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11/24/2006
THE SYRIAN CONUNDRUM

Abe Lincoln used to tell the story about two country boys who were walking in the woods when they came upon a wild hog. Taking an instant dislike to the interlopers, the hog set off after the two kids who ran like hell through the forest, the hog gaining on them, when one boy shimmied up a pine tree to avoid the beast’s lethal tusks. The other lad wasn’t as lucky but managed to grab hold of the hog’s tail and went round and round the pine tree, his friend watching helplessly from above. Finally, the young boy on the ground looked up and called out to his friend, “come on down Bill, and help me leave go of this hog!”

Lincoln told several variations of this anecdote, including the exit line coming from the treed youngster who dryly observed that it was hard to tell from his vantage point who was chasing who. Needless to say, either story serves as a perfect metaphor for any discussion regarding Syria and what the United States can do, must do, or desires to do about engaging that country in efforts to bring some semblance of stability to Iraq, Lebanon, and by extension, the rest of the Middle East.

There is just no easy response to the question of Syria and whether or not to engage her in negotiations. There is little doubt that President Assad could help us in Iraq but at what price? And how much help could he really be?

The most recent bloodletting in the streets of Baghdad calls into question whether negotiations with regional troublemakers Iran and Syria will have the desired effect on the security situation in Iraq. The insurgency and the accompanying sectarian violence is not being directed or controlled from Damascus or Tehran. Those two nations have simply decided to throw gasoline and phosphorus on an already raging fire. Take away the accelerants and you still have the fire - out of control with plenty of kindling and firewood left to feed the conflagration for years to come.

For our part, we’ve got a hold of the tail of the hog and no one is inclined to come down and help us leave go of it, even if anyone had a clue where to begin. Too violent for United Nations peacekeepers and with no NATO member or Arab country willing to see its soldiers die for what they consider an American blunder, the Iraq problem is incredibly resistant to the kind of glib solutions offered by the internationalists and collective security advocates who have made it their business since the war began to admonish the United States for its unilateralist approach.

Which brings us to the “realists” and their apparent eagerness to engage Iran and Syria in dialogue over Iraqi security. I have no doubt that both countries would be open to such negotiations - if for no other reason than all the goodies they may be able to extract from American negotiators who will come hat in hand, begging for help. But as I wrote here, there is another reason the Iranians and Syrians may be willing to cooperate in trying to tamp down the violence in Iraq; neither wishes a failed state on their borders that would be a magnet for Shia terrorists (Syria’s worry) or a boost for Kurdish independence (Iran’s fear).

This is the meat of the realist’s argument; that any government which holds power when we leave Iraq - a process coming sooner rather than later - must be able to contain the raging violence that threatens the stability of the entire region. It is self evident, the realists say, that such a result would be in all three country’s interest. And lest we forget, the majority Shia in Iraq seem disinclined to stop the slaughter of the Sunnis, a fact of this war that seems to have taken on a life all its own with death squads on both sides that answer to no authority save their own warped and twisted desire for revenge. This is a situation that could turn into a genuine tragedy of historic proportions if the United States were to leave precipitously with potentially millions dead unless some kind of political settlement could be brokered that would both satisfy the majority and protect the minority.

How much good could Syria really do in such a chaotic situation and more importantly, what would they want in return for their cooperation? Having met with James Baker (who is rapidly emerging as a leader of the “realists” among Administration advisors), Syria seems “encouraged” by the results of the contact. What could Baker have said that would have piqued the interest of Damascus? Michael Young:

If political “realism” is about interests, then realists must prove that a country that has ignored successive UN resolutions demanding Syrian non-interference in Lebanon could somehow be a force for stability in Iraq, to which it has funnelled hundreds of foreign fighters. Engaging Mr Assad over Iraq will mean the gradual return of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, since neither the US nor the UK will be in a position to deny Syria in Lebanon while asking favours in Iraq.

If one has no qualms about abandoning a rare democratic success in the Middle East, as Lebanon has been, then by all means talk to the gentlemen in Damascus. But first someone should remind Mr Blair of a name oddly absent from his recent rhetoric of engagement: Rafiq Hariri. To which we can now add another: Pierre Gemayel.

Turning a blind eye to Assad as he crushes freedom in Lebanon as a price for his efforts to stabilize Iraq seems an extraordinarily bad bargain from the US standpoint. First of all, no one will be able to quantify just what Syria might be able to accomplish with its efforts in Iraq (the same goes double for Iran). Secondly, besides it being unbelievably cynical and immoral to allow the Lebanese people to fall under the tender mercies of Assad’s secret police again, such a betrayal would reverberate throughout the Middle East with the forces of reform that are taking the first small steps toward democratic government in places like Kuwait, Yemen, Qatar and some of the other Gulf States. Even Saudi Arabia has taken some baby steps toward more representative government. A betrayal of the Lebanese democrats who we encouraged to put their lives on the line to try and bring democracy to that country would be a slap in the face to reformers all over the Middle East who face similar dangers daily. It would send exactly the wrong message at the wrong time.

If not Lebanon, what then does Assad desire? What Syria has wanted since its 1967 war with Israel; the Golan Heights. Assad would want us to put “pressure” on Israel to negotiate its return.

The idea that American could “pressure” Israel into committing suicide by allowing the Syrians access to that strategic bit of land is ludicrous. Syrian artillery emplacements from 1948-67 regularly bombarded Israeli civilians living in the Huleh Valley, killing dozens and forcing residents to sleep in bomb shelters. It is doubtful whether the Israelis would even consider it, despite the importuning of their desperate American ally.

Blocked by conscience (we hope) from giving away Lebanon and by strategic necessity into pressuring the Israelis to give back the Heights, when one looks closely at our bargaining position with Assad, it appears that there is precious little good we can do for him. And given the state of violence in Iraq, I daresay that there is equally little he can realistically do for us.

We can’t sell him military equipment given that he is still technically at war with Israel. We could offer economic aid but the Syrian economy is such a basket case that in order to truly do some good, it would have to take the form of massive assistance, forgiveness of debt, and cooperation gained from the Europeans to pitch in and help - the prospects for all of which occurring dim to non-existent.

In short, what Assad wants, we cannot give him. And what we want, he cannot deliver.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t open a dialogue with Syria? Emphatically no. The fact is, engaging Syria in talks, however futile they might be in dramatically changing the situation in Iraq, may lead to lifting the veil of isolation around Syria and driving a wedge between the axis of Damascus and Tehran. These two strange bedfellows have found common cause in Lebanon and in bleeding America in Iraq. Outside of that, the two nations are as dissimilar as could be expected when one considers that Syria is ruled by a small clique of secular Alawites and Tehran, a Shia theocracy. If their areas of commonality in Lebanon and Iraq can be taken away, there is a chance that Assad (with the help of some of America’s friends in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia) can be weaned away from the influence of the mullahs and brought back into the community of nations.

A long shot, that. But there’s no chance of it happening unless we start to engage the Syrians in some kind of dialogue on regional issues like Iraq and Lebanon. It is clearly in our interest to do so and I expect that Bush will reluctantly agree.

What that means for the Iraqi people is unknown. But at this point, even grasping at straws is better than the kind of deep seated fatalism infecting the country and where there is no end in sight to the bloody, unspeakable violence that has become an every day fact of life for many in that tragic land.

By: Rick Moran at 9:24 am
5 Responses to “THE SYRIAN CONUNDRUM”
  1. 1
    Wake up America Trackbacked With:
    1:06 pm 

    Appeasement Doesn’t Work

    Many disagree with Bush’s policy to not deal with states that sponsor terror, even after seeing what dealing with terrorists can cost. You do not make deals with liars, murders and dictators, because no deal will be honored. What is a deal when only …

  2. 2
    zaq Said:
    6:26 pm 

    Making any deal with Syria will end the last trace of respect I had for the President. If he chooses to listen to Rice and Hadley over the creative people he had in the Aministration, he chooses mediocrity. Syria and Iran are responsible for the deaths of hundrend of American troops. A few missiles into Syria in the beginning would have been a great plus. Diplomacy is too late and too demeaning for this American. Lebanon should not be ours to give away.

  3. 3
    Mensa Barbie Welcomes You Trackbacked With:
    5:15 am 

    Allies, Interference… Impasse?

    “Not what they say… But what they do.” US remains the strongest and most important ally of the Shia (so far)… Read this EXCELLENT post by Rick Moran!

  4. 4
    kb Said:
    7:43 am 

    Here are a few links which one may wish to read so as to broaden their understanding of just how the world really works. We’ll begin with a quote and videostream from a U.S. patriot, John Stockwell:

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4068.htm

    John Stockwell, former CIA Station Chief in Angola in 1976, working for then Director of the CIA, George Bush. He spent 13 years in the agency. He gives a short history of CIA covert operations. He is a very compelling speaker and the highest level CIA officer to testify to the Congress about his actions. He estimates that over 6 million people have died in CIA covert actions, and this was in the late 1980’s.

    http://www.ahealedplanet.net/mcgehee.htm
    http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Congress/7727/cia.htm
    http://www.redpepper.org.uk/latin/x-july06-agee.htm
    http://pdr.autono.net/levine.html

    kb

  5. 5
    A Blog For All Trackbacked With:
    11:39 am 

    Boiling Point

    Hizbullah is threatening to destroy Lebanon again. They’re considering going ahead with their demonstrations that they wisely held off when Pierre Gemayel was assassinated last week. Hizbullah, along with Assad in Syria, doesn’t want the investigatio…

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