Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Lebanon is Not Likely to Win Full Sovereignty Soon

Creative Syria, run by Kamil-Alexandre, asks several Syrianists to answer the question: “Improving Syrian Lebanese relations ... whose responsibility is it?”
Here is my answer:

Why Lebanon is Not Likely to Win Full Sovereignty Soon
By Joshua Landis
Published by The Syrian Think Tank
June 21, 2006

In an ideal moral universe, the answer to the question of which country – Lebanon or Syria – is responsible for improving relations between the two is simple. It is Syria’s duty. Syria must satisfy a long checklist before having restored full sovereignty to Lebanon. It must clarify ownership of Shabaa farms, stop arms transfers to Palestinian militias and Hizbullah, stop threatening Lebanese politicians, account for missing and imprisoned Lebanese, and establish an embassy in Beirut.

But we do not live in an ideal universe, much as we would like to. International relations are contingent. It is unproductive to consider Syro-Lebanese relations in isolation from those of the greater Middle East, as we are now doing. Most important are Syria and Lebanon’s relations with Israel and Iraq. Because Lebano-Syrian relations are part of an international relations subsystem, it is necessary to review how Lebanon became entangled in this system as an adjunct of Syria in order to figure out how to disentangle it and build an independent status for it.

Lebanon first became hostage to the greater Arab-Israeli conflict when it entered the 1948 war as an adjunct to Syria and the Arab League. This was largely the doing of the Sunni elite that was pan-Arab and led by Riad al-Solh. The arming of the PLO in the camps and collapse of Lebanese national consensus led to the Civil War. Syria was forced to intervene in order to stop the sectarian bloodbath which threatened Syrian unity, but most importantly, Syria had to keep Israel from intervening and establishing hegemony over Lebanon. Had Israel filled the Lebanese vacuum and installed a friendly Maronite government, Lebanon would have become a launching pad to destabilize Syria. The Golan would have been lost forever. Syria had to protect its flank and Lebanon lost its independence.

Iraq became entangled in Lebanon in a serious way at the very end of the civil war, when General Aoun substituted Israeli support with Saddam Hussein’s. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the US finally gave Asad the green light to end the Lebanese civil war and wipe out Aoun’s forces in exchange for Syrian backing in the Gulf War. US recognition of a Pax-Syriana in Lebanon was traded for Syrian recognition of a Pax Americana in the Gulf. It was not a perfect world, but everyone got more or less what they wanted save for the Aounists and Saddam Hussein.

Syrian suzerainty in Lebanon afforded it augmented leverage in its relations with Israel and the US. The emergence of Hizbullah in response to Israel’s occupation of the South of Lebanon was a Godsend to Syria. By harnessing Hizbullah to its campaign to pressure Israel for a return of the Golan, Syria finally achieved the firepower needed to get Tel Aviv’s respect and attention, something it had never been able to do. By mastering Lebanon, Syria achieved what Sadat accomplished with the crossing of Suez in 1973. Prime Minister Rabin began negotiations for Golan. Not only were the Heights back in play, but Syria’s hegemony in Lebanon and backing for Hizbullah were also on the bargaining table.

I do not know which country is most responsible for the failure of the Golan talks, but Prime Minister Barak made the determination that Syria was asking more than Israel would give. Instead he unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon in the hope that Hizbullah would wither away, for the lack of an enemy. The Shabaa Farms pretext was hurriedly establish to provide a continuing rational for preserving the lines of battle and pressure on Israel. Although Israel’s hand was somewhat strengthened by its withdrawal, the borders remained disputed and the circle of enmity continued.

This brings us to the new world of George Bush, the status quo crusher, and the war on Iraq. President Bush, by destroying Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime, dreamed of completely reversing the regional status quo and building a new subsystem of international relations in the region. In one blow, he hoped to destroy Arab nationalism as an ideology and roll back the power of anti-American and Israeli states such as Syria, if not change their regimes.

He was able to get Syria to withdraw its remaining forces from Lebanon and was instrumental in shifting Sunni ideological allegiance away from Syria and Arabism toward Lebanonism. All the same, the Bush revolution has largely foundered and may be in retreat.

Arabism did not die and the Syrian regime has survived. On the contrary, Bashar has consolidated his power and his regime is strengthened since the initial report on the Hariri killing. Hizbullah assumed the mantle of Arab nationalism in Lebanon and won new recruits, namely General Aoun and his followers. Lebanon remains deeply divided. One must speculate that it can only give Washington minimal help in any continuing efforts to role back Syria and Arabism.

For its part, President Asad realized that Syria was being directly targeted by Bush’s long-term plans for the region. He extended Lahoud’s term to put someone “strong” and dependable in the presidency. This forced Hariri to choose sides in a war he had hoped to avoid. His decision to join the Syrian opposition is widely believed to be the reason he was killed. This did not stop the Lebanese Sunnis from abandoning Syria and leading the Cedar revolution against Syria, but it did leave Lebanon leaderless and divided. Siniora, for all his excellent qualities, has not been able to command the same loyalty among Lebanese or unite the different communities as Hariri did. The Cedar revolution has collapsed and Lebanon finds itself only half liberated, with many unresolved problems.

How will Lebanon win full sovereignty? There are only a few options.

1) The United States continues to press forward with its revolution and finishes off the Asad regime, thereby throwing Syria into confusion and forcing a successor regime to renounce Asad’s foreign policy of using Lebanon as a card in its struggle to retrieve the Golan and promote its regional power. This is very unlikely.

2) The UN will prove that Syria assassinated Hariri and, based on this, the Security Council will win international and region support to sanction Syria so severely that it has the same result as option 1 and leads to Syria renouncing Hizbullah, Shabaa Farms, and its influence in Lebanon. Also, not likely.

3) The United States makes a deal with Syria on Lebanon’s behalf to buy Lebanese sovereignty from Syria. This would have to include successful peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, which would bring a definitive end to the region’s border disputes and would serve to extinguish some of the principle demands of Arabism with the return of the Golan.

a. Another element the US would have to bring to the table is Iraqi relations with Syria. Right now, the US is using Iraq to pressure Syria – the Kirkuk oil pipeline is cut, trade is discouraged, and normal diplomatic relations between Baghdad and Damascus have been placed on hold.

b. Finally, the US would have to recognize the Asad regime and bring it back in from the cold, allowing it to trade freely with Europe and the West in general.

In order to cut a deal for Lebanese sovereignty, not all these things would have to be traded at once and unconditionally, but they would have to be on the table. US acceptance of the Asad regime’s legitimacy would have to be the starting point.

This option is also unlikely to happen. The Hariri murder investigation is on-going. Bush’s stated goal of advancing democracy in the region hinges on the Syrian example, as does his stated objective of reforming the Greater Middle East and putting Hizbullah and armed Palestinian militias out of business. Most difficult for Washington, however, is to put the Golan back in play. It is not clear at all that Washington has the capacity or political will to pressure Israel to give up Golan. Sharon said it was not worth giving up the Golan for peace with Syria. Other Israelis have suggested that Syria must have free elections before Israel can reenter peace talks. The balance of power between Israel and Syria is so tipped in Israel’s favor these days that Israel will continue to find a reason to put off talks. It is very difficult to envisage why Tel Aviv would want to give away the Golan.

4) There is a forth option. It is for Lebanon to go it alone, cut its ties to the US, and accept Egyptian and Saudi efforts to mediate between Syria and Lebanon. This solution is fraught with dangers for Lebanon. Hariri, Siniora, and the various groups allied with the Future Movement would not accept such a deal. Their government would not survive such an about face. They would be punished by the US. Hizbullah and Aoun would come out winners. Even if Saudi offered to promote and underwrite Lebanon’s loan rescheduling, the US would likely put Lebanon back on the terrorist list, proscribe trade, and prevent the World Bank, IMF and other international agencies from assisting Lebanon. There are no guarantees that Syria would actually offer Lebanon full sovereignty without the Golan back and US backing – two things that Beirut and Riyadh have no influence over. Syria might hand over the Shabaa Farms and sacrifice support for the Palestinian militias, but it would not help to disarm Hizbullah and cease to have an influence over Lebanese affairs through its Lebanese supporters.

For these reasons, it is hard to see how Lebanon is going to solve the long checklist of problems it has with Syria. The deep ideological and sectarian divisions in Lebanon will continue to frustrate government efforts to build a successful policy for sovereignty and will continue to leave the country vulnerable to outside manipulation.

The United States has done what heavy lifting it can, but its moral and military force in the region is largely spent. It will continue to use Lebanon as a card against Syria, but will be unable to deliver much of added worth to the Lebanese.

Syria will continue to hang on to its Lebanon card; Lebanon remains its most important asset in negotiating with Israel and the United States. It may make some minor concessions on Lebanese sovereignty in side deals with Europe, but it will not help disarm Hizbullah or fully recognize Lebanese sovereignty until there is broader regional peace and its interests have been taken into account. In the mean time, we can dream about an ideal moral universe.


At 6/21/2006 04:48:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

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At 6/21/2006 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

SET TIME=60:00

Well Mr. Landis you did not account for the fact that Hundred of Thousands Lebanese do not want to have an embassy system with Syria, and will fight viciously against that. This demand, being originating with the US/UN and on behalf of Israel and France and not really originating from Lebanon, is a sure way to NOT fulfill it.

Lebanon, was and still is, part of Syria, many Syrians holds both Syrian and Lebanese Citizenship and intermarried for ages. Any smart politician, in the world will know that this demand is dead ender, will never ever be fulfilled. It was presented by the US/UN knowingly it will never be fulfilled and so Syria can be for a long time NOT in compliance with U.N. Resolutions and under pressure.

Frankly, President Assad survived the immense pressure and even gained more adherent and large support base from Nationalists in Syria and Lebanon who backed him on this exact standing position. So rather than the US/UN using this as a tool for continual pressure on President Assad, The President using it as a continual tool to gain support even from the oppositions.

As to the common assertion that the Syrian Leadership uses Lebanon as a bargaining card to regain the Syria Golan Height. This is a flawed thinking, not sure if it is on behalf of the Syrians or the Foreigners that make this assertion so often. Two points can be made here. One, the Jews will never ever relinquish the heights without militarily forced to do so, or Syria military industrial standing is in such an advanced state and at such a level that the Jews will rather make a deal and permanent peace with Syria rather than risking a horrendous, catastrophic military battle over it. Or Syria’s and Lebanon economy is at such progressive state that Israel will feel it is more economically advantageous to deal on the Golan and gain market depth than being commercially locked and in continuous reliance of foreign markets which is rapidly being pulled from under it’s feet lately.

And even if any of the above conditions existed or materialized, it will be next to impossible for President Assad and the Baath Leadership to separate Syria from Lebanon. That more than U.S. pressure could be the catalyst that will undermine the support and power of the Leadership. President Assad is well aware of that and have calculated right when he rejected the U.N. resolution and in favor of Nationalist support.

At 6/21/2006 05:32:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said...


At 6/21/2006 05:34:00 PM, Blogger sisco-side said...

What is your problem, Landis? Why do you keep erasing posts that do not agree with you?
What is wrong with my post? Here it is again. Be sure that you are losing what is left
of your reputations if you keep doing such undemocratic thing!

I can only laugh! I can only laugh though I have only read the first paragraph and the last of this long long long post by Joshua landis! I laugh because he speaks as a true Assadist, and I do not say Baathist, I say Assadist because Baathist has had no meaning since the destruction of this party by Hafez Assad himself!

The big argument that Joshua repeats here is the exactl argument that Hafez assad and the Assadist Propagnda authority in Syria has often repeated to convince the people in Syria that the intervention in Lebanon against the leftist and palestinian Forces was legitimate and patriotic. Joshua repeats the argument that Syria (Assad) intervened in Lebanon to "stop" the civil war, and to "prevent" Israel from dominating Lebanon and making it a launching pad against Syria (Assad), a thing that would have left the Golan Heights forever lost (thank god, the intervention has returned it).

This argument is baseless. Any logic used should question why Israel and the USA (Kissinger) were consulted and their agreement was sought and was given for that intervention? How come Syria accomplished by this exact intervention the Israeli aims, as the argument itself says that without this intervention, Israel would have occupied Lebanon to accomplish its aims.!! Logic is logic.

So, instead of having Israel itself accomplish its aims and do whatever it was to do, Syria and Syrian men had to die to accomplish the Israeli aims and goals. Then people like Josh and the Assad men repeat the lie that Syria intervened to stop the civil war and help Lebanon.

Or is it the other way around: Kissinger and israel asked Assad to intervene on behalf of israel? Sparing israeli deaths and arab anger?

Thank you

At 6/21/2006 06:51:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

SNP - yes, keep your post. Your Greater Syrian nationalism is indicative of the ideological reasons for Syria's continued involvement in Lebanon. I don't know how many Syrians continue to hold to SSNP notions of Syria's legitimate borders as a realistic plan, but there are some, as your post serves to reminds us.

Sisco, I don't know of any literature supporting your interpretation of Syria's intervention in Lebanon. Syria was not ordered to occupy Lebanon by Israel and the US, nor did it intervene to save Lebanon. It intervened to preserve Syrian interests. This was squared with the US, which did not want to see a Palestinian-Muslim victory in Lebanon any more than Israel did.

At 6/21/2006 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Abu Kais said...

It follows from what you argue that Lebanon's salvation can only come if the Assad regime falls (not necessarily through US intervention). As long as Assad is in power, Lebanon will remain a regional pawn. The only politician who dares articulate this is Walid Jumblatt. You don't have to like him, but he is right on this. A free and independent Lebanon cannot exist with a neighbor like Bashar Assad sabotaging everything.

Abu Kais.

At 6/21/2006 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

A free and independent Lebanon, a sovereign Lebanon will not and cannot exist unless the Lebanese citizens demand it. Sadly, events have demonstrated that a large segment of the Lebanese have no interest in attaining sovereignty. Independence is not given as a gift by outsiders but is earned and needs to be organically grown. If the great majority of the Lebanese become convinced of the idea of modernity and sovereignty then they would achieve it irrespective of whether Bashar or Bush approve of it or not. That day, however, is not in the forseeable future if ever.

At 6/21/2006 07:54:00 PM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

Unfortunately, Lebanon will continue to be weak and be used as a pawn! Can anyone recall a letter sent by Kamal Jumblatt articulating to Hafez Assad, that unless Syria became democratic that his wish for lebanon was to remain independent from syrian influence?

Lebanons salvation as Abu Kais articulates will only be achieved with the downfall of the Syrian regime. The Balkans example of the disintegration of Yugoslavia alludes to this.

No one here has highlighted a possible solution. I would like to suggest one. The possible successor to Pan Arabism i feel is a loose State/Economic federaton similar to the European Union is one Solution. This would however have to be preceded by FULL DEMOCRACY. Vested ruling interests in every arab country would work against this however.

At 6/21/2006 08:18:00 PM, Blogger Fares said...

I wrote the following comment in Mosaics regarding the Golan Issue, I think it is related to this subjet so I am pasting the ocmment in, and I totally agree with enlightened one, the previous comment.

Great discussion going on here people. But I don't know how this discussion would help if the regime continue to control this issue, there is no debate about it within Syria and there is no chance for liberal or pragmatic views to emerge when the majority of people would consider that treason.

Syrians need to discuss taboo subjets more in public and allow different opinions to be mentioned without any punishment or false judgement.

I think the whole Syrian/Arab israeli conflict greatly serves the Syrian regime interest because it diverts people attention to an outisde enemy rather that seeing how bad the country is ...just like they do that with Lebanon now, the untouchable brother of yesterday and the great enemy of today. Never mind that they did not do anything to deserve that, they just wanted soveiregnty. And now courageous people who called that logical and reasonable get shoved in dark jails.

But the Golan is just like a soccer match which will end either way so there is no use of mortgaging the whole country's future on it.

I repeat as long as the people retain the 60's or 80s mentality the region won't advance. The future is to have a European style common market between neighbouring countries which used to be called "Bilad Al Sham" and "Ard Al Rafedein": Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Israel, and may be a sovereign Golan with its original refugees regardless of the political sytems, just like Europe unite all kind of people and political Systems.

Alex any news on the prisoners from the ambassador!
First let's have Freedom for Michel Kilo and all prisoners of conscience before we solve more complex issues.

At 6/21/2006 08:31:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

I have never been a fan of the tyrant of Damascus but it is important to note that Bashars' influence in Lebanon is not due to cloak and dagger operations by undercover Syrian agents. Traditional Lebanese pols , read Arslan. Franjeih, Karami and HA among others,are competing with each other openly about who is a stronger supporter of Bashar and his projects for Lebanon. When 40-50% of the populace is willing to do the bidding of an outside force then the country in question has no realistic chance of ever calling itself a state.

At 6/21/2006 09:14:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

I fully agree with the Enlightened One that Pan Arabism should mutate into a form of economic federation that is also culturally aligned, similar to the EU. This would be a fantastic future. And it is correct that the major obstacle to this is the ruling interests or the ME regimes who would rather compete with each others it seems for their western kickbacks than actually work in alliance with each other for the betterment of the Middle East as a whole.

And as for the prerequisite of full Democracy, including in Lebanon, well, perhaps one should ask WHY the 40-50% of the populace is "willing to do the bidding of an outside force" ie Syria? Maybe it is because they don't trust another 20-30% of the population ... who- although claiming to want sovereignty and democracy - acts more like a ruling class and also fortifies itself by pandering to its own outside influences, in this case historically colonial/western. So, the Lebanese have a long way to go in even knowing what it means to talk about democracy. They fetishize voting and elections and a frenzy of campaigning and political debate (as if this was all democracy means), but the notion of daily civil society or equality or respect for citizenry priviledged far above sectarian loyalties is totally absent. Even if Syrian state interests were completely out of the picture, the Lebanese would have a long way to go.

Also, I think SNP may be correct about one point. A lot of syrians... (and some Lebanese) perhaps out of the deep collective historical and tribal consciousness will not relinquish their belief that the Lebanese and Syrians are one people in one land - never mind those borders- that's just a recent deviation in the long course of history. So to concede to establishing formal and diplomatic relations is to go against these assumptions.

At 6/21/2006 09:15:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Abu Kais, Regime change in Syria is definitely one possible avenue for changing the balance of power between the two states, but any Syrian who takes Bashar's place would still have to confront the Golan problem. Keeping Lebanon aligned with Syria has been the main Syrian strategy for boosting its regional profile. Quite possibly, the next Syrian government will be forced to pursue a similar policy. The alternative for Damascus is to lay down its arms, have democratic elections, and then approach the Israelis for the Golan. I am not convinced this will be a winning strategy. It is possible Israel's heart will go out to such a neighbor, causing it to hand over the Golan. But why would it do that?

Of course, if Syria is destabilized or falls into civil war, then it might become unable to support and active Lebanese policy. But the root of Lebanon's loss of sovereignty is not really Syrian strength, which is not great. It is Lebanon's weakness. Even if Junblat could wave a magic wand and change the Syrian regime, this would not make Hizbullah, or the Palestinians go away, not would it make Aoun and the many other "pro-Syrian" Lebanese politicians vote to empower the central government.

The best way for the Lebanese to get out of their weak position - given that Syria is unlikely to get back the Golan anytime soon - would be for them to unite, establish a strong army and police force and a federal government with the power to close down militias.

If the Lebanese could do this, it really wouldn't make any difference what Syria thought about Lebanese independence. So long as half the Lebanese see cooperating with the Syrian government as a surer path to power and better guarantee of their interests than cooperating with their own government, Lebanon will have a hard time achieving complete independence and will remain subject to outside influence, whether, Western or Syrian.

Best, Joshua

At 6/21/2006 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

Josh, you are correct in your assesment of the Lebanese situation, unfortunately for the lebanese the ruling clans power and influence in Lebanon stretched back to Ottomon Times. Case in point the Jumblatts were imigres from Syria in the 1820's, the Franjiehs have had a long political association with the syrian regime etc

The idea ( oh and it pains my heart ) of Lebanon been an independent state might not be feasible. The ability of the ruling clans to divest their stake in the state does not seem feasible at this moment in time. Any group whether religios or secular will always pull behind their tribal allegiances/family/religious structure.

Only by educating its masses and breaking down social/political/structural norms can any arab state move ahead. This has only been done once in arab history, the prophet broke down tribal/blood clan allegience into faith based allegiance in his prophethood. Centuries later the arabs have rediscovered them.

At 6/21/2006 10:33:00 PM, Blogger mustapha said...

Mr. Landis has proven once again that he is a mere mouthpiece of the Assad clan of Syria. Landis should make a clear distinction betwen the present novice Assad and the previous one. As every one knows they are not the same. The current Assad has blundered poltically beyond repair. His regime is on its way out. In addition, Syria is no longer the regional power that it momentarily became during the days of the senior Assad. Furthermore, Lebanon has existed as an independent entity for at least a thousand years without need for outside help. It will continue to be independent and sovereign whether Bashar likes it or not. There is a fundamental difference between Syrians and Lebanese despite the existence of some family ties. The Lebanese are free people that do not tolerate despotism. Syrians on the other hand have been living under dictatorships since time immemorial!!

At 6/21/2006 10:37:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This has been an excellent discussion thus far.

Josh said the following in his last comment:

“The best way for the Lebanese to get out of their weak position would be for then to unite, establish a strong army and police force and a federal government with the power to close down militias”.

But if Lebanon did this, would it end up looking like the Lebanon of old?

At the expense of stereotyping, the majority of Lebanese tend to look down on Syrians as inferior when it comes to education, culture, language skills and even intelligence. This feeling of superiority has made the Lebanese think that they are somehow genetically more advanced than their Syrian counterparts.

Admittedly, a lot of us do marvel at the success of the Lebanese, their beautiful country and general way of life. Most people take the above observations almost for granted.

Long ago, and before China opened up to the world, I had made a personal trip to that country after I visited neighboring Hong Kong first. Not surprisingly, the difference between the two countries was striking. Those were the same people but you could not tell if you compared their ways of life, food, dress code and all other facets of life.

The answer of course is obvious. Both in the case of Syria/Lebanon and China/Hong Kong, it is the “system”.

Syria under the Baath was ruled from the centre. An overbearing strong central government was thought to be the appropriate “system”. This has delivered what it was supposed to deliver of course. Internal and external security as well as law and order became the hallmark of this government.

But no one can have its cake and eat it. The price of this security was all the negatives that we know about Syria. I will spare the readers this list.

In the case of Lebanon, a free wheeling system was envisioned instead. What this system has given the country is all the beautiful things that we have known about this country. Nothing comes free, however. The price to pay for this freedom and lack of heavy-handed central governance has been a weak country at the core. This has made it an easy target for its neighbors. A small nation with weak central government, army and police force will always have a tough time in the treacherous waters of this region. The only way out is to sell your sovereignty and ask for implicit if not explicit foreign protection.

In conclusion, while Josh is right to suggest that Lebanon may need a strong central government to fend off its neighbors and its internal troublemakers, one has to wonder what will remain of the old Lebanon if it follows this path. Strong governments, fun loving and free wheeling societies do not make happy couples. The Lebanese will have to make an unpleasant choice at some stage. At present, they would like to have their cake and eat it too. Sadly, this is not going to be an easy feat.

At 6/21/2006 11:38:00 PM, Blogger mustapha said...

We now know the game of this blog. Mr. Landis throws the bait while an anonymous Mr. EHSANI who could be Landis himself or someone else hunts for feedbacks. OK, that is not going to pay back for you guys indefinitely. Lebanon is not only the 10000 Sq. Km neighboring dictatorial Syria and Israeli settlements. Furthermore, Neither Lebanon is Hong Kong nor Syria is the mainland China. Lebanese civilization has formed a world empire spread out throughout the world with huge political and economic resources. Regardless of the regional turmoil that may cause some disturbances to the Lebanese homeland, the Lebanese of the Diaspora will always salvage the homeland with their resources. The loyalty of the people of Lebanon to the country is beyond questioning, and that includes those Lebanese that are ostensibly allied with Syria. Yes, it is true, the Lebanese people of all affiliations feel superior to the Syrians and they are quite justified in their feelings, because they are proud of their achievements and abilities. Every Lebanese, wherever he may happen to live, has the following motto that he goes by: God is in Heaven and there is only Lebanon under the Heaven.

At 6/21/2006 11:38:00 PM, Blogger Amr T said...


A federal Goverment in Lebanon???? what do you mean? Fedral as in Central goverment? or as a unified body with constituent parts that retain a measure of autonomy (i.e. Christian and Muslim)?? please explain...

At 6/22/2006 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

oh, i think there is no need for paranoia that Ehsani is actually Landis in disquise!.....and what would be the need for this masqerade?

Furthermore, in regards to the Lebanese pride in their achievments and abilities, it seems to me that one can have pride but this in no way justifies feelings of superiority. If truly strong, there is no need for this culture to entertain notions of essentialist superiority. It only fosters cultural arrogance and blindness to ones own faults.

Thanx Ehsani for bodly stating the reality of the superior attitudes of some Lebanese towards Syrians (and others) to the point of a belief in genetic superiority!. ... I often feel these beliefs coming through implicitly in the words of many bloggers, but rarely does anyone call it outright - what is being implied.

However, I disagree that a strong federal government means you can't have a vibrant, 'free wheeling', creative and alive culture. A repressive government is a different story. But why shouldn't a federal government be charged with the protection (!) even of free expression and action. There is a thought.

At 6/22/2006 12:28:00 AM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

Please Note:

Josh's real name is BRUCE

Ehsanis real name is BATMAN

Just a quick note for the arab/conspiracy mindset, which by the way never ceases to amaze me!

At 6/22/2006 12:51:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Mustapha, are you saying that the creator and architect of this place decided to grant the people living within the borders of "Lebanon" which were drawn in the 20th century, more intelligence than the people just to the east of that border?

Take it easy on the superiority complex. The "Lebanese people" did indeed achieve a lot, but they seem to suffer from the same Middle Eastern backward mentality that their "lesser" Syrian neighbors suffer from, but their case is considerably worse. You want examples?

1) Conspiracy theories! ...I know both Ehsani and Joshua. They are not the same person as you are suspecting. Ehsani, for your information, is a very accomplished Ivy league economist. and believe it or not, he is Syrian.

2) Revenge! ... very popular in Lebanon, just like the rest of the Middle East. Your Civil war might have been started with outside help, but the revenge mentality of your fellow Lebanese sure made it easy to keep it going for years and years.

3) Tribal! ... your tribe is smarter than the next door Syria tribe.

4) and total lack of self criticism. Around 2000, I heard from so many Lebanese friends how shocked they were that the backward Syrians automatically accepted to be led by the son of the previous ruler.

Of course, in Lebanon that never happens.

Things are not as Black and White as you would like them to be. Your tribe is not very different from the Syria tribe ... just wait 5-10 years as the political and economic system in Syria gets reformed. And yes, it will eventually be reformed, for those of you who are ultra-pessimistic.

Finally, just for fun, here is a snapshot of your Lebanese tribe in 1873

And here is the totally inferior Syrian tribe the same year

Wait till 2015 and see the new snapshots... they will be about the same again.

At 6/22/2006 01:04:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

SET TIME=60:00

Lets theoretically assume that Syrians will leave Lebanon alone, and theoretically assume that Pro Syrian Lebanese support a Central Government in Beirut, the way it has been from the time of independence to the start of the second 15 years Civil War. Hizbullah and the other militias disbanded. Do you really believe under these assumed circumstances that Lebanon will finally be “independent and free” progressive country with all its factionalism working together in harmony?

If you think that it will be so, then why Lebanon did not make it before when Syria was not interfering in its affair and in fact, Lebanon was interfering in Syria’s affairs, sheltering every single Syrian opposition members, numbered by the tens of thousands. Why it failed as a state back then having the first Civil War back in 1958 and called on the 6th fleet to come to the rescue less than a decade from it’s independence from France! Why it failed again in 1976 and reminds you that it was the Christians that asked Syria to intervene.

The fact that Lebanon is in dire mess is in no way Syria’s fault (structurally specking). And please don’t repeat these Stereotypes that we often hears from Lebanese, this remind me with that email received from a wealthy Lebanese inquiring about our policy on Lebanon, stating that he is prepared to finance out party of “SYRIAN NAWAR” if we will permits a list of his demands. These boring stereotypes that Lebanon is more advanced culturally and economically is nonsense. It is so because Hariri indebted the country to the tune of 40 Billion Dollars. Of course, if President Assad were to go on the market borrowing that kind of cash and invest it in Syria, the country would be just as sophisticated and advanced in couple of years. But the ruling party in Syria, runs a conservative, self sufficient financial and economic policies that resulted in slow growth but hardly any debit and 18 Billion cash in the Treasury, Unlike Lebanon that sustain it’s spending by borrowing more and more.

In fact Lebanese have damaged Syria much more than what is claimed by Lebanese that Syria damaged Lebanon. Syrian are just not cry babies to cry about it.

Lebanese are the NAWAR and backward people that still cling to the primal instinct of group and clan association and not feel part of a larger unit called Lebanon. They don’t view themselves like American would, ( I am an American and Christian) but rather ( I am Maronite and Christian and Lebanese and French). How possibly you can establish a strong government when each member of the society belongs to the myriads of groups and subgroups and loyalty is to that very small group that lives in my street neighborhood (HARITI ).

In fact, if Syria were to leave Lebanon alone today, which it did (it is the Lebanese that don’t leave Syrians alone), they will within weeks enter the third Civil War and that is exactly what the United State, France and Israel knows it will happen. This way the trio can again send their troops to occupy Lebanon and start at breaking up Syria into sectarian hamlets that are at war with each others, just like it is in Iraq Today.

You may ask, so what is wrong if the United States and France sent troops and forced regime change in Syria and Lebanon. The answer is clear, what is wrong is simply go back to the past to see what was wrong when the French were there and why the whole people of Syria and Lebanon risen up to fight them and kick then out. As to the United States, just look at Iraq. This is not the insurgent that are making the mess in Iraq, it is the Americans who planned the Iraq Occupation Authority, planned not for the development of Iraq, but for destruction of the people and the country. If you want to discuss this last point, that can be made under a different comment thread.

Syrians understand very well the Lebanese and know for a fact that only Israel will benefit from Lebanon disintegration.

At 6/22/2006 01:45:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Just a simple back of envelope calculation will show you that your self imposed deadline of 2015 as the year when both the Lebanese and Syrian economies will be at parity is unrealistic.
Syria has a GDP per capita that is just over $1000.00 while that in Lebanon is over $5000.00 As we all know from the exponential growth things will double every ten years if the annual rate of growth is 7%. This means that the Syrian economy does not stand a realistic chance of attaining the current Lebanese per capita income of $5000.00 prior to 2031!!! Please remember that a seven percent annual growth rate maintained for a quarter of a century ain't exactly easy and do not forget that even if that tremendous accomplishment is achieved then by that time the Lebanese economy would be say at least at 12000.00 per capita i.e. based only on a four percent annual growth rate!!!
Hey, I am not advancing a theory of superiority but simply injecting realism into the projections.

At 6/22/2006 01:57:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

Alex! you crack me up....totally...

those are the funniest pictures you linked up..... the syrian and lebanese 'tribal' photos circa 1873

At 6/22/2006 01:58:00 AM, Blogger VIVA LIBAN said...

You are not accounting for the 40 Billion Dollar debit carried by Lebanon and the fact that it is technically cash caputs, must borrow daily to keep afloat.

As stated by SNP, if Bashar opens up and invest 40 bil, Syrians brings back the cash from abroad and invest in non-Real Estate investments(funny money), but in industry and manufacturing sectors, especially those directed for exports, you can throw all those static statistics out the windows. Lebanon, will have no chance in competing with Syria and most likely, Syria will be the main supplier for Lebanon, economically dependent as well as politically.

At 6/22/2006 01:59:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


we need a little humility around that helps.....

At 6/22/2006 02:00:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Dear Ghassan,

I hope you got my point. It was not about GDP per capita Parity". It was about the overall "snapshots" of Damascus and Beirut (or Aleppo and Tripoly...) ... I was talking more about lifestyle, freedom of speech, bunisness opportunities...

By the way, can you read for us Lebanon's coffee cup and tell us how and when the 45 Billion dollars will be paid?

Remember how Syria was handling the army functions for Lebanon for 30 years? if you decide to dismantle Hizbollah and want to create a much more serious and powerful Lebanese army (and Intelligence services) that will replace the Syrian army and Hizbollah... how much more do you expect to pay from now on per year? how much does a well paid well trained, well armed army cost per year in Lebanon?

Ghassan, believe it or not I like Lebanon a lot and I have many Lebanese friends who are wonderful people, but this predictable reply I always get from my Lebanese friends whenever there is something negative to discuss about Lebanon .. "and what about Syria?"

At 6/22/2006 02:01:00 AM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

I want to advance a theory........

a long long time ago in a place far far away................

The syrian nationalist party was just a memory in the state infirmary where patients dreamed and dreamed and dreamed........

but didnt actually know what they were dreaming of, and afet dreaming inceassantly the woke from their slumber and recalled past glories , and then
something miraculous happened......

they saw reality

At 6/22/2006 02:12:00 AM, Blogger said...

Here we go Landis, these are the motherfuckers enlightened jakasses that start the heckling match, since they lost the logical, informative, quite and polite comments and discussion. You see, Landis, you do not know the Middle Eastern people very well, they take politness and well mannered as weakness and attack you. Now you know why President Assad deals with these people the way he deals with them, and truthfully, it is way much kinder than the way we will deal with them. How much do you want to bet that this enlightened one is one of the worst Middle Easterners ever NOT YET EVOLVED, A FUCKING JEW OR CHRISTIAN.

At 6/22/2006 02:17:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Zenobia, here are two more for you before I go to sleep:

This time I will do a Syrian and Lebanese religious theme

Lebanese priest posing for picture while the old man carrying the stone is suffering

And a Damascene minister preaching in Iowa in 1896


Good night!

At 6/22/2006 06:28:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

I thought that I made it clear that I was responding to a technical issue!!!! Keep your cool.
BTW, you are right to suggest that the $40 billion debt is a time bomb. The problem has failed to garner international attention because it is basically a domestic debt issue. Lebanon cannot deal with this problem except through budgetary reforms and preferably through some debt renegotiations.
As for the question of the army and Syrian expenses the evidence is very clear. The Syrian presence in Lebanon was not a drain on the Syrian Treasury, in fact it was a money maker and the only burden was that on the Lebanese . Would the dissolution of HA increase the expenditures on the army? I hope not. Actually I would hope to cut down on these expenditures since they are by their nature totally unproductive in all spheres.

At 6/22/2006 07:06:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Would USA and Israel want to see a “Pan Arabic” economical (and political) union, what some of the conversationalists suggest as way forward? I seriously doubt that. That union would be an ultimate energy superpower of the world. Russia multiplied with five. USA got in panic when OPEC begun to use its power but managed eventually to control it. Now USA is increasing its pressure against Russia daily, accusing it using its energy resources in politics (like USA doesn’t use its economy as a weapon in its political games).

A Middle East “EU” in political coalition with Russia and China would make USA’s worst political and military nightmares became true. USA and EU begin to be in troubles, because Russia and China begin to be for the first time in the position to offer a credible alternative - in capital, technology and markets. On a longer term Russia and China are in an excellent position. They are not preaching “democracy”, they do not force regime changes (at least yet) and most importantly they do not have Israel and its deeds as a political burden. And they do not “demand” petro dollar recycling. China and Russia are waving carrots, USA and Israel only the stick.

USA’s and Israel’s interest is to divide the potential Arab (Muslim) unity with all possible ways, as they have done. USA has fought against Pan Arabic ideology for decades and it has been no fight to create democracies in Middle East. In Iraq we can see already from the structure of the new constitution an effort to divide the country between ethnic and religious borders. USA’s dream is to create a lot of new “emirates” in the region. Small players are more vulnerable and easier to control. Also getting lucrative oil contracts with small (and militarily weak) “Kuwait’s” is easier than with relative strong uncontrollable bigger players like Iran. Israel certainly doesn’t want an economically (and militarily) strong big player surrounding them so long their land grapping is in process.

Even with EU we can see USA’s efforts to divide this colossal political and economical union to “old and new Europe”. When ever it is possible USA tries to make contracts with individual countries, not with EU. USA doesn’t like EU developing an own army, NATO is enough it says and wants to use it in the future “Iraq’s”. But even now on Bush’s EU visit when the so called west tries to show unity the reality is far from that publicity stunt. EU needs Russia’s and Middle East’s energy and good trade to pay for the oil and gas. EU can’t afford a new Cold War with Russia or an Iraq type “solution” with other Middle Eastern countries.

At 6/22/2006 09:14:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

Do not hate!

Sami Moubayed

A very ugly trait can be observed in Syria today, being the wide-spread use of foul language by everybody, and the zero-tolerance that the Syrians are developing for one another. Zero-tolerance, that is, among all Syrians regardless of age, gender, views, background, or sect.

The youth in Syria today are fed up with the older generation. They complain that this generation is fossilized and out-of-touch with how the real world is developing. Children complain about their parents, and parents complain about their unsatisfied children.

The workers are fed up with their employers, and employers are fed up with their workers. The people are fed up with the government and its reforms, while the government is fed up with the Syrian people.

The angry Syrians take out their anger on each other, and on public property throughout Syria. They vandalize phone booths, spray graffiti on walls, trespass on grass, litter in the streets, drive in an obscene manner, and curse at each other.

Simply put: the Syrians are very visibly angry. They are on the verge of hating each other.

Even little children playing in the streets can be heard barking obscene language at each other. The Syrians curse, swear, and insult one another with words that insult honor, religion, pride, and values. “I will …… your mother (or sister)” is sadly, now very commonly heard on the streets in Syria. It is even heard among youth at local cafes, over a silly issue like a game of cards, or trick-track.

So are words used by Syrians to characterize fellow Syrians such as “maniac,” “pimp,” and “hooker.”

What kind of a civilized people speak to each other, or refer to each other, in such a rude and obscene manner? Are these the Syrians we knew and grew up with? Is this how our parents and grandparents used to talk to each other in Syria, 40-years ago?

All of this is new to Syria.

The reasons for frustration are of course understandable. To mention a few, the Syrians are underpaid, undereducated, unjustly taxed, and poorly represented in government. Private hospitals are expensive, and public ones are terrible. So are public schools, universities, and banks.

The basics of decent life are lacking to most Syrians (and were nothing but a dream for three decades), such as enough money to buy a proper house, get married, or ride a new automobile. The weather is too hot this summer—making frustration all the more understandable, while jobs are lacking, courts are corrupted, and poverty is increasing. According to a 2005 study by the UNDP, two million Syrians make less than two dollars per day.

Who is responsible for this frustration? Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the Syrian government. It has promised too much and given too little, leading to so much frustration, despair, and anger. The 1980s and 1990s were bad times in Syria. The people reasoned, in 2000, that from where they stood domestically, there was no way left to go but up.

Today, although private banks have opened, credit for buying real estate or an automobile is still not easily obtained. Loans are given only to well-off and well-known businessmen or their associates. A newly-employed young Syrian or one from the shrinking middle class of Syrian society cannot yet obtain a real estate loan from a private bank. If he does, he will have a very difficult time in paying it back.

Private universities and schools have also opened, but they charge tuitions that are unaffordable for the majority of Syria’s 18 million. Scholarships at these new universities are still not effective. Wages have been raised by nearly 100% since 2000, but so has the price of living and inflation, bringing the Syrians back to Square One. Corruption, due to all these shortcomings, is still vibrant in Syria.

Combating frustration

Making conditions in Syria all the more troubling is a recent survey administered by the Syrian Research Center for Smoking at the Syrian University. It shows that the Syrians consume 10 million cigarettes per day. Meaning, the Syrians consume 3.6 billion cigarettes per year!

What an astonishing and shameful fact. While the smoking is being seriously combated and eradicated all over the world, it is booming with such staggering numbers in Syria. After all, a smoking ban in public places has been imposed in Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy, and Scotland.

But, to be fair and not to compare Syria with such developed European countries, let us take neighboring Turkey, which has banned smoking in public places since November 1996. Bhutan, one of the most isolated and obscure countries in the world located between India and China, has imposed a complete ban on the advertising, sale, and consumption of tobacco. In isolated Bhutan, cigarettes are forbidden. Public smoking in countries like Tanzania and Uganda is also prohibited, but permitted in Syria—showing just how frustrated we really are because smoking is one of the most common methods of combating frustration.

Syria has many serious problems resulting in this frustration, which must be dealt with immediately. It is these problems, and not democratic rights and privileges, that lead to so much smoking, cursing, and zero-tolerance on the streets of Syria.

Urban life and congestion is obviously becoming unbearable in cities like Damascus and Aleppo. In 1960, Syria's population had been 4.5 million, while the number had increased to approximately 18 million in 2006. In the upcoming 25 years, given the current growth rate, Syria's population is expected to reach a staggering 30.9 million. If a full-fledge state effort is made to decrease the population and increase public awareness to birth control, the number could be dwindled down to 26.6 million, at best.

One of Syria's main problems has always been population growth, where families are willing to give birth to more children then they can afford to raise, thereby increasing the rate of poverty, delinquency, unemployment, and poor health conditions. Also, large families that cannot support many children increase illiteracy in Syria. In many cases, poor families decide on educating one son among many (usually being the male if the rest of the children are females), or in radical cases, none of the children so they can do manual labor and provide money for the family.

Statistics show that in addition to major problems in growth rate, Syria is unequally balanced in population distribution, with 44% of its current 18 million living in only three districts: Damascus, Aleppo, and suburb Damascus. The remaining 56% distributed over the entire country.

Of the capital's nearly 6 million inhabitants by day, only 1 million are native Damascenes. The rest have migrated from other parts of Syria, mainly rural districts. This migration increased heavily in the 1960s and 1970s, when the socialist regime was at its heyday, promising better opportunities to the country's rural masses. Certain areas in Syria today remain over-populated, with Damascus bearing 13,754 people per every kilometer squared, while in remote areas such as Dayr al-Zour on the Euphrates River, it stands as 21 people per every kilometer squared.*

Marriage—and divorces, or lack of the ability to get married, are also a source of frustration among Syria’s youth. In 1970, reports show that Syrian males married at the age of 20-25.

Due to deteriorating economic conditions, Syrian males today postpone marriage because of the difficulties in supporting a family. With low wages, very high real estate prices, no jobs, and a crippling military service that delays an able male's income for two-years, men have increasingly abandoned marriage. The number of single men and women has therefore, significantly increased.

The age range for marriage among males has risen to 30-35. In 1970, the number of Syrians who were financially incapable of marriage amounted to 33% while today it has increased to 43%. The number of single women has increased from 20.6% in 1981 to 26% today. And even when they marry, the stress of life, and frustration in Syria, makes the life of young couples very difficult. The number of marriages in the Syrian capital in 1999 reached 12 marriages for every 1,000 citizens, while registered divorce was at a staggering 19% for the same year.

To sum it up, the Syrians need a long period of serious training in “anger management.” A few days ago, a soldier on duty at an army office near my office took out his anger on me. For no reason, he insisted on preventing me from parking.

This man had been wronged by his commanding officer but could not respond to the officer so he decided to wrong the first citizen that comes along—in revenge, and this citizen happened to be me.

Un-educated and socially unrefined, he was used to obeying orders because of his career in the military. He expected me to obey him—with no questions asked. He spoke to me with the same tone and language that he has been used to. There are millions in Syria who have his same background and speak his same language. This is a culture brought about with military rule.

For the first time in my life, I decided to talk to him and ask why he was being so rude. I asked if his commanding officer had been rude to him a few minutes earlier. In a burst of anger and surprise at my questions, he snapped back: “Yes! And I will take out my anger on you!”

This speaks volumes about life in the Syria we live in. Since I cannot reply to him, I would have to unleash my anger on my friends, family, employees—and subordinates. In turn, they have to unleash their anger on their friends, family and employees, creating a revolting environment of frustration in Syria.

A solution to this tragic state in Syria is surprisingly found in humor and the words of a funny man like Charlie Chaplin. In his classic film, "The Great Dictator" (performed during World War II in 1940, Chaplin plays the role of a simple barber who finds himself in the shoes of Adolph Hitler during the war. Instead of speaking hatred and frustration to the people of the world, he speaks tolerance saying: “You don't hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural!”

And truly, like Chaplin said, the Syrian people do not—or should not hate.

Only the unloved hate. The unloved and the unnatural.

The Syrian people are not like that.

At 6/22/2006 09:25:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Dr Landis thesis that Syria's entry into Lebanon is motivated by the desire to increase its chances of getting back the Golan Heights is hilarious.

In fact most observers consider the green light Syria was given in Lebanon an EXCHANGE for the Golan. So Syria GAVE UP the Golan in order to get Lebanon.

Of course the plan backfired, now Syria has neither.

Our chances of getting the Golan Heights are of course much lower than our chances of getting back control of Lebanon.

The other hilarious comment is: "The alternative for Damascus is to lay down its arms, have democratic elections, and then approach the Israelis for the Golan." Notice the Bush inspired "false choice" fallacy (, that links the democratic process to surrender.

Dr Landis, why do you assume that a democratically elected government will defend the rights of Syrians less vigourously than a an organised Mafia?

At 6/22/2006 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

PS Now that I have established my anti-Landis credentials I hope that Mustafa will not confuse me for another of Landis pesonas ;)

At 6/22/2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Alex, Thanks for the picture story. It made my day. A little humor goes a long way.

Mustapha, I wish I were Ehsani. He is smarter than I am and he has the money to practice what he preaches. If I had his capital, I would be buying up Aleppo too. I am jealous. I have always loved Aleppo. What an investment, even if it takes Syria 20 years to get with the program, rather than the 5-10 years that Ehsani is projecting.

On to serious matters. Arab nationalism and Greater Syrian nationalism.

Mounif sent me this note:

Please tell me why do you advocate the strengthening of the artificial borders and barriers that were established by the colonialist French and British. This is at a time when the European Union is abolishing them, the Latin Americans have Mercosur, the East Asian have the Shanghai cooperation council, and the Americans have NAFTA and Cafta and the like. My own family is divided between Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria by arbitrary borders. If you were to take a poll you would find the vast majority of the people want to abolish separations and divisions. Lebanon and Syria are NOT countries, please remember this. They are clans and families masquerading as countries.


This gets to the heart of the question raised by many of the comments. Why are borders important? Isn't Arab nationalism the answer to the woes of the Middle East?

I am in sympathy with those idealists who want an EU for the Arab world and some kind of practicable unity.

I would argue, however, that before any successful measure of unity or real cooperation on the scale of the EU can succeed in the Middle East, clear and respected borders will be a prerequisite.

Why? First, this was necessary in Europe as a forerunner of the EU. So long as Pan-German, Pan Slavic, and Pan Whathaveyou ideologies dominated, there was no possibility for cooperation and every incentive for war and mistrust among the peoples of Europe. The second 30-year war - 1914-1945 - was fought in Europe over border issues and questions of national dominance. Pan-national ideologies brought war not cooperation.

The same has been true in the Middle East. The rejection of the foreign imposed borders in the Middle East has led to a terrible and largely destructive identity crisis and jockeying for primacy and unity schemes. These have all caused distrust and enmity, rather than promoting fraternity and cooperation.

Only when national borders are internalized, accepted, and respected, will each Middle Eastern country be in a position to begin compromising on its sovereignty, as was the case in Europe.

Only by accepting borders will unity be possible. This will take lots of time and hard work. The Middle East is far from that point. Iraqi borders and national identity may be redrawn and shaped. Israel and several of its neighbors have yet to settle on their borders - Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. There are other nasty border disputes, one doesn't have to list, including the Lebanon-Syria dispute, which is our concern here.

That is how I see the future of Arabism. It can help with establishing an EU-like confederation, but only once each state fully recognizes the sovereignty of the other. Only then, will the shared history, language, and culture of the peoples of the region be able to work its magic in dismantling the barriers of tariffs, travel, bigotry, and work restrictions.

Did Syria go into Lebanon for the Golan? Or, as Nafdik put it: "Dr Landis' thesis that Syria's entry into Lebanon is motivated by the desire to increase its chances of getting back the Golan Heights is hilarious."

I did not argue that Syria entered Lebanon to get back the Golan. It entered to keep the "Leftist-Muslim" forces from wiping out Christian power, which, it was feared, would result in Israeli intervention into Lebanon. (This was not a stupid concern. Israel did intervene in Lebanon in 1982 with an American green light for this very reason. It hoped to shut down the PLO, secure its border, and reestablish a Maronite leadership that could police its interests. On the way, it hoped to wipe out Syrian missiles, reduce the size of the Syrian air force and military capacity (which it did) and isolate it so Israel could sign peace agreements with Lebanon and Jordan and lock in control of Golan and Occupied territories (which it failed to do at that time).

What I do argue, however, is that once Syria was in Lebanon and had mastered it, the Golan became the major bargaining chip for reaching understanding. Hizbullah was used as Syria's proxy army to keep pricking Israel. Why does Syria keep pricking Israel? To get back occupied land. Yes, there is also an ideological element - Pan Arabism, Pan Syrianism, help the brother Palestinians, you name it - but these are lesser goals and might be sacrificed for land. The 1973 war was fought for the return of the Golan, not to liberate the Palestinians. The Syrian-Israeli peace talks were about the Golan.

Would Syria like to get back the Golan and keep Lebanon too? You bet. This is natural. But the nature of politics is the trade. I think Syria knows a lot about trading and deal making. This was Hafiz al-Asad's hallmark. It is what kept him in power for 30 years. I think Bashar is not immune to deal making. His problem is that everyone thought he was an easy mark, when he first came to power. No one feared him or thought much of the "blind eye doctor's" political skills. He has had to win respect the hard way. He may have his daddy's name, but the respect couldn't be inherited.

He had to learn to be a dictator and brute in a world where power gets you respect. (Let me indulge in a few "Orientalist" generalizations.)

Syria is beset with factionalism, identity confusion, contradictions, and fuzzy thinking - all of which militates against deal making and clarity in its bargaining. All the same, it does have one leader and one state. At the end of the day, this makes deal making possible. Bashar will use Arabism, Syrianism, Godism, and whatever works to keep the Syrian people behind him as he navigates the difficult market place of Middle East politics. He is learning to be an accomplished demagogue.

OK - With that said, I do think that pan-Arab and Syrian ideologies make it very difficult to sign peace with Israel or quit Lebanon, as many have argued. I also think that Asad's being an Alawite, and thus vulnerable, makes it more difficult to compromise than if he were a Sunni.

All the same, I think these fears, so often put forward as fact by parties that do not want to give up the Golan or who urge regime-change in Syria, are not convincing.

Asad, the father, was a realist above everything else. He was certainly constrained by ideology, which he understood was important to his survival and legitimacy, but he wasn't ruled by it.

Perhaps the most revealing proof of this was given in a long al-Arabiyya interview with George Hawi, the leader of Lebanon's Communist Party, just before his murder last year. Hawi explained how he and a number of fellow leftist leaders from Lebanon had come over to Damascus during the later years of the civil war to ask Hafiz to unite the two countries and hold one set of elections in both "brotherly" states.

Of course, Hawi and his friends may have just been suggesting this as a form of madiih and mujammila for the big man in Sham, but Hawi didn't laugh when he explained this to the al-Arabiyya interviewer.

Asad answered him something like this: "No, Lebanon is its own entity (kiyan). We cannot do this. It would not work." This is how Hawi reported Asad's words. Hawi was explaining to his Arab viewers that not even Asad believed that Lebanon and Syria could be united or were psychologically prepared to be one country. Each had its own identity and set of problems.

Asad did not say that Lebanon was a different nation or had the right to full sovereignty - but he did recognize that he could only push the Lebanese so far or there would be revolt. We have seen that revolt most recently.

All of this is to say that - Yes, Arabism and Syrianism are still important ideologies which constrain Syrian deal making over Lebanon and with Israel. Much as the ideology of "democracy promotion" constrains how the US does politics in the Middle east. But I do not believe it is the only, or has to be the major factor in guiding those relations.

Just as Bush made peace with Libya, I think Asad could make peace with Lebanon or Israel, if the price were right. So long as the price is not right, Asad will sing Arabism, Palestinian rights, one people in two countries, and all the other slogans that have meaning, but are not the only meaning.

I do not think peace is a lost cause, in theory.

Best, Joshua

At 6/22/2006 01:36:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

well as our friend Ammar likes to say..... Hear ye, hear ye, and amen to that.

Still, it would be nice to imagine how it could be possible for the Middle East to pass over that modernism nation state stage, utilizing all that is now available, and based on the experience of Europe - to jump right into the Post- Modern age. I mean, why do people have to fight for and over separation, so that one day they can come back together in recognition of our interdependence?
We are already there. We already know..... that the borders of the world.... whether they be geographic, economic, environmental, developmental, ethnic, religious, or biological ... are dissolving into nothing...(the existence of these boundaries was always over determined and mythologized to begin with). But now they are receding despite the death throes of the atomistic mentality of Cartesian separtateness, and despite the protest of all those who cling to their identifications of difference.
So, lets get on with it.... otherwise....the Middle east will stagnate...endlessly...stuck on the rocks....fighting for the crumbs of dignity....found in winning one pathetic dispute at a time.

At 6/22/2006 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Merci Zebobia – I am not as post national as you. I think the nation is just coming into its own in most of the world. Perhaps Europe is tipping into a post national phase, but they got there first. For the rest of the world that has won independence and national existence only since WWII, there is a loooooooong way to go!

Best, J

At 6/22/2006 02:20:00 PM, Blogger mustapha said...

Landis, you just keep on working for Bashar. You may eventually become as wealthy as EHSANI. That is what you are aiming for... Right?? So much for your nonsense about empty Arab and Syrian Nationalsim.

At 6/22/2006 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...

Zebobia of planet utopia says:

is that Merci, Mercy?!.......oh well.....i like to flip from realist to peacnic idealist periodically....just so i can keep my memembership in the dreamer club, what can I say.......
Yes...the rest of the world is...emulating and struggling to come into its own as nations.., just in time for bird flu, and environmental catastrophe, and multinational economic they should look to the horizon more than just trying to emulate the old models of enclosed nation states.

At 6/22/2006 02:46:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


I agree with Noam Chomsky that the Arab world will start fading out borders gradually one pair of countries at a time. And I agree with him that there are some obvious candidates, Syria and Lebanon is my most obvious candidate, no matter how much they don't like each other today.

And ... in 5-10 years max. Remind me around that time if it did not happen yet.


At 6/22/2006 02:48:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6/22/2006 03:01:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Your post regarding the movement towards a borderless state is NOT a fantasy. It is well grounded , as you rightly point out, in the signs of the times. Global problems that do not now artificial boundaries . The current sensibilities demand that we develop a global approach to our problems because many of them, the ecological, cannot be solved within the traditional artificial boundaries.
I among many, have often argued that Westphalia has outlived its usefulness. We are witnessing the end of the nation state all over the globe and not only in Europe. We are witnessing in the later part of the twentieth century and the early part of the current one a resurgence of the Greek philosophy of the Stoics, Cosmopolitanism. We are all members of one family and we have one space ship to share. Our actions affect all others and authenticity is a myth that needs to be replaced by contamination.
And yes, the mmiddle east will not be immune to this trend.

At 6/22/2006 03:11:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

Mr. Landis said "I also think that Asad's being an Alawite, and thus vulnerable, makes it more difficult to compromise than if he were a Sunni."

We disagree, Being an Alawites or Sunni makes no difference when it comes to compromising Syrian rights. Being Sunnis it did not make Saddat, Mubarak, Mohammad descendants ( all the Hashemites rulers A-Z), not even the ruler of Qatar vulnerable to making deal, peace and compromises with the Jews.

The conditions existing now and for the immediate future points to immanent war not peace. These includes imminent Islamic revolution in Egypt and the scrapping of Camp David Agreement. A likely Islamic rebellion in Jordan and the relocation of a million Palestinians into its border with the Jewish Hagganeh State, Closely working with Hamas and other Moslem militants.

This is added to lack of interest on part of Petro-Arabs and their Western Allies in seeing the Levant at peace and prosperity. What does the Arabian hordes can gain from such a peace and they can easily use their oil as weapon to force a just peace, but they did not and will not, because it is not in their interests. Why would the West want to see peace in the Levant! When oil is very well secure and the marriage of convenience between Anglo-American Christian Capitalists and Jewish Banking conglomerates are racking up incredible wealth in the billions from the oil and arm profit, and added to it all the Iraq profit that is most of it is desperately seeking safe shelter.

Long, ugly and bloody way still ahead for the Middle East. Lets wait till Mahmood Ahmadi Nizhad call the next shot that may will set the middle East finally on its salvation journey.

At 6/22/2006 04:31:00 PM, Blogger Ausamaa said...

Bravo Joshua, this time you had really done it. You got them all hot and ready to go.

I like the way you analysed where things stand and what options are availlable. Straight observations and sipmple mathematics. Which is a perfectly fine way to assess situations and choices.

There are a few remarks however that guys like me would always insist on including in any analysis of this nature,such as:
1- The "ideal moral world" in which syria hastens to correct the errors or misdeeds or whatever actions now asked of it, would immediately force us to point out that we see such an "ideal moral world" as one where Isreal does not occupy Palestine resulting in volcano upon which the whole area sits right now. Not to mention that in such an "ideal and moral world" Mr.Sykes and Mr.Piccot had no business deviding the levant according to their interests and resulting in the a lot of the missgivings the people of the area currently suffer from.
2- It is a little unfair to blame even part of Lebanon's problems on the premise that Lebanon -led by the Sunni elite- stuck its nose unnecessarily in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and hence it began to be drawn into this web. What was any Lebanese goverment supposed to do then? Cheer up the newly established Israeli state and earn itself the possibility of living happily everafter? Anyway, the Lebanese front in 1948 was the quietest, yet that did not prevent what has happened since then from happening. A small note here regarding the Maronites. I wish people stop labeling them as pro-Israeli and positioning them in the Israeli camp. Some of the first Arab thinkers to warn of the dangers of the establishment of Israel were Maronites. And Reef Demashq was not issuing the Operations orders then!
3- Why is the continuous degredation of Rafiq Harriri by accusing him of having switched sides and positioned himself in the anti-Syria camp before his death. Maybe he did not like a Syrian heavy hand, maybe he was pushed a little by his good friend Chirac, but I do not belive that he has squarely placed himself in any anti Syrian camp. HE voted and got his people to vote for the extension of president Lahoud.He MADE it PASS. And the extension was what infuriated the US Admin and it friends. If he was really in the anti-Syrian camp, why would he do it.Could he not have abstained, got-sick for a while, went to Omra to where his real power base was? Why defame the man and acuse him of not only stapping Syria in the back by plotting against with the US/France, and then add insult to injury by portaraying him as a coward who accepted Syria's dictates and accepted to extend to president Lahoud out of FEAR for his Life. He was niether I belive. That is I strongly believe that someone else other than the current primary suspect being Syria killed him. Intelligence services kill to achieve goals, not to take revenge. A look at whose goals Harriri's killing seemed to serve at that conjuctor in the area's history whould clearly reveal who did it. So, please have mercy on the man.
4- As to the Siniora, and your description of him as a wise man, I disagree with your classification of him based on the record so far.He may talk the talk, and he may walk the walk; but only as a senior buerucrate. And a lost one at that. Look at what the man has achieved during the last many months "with" the full backing of the US Administration, France, the SC, the majority in the Parliment, Saed Al Harriri money, and even Junblate if also-rans are counted. What did he achieve with the world backing him. Zilch. Zero. Nothing.
And, he still stupidly and hungrily clings to power. So count Lebanon out while he is there.And that is part is why Lebanon will not get soon what you call "full sovernity" and what I call "full statehood". A STATE needs a STATEMAN. And you aint got many of those around in the Lebanese rulling echolon right now. And if I was you, I would not expect a lot of positive initiatives from Syria towards Lebanon until such a STATESMAN is found by the Lebanese themselves, espicially when Dubbya is continuing to hear God talking to him at night.
Unless. Unless. Unless.....
Sinora, with some wisdom downing on him from an Omra or Hajj duty, decides to follow the advice of Kenny Rogers song the Gambler, and decides to :"Know when to hold up, know when to fold up, know when to walk away, and when to run". He gave the anti-Syrrian crowd what he thought is his his best shot and it did not work as DC can see. So maybe its time to look at other options -if he really cares about his country not his his corporate hierarchy, but would they let him??? The memory of the late Harriri's fate must be fresh in his mind. He may be a good actor, but not such a fool. The problem is once your in it, your in it for life.
One main fact that should not be passed on lightly is that Syria and Lebanons are two inter-dependant nieghbouring Arab states, bound by history, culture, interests,marriage, religion, heritage, language, etc., etc., and they will remain their forever. Long after the others have milked thier cows got their interests served or unserved, and departed wesrwards and southwards.

At 6/22/2006 07:42:00 PM, Blogger Enlightened One said...

Lebanese Geek,

seriously enrol in Etiquette 101

At 6/23/2006 03:06:00 AM, Blogger souria el hora said...

Come on lets all calm down.
Syria isn't going to get any better if everyone keeps talking like this.
Dr. Landis did all of us a favor by creating this site and we should ALL be thanksfull to him.
Thanks Joshua

At 6/23/2006 05:12:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

So "Syria will not get any better if everyone keeps talking like this". Maybe Syria would get better if we all play dead and allow the Syrian Ba'ath to go on exploiting, abusing and driving the country into the ground. That is simply brilliant!!! Maybe you can expand that idea into a book.


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