Labwani meets US Deputy National Security Advisor
I just received this news from a friend that Kamal al-Labwani has met with US Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch. Labwani was a member of Riad Seif's civil society forum, which formed during the famous, but short lived, Damascus Spring (2000-2001). Both were arrested at the outset of the Damascus winter in 2001. He was released from prison last summer after completing his three year sentence and tried to start a new political party this summer, the Liberal Democratic Union (LDU)(al-tajammu'a al-librali al-dimuqrati).
Kamal al-Labwani, just had a meeting with JD Crouch, the Deputy National Security Advisor. This is, needless to say, the first time someone from the Syrian opposition has been in the white house, so I imagine people will be interested. Kamal just called me to tell me the news--they want people to call the white house press office to get statements to spread the news.Oxford Analytica
Dealing With Damascus
Oxford Analytica, 11.03.05, 6:00 AM ET
The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Oct. 31 that called on Syria to cooperate fully with the U.N. investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Washington's decision to channel its Syrian policy through the Security Council partly reflects a more circumspect approach to foreign affairs following setbacks in Iraq. However, it is also an acknowledgment that its alternative policy options are unattractive.
John Bolton's appointment as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. was widely interpreted as a sign of Washington's disdain for the world body. However, this week Washington relied on the U.N. Security Council to prosecute its policy toward Syria, and allowed the language of a resolution criticizing Damascus to be watered down significantly.
President George W. Bush's Administration's turn toward multilateral engagement with Syria has several drivers:
Strategic Reassessment: The Administration has a new-found respect for the promise of multilateral engagement. It is unlikely that an analysis of its failures in Iraq precipitated the Administration's strategic reassessment. Instead, U.S. officials have recognized that their most important successes have been the product of a multilateral approach.
Limited Leverage: Washington's bilateral relationship with Damascus is so insignificant that unilateral sanctions would have little effect. Washington is also incapable of offering Damascus any inducements for good behavior. Bereft of either "carrots" or "sticks" in its own relationship with Damascus, Washington has relied on European powers to hold out the prospect of reward or punishment to Syrian officials.
Perils Of Intervention: All of the policy options involving direct U.S. involvement in Syria appear to be poor:
* Military Options: Iraq has spoiled any possible appetite for a military intervention, and there is no viable opposition movement that Washington can contemplate supporting. While some covert operations may be contemplated, their likelihood of success is unclear, as are the outcomes they might produce.
* Public Apathy: The remarkable public relations effort that the Bush Administration and its nongovernmental allies used to frame the debate on Iraq, and prepare the nation for war, is not engaged.
The status quo in Syria is quite acceptable to the Bush Administration. Indeed, a weak and intimidated Damascus is at least as appealing to Washington as a Syrian government that has undergone "regime change." President Bashar al-Assad may not resolve all of his problems with the United States, but his determination not to worsen them puts him in a holding pattern, which Washington would prefer to maintain for several years.
In pushing through a unanimous, albeit mostly toothless U.N. Security Council resolution, Washington has positioned itself expertly. The Administration can take satisfaction in the fact that the Syrian foreign minister's extreme and sometimes bizarre statements reinforce Washington's position--just as the Iranian president's statements against Israel last week helped underline the reasons for international concern over a possible Iranian nuclear program.
For the foreseeable future, Washington seems to lack acceptable policy options beyond continued diplomatic maneuvering, and the U.N. investigation into Hariri's death is likely to create several acute dilemmas:
* Fragile Support: Even if U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis' report points directly to the Syrian regime's involvement, Washington would have difficulty rallying international support for regime change.
* Perils Of Change: Moreover, it is unclear whether toppling the Assad government would be in Washington's best interests. If the regime falls, its successor might have an Islamist character that would affect U.S. security interests in Iraq and beyond. A collapse in Syria might also spill over into Lebanon.
Washington will continue to rally its allies to isolate Damascus and maintain pressure on the regime. The Bush Administration has laid the diplomatic groundwork for a confrontation, if Assad fails to hand over suspects implicated by the Mehlis inquiry. However, Washington faces significant policy challenges if it moves to topple the regime. Maintaining the status quo, a weak and defensive Syrian government, may be the most attractive option.