“What Motivates Syria,” by Imad Moustapha

Imad Mustapha explains Syria's stand on Iraq and cooperating with the US in the Washington Post. He insists that "Syria has the will and the capacity to assist in Iraq. This help is imperative to Syrian national interests. Syria can cooperate on security issues with the Iraqis and can give considerable support to their political process." He also admits Syria has no magic bullet when it comes to Iraq.

Imad Mustapha

What Motivates Syria?
By Imad Moustapha
Sunday, December 10, 2006; B07

U.S. engagement — or rather reengagement — with Syria has become a salient topic in almost every political debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly regarding Iraq.

But while commentators argue over whether the United States should engage Syria and whether Syria has the will to cooperate or even the capability to deliver intended outcomes, it appears that the Bush administration remains incapable of searching for a comprehensive approach to the strife in Iraq.

According to top officials in the Bush administration, engagement with Syria would yield no benefits. What is Syria's reaction to this viewpoint? Well, we believe that if U.S. officials continue to regard a dialogue with Syria as a matter of "dictating" — that is, telling Syria what it ought and ought not to do — then their predictions are correct.

Given such a "dialogue," Syria would have to agree with the Bush administration officials who say that nothing can be achieved by such engagement. It would be a waste of valuable time for both sides, and in the meantime the situation in Iraq would continue to spiral downward from disastrous to catastrophic.

But if the Bush administration comes to realize that truly engaging consists of an honest dialogue in which all parties are involved, then positive results will be possible — for Iraq, the United States, Syria and the entire region.

Contrary to what many in Washington believe, past Syrian-American collaboration has yielded many beneficial outcomes, a fact that several former U.S. officials could confirm. These include, among other things, Syrian cooperation on the Middle East peace process, on al-Qaeda and, yes, on Iraq.

What motivates Syria to engage on Iraq? Let us be clear: Syria is not looking for a "deal" with the U.S. administration on any issue. The situation in Iraq is a matter of paramount concern to Syria, particularly the unprecedented levels of death and destruction and the possibility of Iraq's disintegrating, which would have terrible repercussions for the entire Middle East.

Thus Syria has the will and the capacity to assist in Iraq. This help is imperative to Syrian national interests. Syria can cooperate on security issues with the Iraqis and can give considerable support to their political process. The visit of our foreign minister to Baghdad, and the resumption of diplomatic ties between Damascus and Baghdad after a 25-year lapse, clearly illustrates our commitment to a free, peaceful and unified Iraq.

But Syria recognizes that no magical solution exists to instantaneously achieve the desired objectives. A rigorous and comprehensive approach is required. This approach should include a reconsideration of U.S. policy in Iraq, starting with the recognition of the necessity to include all parties involved: neighboring countries and all factions of the Iraqi political and social spectrum.

No party should feel defeated or excluded. All stakeholders in the future of Iraq should feel that it is in their own interest to help stabilize the situation.

A solution should also include U.S. acknowledgment that the majority of Iraqis regard the occupation as only exacerbating the situation and causing further violence and instability. A U.S. plan for withdrawal should be on the table. Only such a step will prove to the various parties involved that the United States genuinely plans to return Iraq to the Iraqis.

Syria believes that engagement of all parties will ultimately become inevitable and the only route forward. Until this happens, all parties will continue to lose. Above all, if it does not happen, Iraq will continue to pay the terrible price for such lack of vision.

Muqtada al-Sadr's spokesman, Baha al-Araji, explains why Iraq has a "small" problem with Syria as opposed to "large" problems with Iran and Saudi Arabia in an interview published by Foreign Policy. He said:

We also have a small problem with Syria. Saddam’s regime was affiliated with the same school and political party that rules Syria. In Syria, there are many in the local Baath Party leadership who think that the situation in Iraq is a big loss for the Baath Party. Though the Syrian Baathist ideology differs from Saddam’s, there is still a desire [there] to see him reinstated. And this sense of party solidarity has led them to incite instability in Iraq in order to ensure that the occupiers—and the new government they support—fail.

Robin Wright of the Washington Post writes that

Vice President Cheney's office has most vigorously argued for the "80 percent solution," in terms of both realities on the ground and the history of U.S. engagement with the Shiites, sources say. A source familiar with the discussions said Cheney argued this week that the United States could not again be seen to abandon the Shiites, Iraq's largest population group, after calling in 1991 for them to rise up against then-President Saddam Hussein and then failing to support them when they did. Thousands were killed in a huge crackdown.

Previously, She had tracked the 80 percent solution, backing Iraq's Shiites and Kurds to the detriment of Sunni interests, to the State Department's counselor Philip D. Zelikow, who has resigned. The problem of this solution is that it cuts Saudi interests out of US planning. The important question that follows is to what extent the US will intercede to support the survival of Iraq's parliament, the center-piece of America's efforts in Iraq.

The logic of civil war is that it challanges the very existence of the American nurtured parliament and its leadereship. Protecting the survival of the parliament and making sure that politicians amenable to Washington lead it will be President Bush's objective. The Baker-Hamilton plan does not make success of the parliament a central concern. To the contrary, it implies that if the parliament cannot assume control of Iraq before 2008, it should be cut loose.

Saudi Arabia:

Saudi, Gulf States to Study Using Nuclear Technology
2006-12-10 09:50 (New York)
By Andy Critchlow

Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf Arab monarchies, that pump a fifth of world's oil, will study using nuclear technology for power generation, according to a communiqu‚ from a Gulf heads-of-state summit being held in Riyadh today.

"Nuclear technology is an important technology to have for generating power and the Gulf states will need it equally,'' Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, told reporters in a press conference following the meeting that was carried live on Arabic television channels. “It's not a  threat. We are not doing it secretly,'' he said.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, will set up a commission to study the applications of nuclear technology, according to the  final summit communiqu‚ received by e-mail today.

The Arab Gulf states initiative comes as the United Nations Security Council pressures Iran to stop the production of enriched uranium. Uranium enriched to low levels can fuel nuclear reactors, while higher concentrations are needed for atomic weapons.

U.S. May Oppose
"There will be opposition from the U.S. and the Europeans because they will say oil-rich Gulf states don't need nuclear power,'' Anthony Harris, a former U.K. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates said in a phone interview from Dubai today.

The U.S. and European Union accuse Iran, which has the world's second-biggest oil and natural-gas reserves, of seeking  to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is aimed at generating electricity.

Gulf states, which are already linking their power supply networks for the first time, may need to build nuclear power plants to help meet surging demand for power from industries and booming economies that are being spurred by record high oil revenue.

The U.A.E., where demand for gas over the next 25 years, is already considering building coal-burning power plants and importing the fuel from Indonesia or South Africa as an alternative energy source to meet surging demand, Peter Barker-Homek, Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi National Energy Co.
said in an interview on Nov. 28.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister urged Israel to abandon its nuclear programme, saying it was the “original sin.''

–With reporting by Tarek Alissawi and Massoud A. Derhally in Dubai.

Comments (3)

majedkhaldoun said:

For Syria, lebanon is more important, now, than Iraq,Aoun and HA are thinking to overtake the goverment building , and topple the Seniora goverment,Hariri and co. may try to topple Lahoud, foreign intervention becomes probable,there is a strong possibilty of assasinations of some leaders.
Bramertz report is due monday,we will know the report by thursday,if the report implicates Syria,this will change things in Syria to a degree, that within months,we will see changes, either revolt among the Alawite officers,or the people in Syria,after first denying,then anger,then accepting the report and accepting to change the regime.
if the report does not point to Syria, then things in Lebanon may calm down.

December 10th, 2006, 5:59 pm


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

Dear Professor Landis and readers:

As usual a most informative and interesting posting! I have some caveats about a running theme
in both this posting, and the prior one about the Eight percent (80%) solution & ‘encouraging sectarianism’ in the Near East and or the Levant by the USA. I myself, do not see, with the possible exception of the now, reduced in influence, VP Cheney’s Office, anyone in Official Washington interested in either of the above scenarios. I would argue that the thing that needs to be reiterated again and again, is that for the Bush regime, the Iraq debacle, and how to deal with it, trumps all other objectives in the Near East at the moment. With the exception of the Persian Nuclear Weapons programme, everything else is pretty much a ‘sideshow’ in the Shawcross sense of the word (id est, as Cambodia was to the USA during the Vietnam war).

Right now, getting out of Iraq, while at the same time being able to claim ‘victory’ is the only thing that the American government is fully focused on, in the Near East as a whole. Also, I would like to respectfully point out, that neither the State Department currently, nor Zelikow himself, are or were adherents to the so-called ‘Eighty percent (80%) solution’. This is quite clear if one reads the original Zelikow speech of mid-September and, if one reads David
Sanger’s article on Rice v Baker’s view of the future American policy in the region, in Friday’s New York Times (see below). Here it is explicitly stated that Rice favors constructing a sort of Sunni Cordon Sanitaire against Persian influence in the region. Something which was in fact the centerpiece of Zelikow’s speech (constructing a front against ‘extremism’, e. g.,
Persian influence / expansionism / allies in the
region as a whole).

So to conclude, right now, I would say that given the historically true fact, that the American govenment always has a great deal of difficulty in dealing well with more than one problem at a time, the only problem that the Bush regime cares about at the moment, is how to arrive at a ‘peace with honor’, outcome to the Iraq imbroglio. That
outweight all other issues in the Near East, except for the issue of the Persian Nuclear Weapons programme. And, perhaps the Arab-Israeli dispute. Everything else is a mere Sideshow in the Shawcross sense: the Lebanon, Syria, the growing influence of Islamist parties in the region, et cetera, et cetera. See below for the
Sanger article in the New York Times on the Baker versus Rice angle.

Published: December 8, 2006
WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 — Many of the blistering critiques of the Bush administration contained in the Iraq Study Group’s report boil down to this: the differing worldviews of Baker versus Rice.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III was the architect of the “new diplomatic offensive” in the Middle East that the commission recommended Wednesday as one of its main prescriptions for extracting the country from the mess in Iraq. Ever since, he has been talking on television, to Congress and to Iraqis and foreign diplomats about how he would conduct American foreign policy differently. Very differently.

At a midday meeting with reporters on Thursday, Mr. Baker insisted that the study group had “rejected looking backward.” But he then proceeded to make a passionate argument for a course of action he believed Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, should be pursuing — while carefully never mentioning Ms. Rice by name.

The United States should engage Iran, Mr. Baker contended, if only to reveal its “rejectionist attitude”; it should try to “flip the Syrians”; and it should begin a renewed quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians that, he maintained, would help convince Arab moderates that America was not all about invasions and regime change.

Meanwhile, Ms. Rice remained publicly silent, sitting across town in the office that Mr. Baker gave up 14 years ago. She has yet to say anything about the public tutorial being conducted by the man who first knew her when she was a mid-level Soviet expert on the National Security Council. She has not responded to Mr. Baker’s argument, delivered in a tone that drips with isn’t-this-obvious, that America has to be willing to talk to its adversaries (a premise Ms. Rice has questioned if the conditions are not right), or his dismissal of the administration’s early argument that the way to peace in the Middle East was through quick, decisive victory in Baghdad.

Aides to the 52-year-old Ms. Rice say she is acutely aware that there is little percentage in getting into a public argument with Mr. Baker, the 76-year-old architect of the first Bush administration’s Middle East policy. But Thursday, as President Bush gently pushed back against some of Mr. Baker’s recommendations, Ms. Rice’s aides and allies were offering a private defense, saying that she already has a coherent, effective strategy for the region.

She has advocated “deepening the isolation of Syria,” because she believes much of the rest of the Arab world condemns its efforts to topple Lebanon’s government, they said; and in seeking to isolate Iran, they said, she hopes to capitalize on the fears of nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan that Iran seeks to dominate the region, with the option of wielding a nuclear weapon.

Ms. Rice makes no apology for the premium she has placed on promoting democracy in the Middle East, even though that is an idea that Mr. Baker and his commission conspicuously ignored in spelling out their recommendations. “I don’t think that the road to democracy in Iraq is at all utopian,” she said in April.

It is plenty utopian to Mr. Baker, who has made clear his view that the quest is entirely ill-suited to the realities of striking a political deal that may keep Sunnis and Shiites from killing each other, and that may extract American forces from Iraq.

Mr. Baker said nothing on Thursday about looking for Jeffersonian democrats in Iraq; he would be happy with few good “Iraqi nationalists” who can keep the country from splintering apart.

“They start from completely different places,” said Dennis Ross, the Middle East negotiator who worked for Mr. Baker years ago and left the State Department early in the Bush administration. “Baker approaches everything with a negotiator’s mindset. That doesn’t mean every negotiation leads to a deal, but you engage your adversaries and use your leverage to change their behavior. This administration has never had a negotiator’s mind-set. It divides the world into friends and foes, and the foes are incorrigible and not redeemable. There has been more of an instinct toward regime change than to changing regime behavior.”

To some degree, the Bush administration has softened that approach in its second term, and Ms. Rice’s aides contend that much of what is recommended in the Baker report, including a regional group to support the country, is already under way.

Mr. Bush himself seems uncertain how to handle his always-uncomfortable relationship with his father’s friend. It was Mr. Baker who in 2000 ran the strategy for winning the Florida recount, but he has also made little secret in private that he regards the administration as a bunch of diplomatic go-cart racers, more interested in speed than strategy and prone to ruinous crashes.

The administration has sent out word that it regards Mr. Baker’s recommendations as more than a little anachronistic, better suited to the Middle East of 1991 than to the one they are confronting — and to some degree have created — in 2006 three years after the Iraq invasion. It is a criticism that angers Mr. Baker, members of the study group say.

Iran and Syria illustrate the differing approaches of Mr. Baker and Ms. Rice. “If you can flip the Syrians you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem,” Mr. Baker said Thursday, noting that Syria is the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah. He said Syrian officials told him “that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist,” and added, “If we accomplish that, that would give the Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner.”

Ms. Rice’s allies argue that if it were all that simple, the Syrian problem would have been solved long ago. Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser and Ms. Rice’s former deputy, said recently that the problem “isn’t one of communication, it’s one of cooperation.” Now that Mr. Baker has taken his differences public, the mystery is this: is he speaking for Mr. Bush’s father? “We never figured that out,” said one fellow member of the panel. “There was always this implication that there was a tremendous amount of frustration from the old man about what was happening. But Jim was always very careful.”

The elder Mr. Bush was careful, too. Asked if he wanted to offer his insights to the panel, he declined.

December 10th, 2006, 6:11 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The US military is not going anywhere. With Iran pursuing nukes and sponsoring terror in Iraq and Lebanon (along with their ally Syria), the US military will stay just where it is.

The Iraq Study Group report is hot air and not much more.

December 11th, 2006, 11:50 am


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