Obama Sanctions Syria

US keeps Sryria in Chokehold

US keeps Sryria in Chokehold

Obama renewed President Bush’s sanctions on Syria. This is the clearest sign that negotiations between Damascus and Washington are going, if not badly, at least slowly despite statements by both sides that progress is being made. It tells us that despite the rhetoric about a “new US relationship” to Middle Eastern countries, Washington still believes that it must keep its foot on Syria’s economic throat in order to win concessions.

I copy below the official Presidential rational for renewing the sanctions on Syria put out by the President’s office today. (See the interesting debate by commentators under the last post. They discuss the merits and efficacy of US sanctions on Syria.

What has Syria done for Obama?

  • Lebanon: Syria helped to negotiate a truce among Lebanon’s warring factions: the Doha agreement.
  • It pushed forward Michel Suleiman for President to fill the presidential void that had paralyzed Lebanon for more than a year.
  • Palestine: Both anti-Israel resistance groups, Hizbullah and Hamas, have reached out to the US, claiming to want engagement and expressing willingness to compromise on key issues. Syria has great influence on these groups and has aided with this outreach.
  • Iraq: Syria has been largely successful in stanching the flow of fighters into Iraq across long border.
  • It was among the first Arab governments to reestablish full relations with the Malaki government and to send an ambassador to Iraq. It has established good relations with every sector of Iraqi society, whether Kurdish, Sunni, or Shiite.
  • Syria wants intelligence sharing on al-Qaida and Iraq, but it has not handed over Iraqi Baathists resident in Syria to the US.

What has Syria refused to do for Obama?

  • Syria will not agree to concessions on the Arab peace plan, i.e. stating that Syria will give all resident Palestinians citizenship as part of a Palestinian-Israeli deal. (This is symbolic because Syria is the Arab state that has granted Palestinians the most privileges. They have all the rights of Syrians except citizenship, i.e. they can hold all government jobs, go to schools, access subsidized medical care, etc. There is little doubt Syria wold give Palestinians citizenship, but not outside the context of a deal.
  • Syria will not stop arming Hizbullah and Hamas before it gets back the Golan
  • Syria will not cut relations with Iran or down-grade them.
  • Syria will not hand over Iraqis who have taken refuge in Syria.

What has the US done for Syria?

  • Send Feltman and Shapiro to Damascus twice.
  • Stop insisting on a checklist of conditions before talking.
  • Softened its rhetoric on Iran and Syria.
  • Not made too much of a fuss that Britain and Europeans have opened relations with Hizbullah
  • Distanced itself from Israel a bit — see this story: “Jerusalem worried over breakdown of U.S.-Israel cooperation under Obama,” Haaretz, Aluf Benn

What has US refused to do?

  • Send an ambassador to Damascus
  • Stop supporting Hariri coalition in Lebanon’s elections
  • Reduce economic Sanctions or lift them altogether
  • Renew intelligence sharing over Iraq and al-Qaida
  • Pressure Israel to negotiate with Syria on the basis of land for peace
  • State that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are “illegal” rather than simply “unhelpful.”
  • Admit that Hamas is a legitimate organization that represents Palestinians and must be included in a peace deal
  • Admit that Arabs have a right to resist occupation of their land

Read this Financial Times By Anna Fairfield in Beirut: (Anna got the story first! Congrats Anna)

US renews sanctions against Syria May 8 2009

The Obama administration has renewed its sanctions against Syria for another year, citing a continuing “national emergency” facing the US from Syria’s support for terrorist organisations and weapons trade.

The sanctions were extended after Jeffrey Feltman, a senior state department official, held “constructive” talks on Thursday during his second visit to Syria in as many months, as part of a drive to improve relations with Damascus.

The sanctions, which were introduced by the Bush administration in 2004, will remain in place for another year, a state department official told the Financial Times.

The order mainly affects weapons trade, Syrian Air, and the property of people with links to anti-Israeli groups including Hamas, Hizbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It was introduced to crack down on Syria’s suspected support for terrorism and terrorist leaders, and alleged support for insurgent groups in Iraq.

“The national emergency with respect to Syria remains in effect because Syria continued to not meet its international obligations. We continue to have serious concerns about Syria’s actions,” the US official said.

Amid tentative steps towards détente with Syria, some members of Congress had been lobbying President Barack Obama to renew the order…..

But Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma university, said that renewing the sanctions sent the wrong signal.

“It was promulgated by the Bush White House, which believed that it could break Syria through a combination of economic, judicial, military and diplomatic pressure. Intimidation did not work,” Mr Landis wrote in a posting on his Syria Comment blog.

“Obama has promised that he will change the nature of US relations in the region. If he renews the Bush sanctions it will be a step in the wrong direction. What impression will it leave in Damascus or on the Arab street? Certainly not a good one,” he wrote.

Mr Feltman met Walid Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, in Damascus on Thursday and said they had “constructive” talks. Mr Moallem, however, stressed it was still early days. “This is a time when US intentions towards Syria will be put to the test,” he said.

The Obama administration’s efforts to improve ties with Syria are still at a “fact finding” stage, diplomats say, but are picking up speed.

Underscoring Washington’s difficult relationship with Syria, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president, was feted during a visit to Damascus on Tuesday….

Obama’s sanctions send a message to Lebanon’s Feb. 14 coalition that America still has its back. A friend writes: “Just as Feltman and Shapiro touched down in Damascus for their second trip, US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Hale, flew to Beirut and reaffirmed the US commitment to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. “The aim of my visit is to reaffirm the message delivered by Clinton to Michel Suleiman from his counterpart Obama.”

Here are the stories from the wires:

US envoy in Syria tries to repair relations The Associated Press
Washington committed to seeking Syria-Israel deal Reuters

“We conveyed … President Obama’s sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks, including on the Syrian-Israeli track,” senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman said after meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in the Syrian capital.

US Talks In Syria Intensify CBS News

The Obama administration believes engaging the Syrian regime will weaken Syria’s strategic alliance with Iran, but Syrian officials have repeatedly dismissed the idea, saying Damascus was more than willing to be a bridge between Washington and Tehran.

Assad, following his talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday in the Syrian capital, defended his country’s alliance with Iran as “strategic,” saying the vision they shared over the past years was “correct.”…

Damascus, which has great influence over two of Israel’s main enemies — Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon, and Hamas, whose leaders are based here in Damascus, has indicated that it seeks no further quarrel with Washington, even saying it would like the new administration to mediate stalled Syrian-Israeli peace talks to restore the Golan Heights, to end sanctions, and allow inflow of Western investment and technology….

Changes to peace plan for Palestine rejected by Syria, Irish Times ‎

In addition to Syria, Qatar and Lebanon are likely to reject any softening of the full-withdrawal-for-peace formula and the stance on refugees. …

Here is a copy of the Presidents order issued today explaining why he has renewed sanctions on Syria.

Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Actions of the Government of Syria

Presidential Documents, 21765, Federal Register
Vol. 74, No. 88, Friday, May 8, 2009, Title 3
—The President, Notice of May 7, 2009

On May 11, 2004, pursuant to his authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701–1706, and the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Public Law 108–175, the President issued Executive Order 13338, in which he declared a national emergency with respect to the actions of the Government of Syria. To deal with this national emergency, Executive Order 13338 authorized the blocking of property of certain persons and prohibited the exportation or re-exportation of certain goods to Syria. On April 25, 2006, and February 13, 2008, the President issued Executive Order 13399 and Executive Order 13460, respectively, to take additional steps with respect to this national emergency.

The President took these actions to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the Government of Syria in supporting terrorism, maintaining its then-existing occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq.

Because the actions and policies of the Government of Syria continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, the national emergency declared on May 11, 2004, and the measures adopted on that date, on April 25, 2006, in Executive Order 13399, and on February 13, 2008, in Executive Order 13460, to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond May 11, 2009. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared with respect to certain actions of the Government of Syria.

Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 88 / Friday, May 8, 2009 / Presidential Documents
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

May 7, 2009.
[FR Doc. E9–11047
Filed 5–7–09; 1:00 pm]

Damascus Bourse Should Let in Overseas Investors, Broker Says
By Nadim Issa

May 7 (Bloomberg) — The Damascus Securities Exchange must allow international investors, remove trading limits and open for more than two days a week, said Rashad Halwani, head of trading at the Damascus-based brokerage IFA Financial Services SA.

“The fluctuation limit of two percent and the limited number of days for trading are two major reasons which are restricting trading on the bourse” said Halwani in a telephone interview from Damascus.
Halwani said the value of transaction for the seven listed companies on the exchange today reached 524,200 Syrian pounds ($11,200) while Bank of Syria & Overseas didn’t trade.

The Syrian Commission on Financial Markets & Securities is reviewing whether to open the exchange to international investors in an effort to increase trading.

Comments (56)

majid said:

“Read this Financial Times By Anna Fairfield in Beirut: (Anna got the story first! Congrats Anna)”

Amazing Beirut! What type of city is it which seems to be closer to America than its own heart? Does it have more advanced technology than America itself?

May 8th, 2009, 5:52 pm


Sasa said:

It’s a con. When do we give up on Obama? I for one feel stupid.

May 8th, 2009, 6:22 pm


majid said:

I believe Syria (Bashar) should still be grateful to Obama. He only renewed the sanctions. He did not strengthen the sanction rules as others would have hoped, and as a Bush administration would have certainly done.

May 8th, 2009, 6:51 pm


EHSANI2 said:

The reality is that President Obama has hit that fork in the road when he has to make a choice which road to take. Does he follow the same turn and end up with the same outcome or does he risk it and try the other more audacious turn in the road leading to Damascus?

Thus far, Mr. Obama has pretended that he can postpone the decision for now and buy himself more time. Sooner or later, it will be decision time.

In the meantime, Damascus is unlikely to do much. It will sit and wait. Time is on her side.

May 8th, 2009, 7:49 pm


Alex said:

The Americans claim they want to ensure that Syria will not try to benefit from Lebanon’s upcoming elections this June in a way that allows it to control Lebanon again through the newly elected HA led Lebanese government.

Syria will not do anything in Lebanon that gives a bad impression to the Americans … if the Obama administration does not come up with new conditions and new excuses for delaying sending a new ambassador (or even removing the sanctions, which President Obama has the power to do at any time he wishes to do so) then we should expect Syrian American relations to improve markedly a month or two after the Lebanese elections and after a new Lebanese national coalition government is formed.

May 8th, 2009, 8:17 pm


Alex said:

Netanyahu: Israel will never withdraw from Golan
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Syria, Golan Heights

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.

“Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu said during a briefing he gave to the reporters.

May 8th, 2009, 8:23 pm


norman said:


If Syria wants the Golan she has to be willing to fight for it ,


Be patient please , Obama has been there only for three months , when the economy in the US improves , no neoconservative or AIPAC can stand in his way , and the economy is improving , so expect improvement in Syria/ The US relation in 3 to 6 months ,

About letting forign investors in , they should give priority first to Syrians living abroad , so after we are invested ,opening the way to other investors will push our investment higher , and i do not mind paying some taxes on our gains , that would be a great way to increase the Government coffers.

May 8th, 2009, 8:56 pm


norman said:

I saw this respond to the sanction in Haaretz ,It is woth posting,

Title: Are these 3 sanctions the only sanctions against Syria?!

Name: JustMe

City: State: UK

– prohibit arms exports to Syria: No problem as Syria can rely on their long term supplier Russia.

– block Syrian airlines from operating in USA: No problem as I don`t think there were that many Syrian airlines operating in USA before anyway.

– deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system: well a citizen of any national (not only Syrian) suspected of being associated with terrorist groups are banned in the US and denied access to all US systems (financial or otherwise) anyway.

So these look like `token` sanctions and shouldn`t affect the progress in US-Syria relationship. I am sure the top US diplomats (who visited Syria yesterday) would have told the syrian officials about the up coming sanction renewal: “Oh BTW, tomorrow will renew the yearly sanctions against you, don`t worry about it, these are just formalities and should be abolished by next year anyway…blahblahblah

May 8th, 2009, 9:16 pm


Shai said:


I believe much of what we are witnessing and hearing nowadays is groundwork preparation for major “changes” in the strategic policy in the region, from just about every side towards the other (US towards Syria, Israel towards Syria, Syria towards Saudi/Egypt, etc.) Seemingly supporting the tough stance on each side, the respective leaders (Obama, Netanyahu, Assad) are tending to their conservative constituents, and the only potential opposition if/when such bold moves are introduced. It’s a win-win for the leaders right now, because if Syria makes no “promises” to change its military alliances with Iran/Hezbollah/Hamas (note military, not political), then Netanyahu and Obama can always claim they were against appeasement. If Netanyahu doesn’t give back the Golan, Assad can claim Syria expected nothing of this (or any other) Israeli government. And if Obama doesn’t change US policy towards Syria, Assad can continue along the same strategy vis-a-vis Iran/Turkey.

I’m not sure anyone here needs, at this early stage, to make too sharp a turn. I believe political leaders are not particularly good at that, especially as it is too often a very personally-risky gamble. They’d rather first “test the waters” quietly while telling everyone “I won’t go in, I won’t go in…”


I imagine Syria will start to adopt a tougher stance (PR-wise) in the coming weeks and months. They won’t fight for the Golan, but they’ll do as close to it as possible. Maybe they’ll move troops around, or conduct further exercises (nearer to the Israeli border). The tension in the region is apparently not sufficiently high to demand overt political/diplomatic initiatives.

May 8th, 2009, 9:35 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Two newsitems of interest;-

a). Obama will make his long promised speech to the Muslim World in Egypt in June.

and more newsworthy is a Voltaire website “expose”

Dick Cheney had ordered the assassination of Rafik Hariri

In an interview with Russia Today television, the U.S. journalist Wayne Madsen unien confirmed the information with his colleague Seymour Hersh on the existence of death squads U.S. under the exclusive direction of Vice President Cheney from 2001 to 2008, and linked to an Israeli equivalent.

Extending these revelations, Wayne Madsen said he intersected various sources and was able to say that Dick Cheney had ordered the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (14 February 2005). This information comes a few weeks after installation by the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The existence of plans to assassinate political leaders around the world was raised by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post in January 2002. Wayne Madsen had revealed the name of the first target (the Papuan leader Theys Eluay, the Minister of Justice of Nigeria Chief Bola Ige, the governor of Aceh province Abdullah Syaffi, and the Christian militia leader Elie Hobeika of Lebanon..

May 8th, 2009, 9:36 pm


norman said:


I agree with you and I mentioned that befor , it makes sence,


May 8th, 2009, 10:03 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Here’s Charles Krauthammer’s take on the Hamas thing.

I agree with him 100%…


May 8th, 2009, 10:31 pm


Chris said:

After reading Josh’s post it sounds like the U.S. has done quite a bit for Syria, but Syria what has it done to improve relations? According to Josh Syria has merely:

What has Syria done for Obama?

-Both Hizbullah and Hamas have reached out to the US, claiming to want engagement and expressing willingness to compromise on key issues. Syria has great influence on these groups and has helped with this outreach.
-Syria wants intelligence sharing on al-Qaida and Iraq, but it has not handed over Iraqi Baathists resident in Syria to the US.

The first one is about potential the second has a big but. So, it sounds like Syria hasn’t done much to improve the relationship. You have a great power reaching out and finding ways to ease tensions and Syria’s response has been to largely ignore these overtures. To let this opportunity pass it by. I for one would say that the Syrian leadership appears to be getting exactly what it wants.

May 8th, 2009, 10:48 pm


Alex said:

Here is Dr. Marc Gopin’s take on US Syrian relations and Netanyahu’s statement:

Bashar, Don’t Take Netanyahu’s Bait


Josh Landis outlines well the problems with America’s decision to maintain the Syria sanctions, but also outlines nicely what the Syrian and the Americans have done and not done so far in the relationship. Here is an excerpt:

What has Syria done for Obama?

* Both Hizbullah and Hamas have reached out to the US, claiming to want engagement and expressing willingness to compromise on key issues. Syria has great influence on these groups and has helped with this outreach.
* Syria wants intelligence sharing on al-Qaida and Iraq, but it has not handed over Iraqi Baathists resident in Syria to the US.

What has Syria refused to do for Obama?

* Syria will not agree to concessions on the Arab peace plan, i.e. stating that Syria will give all resident Palestinians citizenship as part of a Palestinian-Israeli deal. (This is symbolic because Syria is the Arab state that has granted Palestinians the most privileges. They have all the rights of Syrians except citizenship, i.e. they can hold all government jobs, go to schools, access subsidized medical care, etc. There is little doubt Syria wold give Palestinians citizenship, but not outside the context of a deal.
* Syria will not stop arming Hizbullah and Hamas before it gets back the Golan
* Syria will not cut relations with Iran or down-grade them.
* Syria will not hand over Iraqis who have taken refuge in Syria.

What has the US done for Syria?

* Send Feltman and Shapiro to Damascus twice.
* Stop insisting on a checklist of conditions before talking.
* Softened its rhetoric on Iran and Syria.
* Not made too much of a fuss that Britain and Europeans have opened relations with Hizbullah
* Distanced itself from Israel a bit – see this story: “Jerusalem worried over breakdown of U.S.-Israel cooperation under Obama,” Haaretz, Aluf Benn

What has US refused to do?

* Send an ambassador to Damascus
* Stop supporting Hariri coalition in Lebanon’s elections
* Reduce economic Sanctions or lift them altogether
* Renew intelligence sharing over Iraq and al-Qaida
* Pressure Israel to negotiate with Syria on the basis of land for peace
* State that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are “illegal” rather than simply “unhelpful.”
* Admit that Hamas is a legitimate organization that represents Palestinians and must be included in a peace deal
* Admit that Arabs have a right to resist occupation of their land

Overall, despite today, it is clear that the United States and Syria are on a positive path, and that much can be improved by a clarification of Syria’s future role in the region, in other words where does it see itself headed in terms of relations to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Visioning helps clarify positions, so that the Syrians should send more clear signals of where it would like its allies to go should there be a comprehensive peace process with Israel that was real and substantive, or in the eventuality that Syria does receive the Golan back. And there are many interim steps as well that can help build the relationship further. The Syrian/American relationship is vital for the future stability of the Arab world in its relations with the West because Syria is in the best position to take the opposition to Israel out of the realm of ideology and into the realm of practical opposition to Israel’s positions. This is the most important linkage to a new Middle East.

The problem is that those in Israel who do not want a new Middle East, who want and need a fierce Arab opposition in order to hold on to all the historic land of Israel are driven by ideology to elicit from the Arab world as much inflammatory and violent positions as possible. That is why Netanyahu chose today, the day that America is renewing sanctions on Syria, to pronounce that he will never give back the Golan. For sixty years there have been Israelis like him who hope and count on Arab anger, Arab rage, Arab violence. The greatest threat to his position is Arab nonviolence and Arab statesmenship and diplomacy. It would be very helpful to Netanyahu right now if Bashar takes some action to support militarily Hamas or Hezbollah because it would prove to the West that there is no Arab peace partner. But I say, don’t take his bait. Forge ahead with the Western relationship. Obama’s people are the greatest hope in sixty years for America to join the rest of the Quartet and the rest of the world in a forceful insistence on a real path to a real Palestinian state as the ultimate and most important solution to Middle Eastern, Arab and Muslim problems. Syria and the Syrian people can only benefit from that path.

May 8th, 2009, 11:23 pm


majid said:

Alex said, “The Americans claim they want to ensure that Syria will not try to benefit from Lebanon’s upcoming elections this June in a way that allows it to control Lebanon again through the newly elected HA led Lebanese government.”

You’re absolutely wrong. HA will not win the elections on June 7. So Syria will have nothing to benefit from the outcome. On the contrary it will lose.

Current projections: 70 to 72 seats to M14 as opposed to 56 to 58 to others. The others include FPM, AMAL, HZB, Minor oppositions (SSNP, Baath,…) plus Independents (most likely to Suleiman or eventually will line up with M14). These projections assume Baabda will go to current opposition. It also assumes Kisrwan and Jbail (total 8 seats) will go to Aoun which is now unlikely considering latest developments. It also assumes Beirut II will split (4 seats).

See latest candidates list formation and how the election battles are shaping on contested districts (about 25 in all). Remaining districts are already decided.

From the Daily Start, Special Tribunal for Lebanon seeks agreements with States to prosecute suspects:

STL wants deal with regional states to simplify surrender of suspects
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Saturday, May 09, 2009
THE HAGUE: The head of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said Friday he wanted a deal with countries in the region, including Syria, to simplify the surrender of suspects. “I have already prepared a draft agreement on judicial cooperation which should be offered to all the countries of the region: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Israel,” Antonio Cassese told AFP.
The STL was created to try those responsible for the 2005 car bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.
Damascus, implicated by a United Nations probe, has denied involvement.
The STL currently has no suspects in custody since ordering the release last week of four generals held by Lebanon for nearly four years without charge.
The accord envisaged by Cassese would allow prosecutors to interview witnesses in third countries, to have suspects summoned to The Hague for questioning, and facilitate the transfer of accused persons.
It aims to find a way round the fact that the national laws of some countries prevent them from surrendering suspects without an extradition treaty.
It would also be submitted to countries like France, the United States and Argentina that have large Lebanese communities, Cassese said.
“That does not mean that we expect there is a suspect or witness or fugitive [there],” said the judge, at the seat of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at Leidschendam near The Hague.
Cassese added that “probably, many countries will never accept” the agreement, and may prefer to work with the tribunal on a case-by-case basis which would be “less quick, but not impossible.”
He hoped to hand drafts of the deal to ambassadors in The Hague in the next few weeks and to finalize its negotiation and ratification by December.
Cassese said he would visit Beirut in June or July, after the Lebanese parliamentary elections, for a courtesy call on the new government and talks with lawyers and judges about the tribunal’s rules and procedures.

May 8th, 2009, 11:33 pm


Off the Wall said:


in your analysis you stated that the US has

Not made too much of a fuss that Britain and Europeans have opened relations with Hizbullah

as being a favor to Syria. I respectfully beg to differ on this point, as it is IMHO more of a favor to the UK and France and an indication that Obama will tolerate deviations from our civilized friends. It is more a part of his European policy than of his ME vague and ambiguous policy. I agree with Ehsani,President Obama’s hour of choice on the ME is coming sooner than later.

May 8th, 2009, 11:51 pm


majid said:

EHSANI2 accuses president Obama, an Ivy League lawyer, an accomplished senator and a most popular US President since Roosevelt of being indecisive!!!

Why? President Obama continues to ignore Syria and its President Bashar son of late President Hafez al-Assad (both non-elected and with no accomplishments to show to the world).

May be President Obama already made up his mind. He is going to Egypt. Doesn’t that sound like a DECISION? Something is telling Mr. Obama that not only Nasrallah of HZB is aware of the fact that when Egypt tilts into one camp or the other then it will have the greatest impact on the region.

As a side note three Egyptians won the Noble prize already, one of them is a current employee of Mr. Obama. Unfortunately, Syrians have yet to work harder to reach this status – may be in the next 50 years or so, don’t lose hope. So Syria may well continue to sit and wait. The train will always wait for her majesty to hop in.

Dr. Landis, an accomplished Fulbright scholar, wants the US to treat Syria on par with a superpower!!! Of course, only an ‘accomplished’ individual can put forward such a proposition, otherwise he’ll be dismissed as irrelevant.

In order to put things in perspective, the Country Ranks 2008, will shed some light on the US ranking vs. Syria’s


In every category, the US out-ranks Syria by at least 50 to 60 ranks. Do the terms Super-power and Minor-Power mean anything to the Professor?

Yet he wants the US to talk to Nasrallah and stop supporting the democratically elected government of Lebanon. But he doesn’t want Syria to cut off arms supply to Nasrallah.

Yet he wants to offer ‘intelligence sharing’ – an euphemism for blackmail – with the US on groups it creates and sends over to Iraq for eventual so-called ‘intelligence sharing’ – Smart huh? Ya Assad ibn el-Assad.

May 9th, 2009, 2:15 am


why-discuss said:


“The head of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said Friday he wanted a deal with countries in the region, including Syria, to simplify the surrender of suspects. “I have already prepared a draft agreement on judicial cooperation which should be offered to all the countries of the region: Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Israel,” Antonio Cassese told AFP.”

Israel will surely refuse and that may give a blanket for all arab countries to refuse too.
Why not offer the same to the USA, if Dick Cheney is a suspect too?

May 9th, 2009, 3:25 am


majid said:


Neither Israel nor the US will refuse if asked by the STL to sign an agreement.

Dear moderator whoever you’re,
What’s wrong with my last comment? Why don’t you release it?

May 9th, 2009, 4:42 am


majid said:

Notwithstanding my last comment.

Both investigators (Mehlis and Brammertz) pointed fingers at Syria to have some degree of involvement. None of them pointed a finger to other States. Of course, we know very little what is actually uncovered in the investigation. There are indications in the released reports that the serial political crimes that took place after Feb 14, 2005 are related and they could have the same perpetrator(s) and motive. The Lebanese go further and assert that all the political crimes since the assassination of Kamal Jumblatt (1977) until the latest killing of Brigadier General Francois Hajj (2007) were planned and executed by Syria or groups associated with Syria.

Of course, no one takes the story of Dick Cheney seriously except those who may have a certain fondness to James Bond movies or the Three Musketeers. Nevertheless, I cannot see how the US can justify refusing a request by a Court it helped to create through the UN and it continues to affirm public support and commitment to it and to the investigation.

May 9th, 2009, 5:44 am


kingcrane jr said:

Who really cares?

Obama can continue doing what his entourage tells him is best; he is just a “white Clinton” and he thus has no principles at all, so he will continue doing what AIPAC wants him to do.

Syrian economy has been able to go around the sanctions, except for a few items, such as the Syrianair fleet renovations; but that is not a steep price; with oil prices going up again in the next few months, the money coming from the region will be plentiful.

So, again, who cares about the Western economies that are in disarray, and the usurping identity that costs billions to the US taxpayers?

As for Hariri, he was killed by an extremist cell connected to UBL; the ultimate instigators behind the scenes are known to a few of us; the others say: IT IS A HANDFUL OF LENTILS, not out of ignorance, but because they believe neocon liars like Crotte Amere.

Well, excuse my French.

May 9th, 2009, 6:27 am


t.desce said:

Madsen, the name says it all.

Unlike Mehlis, Brammertz was never in the finger-pointing business. His reports are as clear as the Delphi oracle.

Mehlis’ “logic” was very similar to that of people who believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories (CIA controls US, therefore CIA must be involved in 9/11 attack…).

Regarding optimism about the economy (or oil prices):

We should invest in astronomy to find that other Earth-like planet for our export-driven recovery (Rogoff, Krugman).

May 9th, 2009, 11:22 am


Joshua said:

I have fleshed out the “What has Syria Done for the US” list to include brokering peace in Lebanon and help with the Presidential elections, which got the ball of reconciliation between France and Syria rolling.

May 9th, 2009, 12:28 pm


norman said:


They will be asking the US , France and other countries for cooperation,

المحكمة الدولية تأمل توقيع اتفاقيات تسليم مشتبه بهم (الجزيرة-أرشيف)

كشف رئيس المحكمة الدولية الخاصة باغتيال رئيس الوزراء اللبناني السابق رفيق الحريري عزمه على إنجاز اتفاقات مع دول شرق أوسطية عدة لتبسيط إجراءات تسليم المشتبه بهم المحتملين.

وقال القاضي الإيطالي أنطونيو كاسيزي في مقابلة من مقر المحكمة في لاهاي “أنجزت مسودة اتفاق تعاون قضائي مع كل دول المنطقة مصر والأردن وسوريا وإيران وتركيا وإسرائيل”.

ويسمح الاتفاق لمكتب المدعي العام بالمحكمة الدولية الخاصة بلبنان بالاستماع لشهود في دول غير دولهم، وباستجواب مشتبه بهم في لاهاي كما يسهل إجراءات نقل المدعى عليهم.

وأشار كاسيزي إلى أن الاتفاق سيقدم كذلك لدول مثل فرنسا والولايات ))المتحدة والأرجنتين حيث تقيم جاليات لبنانية كبيرة، موضحا أن “ذلك لا يعني أننا نتوقع وجود مشتبه به أو شاهد أو فار” بهذه الدول.
وأوضح القاضي أن الاتفاق سيسمح كذلك بتسليم المشتبه بهم من قبل دول تمنع تشريعاتها التسليم في غياب معاهدة. كما رجح “ألا تقبل مطلقا الكثير من الدول” باتفاق من هذا النوع وأنها ستفضل التعامل مع المحكمة بكل حالة على حدة مذكرا بأن المحكمة “لا تملك أداة قانونية لإجبار الدولة”.

وأعرب كاسيزي عن أمله أن يسلم الأسابيع المقبلة سفراء الدول المعنية الموجودون في لاهاي مشروع الاتفاق، وأن يتمكن من إنهاء المفاوضات وإبرام الاتفاق بحلول ديسمبر/ كانون الأول المقبل. وكان القاضي قد أرجأ الاثنين الماضي زيارة مقررة له للبنان ودول مجاورة.

وأشار إلى أنه سيزور بيروت في يونيو/ حزيران أو يوليو/ تموز المقبلين بعد الانتخابات التشريعية للبحث مع قضاة ومحامين في قواعد الإجراءات بالمحكمة، موضحا أنه لا ينوي التوجه لسوريا خلال هذه الزيارة.

وليس هناك حاليا أي موقوف بملف اغتيال الحريري بعدما طلب قاضي الإجراءات التمهيدية يوم 29 أبريل/ نيسان من السلطات اللبنانية الإفراج عن الضباط الأربعة رؤساء الأجهزة الأمنية المحتجزين منذ أغسطس/ آب 2005 “لعدم كفاية الأدلة”.

واغتيل الحريري مع 22 شخصا آخر في تفجير شاحنة مفخخة في بيروت يوم 14 فبراير/ شباط 2005. وأنشئت المحكمة لمقاضاة المتهمين بالعملية وفي اغتيالات أخرى تبعت تلك الحادثة إذا ثبت علاقتها باغتيال الحريري. وأنشأ مجلس الأمن المحكمة بموجب قرار دولي صدر العام 2007.

المصدر: الفرنسية

May 9th, 2009, 12:32 pm


majid said:

EHSANI2 accuses president Obama, an Ivy League lawyer, an accomplished senator and a most popular US President since Roosevelt of being indecisive!!!

Why? President Obama continues to ignore Syria and its President Bashar son of late President Hafez al-Assad (with no accomplishments to show to the world except the ability to take over power by force and apply state terror on his own people to stay in power).

May be President Obama already made up his mind. He is going to Egypt. Doesn’t that sound like a DECISION? Something is telling Mr. Obama that not only Nasrallah of HZB is aware of the fact that when Egypt tilts into one camp or the other then it will have the greatest impact on the region.

As a side note three Egyptians won the Noble prize already, one of them is a current employee of Mr. Obama. Unfortunately, Syrians have yet to work harder to reach this status – may be in the next 50 years or so, don’t lose hope. So Syria may well continue to sit and wait. The train will always wait for her majesty to hop in.

Dr. Landis, an accomplished Fulbright scholar, wants the US to treat Syria on par with a superpower!!! Of course, only an ‘accomplished’ individual can put forward such a proposition, otherwise he’ll be dismissed as irrelevant.

In order to put things in perspective, the Country Ranks 2008, will shed some light on the US ranking vs. Syria’s


In every category, the US out-ranks Syria by at least 50 to 60 ranks. Do the terms Super-power and Minor-Power mean anything to the Professor?

Yet he wants the US to talk to Nasrallah and stop supporting the democratically elected government of Lebanon. But he doesn’t want Syria to cut off arms supply to Nasrallah.

Yet he wants to offer ‘intelligence sharing’ – an euphemism for blackmail – with the US on groups it (Syria) creates and sends over to Iraq for eventual so-called ‘intelligence sharing’ – Smart indeed ya Assad ibn el-Assad.

May 9th, 2009, 2:48 pm


Off the Wall said:


While the king of Egypt sits in the principle’s outside office anxiously awaiting the honor of audience with Obama, Egypt’s economy, standards of living, and intellectual prowess continue to tank while he enjoys living far from the most polluted city in the world. No one needs Egypt to flip one way or another, it has already been flipped nearly three decades ago and that has done Israel and the US no good whatsoever. Egypt retains no cards, winning or losing. Its leadership has made sure over the past few decades to completely turn that wonderful country into a useless addict.

As for Egyptians winning the Nobel prize, the only one that Egypt can and deserves to be proud of is Nagib Mahfouz who captured not only the imagination of his country folks but those of the entire Arab world and the world at large, but that was for work he did when Egyptian intellectuals where the most prominent fixtures in the Arab literary and intellectual movements. These days are no long gone, the giants of press in egypt have been turned into whimpering shadows of themselves capable only of jumping as high as their ruler orders them to jump. The other two, who are now American Scientists, only won the prize because of the opportunity afforded to them by the US to unleash their intellectual genius. Non of the academic institutions in Egypt, or Syria, or for that matter any other Arab country will be able to produce Nobel prize winning research in the near future. They are in shambles, appointment in research track are dolled out as favors, and research when it exists is a purely individual issue. The daring Arab development report, published a couple of years back did not spare any Arab country. They are all the same.

Leadership is earned. When Egypt led the Arab and the non alliance movements, Egyptian intellectuals where highly sought all over the world. When the country was sold out, Egypt’s ability to lead was tarnished. Even if Obama attempts to anoint the moderate’s camp led by Mubarak as the launching pad for his new ME initiative, it will have little or no impact and it will not allow him or others to continue dismissing Syria. The art is not in winning those you already have in your pocket, it is in winning your adversaries to your vision.

No one is asking the US to treat Syria as a superpower. Realistic assessment indicate that Syria is not even a big regional power. And the Syrians are well aware of that and they have to illusion as to their actual capabilities, a primary asset of which is holding their position and not flinching at every bark. The Syrian’s are by now very familiar with disappointments and with navigating difficult political environment and if Egypt wants to pretend the assumption of a once deserved leadership role, the Syrians will be happy at that, they are masters at allowing others, and perhaps encouraging them to enjoy whatever illusions they wish. They still have many keys and anyone asking them to give up their trump cards for empty promises is just practicing self deception.

Whether little hariri wins the election in Lebanon is not as relevant to the long term position of Syria in the region. Lebanon will not flip as easily. Even at a point when the situation was ripe to flip Lebanon, it did not happen despite of feltman’s efforts. In fact, I am surprised that Obama has appointed such a failure to his team. His reign in lebanon is characterized by one failure after the other. He had to be chaperoned twice on his visits to Syria. Syrian foreign service cadre, whether you hate them, like them, or care less about them, are playing like adult and avoiding knee jerk reaction. In every step, and despite all adversity, the Syrian diplomatic efforts are resulting in strengthening Syria’s position little by little.

May 9th, 2009, 2:56 pm


norman said:

DAMASCUS – Syria on Saturday dismissed a US decision to renew economic sanctions on Damascus for another year as a ‘routine’ measure, even as the two countries are engaged in a dialogue to improve ties.

On Friday, the White House said President Barack Obama renewed the sanctions imposed by the previous administration amid continuing concerns about Syrian support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

It is also accused of turning a blind eye to insurgents entering Iraq through its border.

‘The president felt it was necessary to take these measures. These are not new sanctions,’ State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington.

May 9th, 2009, 2:56 pm


Off the Wall said:

credibility lost, disastrous recommendations and bumbling idiots like Charles Krauthammer continue to spew lies. By now everyone knows the extent of Barak’s offer in 2000 and how Israel sabotaged any possible deal. These neocon Israel apologists have no shame whatsoever.

May 9th, 2009, 3:28 pm


Off the Wall said:

The last oil price spike had nothing to do with stocks or storage. It was artificial. It may have started by some questionable concerns about refining capacities in the US, but there was no real shortage. It was primarily speculative. There is nothing to prevents it from happening again, which will be disastrous to western economies.

Mehlis was a hatchet job. He has no credibility and it is plausible that his reports will be dismissed outright for their partisan tilt and their reliance on suspect evidences.

May 9th, 2009, 3:36 pm


Akbar Palace said:

credibility lost, disastrous recommendations and bumbling idiots like Charles Krauthammer


Charles Krauthammer’s resume and list of accomplishments doesn’t exactly read like a “bumbling idiot”.


What “lies” are you referring to?

May 9th, 2009, 4:37 pm


Off the Wall said:

Sorry body, he is a bumbling idiot nonetheless. His resume is over-padded because of intellectually incestuous nature of all of the neocon think tanks he has been a member of at one point in time or another. His writings are shallow and superficial and if sales are a mark of genius, writers of pulp romance novels would be Nobel laureates

However, I have respect for his accomplishment as a doctor and a successful psychiatrists. That I will never dare deny him.

May 9th, 2009, 5:03 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear AP
I do not dispute Krauthammmer’s reading of the interview. I myself am unhappy with Mishaal’s truce comment and found it unsatisfactory, but how different is it from request we have heard on this site of 10 years of confidence building measures. What Krauthammer attempts to do with it is the mark of his intellectual corruption and his efforts to continue advocating the policy of fear. He is saying that Israel is committing suicide if it negotiates sincerely. I also have a dispute with his claims that Ehud Barak really offered the Palestinians a true state. This is an Israeli propaganda that has been used asa a “mantra” to continue land theft. It has been exposed as a lie by many including some who were in on the discussions. And NO i will not go back to give you proofs. We have done that many times over.

May 9th, 2009, 5:20 pm


Off the Wall said:

Sorry for the gleeful happiness remark in my earlier post. You are right you were not gleefully happy. However, and please correct me if I am wrong, I feel that I can detect some resentment of Syria in some of your comments, whether justified or not, I just want to make sure that these are not resentments of Syrians in general. Of course you are free to resent whomever you want. 🙂

May 9th, 2009, 5:40 pm


majid said:


Thanks for the last two comments. I have made it clear in many of my comments that I do not sympathize in any way with the Syrian regime, beginning from Hafez era up till the present. Now, this is a problem that I always encounter with Syrians who always eschew any one who does not support their government and immediately look at it as an attack on Syria itself. This is completely false. Syria and its people have a special place, I believe, in every Arab’s heart (at least in mine). Actually, some (and I’m speaking mostly about myself) feel tremendous pain and sympathy towards the people of Syria who have to endure such abuse by their government. I am not saying that other governments in the region are much better. But I believe that the people of Syria deserve a better way of life than what they’re offered by the current clan that rules over their necks. I find it particularly incomprehensible when such reaction comes from someone of your position. I gather that you reside in the US with some position of prominence. I would expect from someone of your background to seek for his ex-fellow Syrians at least a small percentage of the type of life you came to appreciate. The only excuse, of course, I may find for you is that you may have some concerns about family members who are still living in the old country and who may end up paying for your ‘indulgences’ on their behalf in a way that you may think is beneficial but may turn out to be disastrous.

May 9th, 2009, 6:31 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Majid

Thank you very much for clarifying your position. I guess you are right, many of us do not take lightly positions that are antagonistic to the Syrian government’s stance on the Israeli Arab conflict. You will not find me defending their economic policy, their corruption, or the abject lack of democracy in Syria or in any other Arab country. This in fact is one of the few things that the Syrian government or regime has done well since the days of Hafez Assad and it is to reflect the position of the Syrian people on Palestinian rights and on the Israeli-Arab conflict. This consistency, independent of what motivates it, while not necessarily endearing the regime to the people of Syria, has provided a reasonable understanding among many Syrians regarding the fact that for now, they are the only ones standing in the way of plans to ensure Israel’s hegemony in the region. We do not take lightly commentaries that belittle the sacrifices of the Syrian people independent of our political position vis a vis the regime. For me at least, if that sounded to some as being in line with the Syrian regime, so be it. If any group attempted to do in Syria what the so called Iraqi opposition did in Iraq, they will find in me a fierce opposer as I will not stand watching while others, under the pretense of opposing the Syrian regime and under a false pretense of democracy, facilitate a hegemonic plan on my country of origin, or on a region I love dearly. How hard is it to understand that talking to Syria is not a recognition of the Syrian regime, but a recognition of the legitimacy of the national aspiration and concerns of the Syrian people. And that is what we argue here.

So where does that leave me on the political spectrum? I do not know, nor do I really care. I believe the modern notion of western sanctions is a war crime and is akin to medieval sieges. I also believe the US, KSA or Egypt or a bunch of Lebanese civil war princes and post war profiteers have no business trying to bring down the Syrian government and I would consider such an attempt as an illegal act of war against the Syrian people. I am not defending the regime. I am defending the right of the Syrian people to organize in any manner they wish and to deal with their government in any manner they see fit without interference from anyone especially those who are not better in any shape of form than the Syrian regime.

Another thing that puts people like me off in any discussion of the Syrian political situation is the insistence of some on enticing sectarian hatred as if all the corruption in Syria is limited to one group. Corruption knows no sect or tribe. Members of every sect in Syria are complicit in corruption, so are members of every economical stratus. Furthermore, money alliances, which now is the name of the game in Syria and in any other autocratic country encompass members of every group. Many of us here refuse to be dragged into such discussion as our sense of the danger such arguments pose to the welfare of the Syrian people forces us to expose these arguments as insincere,

I thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to explain my position.

May 9th, 2009, 11:25 pm


Off the Wall said:

I need your help here. Can you please tell me how can some doctors forget their oath to save lives and become as blood thirsty as Charles Krauthammer and Ayman Zawahiri. Both of whome are MDs and both espouse radical bloody ideology.

May 9th, 2009, 11:34 pm


norman said:


They probably became Doctors for the money not for the satisfaction of taking care of others , you forgot DR Mangala,

Keep writing my friend ,

May 10th, 2009, 2:57 am


norman said:


Do you know how many of the most powerful and rich in Syria are Christians , Sunni, or Shea,I think the Sunni are the Majority , God Bless them , I am not jealous,That could explain the support that the Syrian government and Bashar Assad have.

The problem with the Syrian opposition is that they think that what is good for them is good for Syria , forgetting that what is good for Syria can be good for Syria even if it is not good for them .

May 10th, 2009, 3:09 am


norman said:

This is long but it is interesting,,


Get a free year of FP! Two years for only $24.95.

Caught in the Middle

By David Ignatius

May/June 2009

For three decades, David Ignatius has talked to all camps in the fractious Middle East. Then came Davos, and an effort to “moderate” a conversation between irreconcilable sides on the Gaza war. The center not only cannot hold, he concludes—it no longer exists.

Courtesy of David IgnatiusI still have the press credentials I gathered nearly three decades ago from the Middle East’s various combatants: one from the left-wing Druse militia in Lebanon, one from the right-wing Lebanese Christian militia known as the “Phalange,” one from the Palestine Liberation Organization, another from the Israeli government. The only common features are the photos of me in my early 30s: scruffy, glowering, determined to penetrate the veil of secrets.

The press cards remind me of a time when you could be in the middle of the Middle East conflict and imagine that you were covering all sides fairly. And when I say in the middle, I mean that almost literally. Back in the early 1980s, you could interview the PLO in West Beirut in the morning, sneak past the snipers along the “Green Line” at midday, and then interview the Israeli-backed Phalangists that afternoon in East Beirut, even as the two sides were shooting at each other.

Not long ago, I found myself wishing I had one of those old press passes, which carried the implicit message: “Don’t shoot; I’m a journalist!” I had just “moderated” a heated discussion of the Gaza war at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The session became a minor international incident when I told Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that, because we had run out of time, he could not have another round of comments responding to Israeli President Shimon Peres, whereupon Erdogan walked off the stage. In the aftermath, I received many outraged messages complaining I had censored Erdogan and sided with the Israelis.

For someone who has spent much of his career trying to operate in the middle of the Middle East conflict and working hard to avoid any appearance of bias, it was an unpleasant situation. Trust me, you would not like to examine the e-mails I got or read the articles in the Turkish press about the incident. There are several explanations I could offer about what happened: that we were 15 minutes late, that each of the speakers, and especially Peres, had abused the time limits, and that the organizers had signaled it was time to end the event.

But that only obscures the larger point. At Davos, I found myself in the middle of a fight where there was no longer a middle. My efforts to do what moderators do—let everyone talk for a while and then find a few inches of common ground—blew up in my face.

Gaza is simply one of those problems for which there isn’t much middle ground. Israelis and Palestinians are both convinced not only that they are right, but that the other side is morally bankrupt. Talking about Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, the normally placid Peres was almost shouting at Davos, angrier than I had ever seen him. Erdogan, in turn, was hot with indignation, voicing a rage that is felt across the Muslim world, and furious that I didn’t give him time to express those feelings fully. It’s understandable, what happened. But it’s not a debate that anyone can “moderate.”

Looking at America’s troubled role in the Middle East today, I fear the country finds itself in a position similar to mine—trying to act as a moderator in a bitter dispute, to seek a middle where there is no middle. The United States is perceived as siding with the Israelis even as it claims to be impartial. When someone walks off the stage, Americans wonder what went wrong.

The United States may regard itself as outside the conflict, but in the region it’s seen as part of it. During the Bush years, people began to think of America as a combatant, not a mediator; it’s pretty hard to play the honest broker when you have two armies on the ground. The American laissez-passer credentials didn’t work anymore.

So what should the United States do about the Middle East? It has in Barack Obama a new president who says he intends to talk to all sides—to America’s enemies as well as its friends. But what would this mean in practice? Is the damage of the Bush years irreparable, or is there a path that leads somewhere else—not to the elusive middle, but to a new kind of connection?

I know a little about talking with our enemies because I have been doing it for many years. Not my enemies, mind you (journalists aren’t supposed to have any), but my country’s. I talked with the PLO in Beirut when U.S. diplomats were forbidden from doing so. I visited Libyan officials in Tripoli back when the United States was bombing that country’s leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi. I have twice interviewed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. I have interviewed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria twice as well, most recently last December. And I traveled to Iran in 2006 to interview officials there.

The “enemies list” is, more or less, the same roster of states and radical groups the United States must now engage as it seeks to stabilize the Middle East. And though the American mantra may be that it never negotiates with terrorists, the reality is that it always has, when it’s necessary or useful to do so. To take just one example, at the very time the United States officially refused to negotiate with the terrorist PLO, the Central Intelligence Agency was recruiting the chief of Yasir Arafat’s intelligence service as a U.S. asset—with Arafat’s knowledge.

One remembers the inevitable oddities from these encounters: Arafat’s habit of repeating in his post-midnight Beirut harangues that the Palestinians were “not the Red Indians”; the mad look in Qaddafi’s bloodshot eyes as he stared at me in one of his palaces and then stalked out, refusing to conduct the promised interview; the animation in Nasrallah’s boyish face as he talked about Hezbollah’s grim mission; Assad’s almost plaintive warning in 2003 that the U.S. invasion of Iraq would lead to disaster; the sudden softening of an Iranian hard-liner who, when he learned that I was a novelist, insisted on giving me a book of Persian poetry.

Over all these years, I always felt welcome personally as an American. But nowadays, the Middle East’s leaders don’t seem to need the United States as much. With Arafat and Qaddafi, there was a palpable yearning to connect with Washington, and the assiduous courting of Western journalists that came with it. That’s less true today with Nasrallah, Assad, and the Iranians. They want Washington to come to them.

Indeed, a recurring theme in these many contacts over 29 years is “dignity”—in Arabic, the word is karama. That is what Israeli and U.S. actions have offended, even when the two countries thought they were being generous and just. People in the Middle East want to write their own story; they don’t want to submit to outside pressure, even when they know America is right. They prefer their own bad leaders to the “good” ones the United States would impose.

People in the Middle East want dignity, and they’ll die before they give it up. It’s not something that a mediator can fix. You don’t bargain over a nation’s self-esteem any more than you would haggle over a man’s pride. It’s an odd concept for Americans, who have the wealth and self-assurance not to have to worry so much about saving face. But it’s at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

Take the Palestinians. Since 1967, U.S. diplomacy has been framed around the idea that the United States could negotiate with “nice” Palestinians who would, as a precondition, recognize Israel’s right to exist. For many years, the American partner in that dance was King Hussein of Jordan. But even the PLK, as journalists liked to call the “Plucky Little King,” couldn’t find a way to bypass the un-nice Arafat.

Arafat gradually softened his rhetoric and recognized Israel, and he finally agreed in 1993 to the transitional Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority. This experiment proved to be a disappointment. Arafat, always worried about more extreme Palestinians, never made the final deal to create a Palestinian state. Why? Bizarre as it sounds, I think he feared losing his dignity (and perhaps his life) by making a final deal that his critics would say was a sellout.

Today, the nice Palestinian is President Mahmoud Abbas. But to his people, he appears impotent. He has been unable to deliver peace and independence. He can’t stop Israeli settlements in the West Bank or incursions into Gaza. And he can’t deliver a state that would meet minimum Palestinian demands. So power flows toward the more radical Hamas.

It’s hard to comprehend Palestinian support for Hamas until you visit Gaza. It is truly one of the most miserable places on Earth—a tiny, densely packed territory full of sullen people who feed on their victimhood and rage. Even back in the 1980s, it had the feeling of a human rat cage. Palestinians cling to the one prize they possess: the dignity that stems from resistance, embodied more and more by Hamas. The Israelis have tried and failed to break this link. Stubbornness is the weapon of the downtrodden against more impatient adversaries.

I witnessed this fierce Palestinian culture of resistance in 1982 when I lived for a week in the West Bank town of Halhul. In those days, Arafat and the PLO were still the unmentionables—it was forbidden even to display their insignia. But they were everywhere: An old grandmother would slyly show you the PLO flag disguised in the knit cover for a tissue box. A town elder would reveal a PLO map of Palestine (with no Israel) hidden behind a photograph on the wall.

Halhul was a farming town, and its people were passionate about their grapes (“the best in the world,” they kept telling me), growing on ancient vines. I returned there in 2003 to visit the man who had let me stay in his house in 1982. He was pleased to see me again, but when I asked about his grapes he became upset. The Israelis had recently built a special road for settlers to commute to Jerusalem, blocking access to the grapes. He couldn’t water or tend the vines, and they were growing wild—while the settlers whizzed home in their cars. It was a daily humiliation.

It’s people like this whom the United States needs to bring into this process—not the nice Palestinians, but the angry ones, the sullen ones, the ones who look at their withered grapes and dream of revenge. As distasteful as it may be, that means talking with Hamas.

A sensible U.S. strategy would be to split Hamas, drawing the more pragmatic and pliable faction into negotiations. And the quickest way to split them, history shows, would be for the United States to begin secret contacts with those who are prepared to discuss a two-state solution. Arab sources have already reported that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has privately made such a statement. Soon enough, if Mashaal or others accept negotiations, Hamas will start bickering—and the hyperextremists will denounce them as sellouts. That’s just what happened in 1974 when Arafat formalized his secret contacts with the CIA and the more radical factions in the PLO split from Arafat’s Fatah organization.

Which is why, if the United States can find members of Hamas who are ready to talk about the formation of two states, Israel and Palestine, then the U.S. government should start talking with them. The process may legitimize Hamas as a political force, but it will delegitimize Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israelis won’t like it, just as they didn’t like it when the United States started talking with Arafat. But it would create new diplomatic space, not illusory middle ground. There are no “nice” alternatives to this now.

Another adversary the United States will need to talk with is Syria, and the Obama administration has already begun traveling the road to Damascus. But it is not a straight route; rather, it’s a path of mirrors, especially because, even by the standards of the Middle East, the Syrian regime can be so harsh. I saw this in a visceral way back in 1982. The Syrian Army had just crushed the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama, and the only way I could get in was the regular Damascus-Aleppo bus, which passed through the center of town. I will never forget the gasps of the Syrian passengers as they saw the devastation of entire quarters of the ancient city. Syrian tanks had rolled up to houses where members of the Brotherhood were hiding and opened fire, point blank. It was like pictures of the rubble of Berlin in 1945. That was the Assad regime’s message: We will do anything—anything—to survive.

The same toughness drives the regime today. Many Lebanese think Syria used assassination as a political weapon to control Lebanon. The alleged victims include Bashir Gemayel, President René Mouawad, and most dramatically, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Several journalists have also been targets, including Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni. I spoke at Tueni’s memorial service in Beirut in December 2006 at the request of his father, Ghassan, who was one of my mentors when I was a young journalist in Beirut. Yet I have never stopped visiting Syria, for the simple reason that it’s a place that matters.

When I interviewed President Bashar al-Assad for the first time in January 2003, he was still a neophyte leader, trying to fill his father’s shoes. We met in the guesthouse of the presidential palace on a mountaintop overlooking the dusty sprawl of Damascus. Assad began in fluent English, which he learned as a medical student in London. He talked about the need to modernize Syria, open its economy, and make it a Mediterranean power like Greece or Turkey. Then he switched to Arabic for the interview proper, and the relaxed doctor became more cautious. He didn’t say anything that his hard-line father wouldn’t have endorsed.

When I met Assad again last December, he spoke entirely in English, and he was confident and at ease as he sent feelers to the newly elected Obama administration. He urged Obama to support a Syrian negotiating track, and also Palestinian and Lebanese ones. His blessing for the latter was intriguing because it might open the way for indirect talks between Israel and Hezbollah (which is part of the Lebanese government).

Will Assad break his strategic alliance with Iran, as Israel demands? Probably not, at least not openly. But even a maybe could create new space. In the very act of negotiating with Israel and the United States, Syria would separate itself from Iran. The United States might eventually resume its role of mediator between Syria and Israel. But first there must come something different: U.S. engagement with Syria, in which the two countries explore where their interests converge and where they are opposed. In that act of talking with Syria seriously, the United States would draw the country toward the West.

When I saw Assad in December, I said that when I saw pictures of him and his stylish wife visiting Paris, I could not imagine that his regime was destined to ally with the somber clerics of Iran. He responded that the alliance with Iran was a product of Syria’s strategic position, implying that if Syria’s position changed (meaning that it was no longer threatened by Israel), then its alliances might change, too.

The politics of survival have made the Assad regime a tough adversary, but the hardness of the regime also makes it a potentially serious partner. A government that could level one of its major cities to stop the Muslim Brotherhood knows that, in the end, it must find allies against al Qaeda. That’s the raw self-interest driving the Syrian regime toward negotiations.

When interviewing Hassan Nasrallah, a visitor enters the parallel universe that Hezbollah has created in Lebanon. From its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a short 15-minute drive through a maze of narrow streets from the city proper, the Shiite militia has built a ministate—with its own military force, intelligence service, telephone network, health and welfare department, television station, foreign ministry . . . the list goes on. As long as Hezbollah maintains this separate existence, it will remain a destabilizing force.

Hezbollah is one of the unintended consequences of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Israel had imagined it could manipulate the country’s Shiite community, but that was one of the many illusions of the assault. It shattered Palestinian power in south Lebanon, while opening the door for poor Shiites who had been under the PLO’s heel. Tehran sent its best cadres into Lebanon to organize the Shiite militants into what became Hezbollah, and it has proven to be a disciplined and relentless foe. As with many other rising powers in the region, Hezbollah sought to answer the Arab yearning for dignity by defying Israel.

In Nasrallah, that answer has taken shape. He is one of the Arab world’s most charismatic figures, with a piercing intelligence and an unyielding anti-Israeli line. During our first interview in October 2003, I asked if Palestinian militants would ever halt their attacks against Israel. “I can’t imagine a situation, based on the nature of the Israeli project and the nature of the Israeli leaders, where the Palestinians would agree to lay down arms,” he replied.

Judging by that inflexible statement, you’d think the only thing Nasrallah would discuss with Israel would be its surrender. Yet that very week, he was negotiating indirectly with Israel about the terms of a prisoner exchange. It was a reminder that what people say and what they do aren’t always the same.

When I interviewed Nasrallah again, in February 2006, he was flexing his muscles. The Lebanese government had questioned Hezbollah’s status as an armed resistance movement, and he had retaliated by pulling his two ministers out of the cabinet, creating political paralysis. I was asking Nasrallah about this crisis when the phone rang. He dickered on the phone with his aides for a few minutes and then told me the stalemate had been resolved. Hezbollah would get to keep its weapons, and its ministers would end the boycott. I went away convinced that disarming Hezbollah would be impossible without a broader settlement with Syria or Iran.

Today, Nasrallah’s movement wants two conflicting things: It demands a strong role in the Lebanese government, but it also insists on maintaining separate “resistance” status. It talks about fighting Israel, but since the summer war of 2006, Nasrallah has been careful not to provoke another attack. When I asked him at the end of our second interview if he could imagine the Middle East changing so much that Hezbollah wouldn’t be on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, he answered: “The whole world will change. This is the law of life.” What did that mean? I don’t know, but I cannot imagine that Hezbollah would be more threatening if, as a part of the Lebanese government, it were drawn into a process of negotiation with the United States and Israel.

What’s haunting about Lebanon today is not so much Hezbollah’s uncertain evolution, but the waning U.S. influence in what was once the most pro-American country in the Arab world. The biblical inscription over the gate of the American University of Beirut—“That they may have life and have it more abundantly”—summed up America’s generous image there. Now, too many Lebanese see the United States as part of the problem. When I visited Beirut last December, I wrote that the country had entered a “post-American era.” The United States had become so feeble diplomatically that it was unable to break last year’s political impasse over the election of a Lebanese president; the mediator’s role was taken instead by little Qatar.

And then there’s Iran, the hardest nut of all. Even with the U.S. military on its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has defied American power successfully. Through Hamas and Hezbollah, it has projected influence to the shores of the Mediterranean. I cannot imagine a stable security framework for the Middle East that does not include Iran, a point on which I found little disagreement when I visited Tehran several years ago.

A Western visitor imagines Iran as a Muslim version of North Korea—controlled, regimented, hobbling into the future in leg irons. But it’s a far more open and complicated place. I met with editors of competing newspapers who offered sharply differing views about President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I visited a dissident ayatollah in Qom who argued that the current regime was defaming Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy (and insisted on videotaping the conversation for his records). Wandering in the bazaar, I encountered every possible strand of political opinion.

At the famous Friday prayers at Tehran University, people still shout “Death to America,” but the crowd looks pretty long in the tooth. Afterward, I asked a younger man what an American should make of all the chanting, and he looked embarrassed. People don’t want to kill Americans, he said—they just don’t like U.S. policies.

So why do Iran’s leaders take such inflexible anti-Israeli and anti-American positions? One answer is that they spout this venom because people pay attention to it. The same logic may drive Iran’s nuclear program. They take it so seriously because the rest of the world does, too.

Like everyone else in the Middle East, Iranians crave respect. Not without reason, they think the United States has manipulated their politics and suppressed their national ambitions. That makes people angry. And yet, every Iranian seems to have a relative who has been successful in the United States. They are funny, charming, prickly, vain, hypocritical, and arrogant. Just like Americans, you might say. What they want—respect, self-confidence, a sense that they have arrived—others can’t give them. But there is a core of rational self-interest in the Iranian regime, and that’s the point of engagement.

The 30-year division between the United States and Iran isn’t working for either side, but attempts to find middle ground have proved futile. America should look instead to walk across the divide. Iran may not be ready to let the United States do so, given how threatening Iranian leaders find contact with the United States. But even an Iranian refusal to meet an outstretched American hand would have a clarifying effect.

I was in Lebanon in 1982 as the Israelis rolled to the gates of West Beirut. I still have one of the pink Arabic leaflets that floated down on the city in the first week of the war that June. The Israeli Army will soon enter West Beirut. Protect yourself and your family. Flee for your life.

But to the consternation of Israeli Gen. Ariel Sharon, Palestinian fighters mostly held their ground. By midsummer, the Israelis were bogged down. To take the city, they would have to destroy it on television—not a viable strategy in modern warfare. By the time Israel finally withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, most Israelis would probably say about the 1982 invasion what most Americans would say about Iraq: It was a mistake.

We sometimes speak of the fight against Muslim terrorism that began after Sept. 11, 2001, as “the long war.” The United States is undeniably at war with al Qaeda and related movements whose mission is to kill Americans. But that conflict does not lock it into a general war against Muslim adversaries. Iran also opposes al Qaeda. So do Syria and Hezbollah. Everywhere al Qaeda has been active, it has made new enemies. This war is winnable—especially if the United States can disentangle the other strands.

American leaders must give up the notion that they can transform the Middle East and its culture through military force. George W. Bush tried that. He sought to alter the dynamics of the region by knocking down the tent pole, just as Sharon thought in 1982 that, by going all the way to the PLO stronghold of Beirut, he could transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the Middle East doesn’t lend itself to transformation.

Everything I know about the region tells me that military power will not break the resolve of America’s adversaries. The Israelis have tried that strategy against radical Palestinians for decades, without much success. It turns out that even the most wretched, desperately poor resident of Gaza will sacrifice his home, his job, his security, his life—before he will give up his dignity.

It’s time to try something different, and Obama offered the right formula for it in his inaugural address: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

All wars end. Even people who claim to despise each other eventually find a face–saving way to begin talking. They don’t stay in the middle of a conflict where there is no middle. They move on. That’s what I hope is happening for the United States in the Middle East. America is beginning a serious and sustained process of talking with its enemies. That process means listening carefully and speaking frankly, and giving up, too, the pretense of “moderating.” America needs to get out of the elusive middle, step across the threshold of anger, and sit down and talk. Even if these negotiations fail, America will have moved into a different, and better, place.

David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post.

May 10th, 2009, 3:39 am


Shami said:

OTW ,i beg to differ with you ,for all smart syrians ,hafez asad was a sectarian hypocrite who used the slogans of arab nationalism in order to hide the true nature of his regime.
For this reason the main target of his regime were the university students and intellectuals.
As for his foreign policy do you think that the syrian people were happy when the syrian army slaughtered the palestinians in Lebanon,even more than the israelis after a deal with Israel through Philip Habib ?Or this alliance with an other hateful regime like the rafidi theocracy of Qom does it make te syrians happy ?
But i recognize that Bashar’s strong stance against the american war against Iraq was welcomed by the syrian people but it doesnt erase the doubts around regime’s alawite sectarian nature.
Now Would the alawites as people pay for Asad crimes ?
in my opinion ,as people ,they are not more guilty than others and i hope that nothing would hurt them.
But it depends mostly on Bashar’s ability to make peace with the syrian people in order to foresee a pacific transition from a minroity sectarian familly regime to a representative regime.
If Bashar’s objective is the same that of his father,ensure durability of the alawite monopoly ,in this case all terrible scenarios are possible.

May 10th, 2009, 3:42 am


majid said:

Dear OTW,

Thanks again for your clarification. I have to address few points you have made. With regards to the Palestinian issue, I believe Shami has come ahead of me and made few remarks that I would have liked to make here but I will bypass. I will simply say that the Hafez regime has sought to accommodate a genuine public (Syrian) support to the Palestinian issue in order to maintain his regime in power. However, he has failed miserably in his quest of so-called balance of power strategy at a time when he had the full support of key Arab States such as KSA and others who faithfully and abundantly contributed financially towards that end. Instead, he created the money seeking alliances that you spoke of in your comment which sowed the seeds of corruption that you have acknowledged. I believe that he lost his case immediately after the 73 war through the shrewd diplomacy of Kissinger at the time. Kissinger outsmarted Hafez by instilling in him the oft repeated expression:” there can be no war without Egypt and no peace without Syria.” Kissinger was very shrewd in understanding the level of egoism that Hafez (and many others around him) were inflicted by – please see his memoirs. So he sold them the formula to satisfy this ego while he went on his business of step by step approach which he excelled at. Forty years since, the Syrians still operate on this Kissigerian piece of ‘wisdom’ assuming the world will have to come to them. After all it was the all-knowing Kissinger who acknowledged the special status of Syria being the key to piece. But if you come to think about it, this formula is false. The truth is only those who can make war can make peace. So if we look at all the comments that appear on this blog, only Norman seems to have captured this important piece of wisdom and he has no fear proclaiming it. The subversive behavior of Syria can actually be attributed to this flaw in understanding the nature of the conflict and the proper means to deal with it. Syria was left with the only option of acting as a rogue state because it was robbed of the proper means to deal with its problem. Hafez can be held accountable for this disaster.
He constantly talked about building a strategic balance of power with the enemy. He also talked, in the abstract, about Syria’s right to choose the place and time to act. But in real fact he didn’t do any of that. The Syrian army actually receded in military capabilities instead of improving. Hafez was more interested in maintaining a security apparatus to shore up his regime rather than directing his efforts towards building a real fighting force. I am certain considering the genuine level of support for the Palestinians among the Syrians he would have found a non-wavering dedication for sacrifice on the part of the ordinary Syrian and would have assured his government a genuine popular legitimacy instead of the fear-based one he worked hard to acquire. Instead, the fighting spirit of the individual Syrian deteriorated dramatically since the 60s and 70s and that is precisely due to the lack of allegiance on the part of people at large to the regime, as well as due to the corruption that was encouraged on purpose.

With regards to the parties that you accuse of seeking to bring down the Syrian government, I don’t believe that it is a valid accusation. None of these parties are actually involved in any effort to bring down the Syrian government. Even if they support the opposition, such support is often verbal and has no real backing. If I say for example, I have no sympathy for the Syrian government; I am not going to become an activist tomorrow and seek to plot a scheme to topple the Syrian government.

On the other hand, the Syrian government can be directly accused in actual military and political support of groups that are undermining neighboring States, for example Hezbollah and other Palestinian groups in Lebanon. In fact, Syria’s support of these groups is an act of war by all standards. Perhaps, President Obama would have had fewer incentives to extend the sanctions had Syria been cooperative in implementing UN 1701. Syria also encouraged subversive actions during the ill-fated 2006 adventure of Hezbollah, as well as the confrontation of the Lebanese army in the Bared camp. Of course, if the Syrians do not appreciate having outsiders meddling with the way they’d like to be governed, they should do likewise and refrain from engaging in similar acts in other countries.
The other case which is of equal importance is the role of the Syrian government in creating the rift between the Palestinian factions (Hamas/PA) after the Saudi government brokered a deal between the two. This rift was the direct cause of the other ill-fated Gaza war of few months ago. By doing so, Syria opened the door for Iran (the rafida theocracy as Shami called it) to meddle with the Palestinian issue for no reason except its own agenda which includes among other things its nuclear program and spreading its so-called revolution beyond its borders (another hegemony you may say) further complicating the Palestinian issues.

May 10th, 2009, 5:40 am


OFf the Wall said:

Dear Shami and Dear Karim
First of all, thank you both for your commentaries. You both raise points that I have heard before and some are undeniable facts.

The seed of corruption and big money in Syria did not start with the Gulf aid towards strategic balance. I started the moment Syrian troops entered Lebanon and some of the officers began treating Lebanon as a personal fiefdom in collusion with Lebanese politicians who, each at one point in time, sow in the Syrian army a neutralizer of their adversaries, Syrian policy in Lebanon was run by a Khaddam who benefited financially and politically throughout the lifetime of Hafez Assad and only began to recede in the days of Bashar. True, the policy was approved by Hafez Assad, but its architect and the person who held all the threads of the puppet theater was from your and my tribe, a Sunni. Others benefited from the large scale extortion and smuggling but that was also across all groups. The tragedy of Tall A Zaatar and the failures of 1982, are both outcomes of this flawed policy among other fundamental shortcomings.

A parallel, albeit statring a bit later phase of the corruption was initiated by the birth of an officer- rich merchants alliance in Damascus. Every Syrian knows of these alliances and they are the worst kept secret throughout the country. Again it is common to all groups. Rich Aleppan merchants joined this alliance later. This alliance is one of the primary reasons for the lack of state revenues since its members pay little or no taxes as they end up subverting civil service and corrupting it on their way. It is also a main contributor to the stunted growth and chaotic development seen not only in Syria, but throughout the Arab world. One of its characteristics is the establishment of legislative and regulatory frameworks serving the interest of these monopolies through various protectionist measures at the detriment of developing true competitive economy. In Syria, the over bloated public sector and the excessive anxiety of relinquishing government control add to these problems. But this is not the subject of our current discourse.

The strategic balance Hafez Assad, and along with him, millions of Syrians wanted was unrealistic. First, it was not accompanied by appropriate investment in scientific and industrial foundations. Second, and despite of the great potential, Syria is a country of limited resources. And third and most importantly, you can not build anything unless you have the type of partnership you have wisely alluded to between the governed and governing. Relying on corrupt cadre of officers and functionaries to build anything is a misguided fantasy at best, putting this in the hands of opportunistic party officials is even worst. However, one can simply look at the military expenditures of rich gulf countries, which in 2001 alone reached $34 Billions (12% of GDP), and obviously exceeded that of Israel to find out that unless a strong foundation is built, strategic balance can never be purchased. These expenditures are characterized by emphasis on counter insurgency ground force structure and complete and treasonous dependence on foreign staff in the more modernized air force and navy, particularly at command and control nodes not to mention maintenance and weapon loading hubs. If Assad failed to accomplish strategic parity despite of few billions of aid from rich gulf countries, the real treason is in the failure of the combined rich Sunni Arabs with more than a trillion (yes 12 zeroes) of military expenditures over the past two decades to even achieve the ability to defend themselves against an army that was already weakened by a decade of war with Iran on their behalf. And now these fiefdoms want Israel’s help in stopping the Iranian threat? This is laughable and, at the same time, a great tragedy in front of which any Syrian wrong doing pales by many shades. I do not hear any of you criticizing them for their betrayal of Islam and for their plundering of Islamic wealth and resources, is this because they are Sunni. Shia, or more adequately, Farsi, Iran, on the other hand, forced by severe sanctions, has embarked on a program to open up and modernize their educational system, research institutions, and industrial infrastructure despite of their own version of rampant corruption. Every day I encounter young Iranians males and females seeking opportunities to complete their already advanced studies in the west in areas ranging from astrophysics, all the way to benign manufacturing and nano technologies. Iran has a semi-democratic governance structure, and despite of the overwhelming influence of the mullahs, whom I despise, Iranian universities are in much better shape today than they ever were. So like it or not, the Rafidis, despite of their severe economic problems, are succeeding where the Orthodox have failed miserably despite of their plentiful coffers. It is not Iran’s nuclear program that scares the crap out of Israel, it is the fact that for the first time, a country in the region is even remotely close to achieving a semblance of parity through conventional and unconventional and asymmetric means with its own resources. This is a major threat to Israel’s hegemonic plans on all fronts. Some may argue that this is a prelude to Shia or Farsi hegemony, but when we“Arabs” fail to do our own job, we can not blame others for succeeding.

As for Iran exporting Shia brand of Islam, I find the current actions by Morocco and Egypt a big fat lie and suspect at best. I have met few Moroccans who have converted from Islam to evangelical Christianity at the hands of evangelical missionaries in Morocco, which has been a primary target for evangelical missions over the past few decades. I have even met missionaries who spent time doing missionary work under the pretense of development work, all unmolested by the Moroccan government. Where was the outcry about the purity of Sunni Islam then, despite of major outcry in Moroccan media. Personally I do not care what religion an adult person whishes to adopt. But I find the double standards hypocritical and in line with an un-holly plan. While some use the term Rafidis as an epithet, I see in it nothing more and nothing less than a religious dogma not much different than the dogma governing any other religion such as the Christian trinity, or the Jewish belief of being chosen people. Fighting so called Rafidism in the manner I see nowadays and issuing fatwas that encourage killing Shias such as the bunch of criminal wahabis have done, is IMHO, similar to justifying the crusades because Muslims reject the divinity of Christ as a son of god. Knee jerk reaction about Shia daawa is identical to the racist Swiss, British, French, or Germans crying foul anytime a group of Muslim immigrants attempt to build a mosque and a community center. If you reject that behavior, you must reject its counterpart in our midst.
What I know is that the Syrian political arrangement is not an isolated incidence in its surrounding. Nor it is, at least for now, the worst. In Iraq, the sectarian majority now rules, and yet the level of corruption is no less than the one during Saddam’s time. In Tunisia, a country that is much more homogeneous and the ruler (also an eternal leader) belongs to the majority, development is slightly better but not by much than in Syria. Egypt, also ruled by the sectarian majority with the Coptic minority suffering some discrimination in officialdom, has an economy in shambles and poverty, along with staggering environmental disasters continue on overdrive. That is from a ruler who is not at all subversive. There is no sectarian minority ruling in either country nor are the Al Saud and the rest of Sunni rulers members of sectarian minorities. The gulf states are in a much worst situation, their dependence on foreign workers and inability to develop a local vibrant work force is nothing short of criminal negligence. Just ask any foreign professional working in the gulf and the extent of the failure to develop a vibrant work force can become evident despite of efforts “affirmative” actions. Jobs are nothing but an extension of a welfare to the nationals so that they are given salaries with no real contributions. Of course I do not want to generalize for I have met some very capable and brilliant Khalijies who have to operate amongst salary collectors at great pain.

What I am trying to say is that it is the tribal attitude and its modern manifestations which plagues us. In that aspect, Syria is no better or worse than any other Arab country. The problem is more in the single party-clan-family rule and in the subservience of the state to that single party that has been our demise. Even in Lebanon, which boasts of a deformed sectarian democracy, the state is made subservient to the sick sectarian structure, and in that I dare say that Lebanon is governed by a single ideology, which is sectarianism. There may be abundance, but it is cosmetic, real growth will continue to be stunted for as long as we continue to think of us and them based on religious and sectarian divisions and ignore the real issue, which is the lack of understanding of what a “watan” means to all of us. We need to build civic tradition that starts by respecting public property whether the ruler is from our clan or not. On a final note, as long as we find ways to participate in corruption so that our lives are made easier, extortionists will continue un-abated. You can easily replace the adjective, or the tribe, but the tribal mentality will continue to ruin us, the same way it will eventually ruin Israel, Pakistan, or for that matter any country that divides itself into tribes, sects, and ignores the true problems of developing civic culture at individual and societal levels.

I know I have taken so much of everyone time. But bear with me for a few more minutes. I had the privilege of leading technical reviews of some international development programs focusing on developing scientific capabilities in Palestine. As much as I hate to acknowledge it, the rift between Hamas and the PA is more the doing of the Muslim Brotherhood than of Syrian or Iranian doing. Even long before the recent event (early 2000) and in every step, I observed attempts by MB, who have a strong presence in Gaza and more particularly in the Azhar university in Gaza to completely sideline any possible involvement from the more secular west bank universities. Israeli controllers were also aiding the MB in increasing the rift by preventing one side or another from attending joint training sessions in Jordan or Egypt trough arbitrary closures and more arbitrary denial of travel permits. Israel along with the wahabi sponsors of the MB and of hamas are the real culprits in strengthening the hands of Hamas and in creating a deep rift between Gazans and their more secular brethrens in the west bank. Blaming Syria or Iran for this rift is simply untrue and disingenuous at best. Syria may provide a sanctuary, but the ideological and financial homes of hamas are in Egypt, Jordan, and KSA.

Needless to say, we both seem to be afflicted with schizophrenic positions. On the one hand, and despite of abhorring non-democratic practices and corruption and despite, find myself agreeing with the declared position of an autocratic government on one issue that I believe represents the aspiration of the Syrian people. You my friend, on the other hand, and despite of your vehement opposition to the Zionist plan, find yourself at odds with a movement that at this moment in time is the only one posing serious threat to these plans and unwillingly helping another set of autocratic regimes. I think it all boils to relativism, and to what each of us see as the lesser of many evils, How typically modern? And how Sad! However, I cherish you and I cherish any chance to learn from our discussions. Thanks for every moment you spent on serious discussion and thank you for taking my rants seriously.

May 10th, 2009, 1:13 pm


norman said:

Here he comes,

News : International News Last Updated: May 10, 2009 – 7:35:03 AM


Mitchell to Visit Lebanon and Syria
By Naharnet-AFP
May 10, 2009 – 7:31:53 AM

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U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, is expected to visit Lebanon and Syria as part of his upcoming regional tour, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale said in comments published Sunday.

Hale, who was in Beirut on Friday, informed Lebanese officials of the hurdles the U.S. administration is facing as it focuses its efforts on reviving the peace process, sources told the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

One of the obstacles, he said, was that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sending “the conflicting signals” on the issue, they added.

He said U.S.-Syrian relations that Jeffrey Feltman — the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs — held “a constructive” dialogue with Syria “but with Syrian officials with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and vowed to pursue dialogue with Damascus

Top of Page

May 10th, 2009, 1:24 pm


Abdullatif said:

I think Obama`s administration wants to buy some more time to see the outcome of the Lebanese election and of course the talks with Syria going slower than what’s expected. There is no doubt that Mr. Feltman’s last visit to Damascus was to inform the Syrians regarding the decision on the sanctions and the US interest in continuing talks.

May 10th, 2009, 2:32 pm


hans blink said:

How about the US applies sanctions to itself!

May 10th, 2009, 3:26 pm


t.desce said:

Nobel: Joseph Stiglitz explains the little astronomy joke (that I “borrowed” from Paul Krugman):

“In earlier crises, as in East Asia a decade ago, recovery was quick, because the affected countries could export their way to renewed prosperity. But this is a synchronous global downturn. America and Europe can’t export their way out of their doldrums.”

“Every downturn comes to an end. The question is how long and deep this downturn will be. In spite of some spring sprouts, we should prepare for another dark winter: it’s time for Plan B in bank restructuring and another dose of Keynesian medicine.”

So I hope that progress in the Middle East doesn’t depend on a quick economic recovery.

May 10th, 2009, 5:23 pm


Alex said:

Report: Syria criticizes renewal of U.S. sanctions
By The Associated Press
Tags: Syria, Barack Obama

Syria rejected the Obama administration’s decision to renew economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus and urged Washington to abandon foolish policies, a state-run newspaper reported Sunday.

The State Department announced Friday that President Barack Obama felt
compelled to renew the sanctions, which were first imposed by George W. Bush’s administration four years ago as diplomatic contact dwindled. The decision came even as two U.S. envoys were in the Syrian capital exploring prospects for improved relations.
Syria’s Tishrin newspaper said U.S. policies of isolation, blockades and
sanctions adopted by the former U.S. administration have put the United States in an intractable impasse. It said Washington can reverse this path if it stepped up its role in promoting peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

The United States should get rid of foolish policies and replace them with openness, dialogue and discussions through transparent practices, the foremost of which is an open and final reversal of the policy of sanctions against states and peoples, the newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

The U.S. announcement coincided with renewed high-level diplomatic contacts with Damascus. Two U.S. envoys, including the State Department’s top Middle East official, Jeffrey Feltman, were in Damascus last week for meetings with top officials.

Obama, in a departure from the Bush administration, is seeking a diplomatic opening with Syria in hope that it could play a positive role not only in the Mideast peace process but also in neighboring Iraq. The Obama administration is also trying to open a dialogue with Iran, a Syrian ally, after decades of diplomatic stalemate.

Tishrin said Syria is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the U.S. in a real test of the nature of U.S. intentions. It said Damascus is hopeful that the Obama administration will not cave to Israeli pressures or maintain the old policies against Syria.

Bush first imposed the sanctions in May 2004, citing Syrian support for
terrorism, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and other activities including efforts to undermine U.S. operations in Iraq. Syria denies the allegations

May 10th, 2009, 5:32 pm


norman said:

They keep coming to Syria,

From Monsters and Critics.com

Middle East News
Jordan’s king to visit Syria Monday for talks on peace moves
May 10, 2009, 17:24 GMT

Amman- Jordan’s King Abdullah II is to visit Damascus on Monday for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the latest developments in the Middle East, the royal court announced Sunday.

‘The monarch’s discussions with al-Assad will focus on efforts being exerted to achieve durable and comprehensive peace (with Israel) on the basis of the relevant references, particularly the Arab peace initiative,’ a royal court statement said.

King Abdullah is expected to brief the Syrian leader on the outcome of his April 21 meeting with US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this week, officials said.

The two Western leaders expressed strong support for the two-state solution and the Arab peace plan, which offers Israel recognition by all Arab states if it quits all Arab lands it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War, including East Jerusalem.

© Copyright 2007 by monstersandcritics.com.
This notice cannot be removed without permission.

May 10th, 2009, 6:48 pm


majid said:

Dear OTW,

You went out of your way in your comment #42 to make a short story long. I did exercise patience and read through it as you asked. I usually focus on one point at a time and deal with it from as many angles as I can. In your case you have branched into all kinds of topics each of which would need a post by itself. So, please excuse the brevity of my response in order to keep things in focus.
Your comment can best be described as one having the well known theme used by most Syrian apologetics. You have made everyone around Syria look bad in order to secure a relatively ‘reasonable’ image to the Syrian regime under Hafez and his Son (Ltd.). Of course, I can bring examples and facts and prove to you that the countries which you seem to despise for incomprehensible reasons are actually in much better shape, socially, politically, culturally, scientifically, economically and militarily than both Syria and Iran. Morocco and Egypt are exercising their sovereign rights against an obvious attempt at destabilization. They have the full right to apply necessary measures. They are not looking at it from a ‘rafida’ perspective, a term used by a commentator on this blog. If the Arabs want to use the same tactics as Iran, they have over 25 million Iranian Sunnis at their disposal which they can easily use to destabilize the archaic regime of the so-called ‘Islamic Republic’. Iran actually is not considered a real threat to the Arabs. Saudi Arabia and/or Egypt can militarily deal with Iran if it comes to that. Iran’s problem is its verbal belligerence.
Gulf Arab financial support to Syria during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is not only few billion dollars as you claim. It is much more than that. I cannot come up with an accurate figure for now, but you can safely guess that it exceeds 50 to 60 billions. If you factor in inflation then the real value of these gifts would amount to hundreds of billions in today’s dollars. This money was not spent on what it was intended for. It ended up in the pockets (bank accounts) of certain individuals. Therefore, do not blame the Arabs for refusing to further participate in a scheme of corruption under the guise of serving an important cause.
You whole analysis would have stopped and served its purpose by your admission that Hafez was given the opportunity and the cause to do something good but he did the opposite. He failed to gain the allegiance of his people on a cause they would have strongly supported and instead he turned Syria into what it is today – in order to be heard it has to resort to blackmail and terrorism.
You have also ignored the important issues of why Syria would continue to support militant groups, particularly in Lebanon and Iraq, in contravention of International rules since this support amounts to outright acts of subversion, while at the same time you expect others to refrain from seeking to reciprocate by actively supporting similar groups inside Syria that may attempt to topple the regime.

May 10th, 2009, 10:08 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Majid
As long as transparency is lacking at both the source and destination, it will be hard for either one of us to pinpoint the real number of Gulf aid to Syria or to Egypt and Jordan. My number was clearly lower than the actual number. I have tried to search and found a few places that indicated that the aid was rather erratic with peaks after 1967, and discontinued in the 80’s and returned after 1991 and discontinued again. Only twice it reached above the 1.2 bilions/year but in general it is in the order of 500 millions annually. In the 70s Most of the aids went to correct balance of payments, which was suffering severely in the early 70s and on a couple of occasions actual cash aid was used for purchase of weapons. Most of the aid was provided in a package for the so called “confrontation countries” which included Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Your number seems exaggerated. Another exaggeration is the number of sunnies in Iran, Iran now has nearly 65 million inhabitant, only 12% of whom are sunnies. That does not add up to 25 millions the arabs can play as a card to wreak havoc in Iran. However, and counter to your argument, they have already tried to do so.

You ascribe very lofty and honorable motives to gulf countries turning off the money spigot on Syria so that they do not sponsor corruption and theft. Excuse me my friend, but you are going out of your way here. Are these the same incredibly rich Arabs who have no problem adding few billions to their already multi-billion bank accounts by asking for kick-back from British weapon manufacturers. We all know about the Yamama deal, which was silently brushed under the rug. They stopped aid on purely political grounds that have nothing whatsoever to do with how the Syrians spent the money. Similar corruption exists in Egypt, and no one stopped the aid to Egypt, not even the Americans, who usually have reasonably good accounting of how money are spent. So please, in demonizing the Syrian regime, which deserves strong criticism, please do not make angels of the masters of corruption and theft and the perpetrators of the worst forms of absolute power our modern world has ever known.

I never despise a country. I am truly incapable of such large scale generalizing hate. I listen to the grievances of Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, and others and find them not much different from my own or from the grievances of many other posters on this forum. I read development report and find that even when improvement occur they continue to be far below what is required to reach development goals set by the UN or by other international agencies. I acknowledge that while others (e.g., Morocco) are managing to initiate significant reforms, the situation in Syria has few if any encouraging signs. However, the Arab world in general, continues to lag significantly behind the rest of the world and is reaching a stage where population increase alone will make many an Arab country as dysfunctional as warring countries in Africa by the middle of this century. To me that is a truly horrific picture and avoiding it requires true transformation on a scale that transcends any single country. So far no sign of such transformation exists and all of what you can show me of one country being better than Syria does not comfort me because at any point in time, all of these minor and largely cosmetic reforms can be reversed by a stroke of a pen from the eternal leaders ( a term coined by another commentator on this forum).

I do not try to paint the others as ugly in order to beautify Syria. I call it as I see it, and my argument is that it is all bad wherever you look. My argument is for reform across the board. Those who are asking for Syria to change behavior do not give a damn if Syria is ruled by a democracy or by religious police like some of them do or by yet another set of corrupt and vicious security services as they all do. At the end, they do not give a damn about the Syrian people. All they care about is preserving their own powers and continuing theft. You want me to trust them, those who opened up their countries to foreign armies to attack another Arab country, those who exercise sovereignty only when it suited Israel’s plans to attack another country and parroted Shimon Peres smug talk, but continue to fail to exercise sovereignty on all other occasions such as opening a border crossing, or maintaining oil production on every other occasion. I beg to differ. They can not be trusted, and what they are asking Syria to do has nothing to do with good intentions and with political reforms in Syria, it is all to maintain their power hold as servants of the plans of others. Where is your outcry about the plans for hereditary presidents from Egypt, Yemen, to Libya. I do not see you criticizing them. Painting Egyptian and Suadi regimes as victims of Syria-Iran conspiracy is way more apologetic for dysfunctional regimes than I can ever dream of doing.

May 11th, 2009, 4:07 pm


majid said:

Dear OTW,

You again rephrased your previous article to come up with the same theme – Look somewhere else in order to avoid looking inwards.
I’ll make it extremely short this time. Your numbers (Re Arab aid/Iranian Sunnis) are under-estimated and mine are over-estimated. In the absence of available statistics the middle ground would not be too far off. Even in the case of Iran, if I take your numbers there will be about 9 million Sunnis in Iran, a very sizeable community that has no rights whatsoever under Iranian laws to build their schools, mosques or even practice according to their own tenets. As far as I know the Arabs have not yet utilized this ‘trojan horse’ despite pleas by many Iranians (some of them are not even Sunnis like the people of Ahwaz) to come to their rescue. Your claim that they did has no basis and you have provided no evidence. Unfortunately, the rafidi regime of Syria cooperates with the refidi regime of Iran in persecuting as we witnessed on many occasions when the Syrians handed over to Iran some of Ahwaz Arab leaders who were summarily executed. The people of Ahwaz are ethnically Arabs and this is a very shameful and inexcusable behavior on the part of the Syrian regime claiming to be the ‘throbbing’ heart of Arabism, a term whose inventor (an Arab writer) came to disavow with extreme sorrow for having coined it in the first place since Hafez took power.
Again you failed to answer the most important question. Why does Syria continue to support subversive groups (militarily, financially, logistically, etc…) in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere and expects others not to reciprocate by supporting Syrian groups who would aim to topple the cancerous rafidi regime of Syria once and for all?

May 11th, 2009, 5:49 pm


majid said:

Shouldn’t there be a preview button before submitting a comment? You may want to cancel submission sometimes, particularly if link formatting or others don’t work. the four minutes editing time may not be enough to make a correction in this case.

May 11th, 2009, 8:22 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Majid
I am not a member of the Syrian policy making inner circle to answer why do they support what you insist on calling “subversive” groups. However, could it be that they share interest in stopping a certain plan that will have detrimental impacts on Syria? and Syria is protecting its interest and what it precieves as the wider interest of the region. Convince them and many others that de-legitimizing all shapes of resistance to Israel is in anyones interest and then ask me this question. May be by then someone will have an answer that I can post. Finally, I am not even convinced that Syria is effectively supporting any group in Iraq at the moment. Doing so will run counter to its alliance with what you and others continuously call Rafidi theology, which seems to have the upper hand in Iraq, to my dismay for I am against any theology having an upper hand anywhere.

You may also want to ask these subversive groups themselves, why are they accepting Syrian support? you continue to ask the wrong person, on the way, you may want to ask the non-rafidi non-subversive groups to show their success resumes in dealing with Israel, and then use these resumes to convince the Syrians that joining the moderates camp Egypt style is good for Syria.

As for the deportation of Ahwazi refugees from Syria and Iraq, this is a violation of UN charters and it should be investigated and condemned not only on “Arab” basis but also on humanitarian basis. UNCHR office in Damascus is being cited with negligence on this issue. (source: http://www.ahwaz.org.uk/labels/refugees.html)

May 11th, 2009, 8:32 pm


majid said:

This is for you OTW to enjoy – a clear admission of one of their own about the superficiality of their establishment:


May 11th, 2009, 8:34 pm


silah oyunları said:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of Russian-language reporters Thursday that Israel will never withdraw from the Golan Heights.

“Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria,” Netanyahu said during a briefing he gave to the reporters.

May 12th, 2009, 5:44 pm


Akbaar Palace said:

OTW said:

I never despise a country. I am truly incapable of such large scale generalizing hate.


In the interest of making a few extra bucks, I’m wondering if you would you like to make a wager? I contend that your statement above is false (and I haven’t yet search the archives).q:0)

May 13th, 2009, 2:02 am


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