“SYRIA: Regime interests dictate regional policies,” by Oxford Analytica

Oxford Analytica's recent report on the Syrian Regime (copied below) seems accurate and should help bring the tribe of western analysts back around to the notion that the Syrian regime is here to stay for the short and medium term. For the last several years, most analysts have been swayed Washington rhetoric about regime change in the region and suppositions that Bashar al-Asad "just doesn't get" the new realities of the Middle East and War on Terror. Events have proven that Bush is the leader who "just didn't get it." The Bush posse is now being mugged by the hard realities of the Middle East and losing members rapidly. (Bolton announced his resignation today.) 

The Syrian regime's calculation that most Middle Eastern states do not govern "fully cooked" nations, but rather, preside over a concatenation of tribes and sects which must be managed with a strong hand – or played off, one against the other – has paid off for Asad. Washington gambled on its presupposition that the Middle East was ready for a democratic revolution and that its peoples, defined by national borders, are sufficiently cohesive, pro-Western, and secular to embrace that radical transformation. Now Washington presides over Lebanon and Iraq, two countries with little national cohesion and little ability to fend off outside manipulation, which stand at the threshold of civil war. Damascus, by contrast, has jealously protected its dictatorship. The price is economic and social stagnation, but the prize is that Syrians do not face the uncertainties of political collapse. The coming challenge for the Syrian regime, as Ehsani reminds us, will be to blow some economic change into a state consumed by fear and corruption, a tall order.


SYRIA: Regime interests dictate regional policies
Friday, December 1 2006
An Oxford Analytica In-depth Analysis

EVENT: Jordan's King Abdallah II warned on November 26 that civil wars could break out in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

SIGNIFICANCE: The killing of Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayel has again focused attention on the interests and motives of the Syrian regime in the region. Syria is a potentially important player in the region's major problems, but there is a contradiction between the interests of Syria as a state and those of its regime. Amid talk of engaging with Syria over Iraq and other regional issues, an understanding of its motives and capabilities is critical.

ANALYSIS: The base of the Syrian regime has gradually narrowed under President Bashar al-Assad. When his father Hafez died in 2000, his lieutenants quickly united to select Bashar as the successor in order to maintain the status quo and avoid the risks of a competition for power between the men who controlled the various security and military organisations that sustain the regime in power.  

Key insights

·            The base of the regime has narrowed as Bashar has placed members of his family and clan in the key military and security posts, but it is strong enough to survive even if it is too weak to push through vital reforms.
·            Syria wants Washington to recognise that Damascus must play a pivotal role in dealing with Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and other regional issues.
·            There are contradictions between the interests of the regime and the state — but it is the former that will prevail.
·            It is vital for the regime that the Hariri investigation is stopped, diverted or bargained away. As such, its overriding priority is to press for a change of government in Lebanon — and this will influence its approach to other regional issues. 

Bashar constrained. Bashar acts and speaks as someone wielding ultimate authority, but it is uncertain quite how much power he possesses. It appears that he can only act within certain limits imposed by the nature of the regime and the interests of its main military and security functionaries. He has weeded out some of the older figures from his father's era, and others, such as former vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam, have gone into opposition and exile (see SYRIA: Regime defiant in face of outside pressures – January 25, 2006). The military and security organisations have been placed in the hands of his relatives or close associates of his extended family:

·                               His brother Maher has an oversight role in the security field and controls the armed units that protect the presidency and the regime.
·                               His sister Bushra, by some accounts the most intelligent and forceful member of the family, is married to Assef Shawkat, who commands military intelligence. This has caused resentment within the wider Alawi community, which under his father enjoyed greater access to power and resources. They will not move against Bashar as this would bring the whole regime down, but they are discontented.The limits of Bashar's power are shown by the way that he tolerates the activities of relations and friends and their allies in business. They blatantly use their connections to enrich themselves, often in alliance with members of the Sunni business community. This also causes discontent.

 Reform limits. Despite much talk of reform, Bashar has made very little progress, and Syria remains a sort of fossil regime from the 1960s when it was created

:·                               The large ministries run by technocrats are deeply conservative and the employees fear the consequences of change.
·                               State industries are grossly overmanned.
 ·                               There are many vested interests that the regime does not want to offend, particularly as its base narrows (see SYRIA: Unreformed economy suits regime stability – November 24, 2006).
·                               Bashar leads the Ba'ath Party but it is controlled by apparatchiks who benefit from the status quo.
·                               There have been some superficial reforms within the party, but it has long been shorn of ideology and has become a vehicle for rewarding loyalty with patronage (see SYRIA: Ba'ath congress proposes cosmetic reforms – June 16, 2005). Compared with Saudi Arabia, and even Libya, Syria has moved very little. This was shown very clearly in a recent conference in Damascus organised by Bashar's father-in-law, Fawaz Akhras, to show Bashar and the regime the potential benefits of reform. The many Syrian businessmen in the audience were deeply sceptical about whether the regime is capable of responding — other than on the basis of too little, too late.

Stasis. There is no effective organised opposition and none will be allowed to emerge. The Muslim Brotherhood remains influential but it ceased to function as grouping within Syria when it was ruthlessly suppressed in the early 1980s after it challenged the regime. Syrian society has become more overtly religious in recent years and, given a chance, the brotherhood might quickly re-establish itself (see SYRIA: Islamists to benefit from regime collapse – October 19, 2005):

·                               There is considerable discontent within the majority Sunni community at the power wielded by the Alawis and some of their Sunni friends but it rarely finds public expression.
·                               There are other exile figures such as Khaddam, but he had an unsavoury reputation when vice-president, and it is difficult see many flocking to his cause — even though he has set up a common front with the Brotherhood in exile. The regime is strong enough to survive but too weak and timid to use its power for the long-term benefit of its people. Economic problems are likely to get much worse and the eventual solution may be very painful. Syria will become a net importer of oil around 2010. On most measures of economic and human development the country is already behind most of the Arab regimes. The gap will increase.This regime may eventually fall apart, but not in the short or medium term without the intervention of some major cataclysm — such as a war with Israel — that the regime will seek to avoid. There may one day be a change of leader, but for the time being Bashar is well entrenched and there are no obvious challengers. If a change were to take place, his successor could be another member of his family or clan.

Regional aims. Syria's objectives in the region are clear, encompassing:

·                               the return of the Golan;
·                               an Arab-Israeli peace deal based on 1967 borders, which Syria plays a major role in bringing about;
·                               a Lebanon under Syrian influence; and
·                               an Iraq that does not pose a threat. Beyond that there is a vision of a strong Syria that returns to its rightful place at the heart of the Arab world and is recognised by the international community as an important player.

Regime interests. The methods used by the regime in meeting these objectives cause problems, and there often seems to be a contradiction between the interests of the Syrian state and those of the regime. This is best shown in Syria's attitude to the UN investigation into the Hariri assassination. The contradictions are exacerbated by Bashar's personality. One day he will make a well-argued and coherent speech expressed in moderate language and the next a tirade in which he seeks to articulate what he believes are popular feelings. They may be addressed to different audiences, but are these days heard by all. Some close to him suggest that he can get too caught up with the emotion of the moment and speaks when it would be wiser to wait or stay silent.

US engagement. It used to be said that there can be no war against Israel without Egypt and no peace without Syria. The return of the Golan has been a central aim since it was taken in the 1967 war. There is a genuine sense of betrayal about the US-sponsored negotiations in 2000 when Damascus thought it had obtained and made significant concessions. The Syrian army realises that it cannot defeat Israel militarily, and that the cost of launching a limited war on the lines of 1973 would be too high. Damascus knows that the route to the Golan lies through Washington, but it lacks the cards needed to extract assistance from what it sees as a pro-Israeli US administration.

Causing difficulties. In recent years it has tried the different tactic of using its ability to cause difficulties for Washington in other regional problems to force the administration to open a dialogue with Damascus. Washington has so far resisted, and has avoided repeating the mistake of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's misconceived visit to Damascus in 2001. Washington learned in the Hafez era that those carrying concessions to Damascus are treated to a lengthy exposition of the Syrian case and leave without being offered anything in return. There was no doubt that Hafez was in charge and could deliver. He was respected. Bashar has yet to earn that respect. So far his achievements include a gradual increase in US sanctions, humiliation in Lebanon and the loss to Syria of its friends in Riyadh, Cairo and Amman.

Lebanon interests. Syria's tactics are best displayed in Lebanon. Following the Hariri assassination it was forced into a humiliating withdrawal, and key members of the regime appear to be threatened by the UN investigation. Since then it has struggled to delay and divert the UN inquiry and to look for opportunities to restore its influence in Lebanon by working with the Hizbollah and its traditional allies around the presidency. Events for once have played into Syria's hands:

·                               It received credit for the 'victory' of Hizbollah in the summer fighting with Israel — and the wave of emotion that spread through the Arab world.
·                               Bashar positioned himself as a champion of the new concept of 'resistance' to Israel, Washington and pro-US regimes in the region (see SYRIA:Temporary triumphalism masks increased isolation – September 1, 2006).
·                               Whether or not Syria had a hand in the recent political assassinations may never be known. However, its past tactics make it an instant suspect, and the killings have served its interests in both stymieing the UN inquiry and giving its allies the chance to force the government to admit Syria's allies and give them a virtual veto (see LEBANON:Gemayel assassination weakens Syria and allies – November 23, 2006).

Shia axis. The relationship with Iran dates from the 1980s when the two sides saw the Saddam regime as a common threat. It has been sustained by high-level visits and given substance through joint support of Hizbollah, economic cooperation and by their anti-US and anti-Israeli posture. It was given fresh impetus by Hizbollah's performance this summer:

·                               Syria positioned itself as a part of a new axis of power in the region that might embrace an Iraqi Shia government, a Hizbollah-dominated government in Lebanon and Shia communities elsewhere.
·                               Damascus hoped that Sunni groups, disenchanted with what they see as the supine attitude of Arab regimes to Washington and Israel, might join in. It was in this context that Bashar made a speech in August that managed to insult moderate Arab leaders, who were offended and anxious to retaliate. Syria may now be having second thoughts, as it sees the wave of emotion peter out. It has been making overtures to the moderate Arabs, but they want the impossible in return — some reduction in the relationship with Iran. Many in Syria, but not in the regime, point out that the majority community in Syria is Sunni, and that its interests do not lie in supporting a new Shia axis.

Iraq interests. Syria's tactics in Iraq were recently described as a senior US official as a mixture of incompetence and malevolence. There are 700,000 Iraqis in Syria, including people organising some of the insurgents. Insurgents linked to al-Qaida appear to enter Iraq through Syrian territory. Syria is a police state where the security authorities have great powers of surveillance and control, even allowing for the size of the Iraqi presence and the length and terrain of the border. However, the regime has an interest in sustaining the insurgency:

·                               It will ensure that Syria has a stake in any discussions in the future of Iraq and some control over which insurgent groups can best serve its interests.
·                               There is also a genuine desire to help the Iraqis throw out the US 'occupiers'.
·                               Syria will ensure that its actions do not bring US retaliation, but remain a serious irritant.

Hamas support. Syria provides sanctuary for Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, and through him and its support for Hamas seeks to influence the scale of resistance in Palestine. Damascus believes that there can be no effective government in Palestine unless Syria agrees. It may have encouraged Hamas to maintain the rocket attacks from Gaza. It supports other rejectionist groups. The Jordanians have uncovered evidence of Syria trying to smuggle arms to Hamas, although Hamas appears to get plenty of weapons across the Egyptian border. Again, Syria is demonstrating to Washington, Europe and other Arab capitals that it is indispensable to any peace process — or to managing a prolonged period of non-peace.

Regime priority. Syria's handling of the Hariri investigation goes to the heart of the problems and contradictions of the regime. Its reactions clearly show that it is frightened of what the investigators may find. Leaks at earlier stages indicated that there could be evidence implicating Shawkat. It is hardly possible to get closer to Bashar, who cannot sacrifice his brother-in-law. Shawkat may be disliked by some of the family, but Bushra and her mother still have a powerful influence and will fight to protect him. Khaddam claims that Shawkat was acting under orders from Bashar, though there is no other evidence for this. It is of paramount importance to the regime that the inquiry is stopped, deflected or bargained away. The interests of Syria, state or people, will come a poor second to this objective, and Syria's approach to the other regional issues will be affected by it — but mostly in Lebanon.

CONCLUSION: This regime is here to stay at least for the medium term. It has the power to deal with the potential domestic threats and will stop short of provoking its external enemies from attacking it. Dealing with this regime will be uncomfortable, given the divergence between its interests and those of Syria as a state.

Comments (20)

Akbar Palace said:

Here we go again. Professor Josh rationalizes Arab political backwardness and brutality:

“The Syrian regime’s calculation that most Middle Eastern states do not govern “fully cooked” nations, but rather, preside over a concatenation of tribes and sects which must be managed with a strong hand – or played off, one against the other – has paid off for Asad. … Damascus, by contrast, has jealously protected its dictatorship. The price is economic and social stagnation, but the prize is that Syrians do not face the uncertainties of political collapse.”

Some Arabists make the mistake of concluding that the longer a dictator is in power, the stronger his government is. I find it interesting that when a democracy changes hands to another person, the Arabists find this to be a weakness (hence Dr. Josh’s comment below):

“The Bush posse is now being mugged by the hard realities of the Middle East and losing members rapidly. (Bolton announced his resignation today.)”

Actually the opposite is true. Political change is a democracy’s greatest strength.

A bit hard to understand, I suppose. Let’s see how the democrats deal with Middle East terrorism the next time a skyscrapper falls to the ground. Should be interesting. If any lesson was learned in Iraq, regime change is EASY. Expecting the Arabs to fight for democracy (in the midst of Arab terrorism) was, of course, a mistake.

December 4th, 2006, 7:43 pm


Alex said:

Not bad, more accurate than last year’s studies by most other think tanks. But they still make the same mistakes: statements affected by “good and evil” black and white mentality. In this case: Totally separating the regime’s interests from Syria’s interests.

Obviously when some regime figure makes a 10 million dollar commission on something Syria buys from Pakistan, his personal interests are truly against those of the Syrian people. But when it comes to the regime’s political strategy … we do not know. “Syria’s interest” in politics could be served in many ways. The regime’s regional policy is confrontational, true, but so far they are “succeeding” in gaining more regional gains for Syria. For example, when the Iraq war started, Collin Powell offered Bashar nothing in exchange for Syrian acceptance of all US demands. Today, when Waleed Moualem visited Baghdad, the Iraqis offered Syria many economic incentives (like exporting more Iraqi oil through Syria …etc). The Europeans are now visiting Syria offering much more attractive economic incentives for Syria.

So, was the regime acting against Syria’s interests? I would still say that for the most part (with the obvious exception of corruption) … no.

Another thing that they don’t understand about “the Syrian regime” is that it is usually focused on the long term. They are specialized in marathons, not in 100 meter sprints. So if last year you did not find their performance impressive, wait before you make your judgment.

Then there is this other point the study here tries to make: Bashar makes crazy emotional statements. Again, let’s look at the history behind this impression: When Bahsar declared the Iraqi war which was about to start to be “a disaster”, Denis Ross made this observation: “bashar’s words are oftenbordering on the hysterical

Two years later, they all realize that Bashar was just right.

Next test is Lebanon. I think (not sure) that they will succeed in modifying the government “enough”, including getting Aoun (or one of his people who are not anti Syria Saudi freinds) to be the next president … not bringing it down completely… which would be the right thing (more balanced, less corrupt government) But there is also the risk of getting the country in serious trouble. One thing for sure, they will not back down on Lebanon. The Lebanese government the way it is today will probably not survive for too long.

December 4th, 2006, 8:15 pm


ivanka said:

Bushra for president. I think she is the right person for the job.

December 4th, 2006, 9:04 pm


Ehsani2 said:

Like my elderly father said when he saw Bashar crowned President at the ripe age of 34:

“Another Assad? Syria must have run out of men to lead it.”

I presume we could try Bushra first before the turn of Hafez Junior is soon upon us.


Since Syria is “focused on the long term”, one would think that by the time Hafez Junior takes over the reign of power, the reform process may have started by then

December 4th, 2006, 9:09 pm


John Kilian said:

Its prowess as a police state not withstanding, I doubt Syria can effectively halt the activities of the Sunni insurgents traversing the Syrian/Iraq border. While formenting instability in Lebanon and Iraq, Syria and Iran have little to offer in creating stability in these countries. Certainly neither has distinguished itself in the realm of economic development. What the Iraqi and European governments hope to achieve by negotiating with this regime is little more than paying black mail. The underlying sectarian divide will not be closed by improving relations with Damascus.
As for Syria regaining control of Lebanon, I would think this would incur a civil war in Lebanon that could even spread to Syria. As noted above, regime change is not the hardest part of the equation.

December 4th, 2006, 9:13 pm


ivanka said:

It really amazes me that the opposition in Lebanon continues to be called pro-Syrian. Anti-American does not mean pro-Syrian. Do you think Michel Aoun will be easy on Syria when he becomes president. I hope you don’t. The first thing he will do is publicly say Syria must return every Lebanese detained in Syria. That’s the first thing. However there is no Lebanese in their right mind that would want chaos in Syria. That’s simple strategic thinking. This is why it is in Lebanon’s interest not to be used against Syria.

December 4th, 2006, 10:10 pm


ivanka said:

John Kilian,

Being a police state is hardly the most important asset of the Syrian regime. So characterizing Syria as a police state is very incomplete. What makes Syria strong is the fact that it has, over 50 years, built a very big and strong web of relations throughout the middle east. Syria has proxies everywhere, in every country, sect, and political party. There are fundamentalist Sunnis, there are all kinds of Shias and there are arab nationalists and baathists close to Syria in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and to a lesser degree in other countries.

Also you are wrong about Syria and the insurgency. How come the US administration spent 2 years saying Syria is harbouring terrorists and fomenting the insurgency and now it is saying Syria can do nothing about it, or is it just say whatever keeps you away from diplomacy.

The Iraqi insurgency is 1. Mainly baathist. 2. Has a good part of it’s money in Syria (more money in eastern Europe however) 3. Many Syrians went to Iraq before the invasion and many continue to go, at least some of them work for the state. 4. It’s leadership does visit Syria and move freely their.

All this does not mean Syria can just tell it to stop, but it can do a much more efficient work than the US.

Please look at the region and see where Bush/Rumsfeld arrogance has gotten you. The US is not allmighty, the Iraqi army was under embargo for 13 years and now it is killing 10 American soldiers everyday. If anything, everyone now thinks the US is week and getting weeker by the minute.

Finally, civil war spilling from Lebanon to Syria in just impossible. Civil war means someone giving weapons to people. Who will fight whome with what weapons in Syria where there is a police officer and 2 mukhabarat for every citizen. Come on. In the 80s there were the MB and what you are saying would have been possible, but there is nobody now.

December 4th, 2006, 10:13 pm


Karim said:

Ivanka,i agree that there will be no civil war in Syria but for an another reason.
Syria is not Iraq or Lebanon ,this is because Syrian sunni majority in particular and most of the christians of syria have no sectarian feeling,even the nusayrite alawites and other batini sects of syria are less fanatics and more open minded than the shias of iraq or lebanon.

December 4th, 2006, 10:16 pm


why-discuss said:


To add to your point, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are known to actively fund the Sunni insurgency, but of course as they are the allies of he US, no one says anything. Syria is possibly allowing some insurgencies to cross the border but that is insignificant compared to the insurgents, al qaeda included, who are already in Iraq.
Civil war will not errupt in lebanon, not a single lebanese want that, but certainly a cold war has started since Hariris’s murder and political assassinations will become common until the international tribunal condemns the killer, and this may last a few years…

December 4th, 2006, 11:31 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Notice the factual integrity of this website:

“…Saudi Arabia and Jordan are KNOWN to actively fund the Sunni insurgency…”

“…Syria is POSSIBLY allowing some insurgencies to cross the border…”

(capitalization emphasis is mine)

Sheesh! What else can we expect on the Syria Propaganda Page?

December 5th, 2006, 3:21 am


John Kilian said:

Propaganda or not, many good points made and I appreciate the contributions. One thing you have to acknowledge is the complexity of Middle Eastern politics does not lend itself to simple solutions, i.e. regime change/occupation.

What makes it hard for the US/Israel to relinquish the sword and negotiate with existing regimes is Iran’s bid to attain nuclear weapons and in so doing rewrite the balance of power so as to render moot anything negotiated today.

December 5th, 2006, 2:45 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“Propaganda or not, many good points made and I appreciate the contributions.”

John Kilian,

“Good points” for those who excuse terrorism. It’s pure entertainment for me. Like walking through “The Fun House”.

“What makes it hard for the US/Israel to relinquish the sword and negotiate…”

The US and the rest of the world negotiated with Saddam Hussein for 12 years and 17 UNSC resolutions. The US negotiated with Syria all through Bush Sr. and the Clinton administration, and Syria never ceased to support terrorism.

The US and Israel negotiated with Yassir Arafat and terrorism increased.

Al-Queda doesn’t negotiate. Not with the Kuffar.

Yet, you only see a US/Israel “sword”.

I call that bad eye-sight, John.

Just MHO.

December 5th, 2006, 4:38 pm


John Kilian said:

I think you misunderstand the gist of my comment. I am asking the proSyria/antiUS/AntiIsraeli participants to explain how negotiations can be expected to have meaning while Iran is attaining nuclear weapons.

The sponsorship of terrorists who deliberately target innocent victims suggests that Iran can not be trusted with this technology, and so Syria is in league with a grave threat to Israel.

Still, I don’t see how military force, as applied this summer by Israel, improves matters. It may be that we are seeing an inevitable slide to nuclear conflict. I do not think there is any option for Israel to survive a nuclear Iran. Does anyone out there think that Iran will not attain a nuclear device? Or that Israel would be willing to risk an Iran with the means to destroy Israel?

In my opinion, this summer’s bludgeoning of Lebanon was a warning flare compared to the massive carnage it will inflict should it be placed in a position of having to fight for its life.

December 5th, 2006, 6:41 pm


Akbar Palace said:

John Kilian,

Sorry. Yes, I agree with your assessment above.

As far as Syria is concerned (as with every other non-democratic thugocracy), the main thrust of the government is to stay in power. This means the continuation of a media-generated external enemy and suppression of the country internally.

Check out MEMRI.ORG and see how the state controlled Arab media accomplishes this.

Bashar will stay the course until someone decides it’s time for a change.

December 6th, 2006, 12:47 pm


ausamaa said:

Akbar Palace

Seems you forgot that you are addressing a crowd well informed about the basic realities in the Middle East. We all know what Israel is and what Palestine is. So you are not addressing a crowd in Boaz, Alabama for example who do not care enough to know wether Israel is a REAL or a MEDIA-GENERATED external enemy. It is a real enemy and not an imaginary one, not only for Syria but for Palestinans, Jordanians, Saudies, Egyptians, Morrocans, Somalies, Iranians, Pakistanies and Tunisians to name a few. The WHOLE world condider its actions in the area as ones of aggression, oppression, and genocide.

So, for God’s sake, save us the crap of statements like the one you posted above:

“This means the continuation of a media-generated external enemy and suppression of the country internally”.

The Enemy is real. It is Israel. And it was planted here not to save the Jews of Europe, but to to do what it has been doing for the last 100 years.

What Chutzbah…

P.S., watch any news forecast on any given day, and convince me that whatever harm any Arab Government is doing to its own citizens is worse than the carnage Israel is committing against Muslim and Christian Palestinans, let alone Lebanese civillians. Only then, come and read us your cermons. In case of doubt, read Haaretz commentaries to verify the above.

December 6th, 2006, 3:25 pm


John Kilian said:


American sentiment on Israel may be evolving. President Carter’s book “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid” garnered him an appearance on national tv this weekend.

Also, one of the two amendments to the report from James Baker to President Bush included the strategic importance of addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many are arriving at the conclusion that the failure to establish a Palestinian State post-9/11 was a recipe for failure in the Middle East. Maybe immediately after 9/11 was a bad time to reward terrorist acts with concessions on Palestine, but five years later it seems like either the US addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict or risks further erosion of its position in the Middle East.

Military force as a means of dealing with obnoxious regimes seems to lead only to chaos and an even more objectionable state of affairs. Unfortunately, the brand of terrorism, meaning to me the purposeful targeting of innocents to intimidate the larger group, continues to be a practice of many Arab political groups. This makes negotiating with these groups impossible; and the linkage between these groups and nations such as Syria and Iran does not favor a constructive dialogue.

Of course, other parties in the region who are not responsible for terrorism, and I am thinking primarily of Abbas in the West Bank and the Lebanese government have been punished through a logic of guilt by association that I find incredibly unfair and destructive. The US does not hold the regime in Baghdad responsible for the acts of rogue militias affiliated with a political party in the Iraqi government. Why then does the whole of Lebanon come under the crosshairs for a small incursion by Hezbollah? Even ignoring issues of fairness, the attacks on Lebanon have destabilized just the sort of democratic government the US proclaimed to favor in the Middle East.

Without agreeing outright, I have to say all of this combines to grant currency to the opinion that the US and certainly Israel are not operating in good faith towards a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian issue. Maybe Israelis and Americans don’t see it this way, but as a practical matter one has to consider how actions are perceived by all parties. Arabs today sees recent military actions as threats to the survival of their communities.

The majority of Americans, as evidenced by the November elections, are not willing to continue down this path of military confrontation. A reciprical measure of good faith on the part of Syria and Iran to diminish the expansion of terrorism in Iraq and other places might nurture a nascent trend in the United States towards peaceful conciliation.

December 6th, 2006, 6:46 pm


ausamaa said:

Jhon Kilian

Fair analysis and many of the points are valid.However, I think that we can carry such analysis a bit further to really touch the core of the problem:
1- Terror: We need to seriously examin and agree on the definition of Terror. Why should we accept the premise that the armed Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to Israel should be labeled Terror although it is carried by people who are, and have been for decades, subject to Israeli occupation? Should we expect them to just wait silently untill some one decides that the time has come to be fair to them? And who about the real Terrorist, being Israel, which is an independent and “democratic” state -born out of western civilization and falsely claiming to live by the standards of such civilization- which does not hesitate to use the devastating and destructive weapons to suppress a popular uprising, intentionally shoots children, uproots whole communities, retaliates blindly, all with out any justification except the leathal force it has at hand and the support of the US? For fairness sake, the term “popular and armed resistance” is a more accurate than the term “terror”.
2- Democracy: This is an evolutionary process. It does not fall from the sky upon a given community.
But it is not not a pick an choose issue. If you want democracy, you have to accept its consequences. And the area is not yet ready for Western style democracy; it is -and has been for decades- in the eye of the storm. And when a ship is sailing in rough seas you do not expect the captains and the crew to take a break and take a vote. And the west is responsible for the rough seas; it is causing the “rough seas” either out of ignorance, which I doubt, or out of narrow selfserving interests. Solve the basics and the you can ask and expect the pieces to fall in place. You can not have the Syrian leadership addressing democracy -wether they want it or not- while Syrian lands are under occupation and while the Israeli threat, or other threats caused by others, are an “immenent and ever present danger” to both the regeims and the people.

And again, each action has an equal reaction, remember, and as we have seen in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinan lands, “shock and awe” does not work, on the contrary, it has worked the other way around. Look at who is shocked and awed now!

The West and the US administration need to seriously decide not WHAT they want from the area and how to achieve it, but HOW the area’s intersts and their interests “combined” can best be served in the short, middle and long term. Mutual common intersts, common goals, fair compromise and not confrontation is the solution to anything in an area that that has proved that it is not willing to accepts the US dictates and is capable of resisting and surviving.

Which is something I do not see happening yet. Instead I see a long awaited ISG report that calls for engaging Iran and Syria while mentioning that you must talk to your “enemy”. So, in order to solve the problem with the existing enemies in Iraq, the US now has new “enemies” whose help you need to get you out of your mess. Of course there are the other voices and statements that are more balanced coming out of other sides, but it seems that US policy is still far away from the correct path.

You tell me….!!

December 7th, 2006, 7:42 am


John Kilian said:

A lot to respond to. As far as coming up with a neutral/objective definition of terror, I would say the purposeful targeting of innocents should apply for all. It is an heinous tactic no matter who employs it.
Dismay and disillusionment with the occupation of Iraq on the part of US citizens and leaders is evident. The degree to which Syria and Iran can help extends from the degree to which both are responsible for supporting terrorist acts. It should be noted in the same breath that what is occuring in Iraq is a civil war with an indigenous insurrection and various militias native to Iraq involved. However, foreign forces, perhaps al Queda, may have been responsible for the destruction of a Shiite shrine in order to amplify sectarian divisions. That was a blow to the fortunes of Iraq. This sort of carelessness for human suffering is something I would hope Syria and Iran would oppose.
As far as the prerequisites for democracy, as far as the US is concerned the interest in creating democracies is to allow an alternate to violent forces working in oppostion to the status quo. Another inspiration for violent associations are the economic deprivation in the area. Perhaps addressing the underlying economics driving dictatorships to clamp down on their desperate citizenry is the first order of business. Superimposing a western model democracy on a Middle Eastern economy is maybe putting the cart before the horse.

December 7th, 2006, 2:55 pm


ausamaa said:

Jphn Kilian,

Again, many valid points, but, an attempt to get around the two central issues that stand as an impediment to stablizing the area and putting it on the right path to growth, progress and democracy.

You are right, economic deprevation is a central issue. But more central is Israel’s threat and continued occupation of Palestinan, Syrian and Lebanese lands. So is the various attempts of the US to control and impose its hegemony on the area -which we see as being an effort that goes a long way towards serving Israel’s aims-.

To count on economic growth alone to take care of the area’s problem is similar to promissing paying rape victims in a given community a considerable amount of cash so that the raped can forget their suffering, pay for medication and find jobs to keep them busy. It is not enough. Especially when the rapist is still freely roaming the streets around her house and threatning/boasting about his ability to repeat his actions whenever the urge hits him.

So a trio is needed: Peace first (saftey), Economic development (Bread), then Decmocracy(Progress).

Listening to the Bush/Blair press conference, did you feel this is where we are heading? Have you noticed how many times Bush during that press conference continued to repeat/imply that for things to change “others” have to change their behavior, but not “him”. And he again took us back to the Clash of Civilizations with his remarks that this is an Ideological Clash. The gentelman is sounding more and more like good ol’ Kaddafi in days gone by…

A glimps of hope; maybe Blair will find a way to convince him to acknowledge what is going on, reccomend a new path in line with the Baker-Hamilton report and promise to spearhead the initial steps and take the full brunt for trying something new. Even here, one should remember that Great Britain is known for spearheading “charitable” missions, but has rarely succeeded in making things better. Who knows, people change??? Or do they???

December 7th, 2006, 5:36 pm


John Kilian said:

A trio is needed: Peace first (saftey), Economic development (Bread), then Decmocracy(Progress).

I believe these were goals in Iraq that the US failed to achieve because it carelessly spurned the Sunnis on the basis that they were Baathists, and thus enemies to be destroyed. I do not know too many reasonable people in the US who do not agree that Paul Bremer’s decision to send the Iraqi army home, with their weapons, and ban grade school teachers from a chance to work was a tragic set of decisions.

And now President Bush may be doing it all over again, and perhaps on a regional scale this time. By refusing to engage in diplomacy with Syria and Iran, the only other avenue may be a wider conflict. Tony Blair seems to see diplomacy with rivals in the region as a better path. He may be a more sophisticated statesman in that he is able to step away from the paradigm of enemies and allies and accept the greyish role of competitors and opponents.

Land for peace deals in the past have not faired well, and there is a chorus of reminders about how Arafat dealt in bad faith and had no interest in peace. And I agree, but I do not extend the dishonesty and malevolence of the former chairman of the PLO to include all Arab leaders. The Egypt-Israeli accords remain a cornerstone of both countries strategic security. It is not as though long time leaders of nations in the Middle East have nothing better to do than see their countries go up in flames.

December 8th, 2006, 4:55 am


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