September 20, 2009

Is the U.S. About to Dump Syria?

Hussain Abdul-Hussain reports in Kuwait’s Arabic-language daily Al Rai that the Obama administration has quietly decided not to return an ambassador to Syria as promised. He quotes unnamed officials who say president Bashar Assad is blackmailing the United States and its neighbors while conceding nothing in negotiations.

“Assad had started to count the American eggs in his basket before offering anything in return,” said an administration official, according to Tony Badran’s translation from Arabic. “Assad fires a rocket here or there [in south Lebanon] and expects us to run to him. . . . This kind of security blackmail no longer works on the United States.”

Syrian blackmail, though, has been working for decades. Bashar Assad’s government, like that of his late father, Hafez Assad, is an extortionist gangster regime that demands—and usually gets—the diplomatic equivalent of protection money. “The basic line is ‘Do what we want or we will kill you,’ ” said Barry Rubin, author of The Truth about Syria. “Yet at the same time they hold out the bait of great progress if only their demands are met. They play the West at times like a master fisherman reeling in his victim.”

There’s a case to be made, albeit a weak one, for buying off rogue regimes if they’ll behave. The biggest problem with bribing the Syrians, aside from the fact that it encourages more blackmail later, is that Assad won’t even hold up his end of the deal. “The Syrians,” Lebanese blogger Mustapha explained on his blog Beirut Spring, “try to sell, for a high price, water for fires they cause themselves, then they don’t deliver.”

No matter what the Syrian government is offered—normal relations, a looser sanctions regime, trade agreements—it has never rolled back support for international terrorist organizations. Syria refuses to hold peace talks with Israel or close down the local branches of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Assad won’t stop obstructing the formation of a new Lebanese government nor will he shut down his terrorist pipeline into Iraq.

Lebanese politicians and journalists have been under siege by Syrian assassins and car bombers since 2005. Iraqis have been blown apart by Syrian-supported suicide-bombers since 2003. And Israelis have been under assault by terrorist groups backed by Damascus since the Assad regime came to power decades ago. “This is how Syria negotiates,” Lee Smith wrote in 2007 after Syrian agents blew up a bus on Mount Lebanon, “with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.”

“The impediment to real change in the Syrian regime’s behavior in a manner that would satisfy American decision-makers is structural and systemic,” wrote Tony Badran in NOW Lebanon. “Syria cannot abandon its support for violence and subversion, or its alliance with Iran, because those are the only tools allowing it to bolster its relevance above its political weight.”

Indeed, Assad and his father have made Syria an indispensable nation in the Middle East, despite its utter dearth of economic and military power, by exporting terrorism and suicide murder to neighboring countries. Henry Kissinger’s famous formulation, “No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,” would be negated at once if Assad ceased and desisted his support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi terrorist groups. Syria would become just another failed Soviet-style state with no more geopolitical power than Yemen.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 20, 2009 6:48 PM
Comments

"No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,”

Well, then we deserve it.

I could never understand why baby Assad cannot be dealt with in no uncertain terms. Especially by Israelis for they have the most to gain.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at September 20, 2009 8:41 PM

Henry Kissinger’s famous formulation, “No war without Egypt, no peace without Syria,” would be negated at once if Assad ceased and desisted his support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and Iraqi terrorist groups.

Granted, Assad and his father may be to blame for bringing about this state of affairs. But even if he were to now have a change of heart, is it feasible for him to do so? Could he pull it off without Hezbollah and Iran pushing the country to civil war?

Syria and Jordan were able to tolerate the Iraqi refugee influx. Imagine what would happen in a Syrian upheaval. Jordan and Lebanon would be overwhelmed and the refugee flow into Iraq would turn a fragile situation in a nightmare on par with 2006.

Posted by: Schmedlap Author Profile Page at September 20, 2009 8:58 PM

Leo,
I agree that all countries that Syria is causing trouble in to confrony Assad the son. The problem is Israel prefers to have the Assad whom they know than someone whom they don't know. Another issue is the mistake that Bush the son did in invading Iraq causing a lot of people to hesitate to confront Assad. Most of the world is busy with Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran right now and will take sometime before the world will start focusing on Syria. In addition, Syrians should be the ones who should demand change first!

Posted by: GK Author Profile Page at September 21, 2009 4:04 AM

"The problem is Israel prefers to have the Assad whom they know than someone whom they don't know."

Yes, I heard this argument before and I believe this is a mistake. What ever is feared to come after Assad when Sunnis will decide to push off Alawis will come anyway. When Israelis will stop fearing that Assad will begin.

"Another issue is the mistake that Bush the son did in invading Iraq causing a lot of people to hesitate to confront Assad. Most of the world is busy with Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran right now and will take sometime before the world will start focusing on Syria."

Israelis are not busy with Afghanistan, Iraq and probably not that busy with Iran either. Besides, tough talk is all that is needed some time. Assad is very smart man.

"In addition, Syrians should be the ones who should demand change first!"

I do not think "first" or "last" applies here.
We have different interests and I do not think either of us needs to wait when another one decides to act.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at September 21, 2009 6:08 AM

Well, why should the Assads do anything different? Will someone invade Syria to oust them? No. Will the West assassinate Assad? No, Western leaders are too scared ("high-minded") to do that.

Economic incentives don't work. Five or six slobs run the average dictatorship. They need only about thirty bodyguards/armed forces leaders (usually family or tribe) and another twenty or so followers (top diplomats and civil servants) to establish effective terror control of a state.

That's all the people they need to care about, and everybody else can pretty much go to hell. Decades of economic sanctions failed to drive North Korea to the negotiating table. The U.S. ban of exports of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey had a greater effect. Has the U.S. banned the export of luxury goods to Syria? What would happen if the U.S. kicked Assad's relatives out of the country? If the Assad clan was made persona non grata in Western states entirely?

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at September 21, 2009 7:24 AM

Saw this over at "Iraq The Model"

Thirty Mahdi Army commanders assasinated in Damascus Unknown gunmen assassinated 30 Mahdi Army commanders in the Syrian capital Damascus. The killings, made in the past few weeks, were all made "quietly, inside the victims apartments", said an unnamed source in the Sadr movement. The source added that among those assassinated was Laith al-Ka'bi, who commanded the Mahdi Army in the Palestine Street neighborhood in eastern Baghdad. The report adds that large numbers of Mahdi Army operatives left to Iran out of fear the assassinations wave could expand to target them.

The article quotes a Saudi source.

I wonder who would be doing that.

Posted by: crosspatch Author Profile Page at September 21, 2009 10:30 PM

"I wonder who would be doing that."

Syria is very tight dictatorship.
One assassination, two, maybe three, but thirty?
Grand scale operation like this is impossible without Assad's blessing.

I believe questions should be who's paying for this and how.
Americans and Israelis are not affected by Mahdi Army operations. I see no reason for them to get involved. Besides MA is serious counter weight for AQ.
I think it is Sunni related group with powerful backing. Most likely by Al Qaeda and/or Saudis.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at September 24, 2009 6:47 PM

crosspatch,

If there is one thing that I learned while in the Mideast, it is that the numbers in any report should be divided by ten. Using that guideline, 3 commanders were assassinated. I also learned that the importance of people are often exaggerated, so those 3 "commanders" could very well have been fresh recruits. I also learned that words like "assassinated" often meant something else, such as "went home" or "got arrested."

I guess what I'm saying is, that's a weird report. And the fact that it came from the mideast makes it suspect.

Posted by: Schmedlap Author Profile Page at September 24, 2009 9:23 PM
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