February 16, 2007

A History of Violence

My old Beirut friend Lee Smith writes about Syria's history of violence in the Weekly Standard:

[W]ill the wise men who counsel we sit down and talk with Damascus--the Brzezinskis, the Powells, the Obamas, the Bakers, and Djerejians--will they have the decency at last to recognize what their high-minded posturing can no longer obscure? This is how Syria negotiates, with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 16, 2007 12:53 AM
Comments

"[W]ill the wise men who counsel we sit down." I think you made a typographical mistake here.

You have investigated the Syria question with vigor. But you have ideologically slipped, for you have not addressed the Lebanese question. The opening shots of the 2nd civil war, the Bus Massacre, baptized tensions between Pro-Palestinian and Anti-Palestinian factions in Lebanon. Now those same parties have coalesced around Pro-Syrian and Anti-Syrian parties.

I fear that you have been sucked into one side's vortex. This has little to do with moral fortitude or western values, it has to do with existent fissures in Lebanese society. These are the true threats to Arab society, not terrorism. Many are similarly polarized through labeled confessionalism.

Posted by: harbook at February 16, 2007 07:02 AM

"[W]ill the wise men who counsel we sit down and talk with Damascus--the Brzezinskis, the Powells, the Obamas, the Bakers, and Djerejians--will they have the decency at last to recognize what their high-minded posturing can no longer obscure?"

These are the same sort of men who counseled negotiation, diplomacy and "co-existence" with the Soviet Union, one of the most vicious, mass murdering regimes in history. So, no, I don't expect them to recognize or acknowledge anything negative about Syria.

In the case of the USSR, they had a semi-plausible justification for advocating appeasement rather than confrontation with the Soviets: namely, the existence of thousands of Soviet nuclear warheads aimed at the West. Obviously, no such justification exists with respect to Syria.

So what we have are representatives of the only superpower on the planet advocating that we give the Syrian (and Iranian) regime a pass -- we suspend any moral judgment of their past actions and agree not to mention their murderous past -- and instead pretend that they are rational, moral members of the world community with whom we can reach reasonable agreements.

There is no limit to the amount of self-deception that the advocates of appeasement can muster and the capacity for it isn’t limited to the left or to one political party. President Bush has just proven that with the recent agreement with those honorable and trustworthy North Koreans.

Posted by: Michael Smith at February 16, 2007 07:46 AM

The wise men, of course, pontificate from beyond the range of the knife.

Posted by: ZF at February 16, 2007 07:57 AM

Leaving aside the issue of Syria's involvement in Lebanon for the moment, I would have a lot more respect for the regime change merchants if they at least displayed a bit of consistency.

So the "advocates of appeasement" as they are being called here are getting a pasting for giving Syria and Iran a "pass"?

Well fine then, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I'd say the Saudi Royals would make another good target, a state that is easily more closed, repressive and in fact 'Islamic' that Iran.

Then maybe we can move onto that other staunch ally Egypt, which has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons - namely torture.

Not calling for a democratic revolution in these places? No? In that case you are exactly the same as the realists - you are willing to deal with less than perfect states if it furthers the US interests. The only difference is your interpretation of what these 'interests' actually are.

Secondly, explain to me why the Bush Govt doing a deal with Gadaffi's Libya was acceptable but a 2003 deal with Iran, which would have got rid of the nukes and Iran / Hezbollah issues, was dismissed by Cheney with the rationale of "not dealing with evil."

Gadaffi...you know, good pal of Robert Mugabe, the 1986 Berlin (US servicemen) nightclub bombing, support for terrorist groups like ETA and the IRA, recently called a week of national mourning for the death of Saddam Hussein, and there was of course that little matter of a 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Here's a thought: Maybe they were willing to deal with Gadaffi on the basis of him getting rid of WMDs on one hand, but ignoring his other many deficiencies on the other so that US oil companies could be let back in to grab a share of the Libyan oil bonanza.

Posted by: Dirk at February 16, 2007 09:32 AM

Dirk: you are exactly the same as the realists

No I'm not.

explain to me why the Bush Govt doing a deal with Gadaffi's Libya was acceptable but a 2003 deal with Iran, which would have got rid of the nukes and Iran / Hezbollah issues, was dismissed by Cheney with the rationale of "not dealing with evil."

I'm not Bush, I'm not Cheney, nor am I a Republican. If you want partisan hackery on behalf of these guys you're on the wrong blog.

Unlike you, Bush, and Cheney, I have actually been to Libya. It is the worst place by far I have ever seen.

Libyan oil bonanza

Could also be that Libya doesn't murder people in other countries anymore, though.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 16, 2007 09:44 AM

MJT, my comment wasn't directed at you but at Michael Smith - I completely agree that Syria's involvement in Lebanon needs to be curbed. I apologise if this wasn't clear. As a regular reader I am also very aware that you are not a partisan republian hack.

My point of view is that there is no reason why a 'deal' with states shouldn't be possible if they accept reasonable standards of behaviour outside their own borders. But that it's desireable but not always practical that a democatic revolution occurs in these places.

So I say again, if a deal with Libya was possible in exchange for modifying behaviour, why is the same not possible with Iran and Syria.

Finally as an aside, I have travelled extensively across the Arab world, including Libya.

I went there 2 years ago as part of a historical tour to see Cyrenica and Apollonia. I appreciate that my insights as a tourist with an interest in classical Greek and Roman civilizations will have been very different than for you as a journalist but I have physically set foot in the place.

Posted by: Dirk at February 16, 2007 10:00 AM

Dirk,

Ok.

Anyway, a deal with Libya was possible because Gaddafi (or however his name is spelled this week) was willing to cut a deal on our terms and stick to it. Syria and Iran aren't.

If Syria and Iran would promise to only kill their own people and actually adhere to that rule we would have something to talk about. But that's not what they want. They want a license continue murdering Lebanese and Israelis. This is not acceptable.

I'm not happy with them killing their "own" people either, but it would be an improvement.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 16, 2007 10:09 AM

I'd say the Saudi Royals would make another good target, a state that is easily more closed, repressive and in fact 'Islamic' that Iran.

The Saudis are not overtly and explicitly dedicated to our destruction as is Iran.

Furthermore, I reject your premise that we cannot work for regime change in one nation unless we are willing to work for it everywhere there is repressive government. Implicit in the right to self-defense is the right to prioritize our enemies.

Posted by: Michael Smith at February 16, 2007 04:39 PM

Let us also remember that this is the same Syrian regime that murdered 20,000 - 30,000 of its own people in 1 month at Hama. What did Friedman call the Syrian approach to politics? "Hama Rules"?

Posted by: Zvi at February 18, 2007 01:54 AM

Furthermore, I reject your premise that we cannot work for regime change in one nation unless we are willing to work for it everywhere there is repressive government. Implicit in the right to self-defense is the right to prioritize our enemies.
-MS

Indeed.

There are only so many soldiers and Marines on the planet, and most of them are busy. Should we refrain from doing anything because we cannot do everything?

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