Carrots or Sticks for Syria?
I am posting three recent articles which sum up the policy dilemma of the West as it struggles to develop a united Syria policy. Very possibly Europe and Washington will never see eye to eye on Syria, giving Bashar room to maneuver and time to carry out his very slow reform policy, which he hopes will preserve government structures, while allowing for economic growth.
The first article is by Ian Bremmer who recommends that the US resume its policy of using carrots along with pressure. He argues that "Assad's presidency is Syria's best hope for reform."
The second article is by William Harris, who suggests that Damascus is irredemable and was dependent on Lebanon to such and extent that "its loss may mark a psychological tipping point toward overall erosion of [Asad's] authority." This is the arguement being put forward by Washington hawks and which captured the imagination of Chirac and Bush both, when they stated right after Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon that they expected the government in Damascus to collapse within the year. I don't think we will hear anyone repeating those projections again soon, but the general outlook described by Harris will not be abandoned so easily.
The third report is by Oxford Business Group. It explains how the EU delegation that recently visited Syria made it clear "that the EU wants to pursue a softer policy approach than the US, based on incentives rather than pressure. Contrary to indications given by the US, the EU has made it clear that it had no interest in seeing a full regime change in Damascus and that Syria instead needs support for its reforms."
It would seem that the EU has taken the advice to use carrots given by analysts such as Ian Bremmer. Thus we have come full circle and are seeing the resumption of pre-1559 diplomacy, where Washington plays bad-cop and Europe plays good-cop. All the same, Washington is counting Syria's mistakes as loudly as possible in order to build up the rap-sheet against Damascus, such as Condi Rice's recent reaction to George Hawi's murder, when she warned: "Syria, knock it off." Here are the 3 articles:
Syria: Bring back the carrots
By Ian Bremmer International Herald Tribune
FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2005
NEW YORK The United States is once again angry at Syria - and with good reason. Syrian radicals are crossing the border to join the insurgency in Iraq in increasing numbers. Damascus has cut back on intelligence cooperation with Washington. The Syrian government is once again demonstrating its disproportionate ability to frustrate progress in the Middle East.
Why then should the Bush administration cut Bashar Assad's government a little slack? Because, in the long run, Assad's presidency is Syria's best hope for reform, and because a nuanced approach to U.S.-Syrian relations gives Washington its best chance at achieving the outcomes it wants in the region.
When Bashar Assad assumed power after his father's death in 2000, Washington hoped Syria would move steadily toward political and economic reform. Assad, then 34, lacked the military background that trained so many Syrians in the management of his father's police state. (He instead studied ophthalmology in Britain.) The younger Assad seemed an intelligent, reform-minded technocrat whose chief title, before he became president, was head of the Syrian Computer Service. Assad is widely credited with overseeing the introduction of the Internet to Syria in 1999 - albeit with censored content - and with founding Syria's first mobile-phone network.
The Bush administration initially adopted a good-cop, bad-cop approach to dealing with Assad's new government. As the Iraq war began, Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton took turns threatening Syria with dire consequences if it did not renounce its alleged program for chemical and biological weapons and turn its back on Saddam's loyalists in Iraq. But not long after, Colin Powell, then secretary of state, demonstrated the administration's willingness to work with Assad by visiting Damascus.
The two-track strategy yielded results. Syria offered valuable intelligence cooperation in the war on terror. Assad freed large numbers of political prisoners. His government helped the U.S. military monitor Syria's border with Iraq and passed a number of fugitive Saddam loyalists into U.S. custody. Unlike Iran, Syria has negotiated with European states, largely in good faith, toward a resolution of questions surrounding its weapons programs. Syria's border with Israel remained quiet. Hezbollah, Syria's armed proxy in Lebanon, curtailed rocket attacks on Israelis.
Crucially, Syria ended its three-decade occupation of Lebanon. After February's assassination, possibly by Syrian security forces, of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and in response to strong international pressure, Assad pledged to remove Syria's 14,000 troops. And suspending judgment for the moment on U.S. charges that Syrian intelligence operatives are flowing back into Lebanon to carry out assassinations and other hostile operations, Assad kept his promise. In the process, he purged the senior ranks of the security services of several hard-line holdovers from the days of his father's repressive rule.
That's why Assad is now scrambling to contain the damage he's done to his standing with powerful members of the old guard. It's ironic that two of his most welcome reforms, the Lebanon retreat and the security service purge, have now pushed the Syrian president toward actions that anger the White House.
Several factors limit Assad's domestic political capital. Like his father, Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam whose political dominance is deeply resented by Syria's majority Sunnis. Second, Assad lacks his father's talent for inspiring both admiration and fear among the elite and the general population. Finally, many older-generation officials have never fully trusted him to protect their privileges or to maintain a hard-line approach to Israel and the West. Assad has gotten rid of some of them, but not all.
As a result, Assad has moved to appease those among Syria's governing circle most suspicious of his intentions. Hence less cooperation with U.S. intelligence and the Syrian Sunni radicals filtering into Iraq. It's a calculated move. Beyond appeasement of his domestic critics, Assad believes Sunni radicals are less threat to him in Iraq than they would be at home.
In response, President George W. Bush has sidelined his good cops and dispatched the bad cops to intimidate Assad into greater cooperation. Last month, Bush renewed sanctions that halt most U.S. exports to Syria and sharply limit transactions between U.S. banks and Syria's national bank.
There is no question the United States should respond sharply to any Syrian moves to aid Iraq's insurgency. But what's needed is the more nuanced approach of Bush's first term - some carrots as well as sticks.
There is reason to hope political and economic reform in Syria will continue and even intensify. On June 6, at the opening of the 10th Baath Party Congress in Damascus, Syria's vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam, offered his resignation. Over the course of his 30-year career as a senior Baath Party leader, Khaddam has fiercely defended Syria's single-party system and was the senior official most directly responsible for Syria's day-to-day management of Lebanese politics. For a party congress expected to focus on reform, his offer of resignation is a hopeful sign.
Assad has, so far, made only limited progress in political and economic reform, but that is certainly preferable to what lies ahead for U.S.-Syria relations if Assad is shoved aside by the hard-liners.
A more nuanced and patient U.S. approach has produced progress over the last four years. If administration hawks enable the hard-liners to unseat Assad, the long-term result will be bad for Iraq, for Israel, and for Syria - and it will be bad for the United States.
(Ian Bremmer is president of the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.)
Bashar al-Assad's Lebanon Gamble
by William Harris
Middle East Quarterly
Here are a few paragraphs of a five-page article:
Internally, Syria is weak. The Syrian people have lower per capita income than their neighbors—US$1,130 per capita in 2002 compared with $1,760 in Jordan, $3,900 in Lebanon, $2,500 in Turkey, and over $16,000 in Israel. Occupying Lebanon allowed the Syrian regime a way to bypass reforms it may not be able to make. For Assad to trim the bloated public sector would undercut the regime's support base. Opening the Syrian economy would erode authoritarian controls. But failure to do so will leave Syria poorly placed to handle demographic, social, and environmental challenges. Syrian leaders have no idea how to handle their dilemma. The dismal outlook has fortified the prevailing siege mentality in both domestic and foreign policy.Finally, here is the Oxford Business Group report:
Bashar al-Assad's regime flirted with reform soon after June 2000 but quickly ended the Damascus Spring when dissent grew too bold. Hope for Syria to make good on its stated desire for Arab-Israeli peace evaporated when, during the May 2001 papal visit to Damascus, Bashar launched into an anti-Semitic tirade. At the March 2002 Arab summit in Beirut, he endorsed suicide bombings within Israel.
Bashar's early promises of reform in the Syrian-Lebanese relationship also proved fleeting. He promised the Lebanese a more equal relationship on taking office, and in his inauguration speech, highlighted Lebanese-Syrian relations as "a model of the relationship between two Arab countries" albeit one where the "model is not yet perfected and needs a lot of effort to become ideal and achieve joint interests in a way that answers the aspirations of the two countries." Just four years later, he overrode Lebanon's constitution to extend the term of his client, Lebanese president Emile Lahoud whose single permissible six-year term ended in November 2004.
Belief in Syrian prestige also undercuts the Syrian ability to consider Lebanon equal. For today's Syrian leaders, Damascus is as much the pan-Arab citadel of steadfastness (qil`at as-sumud wa't-tasaddi) against Israel and the West as it was in the 1960s. The Syrian regime, which officially subscribes to the pan-Arab chauvinism of Baathism, looks back through the centuries to the glory days of Damascus under the Umayyads (661-750) and Salah ad-Din (d. 1193), claims moral leadership in promoting Arab causes, and parades a self-righteousness that even Islamists struggle to match. Within the Levant, Syrian Baathists find Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian autonomy barely tolerable. From the late Ottoman period onward, Syrian Arab nationalists have viewed Lebanon and Palestine as part of a Bilad ash-sham (Greater Syria). Syrian leaders considered the western side of the Fertile Crescent to be the Syrian backyard and Damascus, the region's rightful political center. On this basis, Syria refused to exchange embassies with Lebanon, a curious situation given the supposed friendship between the two neighbors.
Syria: A Matter of Trust
22 June 2005
Last week's visit to Syria by delegations from the European Commission and European Parliament brought a sense of relief to government circles in Damascus, as the EU reiterated its supportive stance for domestic reforms in the economic, technological, logistical and administrative fields. The trip also ended several months of tense diplomatic exchanges following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last February in Beirut."Arab states urge more cautious US policy on Syria" Arab governments are urging a more cautious US policy towards Syria, warning that undermining the regime of Bashar al-Assad could also destabilise Lebanon and exacerbate the insurgency in Iraq.
Yet, despite sending positive signals to the Syrians and shedding some light on the future of EU-Syrian relations, the visit stopped short of removing the many lingering obstacles between Brussels and Damascus. These relate to disputes over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and sponsorship of terrorism, amongst others, all of which have been barriers on the road to the conclusion of the EU-Syrian Association Agreement, which both sides hope to have settled before the end of 2005.
Nonetheless, on June 14, during a press conference with Speaker Mahmoud al-Abrash of the People's Assembly, Beatrice Patri, the head of the EU parliamentary delegation, said she noticed a serious and strong desire for reform during her meeting with President Bashar Assad.
We now seek to pursue an honest dialogue, she said, particularly following the Baath [Party's] Tenth Regional Congress.
The next morning, at the opening ceremony of an EU informatics centre in the northern city of Aleppo, Frank Hesske, the head of the European Commission delegation in Syria, expressed his will to create an economic environment that would supply job opportunities for a considerable part of Syrian society, while simultaneously providing technical help to a much needed administrative reform programme.
Although rather cursory in substance, these statements are likely to be of great significance for Syria in the short term. Bearing in mind the questionable framework of reforms proposed by Assad at the end of the Baath Party congress held early this month, these comments do show a willingness nonetheless to support change.
This is also evidence that the EU wants to pursue a softer policy approach than the US, based on incentives rather than pressure. Contrary to indications given by the US, the EU has made it clear that it had no interest in seeing a full regime change in Damascus and that Syria instead needs support for its reforms.
To be certain, much still depends on how Syria further complies with Resolution 1559 as well as on the investigations currently being carried out in Lebanon into the deaths of Hariri and Samir Kassir. Sadly enough a third victim - George Hawi, a member of the anti-Syrian opposition and secretary general of the Lebanese communist party - was also killed on June 21 in a car bomb while driving in a west Beirut neighbourhood.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, most observers agree that reform must speed up, for Syria is facing severe demographic pressure as its population expands at close to 3% per year, with severe employment problems already showing.
Boosting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on top of encouraging larger investment ventures is a strategy Syria should put particular emphasis on achieving. In this regard, the EU can provide considerable expertise and help, as it has with the Aleppo informatics centre.
At the same time, many are closely watching for any sign of change within the ruling political power structures. Significantly, last week saw the replacement of the important intelligence chief, Hisham Ikhtiar, by Ali Mamluk. The move was widely interpreted as part of steps to loosen the role of the Mukhabarat - the security services - on society and to instead focus the organisation on a different definition of state security.
As part of this change, 67 permits formerly licensed by the Mukhabarat and needed to open anything ranging from a billiard salon to a barbershop, are no longer necessary. This reflects a growing awareness in higher circles that the pervasive role of the secret services in society should be curtailed, thereby reducing corruption and facilitating the creation of small businesses.
Overall, the structural and institutional framework for a successful market economy to operate is also slowly coming together. Thanks to the opening of the financial and insurance markets to private entities, and to the gradual liberalisation of the exchange rates regime, Syria is gradually developing substantial tools to allow and guarantee investment flows.
In a much-noted move, President Assad also endorsed Law No. 22 on June 19, which prepares the ground for the establishment of a Syrian securities and stock market commission. Minister of Finance Mohammad al-Hussein told state news agency SANA on the same day that this law removed the last obstacle to the formation of a local stock market. The founding of publicly listed companies might therefore be just a short step ahead - adding another important component to the financial system.
The challenge is now to harmonise all these legal and institutional changes in a meaningful way and then to translate them to the public through a coherent promotional campaign so that the people understand the relevance of the transformation, Rateb Shallah, president of the Federation of the Syrian Chambers of Commerce, recently told OBG.
Indeed, Syria has not only so far proved unable to attract a substantial amount of foreign direct investment in productive ventures, but has also failed to convince its own nationals to put their money in domestic projects.
The major obstacle to reform and growth could be summed up in three words: lack of trust. In this regard, last week's various EU statements not only came as a blessing for the government, but might actually help it to sail through its legitimacy crisis. After all, what many Syrians desperately want is their leadership to keep its promises on reforms and not throw away its opportunities.
Most Arab governments, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, backed international demands for an immediate Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in the aftermath of the February killing of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.
Syrian opposition figure in Baghdad to destabilize the regime in Damascus
Syria-Iraq, Politics, 6/16/2005
The opposition Syrian Islah party (reform party), Fareed al-Ghadiri, said on Wednesday that he is currently visiting Iraq for talks aiming at supporting activities his party carries out against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. He admitted recently he had got American financial support to activate his party's activities against Damascus.Here is Secretary of State Rice's press conference:
He told reporters in Baghdad that he held "meetings with Iraqi officials in the interim Iraqi government and several leaders opponents to Damascus." Al-Ghadiri added that he had discussed with Iraqi officials "opening offices for Islah party in Iraq in order to reactivate its opposition political activity as from the Iraqi territories in collaboration with officials in the interim government and the Syrian opposition, unifying foreign pressure between Arab, European countries and the USA aiming at destabilizing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and enhancing the democratic process in Syria."
He said "the Iraqi people suffer today from the Syrian terrorism, the same way the Syrian people suffered from this same terrorism, as well as the Lebanese people. It is time the ruling regime in Damascus to leave the authority." Al-Ghadiri established strong ties with certain American circles. He admitted recently he had got American financial support to activate his party's activities against Damascus.
Al-Ghadiri is described by some as "Syria's Chalabi", citing the example of Ahmad Chalabi, the current Iraqi deputy prime minister who maintains close relations with the so-called "new conservatives" in the American administration.
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
June 22, 2005
* * *
QUESTION: (Inaudible) LBC.
Secretary of State, you have mentioned today Syria is one of the neighboring countries you are sending a message to cooperate on the issue of terrorism. Did you have any evidence that Syria is supporting terrorism? And what about the dialogue the United States have established at some stage with Damascus to get somewhere?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, on the first issue, we have forces that are near that border. We know what's coming across that border and that border is a real problem for the Iraqi people. And I think you've heard that also from the Iraqi Government and from the Iraqi Defense Minister. And so something needs to be done about that. Now, we have had numerous interactions with the Syrian Government about a number of concerns, going all the way back to Secretary Powell's visit to Damascus a couple of years ago. Rich Armitage was there.
The Syrian Government knows what it needs to do and I would just make a broader point, which is that I would hope that the Syrian Government would decide to associate itself with the progress that is being made in the Middle East, rather than being a place that appears to be resistant to that progress. Whether you are talking about the situation in Lebanon, where, while transparent Syrian forces have been withdrawn, there continues to be instability in Lebanon that has led to the assassination of now, at least three figures of the opposition. And we are concerned that there could be others and we call upon the Syrian Government to do everything that it can to deal with the instability that it is helping to create there.
Secondly, that out of Damascus there operate a number of Palestinian rejectionist groups, Palestinian Islamic Jihad for instance, which has decided to be outside of the consensus that Mahmoud Abbas is trying to arrange so that there can be calm in the Palestinian territories, so that they can make progress with Israel. But most importantly, in the context of today's conference, it is really the responsibility of all of Iraq's neighbors to do everything they can, actively, to resist and to frustrate the efforts of those who are trying to destroy the progress that is being made in Iraq.
And I mean, not just what is happening to coalition forces, but of course that is -- people are undertaking violent acts against coalition forces. But when you have violent acts also against Iraqi children who are standing at school or Iraqi patriots who are joining the police forces or the army and they're standing in line, Iraqi intellectuals, ordinary Iraqis along the street -- it's time for Iraqi's neighbors and especially Syria to live up to its responsibilities.