Syria’s Policy of Sitting on its Hands

I am heading for the mountains and my father-in-law's village for a few days before flying back to the States. Just a few observations before I get onto a bus for Qadmous. I will not be posting for a few days.

Syria's new policy on Lebanon, begun with president's speech two weeks ago, is to stop public pronouncements on Lebanon, tell Western diplomats what they want to hear – that Syria will do what it can in Lebanon – yet, at the same time, explain that the West must go to Lebanon to find answers. The public stand is that Lebanon's problems are her own and Syria cannot do much about it. This is, of course, posturing and fits the Western insistence that Syria must not play a role, which Syria refuses. The result is that Syria and the West will both pretend that no one is influencing Lebanon. It is a good pretend policy. 

Foreign policy makers in Syria were very optimistic following the Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Rice and Moualem and believed that it might signal an opening. That mood broke two weeks later, when the UN passed the International Tribunal, George Bush renewed sanctions on Syria, and added a layer of new sanctions. Cousseran neglected to visit Syria before the Paris conference on Lebanon in contrast to his meeting with Iranians. Moreover, the SEC in New York is threatening to drop about 20 European companies with contracts in Syria from the New York Stock exchange. All of this sent a message to the Syrians, the Rice is not making policy and that the US administration remains determined to isolate and harm Syria.

Meanwhile the US is urging Syria to support the Maliki government and its policy in Iraq. But US-Syrian relations are completely jammed up and everyone is talking past each other. Syria is sitting on its hands and waiting for the US to begin pulling out of Iraq. Most officials here believe the Maliki government will collapse in short order and refuse to get on board a sinking ship. In the meantime, Syria is filling up with Iraqi refugees. The Americans are trying to threaten the Syrians that the refugee problem will grow much worse if America loses. Syria, for its part, is obstructing where it can and refusing to be impressed with this argument. It is a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation for the Syrians and Americans, both. The situation will get worse.

Indications that it could get worse are evidenced in the growing fear that Israel could strike at Syria or Lebanon again in order to reverse the momentum in the region.  

Here are some bits of news:

NoblesNews, a relatively new on-line Syrian news outlet, reports that the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon, محمد رضا شيباني , says that his country is acting as a go-between for Saudi Arabia and Syria and trying to improve their relations, particularly as concerns Lebanese affairs.

Rice, Gates Team to Lobby Arabs on Iraq
The Associated Press, July 28, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia for a rare joint lobbying effort to prod Iraq's mostly rich, Sunni-led Mideast neighbors to help stabilize the chaotic country and support its weak Shiite-headed government.

"The United States wants to persuade all the countries in the region to be proactive in a helpful way," said Samir Sumaida'ie, Iraq's ambassador to Washington. "Waiting and watching is not a helpful posture."

Other Arab diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said waiting and watching is exactly what they plan to do, at least as long as the killing does not spread beyond Iraq's borders … "There is the general sense that no one wants to get aboard a sinking ship," said one diplomat, who like others requested anonymity to describe sensitive discussions within his government and with U.S. officials.

The neocon armchair generals (Via War in Context)
By Scott Horton, No Comment, Harpers, July 27, 2007

To hear President Bush tell it, all he does is sit back and patiently take the advice of his generals in the field and in the Pentagon. But every field commander to return from Iraq and put on his civvies has told a different tale: the White House hammers ridiculous strategies down their throats, doesn't listen to a word they say, and instead takes direction from a group of juveniles in their fifties over at Neocon Central Command, the American Enterprise Institute.

This is another point on which White House lies are wearing thin and the truth is beginning to shine through. And Rowan Scarborough over at the D.C. Examiner has offered up an extremely revealing vignette. He looks at where the current strategy for the surge got cooked up. He notes that in the final analysis, there were three plans sent to the White House. One was prepared by General Petraeus and his team out in Baghdad. The second was crafted by the Joint Chiefs in the Pentagon. And the third plan was put together by a bunch of overgrown teenagers who play with lead soldiers at the American Enterprise Institute. And guess which one the White House picked? That's right, the AEI plan. [complete article]

WASHINGTON, July 26 (UPI) — Prior to her visit to the Middle East next week, U.S. Secretary Condoleezza Rice told an Arabic broadcaster in Washington "There will be a Palestinian state."

In an interview with the Al Hurra satellite television network, Rice said the conflict between Israel and Palestinians had gone on too long for both sides.

She went on to say Israel needed to alter its thinking on existing borders "because the future of Israel is not under the continued occupation of the West Bank.

"The future of Israel is in building a strong Israeli state in places like the Negev and Galilee," Rice said.
Comment by JL: At the same time as Rice insists there will be a Palestinian state and that Israel must relinquish the West Bank, White House spokesman Tony Snow cut the legs out from under here. He said of the recently announced Palestinian-Israeli peace conference that it would not be about peace. Here are his words:
The administration damped down expectations and indicated the meeting would focus on Palestinian institution-building rather than deeply divisive topics such as Jerusalem and refugees.

"I think a lot of people are inclined to try to treat this as a big peace conference. It's not," clarified White House spokesman Tony Snow. "This is a meeting to sit down and try to find ways of building fundamental and critical institutions for the Palestinians that are going to enable them to have self-government and democracy."

Meanwhile, the US has announced a 20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. In order to pass this through congress, it has promised to increase Israeli military aid over the next decade by some 45% to over $30 billion.

Comments (18)

Rami Lion said:

I don’t understand how come you evaluate the situation between Syria and US

If we put asside all the media talks and empty threats, is any one able to tell me what exactly the hram that US or the west have caused to the Syrian regim

I am not sure if we are reading between the lies, but we should, and we should understand that there are too many media cambat are being held but believe me its all talked and empty once

US isn’t able at the moment to harm any one or to cause any problems for anyone, they have had enough the US president in spite of all his strength he can’t and will not casue him self any further problems wether with the Syrians or Iranians

Syria couple of weeks ago had bought 5 fighter jets from Russia and we never heard any objections from any one including Israel, that should push us to wonder why
Syria has armed and keep arming their troops with the lated avilable technology
We haven’t seen any real action from any one arround the globe
all what we see is just media war and a lot of media threats


July 29th, 2007, 12:35 pm


George Ajjan said:

Looking forward to your return Josh. I hope the trip has been as enjoyable as your posts indicated.

For those with a sense of humor: in honor of the Simpsons movie, click to find out what some prominent Syrian personalities might look like as Simpsons characters.

July 29th, 2007, 1:55 pm


ugarit said:

For those interested in Astronomy:

Syrian Cosmological Society

July 29th, 2007, 3:18 pm


t_desco said:

Good article on the forensics behind the latest Brammertz report:

CSI: Beirut
By David Kenner
(Lebanon Now, July 26, 2007)

Robert Fisk was also right when he wrote that

“from his teeth, the UN investigators concluded he was born in a more arid country than Lebanon” (“Why my landlord is expecting the worst”, The Independent, 28 July, 2007).

This can indeed be determined by stable isotope analysis as it seems that delta-13C, delta-15N and delta-18O values in different parts of bones and teeth are all affected by aridity.

Regarding the shovel-shaped incisor (if this is what Brammertz was referring to), I wonder, as the feature is very common in China, is it possible that it is relatively more frequent in Central Asia (i.e., in regions that are geographically closer to China)?

July 29th, 2007, 3:24 pm


ausamaa said:

The more you look at things nowadays, the less hope you have and the more you realise that Nothing in this area can even “begin” to move in a sensible direction until Dubbiya leaves that Oval Office which even the American people regret now having giving him the keys to.

However, the tense waiting by so many (peoples and politicians, outside and inside the US, alike) for his departure, bears a close resemblance to the waiting of an estranged married couple for the troublesome mother-in-law to end her visit before somebody says something wrong.

What a collective sight of relief the world will have then!

July 29th, 2007, 8:59 pm


bilal said:

Prof. Josh,

I wish you a nice stay in the mountains as the weather should be great now.
When you say: “Foreign policy makers in Syria were very optimistic following the Sharm al-Shaykh meeting between Rice and Moualem and believed that it might signal an opening. That mood broke two weeks later, when the UN passed the International Tribunal” what do you actually mean? Are you suggesting that Syria is behind the assassination? Why would passing the tribunal be regarded as a set back for Syria if they did not have to do with the assassination?
That is a good & clear acknowledgment.
Also what do you say about Kouchners statement when he named Syria & Iran as the forces behind not reaching a deal in Lebanon?

July 30th, 2007, 10:24 am


Sami D said:

So nice of Rice to tell the Palestinians they will have a state (she means a “state” — with quotation marks), while simultaneously pumping $30 billion of steroid into Israeli aggression (aka “defense”). While Rice laments that the conflict “had gone on too long”, the US has been over the past 4 decades the main supporter of Israeli aggression & conquest, and the main party to block any peaceful settlement. Israel has over 400,000 “settler” colonists inside the West Bank & E. Jerusalem, controls WB water, land, skies, borders and the lives of Palestinians. Netanyahu said a decade ago that the Palestinians can call what we give them anything they want, a “state” or “fried chicken”. If the Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza is any indication, then an “open air prison” is a better name of what Israel and Rice have in store.

July 30th, 2007, 1:19 pm


Syria’s Policy of Sitting on its Hands « Report on Positivity said:

[…] Posted by Nima Maleki on July 30th, 2007 Joshua Landis writes in Syria Comment: […]

July 30th, 2007, 2:05 pm


why-discuss said:

Condie has never been very subtle (” we all know that Saddam Hussein has links with Al Qeada”). She is now so transparent that she convinces no one. Her statement is a ‘parrot’ of the White House’s desperate campaign of showing goodwill in increasing discontent and opposition from traditional arab allies in the region, like Saudi Arabia. Everyone knows that in the last months of the Bush administration, this is far too late and pointless in view of the disastrous foreign policy that succeeded in alienating the most influential countries in the area: Iran , Syria and Saudi Arabia.

July 30th, 2007, 2:40 pm


Observer said:
This is the article by Robert Novak that spills the beans on the upcoming US Turkish joint special forces operation against the leaders of the PKK in Iraq. Once more, I feel the Kurds have been betrayed and allowed themselves to be used as pawns so many times by their neighbors and by the superpowers. I believe that this lesson has been learned somewhat by the KSA with the King charting a relatively new course in the region. It is very important for the other allies in the region not to delude themsleves into thinking that they are more valuable than the Kurds, the only reliable local partners of the US in Iraq now. As for Syria, I think it is perfectly logical for them to sit and watch and be patient. They waited out Chirac and it seems to have payed in some breathing space and they are willign to wait out the reign of the current administration. Once again, the only wild cards in all of this are the two most steadfast hard core neo cons GWB and Cheney. They may surprise all of us with how stubborn and focused they can be.

July 31st, 2007, 12:07 am


David Kenner said:

T-Desco — glad you liked the CSI: Beirut article. It was one of my favorite pieces to write in a while. Have a good time in the US, Professor, and I look forward to reading you when you get back.

July 31st, 2007, 6:47 am


SimoHurtta said:

Golan residents call for talks with Syria

Peace with Syria movement conference urges Israeli government to hold negotiations with Damascus with American presence or Quartet representation. Local Arabs: Golan must be returned to Syria

July 31st, 2007, 7:44 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

It looks like Condee the Crusader has arrived with Guns for Everybody

Oh Dear it is obviously “Guns of August”

July 31st, 2007, 9:57 am


Kamal said:

Finally a proposal with teeth. Let’s hope there is follow-through, not just talk…


The Lebanese government decided on Saturday to create a mobile force backed by German experts to combat the influx of weapons trafficked into the country from Syria.

“The government approved the formation of a force composed of soldiers, security agents and customs officers … charged with controlling the northern border with Syria,” said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.

“The force will be assisted by German experts,” Aridi told reporters at the end of a government meeting.

Germany will supply Lebanon’s customs authorities with equipment that will help it detect weapons under an agreement reached this week.

The assistance falls within the scope of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.

The resolution ended last year’s 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah, and calls for the prevention of illegal arms sales and smuggling.

A report made earlier this year by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon found “serious breaches” of the arms embargo imposed under the UN resolution, which the United States says Syria or Iran breach to supply arms to Hizbullah.(AFP)

July 31st, 2007, 2:37 pm


ausamaa said:

Kamal says,

“Finally a proposal with teeth. Let’s hope there is follow-through, not just talk…”


Lebanese Armed WHO?? To Combat WHO?? Yaa’ani you forsee the possibility of the Lebanese Armed WHO are even considering the possibility of “them” actually “shooting at” Syria, with German expert backing?

Habibi, you must know the Arabic proverb that says: The Weapon in the hand of the (…) can cut him!!

July 31st, 2007, 7:17 pm


Kamal said:


If Lebanese forces, backed by international experts, under a UN mandate, open fire on foreign criminals infiltrating Lebanon, what will Syria do – invade Lebanon? Don’t make me laugh.

Or would Syria respond in a totally groundbreaking manner, with car bombs and assassinations and … oh wait. Syria is doing this already.


July 31st, 2007, 10:47 pm


why-discuss said:

Syria and Iran have very logical and understated comments about the US selling billions or dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. The media talk about “military assistance” when the Saudi are going to pay these billions and directly assist the US weapons factories to be profitable, while Israel may get more and much better weapons ‘free’ !
Bush wants a peace conference and he starts by rearming Saudi arabia and Israel! Very logical, but maybe the ridicule does not kill republicans.
L’Orient le jour 1 august 2007
Nous sous sommes devant une conférence internationale (sur le conflit israélo-palestinien proposée) par le président Bush. Celui qui veut faire la paix ne commence pas par une initiative d’armement dangereuse dans la région », a affirmé le ministre syrien des Affaires étrangères Walid Moallem. Le chef de la diplomatie iranienne Manouchehr Mottaki a, de son côté, déclaré que « les efforts américains pour vendre des milliards de dollars d’armes et pour propager des scénarios montés de toutes pièces dans la région sont improductifs ». « L’objectif » des États-Unis est « d’empêcher que les fabricants d’armes américains ne fassent faillite », a-t-il poursuivi.

August 1st, 2007, 3:37 am


New Syrian “Policy” On Lebanon | The Beirut Spring, a Lebanese Blog said:

[…] New Syrian “Policy” On Lebanon | July 29th, 2007  Syria insider Joshua Landis explains Syria’s new let’s-pretend-everyone-is-stupid policy towards Lebanon: […]

August 3rd, 2007, 5:28 pm


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