March 06, 2005

Syria Shudders

I have high hopes for post-occupation Lebanon, despite – and certainly not because of – Lebanon’s history of violent ethnic conflict. Lebanon’s politics are notoriously ruthless, but there also exists a dynamic, sophisticated, and partially liberalized civil society in that country that counters some of the darker strains in the system.

Things are different in Syria. Unlike the relatively freewheeling Lebanon (in some ways akin to Hong Kong under Chinese authoritarian rule) Syria’s political system is full-bore totalitarian. If the Baath regime were to crack or disintegrate all of a sudden, I wouldn’t be as optimistic about the prospects for a quick transition into democracy without a bit of luck or help from people outside the country. Syria isn’t Iran in 2005 or Poland in 1989, in other words. It’s more like Albania in 1989. Syria might do just fine on its own in an immediate post-Baathist environment, but the people there have been severely traumatized and damaged by the regime. It is impossible to say how things would turn out, and that goes for everyone inside and outside the country.

Marc Cooper found an outstanding blog by Ammar Abdulamid, a Syrian liberal who says the upheaval in Lebanon is reverberating inside Syria in powerful and terrifying ways. Reading his blog is like asking for an emotional punch in the stomach. But Ammar is so intelligent, so knowledgeable of his country, and such a painfully honest writer I can’t turn away.
The City’s air is rife with all sorts of untoward rumors, everything is now possible: there is talk of arrests, purges, coup d’états, assassinations, sanctions, invasions, anything and everything, except, of course, freedom. Everything is possible except freedom. Freedom is never mentioned. Freedom never comes to mind. Freedom remains a distant dream.

The world is changing around us, but we, Damascenes, Syrians, Sunnis, ‘Alawis, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, or however we define ourselves these days, including perhaps heretics, can’t feel any hope in that. Nothing has touched us so far. Nothing seems to loom in the air, except for rumors and hearsays, none of which particularly inspired or inspiring. The face of an ugly and malevolent god still stares down upon any possibility of hope within us.

A reported wave of arrests has already swept a variety of "low-key" dissidents, that is, those whose arrest is not likely to generate much notice abroad, or even here, no matter how terrible this may sound. But then, everything sounds terrible these days. Despairingly terrible. There is hope all around us, but somehow there always needs to be some pit of despair somewhere meant to serve as a continuous reminder of how things were or could again be. But those whose fate is to live in such a pit have themselves to blame as well. If history teaches anything it’s that such punishment is always earned somehow. We earned it with our long and studious silence.

Being a potentially high-profile case, not to mention, of course, a heretic, my punishment is doubled, tripled and quadrupled: I have to watch others arrested while I am spared, I have to live in the anticipation of a potentially worse fate when the “right” time finally comes, I have to face the look of sickly blame on my sullen wife’s face, and I have to come back home at the end of another long day feeling numb and defeated, regardless of any achievements made.

Khawla and I have indeed reconciled ourselves to the fact that things seem to be like a race against time now: our decision is not simply about leaving the country, but about leaving it before it’s too late, that is, before events catch up with us and prevent us from traveling, together, or at all…

All these years I spent abroad without ever trying to obtain if not another citizenship then simply another residency seem increasingly wasted to me now. All this misplaced love for and belonging to the homeland is coming back to haunt me.

But then, idealists never prosper, do they? Do they?

On the positive side though, I feel like I have enough materials for a quite a few bestselling novels. One day this should make us all rich. One day.
I want to say something encouraging, but it’s hard. These are dangerous days in Syria. Nothing good will happen there while the Baath regime is in charge. It’s an obstacle that absolutely must be cleared out of the way. So the fact that Ammar detects the odor of fear coming off the regime is at least some reason to hope. There are always reasons to hope. And there are some that Ammar seems to forget about.

Totalitarian regimes almost always disintegrate rapidly and seemingly out of the blue. I’m a bit surprised to find myself writing about the possible implosion of the Middle East’s other Baath Party state at all. I knew it would happen at some point, but in early February there was no way to say it would happen in early March.

If it really is the beginning of the end of the Assad regime (do keep in mind that it might not be) events on the ground one month from now will be just as astonishing and hard to predict. Ammar Abdulamid may have little hope at this moment, but history is swinging on its hinges again. In a few weeks he may find that he lives in a different and barely recognizable country.

The reason people in Syria aren’t talking about freedom may be because they don’t quite yet feel like they can. That is so often the story in these kinds of places. But a tipping point may be coming. It is too soon to tell, but soon Ammar and millions of others may find themselves - all of a sudden - saying in genuine astonishment to the people who live all around them: Gosh, it isn’t just me? You feel the same way that I do?

I hate to say it, but this also is true: The implosion of the Baath regime could turn Syria into an emergency-room case. The US, the EU, the UN, and NATO damn well better start thinking about what they will do if that happens.

UPDATE: I just had a thought. If no one in Syria is brave enough to talk about freedom just yet, maybe the U.S. and the E.U. should give it a shot. Give the the people of Syria an excuse to start talking about it.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Bill Clinton has his own blog. In his latest post he floats the idea of regime-change in Syria. (Hat tip: Marc Cantor in the comments.)

Does anyone know if the Clinton blog is a hoax? I poked around Technorati and only found one blogger who thinks it's not real. But it's hard to say for sure one way or the other.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay. Andrew Apostolou found some pretty convincing evidence that the Clinton blog is a fake. Funny! Check it out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 6, 2005 03:13 PM
Comments

I'm sure there is a plan for what to do upon the collapse of the Ba'ath regime in Syria in a file drawer in the Pentagon. I'm also sure that until last month, somebody in Foggy Bottom had cognizance of this plan and one of their own to derail the implementation of it. The confirmation of Condaleeza Rice as Secretary of State put an end to ineffectuality as usual. Of course, once you accomplish results, you have inevitable failures to be criticized over.

Is a free Syria worth risking Condi '08 over?

She has the the most senior cabinet post because she will not ever ask that question.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at March 6, 2005 03:45 PM

That one ancient Chinese curse comes to mind:

May you live in interesting times...

Posted by: Final Historian at March 6, 2005 04:06 PM

The sheer despair in that post reminds me of a pre-election post from the very eloquent Iraqi blogger Alaa (the Mesopotamian) in which he intimated that if Iraq were to continue going all to hell in such nihilism, the Americans might as well just nuke the darn place on the way out. Such despair coming from someone who previously had such high hopes was gut wrenching. As irrational a thought as it is, I wish we could do a massive exchange program with the ME - give us all your freedom-loving liberals (they're just trouble for you anyway, right?) and we'll give you all our Islamist/totalitarian-minded citizens - and we'll even throw in all the leftist apologists for good measure. A non-violent exchange program. Then everyone should be happy.

Posted by: Caroline at March 6, 2005 05:08 PM

“Syria’s political system is full-bore totalitarian.”

Are you sure of that? It is my understanding that Syria is merely an authoritarian nation. This is a very important distinction. Or at least we neo-conservative scum bags seem to think so. The Baathists are not supposedly true believers like those depicted by Eric Hoffer in his seminal “The True Believer.” No, they are instead similar to Tony Soprano and his gangster clan. These thugs have no desire to die for Allah. Aged whiskey, young women, and fast cars are more to their liking. And if I’m right---this likely means that President Bush should encounter little trouble from them.

Posted by: David Thomson at March 6, 2005 05:20 PM

Ammar Abdulamid writes wonderfully. We should read carefully because even if we think we understand the words, his emotions come to us via a prism.

The at-rest state for a liberal in a dictatorship is resignation to fate. There's no question about "what can happen?" in Mr. Abdulamid's mind. No fuzzy gray area of what the consequences of going too far astray of the accepted public line might be.

He knows because he has lived a life where neighbors and family just disappear. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they come back changed, or even broken. And sometimes they don't come back at all.

He is in better shape to conceptualize on democracy than most of his fellow inmates. The vast majority of his fellow men have no way to process the image of a life without the constant fear of just going away at the whim of the state.

It's going to be a tough nut to crack, this next Baathist takedown - and will most certainly not be a pain-free evolution WHEN it happens. I think the Syrians may just be the ones who write this next chapter; for years I've kind of accepted that the Iranians would wise up first, but it appears now that the real hollow man remaining on the board is Syria.

Interesting times, indeed.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 6, 2005 05:23 PM

I hate to say it, but this also is true: The implosion of the Baath regime could turn Syria into an emergency-room case. The US, the EU, the UN, and NATO damn well better start thinking about what they will do if that happens.

The Syrian regime won't respond domestically to people power. Haven't you ever heard of Hama? They levelled half the city and turned it into a parking lot in response to people power.

Posted by: Carlos at March 6, 2005 07:21 PM

Could we perhaps have a moratorium on telling these people they don't really live in totalitarian systems? This is not a personal dig, David; I've seen other posters tell an Afghan blogger she didn't really live under a dictatorship with the Taliban. These people are not worried about Ashcroft cancelling their library card or moving to Canada because Kerry didn't carry Ohio; they are talking about people who are liable to KILL them and I think it would only be civil to acknowledge they have the experience to back up their claims.

Posted by: richard mcenroe at March 6, 2005 07:24 PM

"Haven't you ever heard of Hama?"

Do you seriously think that Assad could pull a Hama in the world of today? Not too long after the shells started falling, the guns would be hit by JDAMs.

Posted by: ray at March 6, 2005 07:37 PM

I think the key to resolving Syria is to provide

1. A counter threat that prevents the Baathist forces from concentrating against the more liberal elements inside the country.

2. A low key way to beef up the pro-democracy forces.

3. An example.

The good news is Lebanon may be the example, while also providing the counter-threat

Posted by: Don Meaker at March 6, 2005 07:57 PM

Do you seriously think that Assad could pull a Hama in the world of today? Not too long after the shells started falling, the guns would be hit by JDAMs.

Why would the world do anything about Syria when they are turning a blind eye to Sudan/Darfur? The U.S. is tied down in Iraq right now, so jdams is the most the Syrians would get. And short of an extended bombing campaign, what do you think a few jdams would do? If the survival of their regime was at stake, a few jdams won't deter the Baathists from doing whatever they need to do to self preserve. From the rest of the world you'd get the usual strongly worded and formal protests from Kofi Annan and the Arab League, but not that much else would happen.

Posted by: Carlos at March 6, 2005 08:11 PM

Here's an interesting blurb from The Independent:

“Syria suffers from a serious PR dilemma,” said Ayman Abdul Nour, a former adviser to the Syrian President. “There is no co-ordination. There is no serious committee established to manage the current crisis. Each minister, if they do speak, does so only out of their own initiative and about their own opinion. There has been no meeting to co-ordinate the government’s position. They are just playing for time.”

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=616653

Is Assad ruthless enough to keep things together? Doesn't look like it. Cabinet Ministers with independent thoughts and no fear of expressing them may one day come up with the thought that it may be time for a change at the top. This usually works to the detriment of the fellow who occupies that position.

Posted by: Rick Moran at March 6, 2005 08:11 PM

They are just playing for time.

But then, everything sounds terrible these days. Despairingly terrible.

Doom. Doom. (from the depths of Moria)

When the regime loses all hope, it will fall.

They're failing in Iraq and Lebanon.

Their leader is probably dreaming of a career in Opthamology.

People NEED hope. The regime seems to be reduced to hoping for time.

Posted by: Dishman at March 6, 2005 08:44 PM

"Why would the world do anything about Syria when they are turning a blind eye to Sudan/Darfur? The U.S. is tied down in Iraq right now, so jdams is the most the Syrians would get. And short of an extended bombing campaign, what do you think a few jdams would do?"

Syria has an Air force and a Navy that can be destroyed by U.S. airpower in days. Any concentration of ground forces and the means to supply them can also be severely degraded if not effectively destroyed.

This would not necessarily stop a Hama, but it would make it costly, perhaps prohibitively. I don’t think paying this cost would ensure or even enhance the regime’s chances for survival. Any option for Syria right now, other the delay, cheat, and hope to cut a deal option, is one in which they lose.

Posted by: Vea Victis at March 6, 2005 08:57 PM

Is a free Syria worth risking Condi '08 over?

She has the the most senior cabinet post because she will not ever ask that question.

Hmph. If she is unwilling to ask that question, she is unworthy of the office.

But I do not think you are correct. A great deal is going on behind the scenes, and will not be known until after it is all over. Wait and see, and beware coming to conclusions before the fact.

Posted by: rosignol at March 6, 2005 09:00 PM

On Hama: that was done by Daddy Assad, one of the more ruthless men of the 20th century. Could his son Babyface do such a thing? More importantly, could the generals and scum who are really running the country do such a thing? While they might long for the good old days, I think they won't try it. The point about these guys being the Sopranos is a good one -- if they do commit wholesale butchery, they won't be able to leave and live peacefully somewhere, they'll end up counting muzzle blasts from the wrong end.

While the U.S. is tied up and can't (say) put an airborne brigade into Darfur, we CAN do something about Syria if we wish -- it is, after all, next-door to 150,000 of our troops. And it wouldn't take much of a push, I don't think, since there aren't too many Syrian hard-boyz interested in being the last one to sacrifice himself for Tony Soprano.

I have to agree with Mr. Totten: while few if any of us could have predicted six months ago that Syria would implode like this, it's now about to. Good riddance, Babyface.

Posted by: Steve White at March 6, 2005 09:01 PM

Bush and Chiraq seem to be on the same page when it comes to Syria. Perhaps France would be willing to send ground troops if needed. Its army seems to be otherwise idle for the most part...

Posted by: Al Superczynski at March 6, 2005 09:34 PM

Perhaps the reason Syria is pulling its military out of Lebanon at this time is to concentrate its forces....the Bekka valley first? If the stories of Iraq's WMD being there, this move could be to transport them to other locations ... or perhaps because Bekka is a good defensive location. The best time to hit Syria is while their troops are on the move, but instead we probably will, as usual, give them time to form an insurgency. Syria should have been attacked as soon as it was clear that they were harboring terrorists. The big question: Are Syrian "liberals" unlike our leftists? Are they willing to fight for their freedom? Do they have plans for a new government? Do they have real leaders or just impotent dreamers?

Posted by: Al Johnson at March 6, 2005 10:07 PM

The French army idle? All 2000 of those brave men/women? Aren't they busy meddling in the affairs of their former colonies in Africa? Without Security Council blessing?

Posted by: Suburban Guy at March 6, 2005 10:16 PM

There is a simple answer for those who think Syria's collapse is inevitable. Cuba. Unless the USA is willing and able to commit troops in Syria, there is no short term case for collapse.

Posted by: Scott Harris at March 6, 2005 10:42 PM

Syria has a substantial command and control problem for a variety of reasons. Divided leadership complicates matters greatly, as does the need to accomplish a Hama event with a targetable aggregation of political troops. We do not need to drop JDAMs on the Syrian guns, we only need to drop them on the political troops keeping the gunners at their posts. The willingness of Syrian troops to remain with their targetable weapons systems once the political troops have been broken is very probably minimal.

Once troops have broken they tend to stay broken, and that is an end to Hama rules. And the beauty part...the purpose of the United Nations is to prevent genocidal atrocities. They can't say boo about US interdiction of a Hama event.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at March 6, 2005 11:08 PM

rosignol,

I'm guessing that you are not clear on the concept of loyalty. I believe that everything Condeleeza Rice has ever shown us indicates that she is more interested in accomplishing the security of the United States than promoting her own career. I think she would take one for the team and that is why she is trusted by George W. Bush.

Cynicism may be a comfort to you, but it does not explain the character of the Bush administration.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at March 6, 2005 11:13 PM

Hey, please go read Ammar -- and comment in support of HIM. MJT is great, and the point about post-implosion plans is excellent. Heck, Syria could see people demonstrations even before Lebannon has elections -- what does the US do??? Depends on the Syrians, the people and the gov't of thugs--and the thugs who support Babyface (great name) and the ones who oppose him, think him too weak -- but won't support somebody ELSE other than themselves.

Maybe the US and the EU should give it a shot -- YES. Maybe the blogosphere should talk about freedom. THERE.

Here's my comment, THERE (to Ammar):
Please stay safe. "I have a bad feeling about this" -- said the Princess in a cave that was really the mouth of a Beast.

You know you are a target. I thank you for your truth. I pray for your Freedom (Talk about it! with friends. Syria could claim it, in 2005!)

I pray for your safety. How can you live if you expect to be targeted for detention, or for death?

Run, hide. Be temporarily silent, if you must be -- join in any pro-freedom crowd you think will prolly be safe.

Bush might save you -- but might not, not yet, not in March; maybe not in 2005.

You are NOT alone -- tell your friends. Freedom is in your heart, and in the hearts of your friends. Speak it.

Iraqis can vote, after Saddam. Why not voting in Syria? Why not freedom?

Yes, be careful of death; of the death squad gov't of Syria today.

I pray for your freedom; I pray for a World Without Dictators.

In the USA, and in many parts of the world critical of Bush, there has been a big question. Who's next?

It could be Syria. Freedom. And some death. Regime change; with some chaos. Good, Very Good, Great -- but very bad death, and tragedy, too.

I pray that the Syrian Army avoids murdering freedom loving Syrian people.

I'm proud to write a freedom lover; perhaps a hero. I pray I'm not writing to a martyr -- though Syria needs freedom lovers willing to BE martyrs.

The world needs to tell Syria, and their armed forces/ death squads, that murdering peaceful people is the crime of murder.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 7, 2005 12:05 AM

Al Johnson -

Last thing that Assad would want to do is to concentrate his military anywhere but in urban areas. Attempting to put them in play as a maneuver combat force in a set piece battle would probably result in mutiny; it would certainly cause wholesale desertion.

Let's be real clear here: the easiest part of our effort is winning battles and deposing rulers. The hard part is being able to eventually walk away from functioning democracies.

Ask any combat engineer. Hell, any engineer. It's always easier to break something than to make something.

We have acted in Afghanistan and Iraq so far; now ripples are spread to the Ukraine, Lebanon, and even those poor bastards in West Bank and Gaza might be getting a clue. Good for them. We are doing that boring diplomatic thing to the hilt in regards to those places.

What's in the Bekaa? Nothing that Assad or Syria want to world to get a close look at, I would think. Is it packed with WMD stashes? Don't know. Is it home to various terrorist groups, primarily Hizbollah, sanctioned and supported by Syria and Iran? Yes. Is it a staging area for terrorist attacks on Israel, including possibly thousands of artillery rockets primed and held in reserve in case the prospect of peace between the PA and the Israelis actually begins to look attainable? Yes.

Assad faces a problem without any good solutions. If he withdraws posthaste and completely from Lebanon, the western media has a communal orgasm hailing him as enlightened, but chances are that the only warm wet feeling he will experience will be his own blood leaving multiple wounds.

There is no economy in Syria. That's what Lebanon has provided for the last decade or so. There is no retirement policy for failed dictators - especially weak ones. We have barons holding the leash of the king in Syria, not the Stalin situation that was Iraq. We could break that.

But right now we can't fix it.

I am going to sit back and watch the news for the next few weeks. I have no clue what Bush & Co. intend for ANY of the remaining players on the other team. I am sure that the message will remain the same, though - we stand ready to assist in countries that pursue democratic reforms.

We put our money on the table on that hand, and the old dictators try to match our bet by... what?

What can they build? They rule by breaking.

The only hole card they might bet on is our own political divisions; they can check and try to wait for a change in their favor. Three years is an awfully long time to bluff, though, isn't it?

And the longer we go about our business in Iraq and Afghanistan the better trained and seasoned our troops become. Eventually the security mission will be handed off to the locals and we will have the tools to not only break, but fix, other places.

I think there's a fair chance we might just be seeing some impressive Syrian babes on magazine covers sooner rather than later; but then I am an optimist about stuff like that.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 7, 2005 12:06 AM

Totalitarian regimes, obviously enough, rule by fear. All that is necessary for them to crumble is for fear to be displaced. Once a motivation that trumps fear takes over in enough people, the Syrian regime is history.

Posted by: ImpactedWisdomTruth at March 7, 2005 01:29 AM

“Could we perhaps have a moratorium on telling these people they don't really live in totalitarian systems?”

No, we most certainly cannot. The distinction between a totalitarian society and an authoritarian one must be determined. We have to clearly understand what sort of regime that is being confronted. There are protest groups in Syrian like the Syrian National Democratic Gathering. Such organizations do not exist in North Korea! Also, are we dealing with Cambodian style ideological hard-liners or merely petty gangsters who essentially ruled the Soviet Union in its last days?

Posted by: David Thomson at March 7, 2005 03:00 AM

David Thomson,

If we are going to distinguish between the merely vile and the deliberately pernicious, there are many reasons to show that Syria has accredited itself for the more despicable standard. Providing Sudan with poison gas, housing multiple active terrorist organizations, slaughter of their own people, and giving refuge to our enemies all maintain the Ba'athist government in the deepest ranks of destructive regimes. In many ways we are compelled to determine Syria as totalitarian so we can choose to determine Lybia as only authoritarian, for now.

I do agree that Syria may not meet the refined state of tyrannical brutality that we would like for absolute moral clarity. I recently re-joined the reserves and have sworn off cocaine and absolute moral clarity as dangerous addictions that impede mission accomplishment. Would that the intellectual community could lay off the hard stuff in the pursuit of the transient sense of invincibility.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at March 7, 2005 04:43 AM

I am much more optimistic about Syria long-term than MJT or Ammar. Comparing Syria to Albania in 1989 is, sorry, just absurd. Albania was, and still is, basically a group of tribal European 14th century peasants. Sorry, but that is really the case. On the other hand, Damascus has been a center of world civilization for 3000 years. Syria's inherent problem is much like Iraq's- it's an artifical nation state where a strong man can easily use inter-ethnic hatreds to divide and conquer. But Syrians are not as isolated and undereducated as Albanians in 1989 or North Koreans today. They know how people live in Turkey, they know what's going on in Iraq and Lebanon. I'm optimistic that is only a matter of time until Assad juniors rickety structure collapses beneath him.

Posted by: Vanya at March 7, 2005 06:49 AM

A minor point, but I would only wish U.N. "intervention" on my worst enemies, and then only because I'm a bastard.

For illustration, please see the Sudan, Congo, Bosnia, etc.

The people of Syria probably have enough problems.

Posted by: Mark Poling at March 7, 2005 08:04 AM

OK. First, we send a Special Forces Company--that's 6 "A" Teams--to train, equip, and (ahem) advise two Iraqi Brigades that assemble on the Iraq/Syrian border. Each A-Team can autonomously train and advise a battalion of infantry, The Kurds are probably the best group to involve in this manner as they have cross-border concerns as an ethnic group and are experienced fighters already. May take a while...depends on the training and experience of the trainees.

As a matter of fact, another SF Company or two conducting a...wait for it...guerrilla campaign (shocked gasps from the Left side of the room) within Syria can tie up the entire Syrian ground forces and expedite the fall of Assad. That means they train, assist, and advise the guerrillas.

Please understand that the current terrorist attacks in Iraq in no way resemble what an authentic guerrilla campaign looks like. We're not talking about the indiscriminate use of IEDs to destroy civilians. We're talking about military and governmental targets to disable the regime's warfighting ability and encourage/enable dissent.

It's very economical and not at all manpower intensive for us.

Israel isn't otherwise occupied right now--excepting the ongoing parley with the Palestinians, but it's their air power that we can really use to avoid overtasking our own air assets in the region.

Jordan will pretty much fall in line as they have Israel on one side and Iraq (with 150,000 US troops) on another. Plus the French have a commando ship laying off of Lebanon right now. (Of course, now would be a good time to intervene before Syrian forces in Lebanon redeploy or they convince Greenpeace to move their flagship into the area to distract the French commandos.)

Ultimately, Assad's regime will fall. We don't really want, or need, the EU or UN getting involved in any response except financially. The Eastern European countries are more willing, and more supportive of the U.S., and would be happy to assist us in any action in the region.

Romania and Poland are excellent places to get military forces that will stay the course--unlike Spain--and contribute to the development of liberty in the Middle East.

Once Syria's current regime falls there will likely be a short-lived spasm of violence similar to what has been occurring in Iraq for the past year. I say short-lived because the fighters in Iraq have largely come through Syria. Without the support of the Baathist regime there, their support from that quarter will dry up and we will see an improvement in Iraq as well.

al Zarqawi's network will do what it can, while it can, but without a safe haven from which to operate it is doomed. Like a big game of Risk, the Baathists--and the terrorists--will not be able to sustain their efforts when cutoff from an adjacent source of support.

The new Iraqi government can send advisors to assist Syria in its framing of democracy or, hey, isn't there a Coalition Provisional Authority looking for work somewhere?

The sooner we effect the fall of Syria, the sooner we can focus on Iran. But that's another story.

Posted by: Chris at March 7, 2005 08:47 AM

We haven't even begun to put real pressure on the Syrians yet. It is my belief that Assad knows the earth beneath his feet is beginning to shake; I think he has every intention of destablizing Lebanon and the region as much as possible, and taking down with him as many as he can.

They are playing their cards right now, stalling, trying to set up the operations they need to incite civil unrest between the Lebani factions, disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and make the achievement of a free, independent and peaceful Iraq as difficult as possible.

Their pact with Iran simply means that Hezbollah will be mobilized to it's fullest capacity to effect the outcome in the worst way for Israel and the U.S.

We need to start kicking the legs out from under the table now. Undermining and disrupting Hezbollah's ability to operate, inciting unrest within Syria, arming the opposition, and covert sabatoge operations are all fair game. Whatever we have to do to not have to invade another country. It will be messy, but it's better than waiting to let Assad reposition himself, or do maximum damage on his way down.

Posted by: Mike T. at March 7, 2005 09:05 AM

Chris,

I like the talk, but your plan's a bit too simplistic. Just even from a logistics point of view, what it would take in air power alone to support one entire, let alone three, Special Forces Companies, is enough to stretch us past the breaking point. We don't have that kind of resources right now, and it simply won't work using foreign militaries for CAS, which is what the "A" Teams have relied most heavily upon for the past 4 years.

That aside your mad if you want to involve the Israelis in an attack on another sovereign, Arab, Muslim nation. In one fell swoop you could pull the plug on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and unite the Iranians, Egyptians, Shi'ite-Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Saudis in condemnation of our actions. Which by the way, if you haven't checked lately, the Arab "Street" isn't exactly upbeat about the remodeling effort we've undertaken in the region.

Posted by: Mike T. at March 7, 2005 09:28 AM

Bill Clinton said on his website he believes Bashar Assad killed Rafiq Hariri and that the Syrian autocrats can only survive as long as there is chaos in the ME. Read his thoughts. they are very enlightning.

Posted by: Marc Cantor at March 7, 2005 09:55 AM

In one fell swoop you could pull the plug on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and unite the Iranians, Egyptians, Shi'ite-Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Saudis in condemnation of our actions.

The so-called "Israeli – Palestinian" conflict is really a war between Israel and the Ba’thist Islamist alliance (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran). These states have been at war with Israel for many years, and they’re willing to fight this war to the last Palestinian. We don’t need to do anything to unite them against us. They’ve been united against us for decades.

These states have very weak military forces – they fight their wars by using terrorist paramilitaries, some local, some imported. This is how they’re fighting us in Iraq, and that’s how they’ve been fighting Israel.

Attacking one of these states without attacking the others is like poking a hornet’s nest. If we invaded Syria, their military force would fall in a couple of days. Then the other terror-supporting states (Iran, Saudi Arabia) would send in their paramilitary fighters. We would be involved in yet another “insurgent” conflict, with messy urban warfare, terrorists targeting civilians, the leftist press cheering for them and so on..

Until we have reasonable plans to disable all (or most) of these terror supporting states at once, using a multinational force, we should do what we can to help them fall using non-military means.

Posted by: mary at March 7, 2005 11:06 AM

Clinton's blog comments would, from any other ordinary person, amount to rank speculation except that he was the leader of the free world for eight years.

With Clinton advocating regime change in Syria, with Ted Kennedy acknowldging the good news in Iraq (and crediting Bush), with the Cedar Revolution, the Mubarak announcement of (more) legitimate elections in Egypt, and with France joining us in the call for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, I think we just may be at the tipping point for complete change in the Middle East.

Perhaps, as Clinton advocates, the removal of Assad would provide the small push needed to complete the birth of a modern day Middle East and the death of the circa 15th century mess that is there today?

Posted by: too many steves at March 7, 2005 11:57 AM

http://tech2.nytimes.com/mem/technology/techreview.html?res=9C06E5D8133DF93AA15754C0A9629C8B63

Delve more deeply into the postings at billclintondailydiary.blogspot.com -- at once thoughtful, educated and down home -- and only one conclusion can be drawn: it's a hoax.

While enabling everyday people to publish a continuing chronicle of their thoughts and deeds, blogs are also are becoming a popular medium for having a little fun with the credulous. The more frequent the postings, the more they respond to reader feedback and the more interesting the subject matter, the more people are drawn into the fiction.

Posted by: Heiko Gerhauser at March 7, 2005 11:59 AM

Mary -

"Until we have reasonable plans to disable all (or most) of these terror supporting states at once, using a multinational force, we should do what we can to help them fall using non-military means."

I respectfully disagree.

We do have a reasonable plan in place right now. We directly confront and destroy Islamist terrorists aligned against us where and when we find them. There is no requirement, nor possibility, of getting them or their sponsors 'all at once'.

Bush defined the top tier of terror states as the Axis of Evil. We dealt with the immediate priority of Afghanistan, dithered around with the U.N. until it was clear they wouldn't enforce their own resolutions, and studiously withdrew recognition from the PA since it was simply not qualified to participate in meaningful negotiations with Arafat as head.

There is no requirement for a multinational force, either. It would be nice to have help. It would be nice for democracies to step up against the common threat instead of hiding behind their self-formed constructs of how things should be, or out of spite, or powerlessness, or mere petty envy.

Let me be clear: FUCK them. Germany, france, spain, and our own domestic demographic that still doesn't get the big picture of what is at stake, and what actions are required for forces such as the jihadis to be crushed.

We need to kill the people that need killing. We need to accept that we are in a war and that the milestones aren't the beheading or carbomb or bungled ransom deal of the day.

We do have reasonable plans. Divide and conquer - except that conquest equals liberation in spite of the shrieking howls from multicultis or mere hacks seeking to exploit the dangers and costs of war.

Mike T. -

"In one fell swoop you could pull the plug on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and unite the Iranians, Egyptians, Shi'ite-Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Saudis in condemnation of our actions."

And this would substantially differ how from the status quo we've lived with our entire lives?

Seems to me like the Lebanese street is rather impressed. Ditto the Iraqi and Afghani street, too.

I also disagree with your contention that employing covert A teams/companies is an impossibility. If it needed to be done, it would be done. It would mean reassigning assets and reprioritizing, but that's the story of the military's and especially specops unit,s, day's work.

I don't think there is a pressing need for armed insurrection in Syria. The thugs are going to be too busy absorbing the economic and strategic losses associated with reducing their presence in Lebanon to a gaurd post in the Bekaa to push outward very much.

I don't see the Assad dynasty lasting through the summer. I'm not saying Syria will establish Rotary or anything like that, but their domestic political situation is so stressed that even if the various factions don't collapse into outright civil war, they may be so focused on survival that their role as facilitator for the proxy war on Israel will have to retract.

I'm want to find out what they have in the Bekaa. Besides the hash and opium industry.

Do not forget that there is a latest iteration of the "peace process" underway between Israel and the Palestinians. If the Pals actually sign on to a meaningful agreement, Hamas and Hizbollah are excess to the political requirements of the region. I don't think that all of them will down arms and retrain for the IT field.

More killing to be done. But in good time, on our schedule, and after due deliberation. And with the allies that get it, not any politically/PR attractive construct.

We've published our intentions. We've defined our interest as arriving at a state of affairs where we are not subject to attacks at the will of jihadists. We've made it clear to the nations of the world that we are serious about the consequences of supporting terrorists. Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are showcases of our commitment to employ democratic reform, and not imperialism, as our strategy for victory.

Time fills.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 7, 2005 12:01 PM

TmjUtah - When I said that we should seek allies, I definitely didn’t mean Germany or France. Old alliances are dead. Look at Saudi Arabia. (if we wanted to destroy the terrorists aligned against us when we find them, we could start at the Saudi embassy). Anyway, we have new allies, consisting of nations that are threatened by the Islamist/Ba’thist alliance, and are willing to fight it.

When I said non-military means, I meant that we should probably refrain from more large scale invasions.

If we do have another large-scale invasion of Iran or Syria, we should anticipate another quick military defeat of the enemy, followed by an Islamist-Ba’thist insurgency, followed by attacks against civilians, etc. Because that’s how the Arabs fight their wars.

We know that this will happen, so why don’t we try to avoid it?

The Islamists/Ba’thists have an advantage over us when it comes to terrorism and urban warfare – we value life, they don’t. They’re willing to kill innocent people by the hundreds, or thousands if necessary to achieve their goals. The Iranians used their own children as cannon fodder. This kind of horrific moral decadence will eventually destroy these Arab/Islamist civilizations, but not soon enough.

On the other hand, they are militarily weak, and our military force is our strongest weapon. If we attack these terror-supporting states one at a time, we’ll have to deal with a multitude of “insurgent” conflicts. If we attack these weak states simultaneously, we’d at least have the advantage of surprise. And if all states were simultaneously under attack, who would be able to create and finance the ‘insurgency’?

In a direct military confrontation, their terrorist paramilitaries are even weaker than their regular armies. If a simultaneous attack could be carried out, we might be able to reduce total American and civilian casualties (when compared to the casualties that would result from attacking these terror-states one-by-one)

I’m not saying that this would be a good idea at this point. So far, the democratization of Iraq is having fantastic results – better than anyone expected. Diplomacy and the natural course of events might actually work at this point.

Posted by: mary at March 7, 2005 01:28 PM

Mary, I wasn't bagging on you. But over-coordination is a killer for planning. We are doing a whole lot at once, and it's working. We concentrate our green power where it needs to be, we work the reception lines where we can, and we keep our eyes out for opportunities.

If we invested all our resources in preparing to fight the Single Perfect Battle, by the time the forces were briefed, the train was in place, and the orders published, conditions will have changed to render the Plan moot.

Montgomery had that problem - which doesn't take anything away from my admiration for those things he did get right.

You and I are in the same book, if not quite on the same page.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 7, 2005 03:09 PM

Suburban Guy - click on my name for an interesting article about the French. Or copy and paste this link:
http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/20053623.asp

Posted by: Al Superczynski at March 7, 2005 03:59 PM

Michael, the Clinton blog you linked to (indirectly) has widely been declared a hoax, I believe. But we're talking about two different Clinton blogs.

Your link referred to a post on this blog:
http://billclintonbookmylife.blogspot.com/

But commenter Marc Cantor linked to this one:
http://billclintondailydiary.blogspot.com/

For the record, I think Bill Clinton's Daily Diary is a hoax, too. It's subtle but it has to be fake. Would Bill be waxing annoyed, in public, about his future son-in-law showing up to the house in sweatpants? Would he describe in detail his brother's being bounced from an L.A. strip club? There's way too much personal candor here, even for Bill.

That said, it's brilliant, and often hilarious, and the commenters seem to be buying into it wholesale (unless the comments are hoaxes, too). Whoever's behind it is quite skilled.

I really like the post where Howard Dean blows off Bill at Terry McAuliffe's farewell party (sorry for no hotlink):

http://billclintondailydiary.blogspot.com/2005/02/im-optimist-by-nature.html

Missy

Posted by: MNelson at March 7, 2005 05:23 PM

I believe that everything Condeleeza Rice has ever shown us indicates that she is more interested in accomplishing the security of the United States than promoting her own career. I think she would take one for the team and that is why she is trusted by George W. Bush.

You have misinterpeted my comment. I am cynical, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the Bush Administration. I mainly intended to suggest that things are being done via back channels, not in the public eye, and that Ms. Rice is likely to be near the center of it.

Posted by: rosignol at March 7, 2005 10:07 PM

“The Islamists/Ba’thists have an advantage over us when it comes to terrorism and urban warfare – we value life, they don’t.”

You are overlooking an important distinction. Both the Islamic nihilists and Baathists do not value the lives of other people. This is indeed quite accurate. However, the latter do value their own! They are not even slightly interested in dying for Allah. This is why it's far easier to deal with secularist thugs than suicidal fanatics. I am convinced that Assad and his cronies are right about now wondering if moving to a South Pacific island might be good idea.

Posted by: David Thomson at March 8, 2005 02:34 AM

I've done some research into the author of billclintondailydiary.blogspot.com. Yeah, it's a fake.

And if you've heard of Ricky Vandal, now you know who writes it.

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