Wednesday, March 16, 2005

From 1559 to Regime Change in Washington Think

A number of readers took exception with my 1559 is Finished - The Game is Up post of two days ago.

The struggle between Syria and the US is far from finished. Syria's role in 1559 is largely finished. The word from many western embassies here, the day Syria confirmed to Larsen that it was moving out its security forces completely and quickly from Lebanon, was that 1559 was over as far as Syria was concerned.

The only real leverage 1559 offered the US was European sanctions. When Bush went to Bruxelles, he got the European powers to agree to support 1559 to the extent that it required the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon - that meant sanctions, a big club.

With Syria's withdrawal, the club is gone. Europe does not support forcing Hizbullah to disarm in the immediate future or naming it a terrorist organization, which would require Europe to move with the US to shut it down. Europe has always been reluctant to join the US in the use of sanctions against Syria. Chirac's about face following the Lahoud extension shifted the balance of the EU against Syria. Now that Syria is withdrawing, Europe is returning to its former anti-sanctions position.

From the point of view of the embassies in Damascus, their leading role in Lebanon is over. The foreign reporters will eventually pack their bags and leave the Meridian and Sheraton hotels in down town Damascus and return to their main postings. Some will go to Beirut and follow the ins and outs of Lebanese politics. But the Syrian action is largely over. The spotlight moves from Damascus to Beirut. Many in Washington, however, will struggle to keep the focus on Damascus.

Washington must find another club. It will not forget Damascus and the Syrian regime, far from it. But 1559 and Lebanon will not be the principal weapons to use against Syria.

Everyone in Washington is now cooking up next-steps and other instruments to finish off president Bashar al-Asad. Those who want to continue the campaign against dictatorship, Baathism, the enemies of Israel, Arabism, or the "unfree" will now have to begin to address the question of regime-change and internal Syrian politics directly, something Washington has not done up to this point. They will have to convince President Bush and his policy people that it is in US interests to attack Bashar, not for his foreign policy, for occupying Lebanon, or for troublemaking in the region, but because he treats his people "egregiously" in the words of some Washington wonks.

To see how this shift is already taking place look at the recent publications of the WASHINGTON INSTITUTE for Near East Policy. It is perhaps the most influential Middle East think tank in Washington. Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton, largely farmed out Middle East policy making - in particular the peace-process - to the Washington Institute. Dennis Ross is its head.

Read the article: "ASSESSING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S POLICY OF
'CONSTRUCTIVE INSTABILITY' (PART I): Lebanon and Syria"
By Robert Satloff, the executive director of The Washington Institute.
March 15, 2005

One of its main policy recommendations is for Washington to "Start talking about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law inside Syria. Once the Syrians depart Lebanon, Washington should turn the spotlight on Syria's egregious behavior toward its own citizens."

The Syria section of the report begins:

As the administration works through the daily diplomacy on Lebanon, it needs to keep one eye on events in Damascus. The Asad regime is probably the most brittle in the Middle East; while the Egyptian and Saudi regimes, for example, may bristle at U.S. pro-democracy efforts, there are built-in brakes on U.S. pressure as well as deep reservoirs of institutional support in both countries. Syria, however, is different. The United States has no interest in the survival of the Asad regime, which itself is a minoritarian regime built on the fragile edifice of fear and intimidation. Cracks in the Syrian regime may quickly become fissures and then earthquakes, in a way that the same cracks in other countries could be contained.

Given how remarkably puerile Syrian foreign policy has been under Bashar al-Asad, it would be useful for U.S. planners to dust off old studies of possible sources of domestic instability and their likely implications.

Its main policy recommendations and subtitles are:

1. Invest in intelligence about the dynamics of political, social, economic and ethnic life inside Syria.

2. Start talking about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law inside Syria.

3. Offer no lifelines to this regime.

Another interesting article recently published by WINEP is one on the Muslim Brothers by Michael Jacobson. It is interesting more for what it tells us about the debate in Washington over the question of regime change in Syria than for its content about the Muslim Brotherhood, which is minimal.

The major reason that regime-change for Syria has failed to catch on in the Bush administration is that everyone fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power. Washington’s fear of the M.B. is Bashar al-Asad’s principal protector.

Farid Ghadry, the leader of the small Syrian opposition in Washington, understands this. Consequently he has been arguing for some time that the White House should not fear the MB. He insists that Syrian Muslims are more Sufi than severe and more liberal than extremist. The MB threat, he proposes, has been made up and marketed by the Asad regime in order to secure the friendship of the West.

Hence the concern at WINEP over whether the MB would come to power if there is regime change. It should be remembered that a number of fellows at WINEP, such as Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer, have argued that Washington should not open a dialog with “moderate” Muslim organizations in the hope of isolating more extreme groups. They argue that most, if not all, Muslim associations drink from the same cup of intolerance and illiberalism. “There is nothing to discuss,” they suggest.

Michael Jacobson points out that since the murder of Hariri, there is an emerging alliance between some Syrian opposition liberals and the Muslim Brothers. For the time being it seems to be only a tacit alliance, but the question for Washington is whether to encourage and back such an alliance, much as it did with Chalabi and the Shiite religious groups in Iraq, or whether to stick with the Alawites and the present order in Syria. Perhaps the Muslim Brothers are weak and would not come to power if there is instability in Syria?

WHAT ROLE FOR THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN SYRIA'S FUTURE
By Michael Jacobson

In calling for a demonstration in Damascus on March 10, Haitham Maleh, an opposition figure with close connections to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, proclaimed, "We are 85 percent of the country" -- an apparent gesture of solidarity against Syria's ruling Alawite minority. The group of about 100 demonstrators who answered his call was reportedly dispersed by several hundred progovernment demonstrators. Along with President George W. Bush's rejection of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad's ambiguous proposal for a phased or partial withdrawal from Lebanon, the incident fed speculation on whether Asad's regime will survive the current tumult. Although few would mourn the regime's collapse, many are concerned that such a development would allow an Islamist group such as the Muslim Brotherhood to take control, which might be even less appealing to the United States than the current regime.

Will the Brotherhood Take Over?

Several factors have sparked concern about the prospect of Islamist groups such as the Brotherhood taking power in Syria following a regime collapse. Many jihadists are traveling from and through Syria on their way to Iraq, raising the question of how active Islamist extremists are inside Syria and how much Damascus tolerates or encourages their activities.

Syria's basic demographics are a key factor as well. As mentioned previously, much of the Syrian leadership, including Asad, hails from the Shiite Alawite sect. Alawites represent only 15 percent of the Syrian population, however, while Sunnis comprise more than 70 percent. Many Sunnis do not regard the Alawites as true Muslims and would prefer not to live under Alawite control.

Muslim clerics are demanding an increased role in the political process. In fact, Syrian vice president Abdul Halim Khaddam, a Sunni, recently issued a statement urging citizens to act more in accordance with Muslim laws and traditions. Given these factors, some have speculated that a religious Sunni organization such as the Muslim Brotherhood may be well positioned to take power if the regime falls.

Moreover, the Brotherhood recently released a statement that may indicate a reversal of the group's engagement strategy, though it is far too early to tell whether the move demonstrates an increased willingness to confront the regime. Following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the Brotherhood faxed a statement to the London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper calling for an investigation into the murder and lamenting the sharp deterioration of relations between Syria and the "Lebanese people," who could be heard "shouting in unison 'Syria, get out.'" The statement noted that "Hariri's death might be the straw that will break the camel's back as far as Syrian-Lebanese relations are concerned," and that "no one can absolve the Syrian leadership from guilt."

The idea of the group taking power in Syria has generated considerable unease among Western observers, with some citing recent reports that Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members in Europe have been linked to al-Qaeda and the global jihad. Although it is certainly plausible that individual group members have joined the global jihad, this is not necessarily reflective of the views of the organization as a whole. By and large, members in Europe do not maintain close ties to the main organization in Syria. Moreover, the Brotherhood may realize that Western pressure on Asad will be helpful to their cause, making the organization unlikely to embrace the anti-Western jihad.

Not Well Positioned to Take Over

Despite all of the above factors, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood or any other Sunni Islamist group would have great difficulty filling the vacuum if Asad's regime collapsed.... In comparison to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Brotherhood has a far less educated membership, boasts a far less wealthy constituency (which is drawn primarily from the lower middle class), and poses a much less potent political threat. Other Sunni Islamist groups in Syria are even less well equipped to assume control.
Some Syrian liberals remain wary of a potential Brotherhood takeover. Yet, Kamal Labwani, an opposition leader released from prison five months ago, emphasized that the opposition is fighting on two fronts, and that "the fight against the government has . . . priority" over the fight "against the fundamentalists."

How Little We Know

Any speculation on succession in Syria must include the caveat that it is largely guesswork. In reality, little reliable information about such developments is available to researchers and analysts. Gauging the strength of Islamists in Syria is a particularly difficult challenge. The regime forbids any research on the topic, and Muslim Brotherhood members are reluctant to speak with outsiders. Increased understanding of such groups in Syria is vital for U.S. policy in the region.

Michael Jacobson, a Soref fellow at The Washington Institute, served as counsel on both the congressional and independent commissions investigating the September 11 attacks.

Copyright 2005 THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE for Near East Policy

32 Comments:

At 3/16/2005 05:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Landis continues to delude himself. Syria is still in play and will remain in play for a long time, thanks to Mr. Assad and his splendid handling of international geopolitics. Be it under 1559 or some other measure seems irrelevant at this point.

1- Syria has not fully withdrawn from Lebanon. The number of troops that have crossed the border are 2000 to 4000.

2- Syria will not withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon. Asssad will maintain either military or intelligence forces in the country as long as he can.

3- Assad has made reference to the Lebanese/Syrian borders and their porosity. So we can count on hardware, personnel and money to flow readily into Lebanon.

4- Hizballah is still armed and for it to continue to be armed it has be supplied somehow; once again Syria will be a conduit.

5- Syria will still meddle with the Lebanese government through proxies long after all of its troops withdraw from the country.

6- According to the recent Fisk report the Syrian and Lebanese government will be implicated in the Hariri murder. Once again maybe if Dr. Landis continues to ignore this report (and others like it) it will eventually go away.


For the club to be gone Syria has to take actions that would greatly shake the foundations of the regime. It can’t make a clean break, that’ll hurt too much and with the Syrians counting on Hizballah exclusively a clean break would be catastrophic. The world opinion is not waning even as Syrians are packing their shit (including the artful portraits of Hafez and sons) in trucks and heading to the Bekaa. High ranking French officials from both sides were demonstrating on the streets demanding an investigation of the Hariri murder and a free Lebanon. Meanwhile Syria has stopped the circulation of Lebanese newspapers in Syria and banned the correspondent of al Hurra. Dr. Landis seems to be less in touch with reality than the Assad regime does. Their getting their shit together, putting fires out and getting ready for the worse and Dr. Landis is claiming victory (in a sense). That opiate that Tony talked about is pervasive man; don’t keep it all to yourself Josh: Puff, Puff, Give!

Wassim

 
At 3/16/2005 06:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

correction: *They're* in the last paragraph.

Wassim

 
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At 3/16/2005 08:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found Mary's contribution far more enlightening than the posts by Wassim and the articles by Neo-con-nards, Inc.

 
At 3/16/2005 08:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vas t’enculer fiston!

Est-ce que tu t’es rendu compte que les libanais manifestants ignorent tous les notions du mot « neoconservative » et se foutent pas mal des Etats-Unis, ses intérêts dans la région et les courants politiques de ce pays ?

Wassim

 
At 3/16/2005 09:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'est "va te faire enculer fiston"
Il est difficile de s'enculer soi-même ou alors il faudrait l'avoir très longue.
Cela dit, je ne doute pas que les Libanais se foutent des USA et que leur mouvement est spontané, mais ils devraient peut-être se renseigner sur les projets des néo-connards pour le grand moyen-orient

 
At 3/16/2005 09:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua needs to move to beirut and open his mind to the demands of the oppressed in Lebanon and to the deeds of the syrian regime. The thick air of Damascus is getting to him, as is the baathist propaganda style: take a look at the titles of his posts.. They get more propagandist by the day..too bad.

 
At 3/16/2005 10:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m glad I can’t curse right in French; not enough practice I guess.

Drawing a parallel between Lebanon and Iraq I’m sure the Lebanese can get used to the new order. They can only hope for that new order. Free reconstruction, international oversight, rebuilding of civil society, a bill of rights, a constitution that guarantees the rights of all groups, free elections and no more police state? That must be terrible! Pleaaaase bring Syria back!


Wassim

 
At 3/16/2005 10:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no doubt in my mind that Syria will withdraw its forces and Moukhabarat from lebanon before the may election. But no matter what Syria does we will always find lebanese voices that will not be pleased. Also, since there are pro syrian groups in lebanon who are lebanese why does the opposition not vocalize against them as well? Is it easier to blame someone else for your problems?

 
At 3/16/2005 11:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as the Bekaa Valley remains occupied, the US will have its club. Should Syria withdraw completely, Assad will be forced to deal with the economic and political implications of losing Lebanon. Even if he survives that, its easy enough for the US to arm and incite the Syrian Kurds, with support from the Iraqi Kurds.

 
At 3/16/2005 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua -

Kiss the Baathist regime goodbye.

Let your "liberal" Syrian friends contemplate democracy and let us hear what they say about it.

 
At 3/16/2005 01:09:00 PM, Anonymous GG said...

Like I said, you’re in the right place to witness the demise of Bashar Asad and the Baath edifice.

Cut your losses; stop supporting the dead Baath horse; support the Syrian people; and use your energy to write material that expresses the anger and frustration the VAST majority feel.

Comfortable for you, I’m sure, knowing that as an air-conditioned Baathist you don’t have to live under such a brutal system, but can return to the US at any time.

 
At 3/16/2005 03:28:00 PM, Anonymous Friend in America said...

I agree with Wassim's observationa at 5:59 AM. I also take the darker side until there is more positive evidence. To quote an old phrase, 'it's not over until it is over."
I have suggested in the past to follow the money and say so again. For, ex., civil disturbance (to keep Syria in play in Lebanon) can be caused at any time by Hezbollah. - if Iran choses (Syria is Iran's banker to Hezbollah). The loss of Hezbollah as a militia is the loss of Syria's last trading card with Israel to get back the Golan. Will Syria give it up without a struggle?
To get a clearer picture, attention should be given to who really is making the decisions in Syria. The President, the old guard, the new fools or who? What strategy would the old guard advocate? Or the new fools? Is declining oil revenues forcing the government to retrench and will withdrawing from Lebanon result in a reduction of expenditures? Or, will any reduction be offset by loss of tarrif and taxation revenues exacted at the ports and elsewhere in Lebanon? These are the considerations the top government officials in Damascus are looking at, and so should we.

 
At 3/16/2005 03:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Josh,
Do you agree that The Islamic Buzz on the Syrian streets cheers many Muslim scholars but Muslim Brothers? After their incompetent and reckless military campaign in the early 80’s and the lost of the best, the cream of the crop!, of Syrian Youth (mainly Doctors and Engineers -Michael Jacobson was wrong!-), Syrians will always look down at the Hassan Albana’s Followers. Remember! they lost not only in Syria, but also in Jordan, and their homeland Egypt. As for London Based Syrian MB, they not only support Lebanese Opposition (Maronites!) they would handshake the devil in order to gain anything in Syria or to make their voice heard! They also support Kurdish rebels in Northeastern Syria who want the fragmentation of Hassakeh and Dair El-Zor. Once upon time the Murshid (leader) of the Syrian’s MB said on Jordanian TV: “I challenge Assad (the father) to deactivate the Marshall Law only for one day in Syria…”. That was in the 80’s before the rising star of Taliban, Inkkaz (Algeria) or Bin ladin..etc. However, the Syrian insight and instinct knew so early that these Don Quijote’ style warriors would have had implemented Marshall Law as an essential part of the Syrian Islamic constitution. That’s why Muslim Brothers got mediocre support and became an easy prey for the die-hard left in Syria. Haitham Maleh ‘s 85 % claim Is a déjà vu fantasy.

 
At 3/16/2005 04:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To: GG, "friend in america" and others:

Your interventions have moved from comments against the Syrian authorities to pure anti-Syrian hatred, directed against Syrians.

I am a Lebanese patriot, and members of my family have died (victims of the Geagea against Aoun round).

Let us gain access to democracy our way, and possibly show Syrians that a peaceful change is possible. What Rifaat Assad did in Hama in the early eighties will come back to the forefront in Syria.

And, as a non-Maronite Christian, I am ready to dialogue with members of all the factions in Lebanon.

As to Emile Lahoud, the reason some (Hezbollah and others) cling to him is because he helped them for many years when he was heading the army.

My major bone of contention with Syria is that their "first withdrawal" after Barak pulled Israel out of Lebanon should have been a complete withdrawal.

A Lebanese patriot.

Lahoud for President!
(that is Nassib Lahoud).

 
At 3/16/2005 04:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To: A Lebanese patriot

Please re-read what I wrote.

Far from being “…pure anti-Syrian hatred, directed against Syrians”, my comments clearly support the Syrian people.

No person should live in bondage as the Syrian people have been living for the past 30+ years, subject to the whims and bloodlust of a dictatorial clan all in the name of some ludicrous notion of Arab nationalism.

Why does this Arab nationalism apply to the ordinary Syrian trying to scrape a living, but not to members of dictatorial clan who are permitted to indulge their every desire?

 
At 3/16/2005 04:25:00 PM, Anonymous GG said...

To: A Lebanese patriot

Please re-read what I wrote.

Far from being “…pure anti-Syrian hatred, directed against Syrians”, my comments clearly support the Syrian people.

No person should live in bondage as the Syrian people have been living for the past 30+ years, subject to the whims and bloodlust of a dictatorial clan all in the name of some ludicrous notion of Arab nationalism.

Why does this Arab nationalism apply to the ordinary Syrian trying to scrape a living, but not to members of the dictatorial clan who are permitted to indulge their every desire?

 
At 3/16/2005 07:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, Syrians should be free to chose their own government without interference from tyrants and brutal thugs like Assad, Bush etc.

 
At 3/16/2005 09:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think GG and Tony recieve the same retarded education -AUB?

God bless the lebanese who have exported nothing more than monot and haifa wehbe. Really, what stature does it hold anymore? Big ideas, no reality.

 
At 3/17/2005 03:26:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Dear Wassim mon cher,
Thanks for your comments and don't Bogart that puff!

Why not suggest ways to promote Democracy in Syria and help us all out.

Robert Satloff at the Washington Institute suggests:

" would be useful for U.S. planners to dust off old studies of possible sources of domestic instability and their likely implications. Events could take any number of routes: Alawite elders, aghast at how Bashar has placed Syria in the international crosshairs, may decide to replace him with someone who truly inherited Hafiz al-Asad's political acumen; some brigadier general, outraged at the embarrassment of Syria's forced departure from Lebanon, may try to move against his corrupt superiors; thousands of Syrian workers, kicked out of Lebanon by emboldened Lebanese patriots, return to Homs, Hama, and Aleppo to find no jobs and no safety net and vent their frustration in antiregime riots."

But he admits the US probably knows less about Syria than it did about Iraq. Put your shoulder to the wheel.

 
At 3/17/2005 03:35:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Dear Wassim mon cher,
Thanks for your comments and don't Bogart that puff!

Why not suggest ways to promote Democracy in Syria and help us all out.

Robert Satloff at the Washington Institute suggests:

" would be useful for U.S. planners to dust off old studies of possible sources of domestic instability and their likely implications. Events could take any number of routes: Alawite elders, aghast at how Bashar has placed Syria in the international crosshairs, may decide to replace him with someone who truly inherited Hafiz al-Asad's political acumen; some brigadier general, outraged at the embarrassment of Syria's forced departure from Lebanon, may try to move against his corrupt superiors; thousands of Syrian workers, kicked out of Lebanon by emboldened Lebanese patriots, return to Homs, Hama, and Aleppo to find no jobs and no safety net and vent their frustration in antiregime riots."

But he admits the US probably knows less about Syria than it did about Iraq. Put your shoulder to the wheel.

 
At 3/17/2005 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh,

Seriously man, I don’t get you nor do I get what you write. At times you seem to be a propagandist for the Assad regime and at others you denigrate it along with Arab nationalism. I understand that such issues are not abstract but your overall sentiments seem to be contradictory. Are you now pushing for regime change in Syria orchestrated by informed US efforts?

Syria ain’t my cake. But should a populist pro-democracy movement emerge in Syria I would be the first in advocacy on its behalf even if that movement is supported explicitly or implicitly by a joint task force compromised of Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

Hope you leave our ME soon man; it's brutalizing your consitution.

Wassim

 
At 3/17/2005 02:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh,

I agree with Wassim that you seem to have contradictory views on Syria. However, your site is great in that you have succeeded to get many points of view to be represented. This is in contrast with (my biggest disappointment): the media, which are biased, with each taking position for this party or this other party.

I am thus impressed by the diversity of the opinions, including some (like Tony's) which I do not agree with, but still consider as possibly valid from the standpoint of political analysis.

My background is in business, but I am old enough to have sen many political movements in Lebanon and in Syria (my family lived two years in Syria at one point). One very pertinent point of view that I heard once was that, because of fractionalism, sectarianism and other isms, one must look at the political scene in the area as a game of backgammon rather than a game of chess (chess would apply to, say, the USSR versus the USA during the cold war).

Going back to Syria, there is some past history that is worth mentioning today:

1-Syria and Lebanon were quite similar until Zaim started messing with the system in Syria.

2-The mistakes of the Baath party have been primarily accumulated before 1969 (union-fury, arabization in 1967 of the teaching of scientific subject matters, constitutional amendments, failed reforms, etc).

3-Hafez Assad concentrated on external problems (no support to the Palestinians in Jordan, thus saving King Hussein; adoption of the Cairo accord, thus granting the Palestinians a base in Lebanon, even though Hafez Assad was not personally in favor of the arrangement; role in Lebanon which was to end after the Israeli retreat in 2000, but dragged on after Bashar's election for many reasons).

4-Bashar (as an overwhelming majority of my Syrian friends tell me) was seen as the man who could look at the internal scene (in that, the Syrian disengagement from Lebanon is a good thing for Syria) without having to worry about other issues (but the current situation in Iraq represents daily challenges). Despite this, I believe that this "moment of adversity" could be the right moment to deal with internal issues in Syria, notwithstanding what is happening in the region. Bashar is not a veteran of the Baath party, and he could be the only person to lead the necessary reforms in Syria.

But here is where my Syrian friends start to disagree:

1-Most consider economic reform as the first priority

2-Some think that the constitution must be amended back to the "good old days"

3-Some (the most educated) think that de-arabization must be the first action (they say that translating the new scientific, medical and technical terminology has not been keeping up, for a while now, with the rate at which these words are generated)

So, I have two simple questions: are there any good unbiased experts on these issues? And, what is the strength of the various opposition groups inside and outside Syria and their position on these issues?

Many thanks for keeping a great site.

 
At 3/17/2005 02:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh,

I agree with Wassim that you seem to have contradictory views on Syria. However, your site is great in that you have succeeded to get many points of view to be represented. This is in contrast with (my biggest disappointment): the media, which are biased, with each taking position for this party or this other party.

I am thus impressed by the diversity of the opinions, including some (like Tony's) which I do not agree with, but still consider as possibly valid from the standpoint of political analysis.

My background is in business, but I am old enough to have sen many political movements in Lebanon and in Syria (my family lived two years in Syria at one point). One very pertinent point of view that I heard once was that, because of fractionalism, sectarianism and other isms, one must look at the political scene in the area as a game of backgammon rather than a game of chess (chess would apply to, say, the USSR versus the USA during the cold war).

Going back to Syria, there is some past history that is worth mentioning today:

1-Syria and Lebanon were quite similar until Zaim started messing with the system in Syria.

2-The mistakes of the Baath party have been primarily accumulated before 1969 (union-fury, arabization in 1967 of the teaching of scientific subject matters, constitutional amendments, failed reforms, etc).

3-Hafez Assad concentrated on external problems (no support to the Palestinians in Jordan, thus saving King Hussein; adoption of the Cairo accord, thus granting the Palestinians a base in Lebanon, even though Hafez Assad was not personally in favor of the arrangement; role in Lebanon which was to end after the Israeli retreat in 2000, but dragged on after Bashar's election for many reasons).

4-Bashar (as an overwhelming majority of my Syrian friends tell me) was seen as the man who could look at the internal scene (in that, the Syrian disengagement from Lebanon is a good thing for Syria) without having to worry about other issues (but the current situation in Iraq represents daily challenges). Despite this, I believe that this "moment of adversity" could be the right moment to deal with internal issues in Syria, notwithstanding what is happening in the region. Bashar is not a veteran of the Baath party, and he could be the only person to lead the necessary reforms in Syria.

But here is where my Syrian friends start to disagree:

1-Most consider economic reform as the first priority

2-Some think that the constitution must be amended back to the "good old days"

3-Some (the most educated) think that de-arabization must be the first action (they say that translating the new scientific, medical and technical terminology has not been keeping up, for a while now, with the rate at which these words are generated)

So, I have two simple questions: are there any good unbiased experts on these issues? And, what is the strength of the various opposition groups inside and outside Syria and their position on these issues?

Many thanks for keeping a great site.

 
At 3/17/2005 02:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Josh,

I agree with Wassim that you seem to have contradictory views on Syria. However, your site is great in that you have succeeded to get many points of view to be represented. This is in contrast with (my biggest disappointment): the media, which are biased, with each taking position for this party or this other party.

I am thus impressed by the diversity of the opinions, including some (like Tony's) which I do not agree with, but still consider as possibly valid from the standpoint of political analysis.

My background is in business, but I am old enough to have sen many political movements in Lebanon and in Syria (my family lived two years in Syria at one point). One very pertinent point of view that I heard once was that, because of fractionalism, sectarianism and other isms, one must look at the political scene in the area as a game of backgammon rather than a game of chess (chess would apply to, say, the USSR versus the USA during the cold war).

Going back to Syria, there is some past history that is worth mentioning today:

1-Syria and Lebanon were quite similar until Zaim started messing with the system in Syria.

2-The mistakes of the Baath party have been primarily accumulated before 1969 (union-fury, arabization in 1967 of the teaching of scientific subject matters, constitutional amendments, failed reforms, etc).

3-Hafez Assad concentrated on external problems (no support to the Palestinians in Jordan, thus saving King Hussein; adoption of the Cairo accord, thus granting the Palestinians a base in Lebanon, even though Hafez Assad was not personally in favor of the arrangement; role in Lebanon which was to end after the Israeli retreat in 2000, but dragged on after Bashar's election for many reasons).

4-Bashar (as an overwhelming majority of my Syrian friends tell me) was seen as the man who could look at the internal scene (in that, the Syrian disengagement from Lebanon is a good thing for Syria) without having to worry about other issues (but the current situation in Iraq represents daily challenges). Despite this, I believe that this "moment of adversity" could be the right moment to deal with internal issues in Syria, notwithstanding what is happening in the region. Bashar is not a veteran of the Baath party, and he could be the only person to lead the necessary reforms in Syria.

But here is where my Syrian friends start to disagree:

1-Most consider economic reform as the first priority

2-Some think that the constitution must be amended back to the "good old days"

3-Some (the most educated) think that de-arabization must be the first action (they say that translating the new scientific, medical and technical terminology has not been keeping up, for a while now, with the rate at which these words are generated)

So, I have two simple questions: are there any good unbiased experts on these issues? And, what is the strength of the various opposition groups inside and outside Syria and their position on these issues?

Many thanks for keeping a great site.

 
At 3/17/2005 04:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could someone please explain where Josh in his posts have indicated that he is putting forth his own views. The fact is, I read these posts and I see and impartial investigator expressing the many different views with which he is aware. It just seems that some comentators are insistent that the only view that is worth anything is their own.

 
At 3/18/2005 12:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It just seems that some comentators are insistent that the only view that is worth anything is their own.

You got that right. How can anybody learn anything new with such closed minds? And those of us who are outside (I'm a Lebanese American with close family ties to Lebanon, and a few to Syria) who are trying to sort through the issues - how can we get any room to evaluate various ideas when people go on the attack at every juncture?

The nasty hotheads don't actually persuade, because ad hominem attacks and petty namecalling make their arguments suspect.

Fellas, grow up!

Leila al-Bedouiya at Dove's Eye View

 
At 3/18/2005 09:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“The resolution demanding the disarming of Lebanese parties cannot be carried out.”

“Perhaps Syria won? Yes, it pulled out its troops, but they weren't really necessary to preserve its influence in Lebanon.”

“It (Syria) is not out of the game by a long shot.”

“In many ways the struggle over Lebanon has been a classic battle between Syria and the US over who gets to own Lebanon.”

“Syria acted as the referee for 30 years. Only if the Lebanese can agree on how to build an effective central state will that job of referee become redundant.”

This is all in ONE message spread over little more than ONE passage.

And Leila if I hear one more patronizing remark, one more remark that has nothing substantive to add to a discussion, one more remark that reminds us all of where you’re from and who your parents are, one more remark free of any academic merit or substance, one more remark about how we should all hold hands and walk off into the sunset I swear I’m going to barf. These exchanges are DESIGNED to exchange ideas, to challenge concepts, to inform, to refine one’s theories. We’re all big boys, including Josh, who amazingly entertains the majority of criticisms aimed at his writing.

 
At 3/18/2005 10:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The resolution demanding the disarming of Lebanese parties cannot be carried out. France and Russia have opposed it.

Seems reasonable. Especially since it is France and Russia that Opposed it and not Josh.

Perhaps Syria won? “
Perhaps is not a statement of fact.
The paragraph is preceded by one that says maybe the US won.

“In many ways the struggle over Lebanon has been a classic battle between Syria and the US…”

And you would argue that the US pressure on Syria over Lebanon is being applied out of pure love for the Lebanese people!!

“Syria acted as the referee for 30 years”

And the problem with this statement is…

The role of the referee may have been created by Syria for itself. But, in order for a referee to have any role there has to be players who are in need of a referee.

 
At 3/18/2005 11:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here I'm not arguing the validiy of Josh's argumentation. For that you can refer to the first comment.

In my latest message I'm just highlighting the fact that Josh does commit to a view point.

Example:

Russia and France HAVE NOT “opposed” disarming Hizballah. Can you provide an article that states this much (you might want to check this http://www.interfax.ru/e/B/politics/28.html?id_issue=10758811)? And even if they have how can anyone claim that the resolution is dead because of that? So anytime Russia and France oppose a resolution after it has passed one can claim that it is dead?

Wassim

 
At 3/18/2005 02:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wassim,
Russia abstained to vote on 1559.

 
At 4/02/2005 01:54:00 AM, Blogger Mike_Nargizian said...

In my opinion Josh is likely not positive on some of the issues presented here and as such has an opinion but not a strong one, thus, the somewhat factual removed from the 'fight' so to speak post.

In my opinion though I see Josh displaying a noticeable skepticism or weariness toward the WINEP.

And stating the US (above comments) isn't only doing this for the 'Lebanese people' is to be somewhat simplistic and naiive about goe politics.... like business you sometimes have multiple motivations for things... and while the ultra lefties like Fisk, Chomsky and even Cole etc... like to portray themselves as the defenders of noble and the little guy free from the 'influence of money (capitalism) and power they're all full of shit. They'll ignore/excuse any regime that is anti-American and preferrably socialistic/communistic in nature.
Thus, they'll excuse or minimize Hezbollah's and the PLO's aggregious murderous thuggish ways... they're helping the poor/underclass in the South / the proleteriat not the rich/capitalistic pro western Lebanese Christians.. Nevermind that the Christians were peaceful, non militant, charitable in many cases like Damour, brought order/rule of law/Constitution and a free press to the country they were capitalists/'elitists' etc..

So in that regard -
Is Washington doing this only for geo-political strategic concerns? NO
Are they doing it only for the 'Lebanese people'
NO.

However, I'd pretty dam sure say that the influence of Fouad Ajami and many other free lebanon proponents looking you straight in the face certainly has some serious influence. Rice and Bush are people too... Imagine that?

 

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