the nature and course of such an attempt.

Scarcity of substantive answers aside, the Democrats’ approach to engagement with Syria is problematic simply by virtue of where it falls in the context of campaign platforms. Even among the candidates who favor engagement with Syria, the possibility of that engagement is a function of a narrowly defined and highly teleological policy prescription. Syria factors into the Middle East equation only so long as engagement serves American interests and goals in the region. Engagement for engagement’s sake is nearly absent.

This fault line is highly reminiscent of one commonly identified with the Bush Doctrine of promoting democracy in the Middle East: the discrepancy between the Bush Administration’s handling of democracy promotion, for example, in Lebanon in contrast to Palestine suggested that democracy was an alternative way of securing American allies in the region, or, in the case of Palestine, keeping perceived enemies out of power. Democracy for democracy’s sake was absent.

[…]

If nothing else, the failure of the Bush Doctrine and the chaos of its aftermath attests to one salient reality: if American policy is to be successful in the Middle East, it cannot be viewed as pursuing the U.S.’s interests (and those of its regional allies) at the expense and detriment of other regional powers.

Ironically, Clinton acknowledged that “diplomacy has been turned into a bad word” by the Bush Administration; however, it is unclear how diplomacy with adjectives such as “aggressive” or “vigorous” that she and other Democratic candidates, including Obama and Edwards, attach to the term “diplomacy” is very different from the Bush Administration’s stance on speaking to other nations. The attempt to “toughen-up” the concept of diplomacy with adjectives suggests that even the Democratic candidates still believe that diplomacy is dovish, and that this quality is undesirable. With too many preconditions for negotiation with regional Middle Eastern powers only within the context of the aftermath of American troop withdrawal from Iraq, “engagement” looks like a continuation of Republican policy under a Democratic name.

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June 1st, 2009, 9:23 pm

 

27. Shai said:

Alex,

Just as Clinton should not have placed preconditions on talks with Syria, so should Syria not place preconditions on talks with Israel. It is obvious what the price is, and Netanyahu knows it well. Preconditions turn anyone into an AIG… :-)

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June 1st, 2009, 9:34 pm

 

28. AIG said:

Alex,

You forget to address the Turkish-Syrian reconciliation that followed only after the Syrians stopped supporting terrorists attacking Turkey. That was the price Syria had to pay for better relations with Turkey. That is the same price the US is asking of Syria. If Syria does not want to pay the price, that is fine.

If you are so confident of Asad’s popularity in Syria, why don’t you support free elections or freedom of speech there???

As for Saudi-Arabia, it has always been an ally of the US. As for Egypt, it flipped during the cold war and also signed a peace agreement brokered by your beloved Carter. Syria missed the boat then of becoming a strategic ally of the US. It chose to be part of the Russian block and not make peace with Israel. Now, it is too late. Syria cannot get what it wants for free. It has to pay a price. Otherwise, what signal would the US be sending to its allies in the middle-east that supported it through thick and thin? Saudi and Egypt are not much more democratic than Syria. But the regimes there have been loyal to the US for decades, unlike the Syrians that took the wrong side in the cold war.

It is not the US or Israel that need to change. It is Syria that needs to change. And if Assad does not do so, Syria will pay the price in poverty and backwardness and eventually Islamic rule. But for Assad that is a small price to pay for staying in power a few more years.

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June 1st, 2009, 9:40 pm

 

29. Observer said:

Ehsani
For the state to get out of the business of running business it means that the “chasse gardee” that the use of the state apparatus to rule as an oligachy is to be dismantled. It means an end to the state of emergency and rule by decree and it means transparency and the rule of law.

Surely you are dreaming if you think that this is what is going to happen. From my recent visit, the country opened up enough for the elites to get what they want without leaving for Beirut. So you have malls and restaurants and night clubs and banks. The situation has reverted back to the age of the Sphinx: no change and no release of total control. There is no concern if 80% of the population starve. Believe me

If there is an attack by Israel on Iran and Syria does not join the fight the regime is finished for it will make it open to full Israeli aggression without any strategic depth to it.

I am now convinced that the region is mired in the dark ages and this includes Israel which thinks of itself as part of the so called first world when in reality is the epitome of the darkest ideology on the planet today. Not even the Islamic Republic of Iran or the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan demanded the citizens recognize the religiously exclusive nature of the state.

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June 1st, 2009, 9:46 pm

 

30. Shai said:

Observer,

If you’re referring to the “Loyalty Bill”, then please note that it was rejected, by the majority of Bibi’s government. Only a minority supported it, all from Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu party.

If you’re referring to the (idiotic) Israeli demand from the Palestinians to “first accept Israel as The Jewish State”, then of course you’re right.

And as for the rest, you know what I think…

(Btw, I’m not sure you’re right about the regime’s end should Syria not join to aid Iran in case of an Israeli attack. Syria also didn’t join to help Hezbollah or Lebanon in 2006, both of which are much closer to the hearts of the Syrian people, and yet the regime survived.)

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June 1st, 2009, 9:54 pm

 

31. Joshua Landis said:

Bravo, Ehsani. Many thanks for an interesting and smart piece. I have just arrived in Damascus after several days in the village, where there was no internet. Went out to Ellisar’s for dinner and ate a most delicious salad of jarjeer, buqli, and zaatar with a bit of dibs rumman dressing on top – there is nothing better in the world. My new number in Damascus is 992473085. More annon. Best to you all. Joshua

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June 1st, 2009, 10:20 pm

 

32. majid said:

Your analysis and comments, EHSANI2, have made me even more curious. From here we find out the sanctions were first imposed on Syria on May 12, 2004. They were modified at different dates afterwards.

From this report, we find out that the household income in Syria changed from $345 a month in 1997 to $397 a month in 2005 just after the sanctions were imposed. According to the study which you have quoted this income currently stands at $338 a month five years after the sanctions were imposed. Furthermore, the same report states “Syria’s economic growth rate continues to struggle due to a weak fiscal and monetary policy, which concentrates on depriving the public sector of its economic surplus and disables it from renewing its factors of production. The per capita GDP growth rate averaged only 1.8% between 1990 and 2000.[1] Meanwhile employment policies have led to structural deficiencies in the economy and to the emigration of most of the qualified workforce.”

It is very clear from the above, that the sanctions had hardly any effect on household income in Syria. The report clearly puts the blame squarely on the shoulder of the Government due to its fiscal and monetary policy.

So we can conclude that lifting the sanctions will have no positive effect on household income in Syria.

I still wanted to get some data which would show how the wealth of those 25 oligarchs have changed from the time the sanctions were imposed until the present. That would also shed some light about your other assertion that the sanctions have helped to further enrich these oligarchs. Unfortunately, this is the kind of data that is hard to find. I ask TRUSTQUEST if he can help since he was the motivator of this thread. So, TQ can you find any data that shows the wealth of these individuals around the year 2004? That will settle once and for all if the sanctions are actually enriching these people. We will then be able to determine for sure that corruption and nepotism are or are not the real culprits for Syria’s economic woes.

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June 1st, 2009, 10:45 pm

 

33. trustquest said:

Thank you much Majid for asking.
I’m really interested in this subject and my theory is that this is the single most important subject in Syria since 1985 which caused the downward of the economy with no retune point. I would like to tell you that I know personally those people back in the 80s and I have knowledge of their status and wealth. I would like also to tell you that I would vote for Bashar as president for three consecutive terms because I think he could have been the only one who can move the country into the right direction but for money issue he can not change a thing more than buy time to those. I think of him as just an agent to those oligarchs (including him) who at some point of time thought that they can have power and money at the same time from the point have the cake and eat it too. Just imagine a country with budget of about 5 billions in 2005, the top 25 have 4 times this amount in the foreign bank and in the country. It is like you need 2000 capitalists to create the energy of the capitalism and you have only 25.

I have explained before about scalability in the capital society and I would like to mention it again. Without scalability for each class you can not build capitalism. It seems to me that sometimes during the 80s during the Lebanon war, some guys start getting advantage of the war and smuggle and rob banks, stores and warehouse into Syria and start building different type of wealth. I’m not saying that these people built their fortune from Lebanon not it was from Syria just wait for me a little. The competition started between them and I thin there was a concisou decision to keep the wealth in the hands of the close circle without any break on any limit of collection. Shaleesh, who was just a drunk fellow roaming Saraya Aldefaa, on his jeep have currently not less than 5 billion dollar wealth with the same job as a guard to the president, this is kind of example of type of fellows who is in the top 25. The number 100 billion can easy be obtain from Syria-news by googling Jameel Alasad such this link: http://www.syria-news.com/newstoprint.php?sy_seq=20357
One school teacher then member of parliament dies on the wealth of 5 billion, 900 houses and 250 kg of gold. All 15 are Alawites and all from the close circle of the regime.

The total figure came from intellectual people such as Aref Dallileh who said that by

I have covered this subject before: http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=219&cp=3#comments The post was: “Why Don’t Arab Dictators Declare Themselves Kings?” by Ehsani
Please read my comment there, it has some figures estimate of the accumelated wealth in foreign banks, some scary numbers.

The exact answer to your question comes from Dr. Dallila (professor of economic):
هل نستطيع الحديث في سورية عن اقتصاد وطني ؟ في دول أوروبا وأمريكا وأي دولة في العالم ورغم أنها اقتصادات رأسمالية وطبقية، لكن عندما يزدهر الاقتصاد يرتفع مستوى الجميع : الرأسماليون والعمال والعاطلون حتى عن العمل، وعندما يصاب الاقتصاد بالركود يخسر الجميع : أصحاب المليارات والعاملون برواتبهم وأجورهم والعاطلون عن العمل، لذلك نقول أنه هناك اقتصاد وطني في أمريكا وفي اليابان مثلاً. لكن هل نستطيع القول أن هناك اقتصاد وطني في سورية ؟ هنالك اقتصادان : اقتصاد لا يعرف الأزمة والركود، في ازدهار دائم، في وفرة دائمة، بل في حالات الأزمة والركود يزداد اكتنازاً، وهو اقتصاد القلة، أعضاء الشركة المشتركة، من هم في السلطة وشركاؤهم خارج السلطة، وهنالك اقتصاد القلة الساحقة، وهؤلاء إذا ازدهر الاقتصاد أم مال إلى الركود، خسرت البلاد أم فقرت هم في حالة فقر متزايد، أوضاعهم لا علاقة لها بالوضع الاقتصادي العام، وإنما تتحدد أوضاعهم بسياسات رسمية تُطبّق على مدى عقود بشكل منتظم ومحكم، في الوقت الذي تراجعت فيه الدولة عمّا يسمّى بالتخطيط للتنمية الاقتصادية والاجتماعية، التخطيط الذي يضع مؤشرات على الدولة والسلطة بكل مستوياتها. لكن نلاحظ أن خطة بديلة غير معلنة تُطبق بإحكام وبتناسق شديد، هذه الخطة تقضي بتحطيم مقومات الاقتصاد الوطني، بإفقار المجتمع وتهجير قواه الحية، وبمصادرة مستقبل الأجيال القادمة

If you remember two years ago, Dardari estimated that they need 25 billions to move the economy and the State start advertizing for us to go and invest in the country. Some got fooled ( Ehsani2 was not one of them, he went there and reported to us pretty nice reports saying Buyer Be Aware slogan). Now they have more than that in the European Bank, did they ever thought to use small part of it, the answer is no.
Now you can fill the blank.

Thank you sir for asking and that was my take.

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June 2nd, 2009, 3:37 am

 

34. majid said:

Thanks TQ for the information. It was very enlightening.

You know EHSANI2 my feeling is that nothing will save Syria at the moment. Neither its immigrating workforce, nor lifting the sanctions, and not even pumping money from investors or other wealthy countries will lift the poverty of the vast majority of its population. There are only two possible outcomes: continued draining of its human resources to immigration, or an explosion similar to those few hunger revolutions that we know very well, like the French revolution or the Bolshevik. Unfortunately, these revolutions tend to be the bloodiest and the most unforgiving. When will that happen? You never know. Now, I understand why people here on SC are so opposed to Free and Democratic Syria and what Bashar could have been up to. But the end result is going to be the same. Instead of having a peaceful liberal transition, he just bought time at the expense of facing a violent and bloody upheaval few years down the road that may sweep everything that may come in its path.

Good luck to the people of Syria.

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June 2nd, 2009, 5:04 am

 

35. trustquest said:

Majid, with all due respect I don’t think there is anyone on this forum objects to Democratic Syria, however they disagree on the ways and the timing. Ehsani would like to push for monetary change and free market and see it as the single item which can carry the change. Alex, thinks that the regime should not be abruptly changed in this period and he would like to give it time. A lot on this forum they do not see a replacement for the regime and they hate many of the opposition leaders and they claim that opposition is no difference from the regime. Off course, it is too bad for the latter logic of exclusion which we need less of it. Some think that the balance of power does not take place unless a minority is in power, they do not recognize the gathering storm from the majority who are gaining ground everyday. We are now in the period of fragmentation and consolidation of power for each ideology nevertheless Syria could have been the best candidate for Democratic setting due to its colorful combination of sects, religions, and clans, but oligarchs do not like that and they are not going to give up easily.

You are talking about the regime is buying time, off course it has been buying time since 1970. The whole Middle East is going now into reaching boiling point and when one country passes through threshold for the better it will trigger a change followed by the others like domino. The current regimes have one more item to play which is defending against terrorism (they should thank Bush for inventing this word), however Obama is on the road to diffuse this theme and turn the struggle inward instead of outward.
Off course sanction lifting is not going to save Syria, but sanction lifting will exert more pressure on the regime that keeping them. How, the regime will lose one of its excuses and will be more exposed to criticism and to US pressure.

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June 2nd, 2009, 1:21 pm

 

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