Ehsani | Finance United States
November 5th, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's foreign policy

Syria’s geopolitical importance in the region stems from the following facts:

– It shares a border with Israel.
– It lies on the Eastern Mediterranean
– It is to the south of Turkey, an aspiring EU applicant and a Muslim present member of NATO.
– Following the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003, Syria’s eastern border has suddenly capitulated the country into what is arguably the eye of the storm engulfing the Middle East region.

The departing Chairman of the US Federal reserve Board Alan Greenspan has recently argued that the Iraq invasion was largely about oil. The vast majority of Arabs seem to believe that it is more about Israel and the Neoconservatives of the Bush White House. The US administration in turn tried to argue that the invasion was all about fighting “global terrorism” and that it was a matter of “national security” in a post September 11th world.

No matter what the real motivation behind the invasion was, the indisputable fact is that the U.S. has invested too many resources in this endeavor to call it quits anytime soon. As early as 2004, the decision was made to build in Baghdad the largest American embassy ever. Some continue to believe that once this American Administration leaves office, the American soldiers will soon leave Iraq as well. My suspicion is that the Damascus leadership shares this mistaken view.

America’s interests in Iraq are long term. They will not leave this country for decades to come. Rather than recognize this fact in a post September 11th world, the Syrian leadership seems to not want to believe the new facts on the ground.

Failure to deal with this reality has cost the country dearly. Having resisted the American invasion while working tirelessly to sabotage any chances of it becoming a success, Damascus made itself a target in this White House. The first price to pay was in Lebanon. The old tacit approval of its total control of that country’s political process soon gave way to a sudden reversal of fortunes. The Hariri murder was the final catalyst. Syria soon found itself forced to undo a strategy that has been carefully put together by Hafez Assad over the past 30 years.

The old Soviet Union is now history. The Lebanon card has been taken away. Syria was now sandwiched between the Americans in Iraq and the Israelis in the south. Jordan was never a comfortable neighbor. Ditto for the new Lebanon.

Iran was the only regional power that Syria could depend on. The deeper those ties developed, the deeper the Arab Gulf suspicions grew about Syria’s intentions. One can argue that had it not been for the Arab pressure, Syria would not have moved so far in the Iranian orbit. While there may well be some logic to this, the fact remains that the divide between the Sunni Arab axis and Syria was now deeper than ever before.

Where does Syria go from here?

While the country’s improving relationship with Turkey has been a major plus, the fact remains that Damascus is still largely isolated in the region and the world. Given the choice, it would like to make a deal with the devil to try and boost its international standing. Yet, its future prospects look dim. The Hariri investigation still looms ahead. This is likely to kick into high gear once Lebanon gets its new President. The country’s economic prospects are poor. While new investments have poured in, the country continues to face a daunting task when it comes to its fiscal situation. Its subsidy program costs its treasury coffers SYP 350 billion a year (19% of GDP). This is unsustainable in a country that sees its population doubling every 34 years.

Damascus should have never opposed the American invasion of Iraq. If anything, the leadership should have been on this train of thought:

– America is intent on removing our number one foe in the region
– With the Soviet Union gone and in a new September 11th world, now is the time to jump ship and position our country in the Western camp.

Instead, Damascus decided to work with Saddam prior to his downfall. It also decided to tighten the reign in Lebanon. It strengthened its ties to Iran and embarked on standing up to the Americans in Iraq.

In my humble opinion, this strategy has now backfired. Although no one will be more pleased than me if Damascus proves me wrong in the months ahead.

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37 Responses to the Article

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

Ehsani,

The strategy has backfired for Syria, but has it backfired for the Syrian regime? I am not sure:
1) By helping create chaos in Iraq, Asad has convinced people like Alex that he should stay in power lest this experiment repeat itself in Syria.
2) By standing up to the Americans the regime has an excuse for its economic failures (the American sanctions) and it buys the minds of the naive “dignity and Palestinians” segment of Syria and the Arab world.
3) Hariri had to be killed in any case from the regime’s perspective. He was becoming too strong and too well connected and as a Sunni would have been a role model for change in Syria. Killing him was a risk that Asad had to take to preserve his regime.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with almost everything you say. The consequences for Syria and the common Syrian will be bad. But for the regime? I don’t know. Their foreign policy may buy them 10+ more years in power at the expense of the Syrian people. They could stay in power even longer. Look at how Zimbabwe has completely failed yet Mugabe is in power. Or North Korea under Kim Jong Il.Could this be what Asad is willing to accept? I shudder to think so, but maybe this is what is in Syria’s future especially if there is no effective Syrian opposition.

Atassi Says:

Very good Ehasni..

“Damascus should have never opposed the American invasion of Iraq. If anything, the leadership should have been on this train of thought”
I think the leadership at that time were extremely confused and agitated and were led to reading the wrong signals.. The rulers of Damascus were certain at that time who is going to be next after Iraq. particularly if the war and transitions were smother then current situations and ‚??cake-!!!- walk‚?Ě
The Syrian regime deeply believed that they had no option but to resist the Americans using any means of a proxy war

SimoHurtta Says:

Well Ehsani2 you seem to relay on USA’s capability to continue her policy in Iraq and Middle East. What if the Iraqi government tells USA lets say after one year, now is time to leave and no bases? Soviet Union is undoubtedly dead, but Russia is alive and kicking. And so is China and India. Russia especially is raising her influence fast in the region. I “stumbled” on an interesting article Inevitable Turkey-Iran-Syria-Russia alliance. It is naive to believe that the others only watch and wait USA and Israel flex their muscles and turn most of Middle East to to Afghanistans. USA and Israel have pushed many countries with shared interests closer.

If USA can’t solve the Kurd problem so that Turkey is satisfied and deliver finally a solution with the long Palestine problem so that Arab nations are satisfied, what are USA’s options? Do Arabs trust to a big brother which can’t any more be in control of events? A war with Iran will certainly hurt China, EU, Japan and India economically badly. Do they any more trust after that to the US leadership?

Eshani2 the “world” is not any more USA. Every day USA’s relative influence drops when its economy weakens and others become stronger. A couple of years and China is a bigger player than USA. EU is already in size of economy bigger as USA. Others have also interests in Middle East besides USA and Israel.

qunfuz Says:

interesting analysis, Ehsani, and well-written as ever. I have to agree with SimoHurta, however. I think the tide has turned against the US and Israel in the region. I know the US aims to stay in Iraq for a very long time, but neither the Iraqis nor other powers in the world want that. Neither do I believe in the solidity of the “Sunni Arab axis.”

Alex Says:

Ehsani, as you know I like to try to find correlations in everything I look at.

I just found one … the three or four authors and commentators who live in the United States more or less agree with each other … that Syria will not be able to challenge the United States.

Almost everyone else disagrees.

Zenobia Says:

I second Simo Hurtta that Russia is reviving from the Dead…and hopes to reassert herself as a key power player in the middle east should major conflict break out.

Ehsani,, nice article. I like it very much because it summarizes so completely the opposite prediction that I and some other hold.

I wonder why you speak as though the story or ending is already clear. To me the field….the outcome is wide open. You even speak as if the situation in Lebanon has been determined..and it is wholly on the side of the US camp. this is hardly the case.
It is hardly the case with Iraq either…. even if the americans stay there building bases…. for years to come. What does that really mean. Does that mean that Iraq will be a peaceful pro-american country??? I think not.

Like some other commentors and writers here, you put a lot of credence on the idea that Syria is also isolated from the other Arab States simply because the leaders are quiet and don’t challenge the USA. Your theory about the outcome of conflict rides on the supposition that King Abdullah can go meet the Queen of England and talk the big talk about fighting terrorism. And his coziness with England and the US seems to mean something in contrast to the cold ‘suspicion’ towards Syria’s actions and alliance with Iran.
We will see.
In contrast, i think the pandering and PR of arab leaders to the West and western exploits mean very little when all hell breaks loose.
If america should dare to attack Iran or the whole lot – then including Syria and Southern Lebanon. I think the people of the middle east are going to go crazy whether they are in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, or Qatar, Lebanon, or an American base filled Iraq.

The leaders of the Arab state allies of America are not as in control as they may appear, and I really don’t think they represent at all the will of the people. They simply have state power. But to me…this is just a pressure cooker with a lid held down… and the flames have not been turned up yet.
Look at what is currently happening in Pakistan these past few days….it is a prime example…of exactly how in control these American ally leaders are of their countries.

As I sat on occasion this summer outside the gates of the Omayad Mosque…or at the entrance to the Hamidiyeh souk….I would watch the Saudis and the Iranians, Yemeni, and Iraqis… pouring by…. on their way to pray in the mosque ……. and perhaps to hit a nightclub later and watch Russian girls do a striptease…
what impressed in my mind was how special Damascus is for these people coming in from all over the arab and persian world….
and I just don’t think they are going to stand still…if the bombs rain down here.
I could be wrong. But the story has not ended yet. We are only at the beginning of the end.

EHSANI2 Says:

Dear Zenobia,

Making predictions is a notoriously futile exercise. This is especially the case when it comes to Middle Eastern politics.

The premise of your critique rests on the theory that the Arab populace resents the American policy towards the region. You claim that should America attack Iran ‚??the people of the middle east are going to go crazy whether they are in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, or Qatar, Lebanon, or an American base filled Iraq.‚?Ě

America invaded Iraq in 2003. How come the so-called people did not g crazy then?
Israel allegedly attacked a site in Syria recently. How come the so-called people did not go crazy?

The ‚??people‚?Ě of the Middle East do not matter. They live under draconian police states without a say or any influence.

Let me address your reply more specifically:

1- The Lebanese outcome is indeed not clear yet. I continue to ‚??speculate‚?Ě that Syria has lost the Lebanon card. Over time, it will lose more of its influence in that country. The Presidential issue will of course be a defining moment. Let us see who will win this battle.
2- You wonder what it means for America to stay in Iraq for years to come. I would like to refer you to this link http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n20/holt01_.html. While one may not agree with every detail, the general theme of the article is very sound. The value of Iraqi oil is estimated at #30 trillion. The country sits on 115 billion barrels of oil reserves. This is more than five times the total in the U.S. Think of the leverage the U.S. will have down the road on energy hungry China, Japan and India. Do you really think that the U.S. will ever leave such a resource because the Iraqi ‚??people‚?Ě are not pro-American?
3- The so-called pandering of most Arab leader to the U.S. is out of necessity and national security. Had it not been for the U.S., Kuwait would have been swallowed by Saddam. Iran would sure not mind the oil fields of Saudi under its umbrella. Can you imagine the leverage it will have then? This is not pandering. This is a matter of survival.
4- You claim that the leaders of the Arab state allies of America are not as in control as they appear. Of course not. But they have the financial resources to keep their populace happy and content. Pakistan will deal with the fundamentalist of his country in the same way that Hafez Assad did. Use emergence laws. Theses groups will always dream of taking over. They will just as always not be allowed to do so.
5- America will never win the hearts and minds of the Arab world till it starts to be even handed when it comes to Israel. I would not hold my breath. The Koreans and the Japanese have never been fond of the American presence in their country. Yet, American bases are still there.
6- As for Russia, let us put it in perspective. Armed with a veto power at the UNSC, they are yet to exercise their power once over America‚??s wishes. Damascus kept on hoping that Russia will stop 1559 or the chapter 7 vote on the Hariri trial. Russia murmured but in the end did nothing.

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

Who in retrospect turned out to be smarter:
South Koreans or North Koreans?
West Germans or East Germans?
The Israelis that chose the US or the Arabs that bet on Russia?

And Syria is all set to make the same mistake again. The problem with the leftist is that they don’t understand the power of a FREE eocnomy.

There is only one true indication that the US is really getting weaker. Only when people stop wanting to immigrate to it. You will know that China has become the leading superpower when people given a choice would prefer to move to China rather than to the US. When I see that as a real possibility, I will worry. When Syrians prefer to move to Russia or Iran or China, then you will have a point. Until then, keep dreaming.

idaf Says:

Ehsani,

Your article‚??s main message is: “Syria made a mistake in the past (standing up to US ambitions in Iraq) and therefore it will continue paying the price”. I was anticipating a forward looking piece instead of a rereading of the past few years, however, here are my comments on your article:

While, your article‚??s message might be an accurate reading on the short term, on the longer run, who knows who will be laughing last?! So far the Syrian foreign policy had proved to be good at reading future scenarios and ‚??betting on the right horse‚?Ě almost on every turn of events in this region in the last 50 years. Syria has a habit of doing this from a long term view. No one in the world had any illusions that Saddam will not fall and the US will be successful in occupying Iraq, certainly not the Syrian regime. But Syria told the US that this will fail in the longer run and that was the right reading once more. Let’s wait and see how things unfold in Iraq in the future, but however, it does not look promising for the US.

Now on the more important question: Why did Syria act this way before the Iraq war while it knew that the US will succeed in its short term goal of occupying the country?

Simple.. All indicators at the time were saying that the US is not willing to ‚??take yes for an answer‚?Ě from Syria. They wanted Syria not just to be nice and support the war like Saudi did (without having to “democratize” or “change behavior”). The administration had and still partially has a radical ideological agenda in the region. They have already decided a long time ago that Syria is “el bandito” in this western movie. Major policy makers in the US administration at the time, did not want to hear a yes from Syria, they wanted to teach it a lesson or make a reference example out of it for ideological reasons regardless of any compromise it was willing to offer, short of total and absolute humiliating obedience.

Syrian leadership read this correctly after their many friendly gestures to the US before the war (on the security and anti-terrorism fronts). It was clear for the Syrian regime that no matter what they provide, they would not get any brownie points from the US. The US administration response instead was “here‚??s the next list of must-do demands” (which in many cases conflicted with Syrian national interest). At best, they wanted Syria to become another Jordan.. an obedient week place on the ME map. This was not feasible for Syria both as a country and as a regime.

The Syrian regime wisely concluded a long time ago, that it costs less to oppose the unpopular external power than to be obedient and risk the imminent local wrath and radicalization of society coupled with deterioration in internal security (read Jordan, Saudi and Egypt). Like it or not, the Syrian leadership -with all it predicaments- continues to locally enjoy more popularity, stability and security than any of the other “moderate” regimes that chose the unpopular choice of revolving obediently in the US sphere of influence. If you want to speak from a purely selfish internal Syrian citizen’s point of view, the regime’s call on Iraq is to be praised. This choice of policy has managed to remove any recruitment tools from the hands of radicals inside Syria and kept the Syrian people enjoying stability and internal security unheard of in this troubled region. Unlike the case of moderate Arab countries, who’s citizens suffer from daily sense of insecurity (just try to enter a hotel or public place in Damascus and compare it with the bomb detectors, sniffing dogs and body searches you‚??ll have to suffer in places like Amman, Cairo or Riadh).

EHSANI2 Says:

IDAF,

The U.S and western nations base their decisions on self interest and not dogmatic ideology. They support Bin Laden against the Russians one day only to place him on the number one enemy list the next. They wink at Hafez when he enters Lebanon one day only to exert tremendous pressure on his son to leave the next. They fight Fatah one day and befriend them the next. They talk about promoting democracy but turn a blind eye when it comes to Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Let us stop stating the obvious.

You make it sound that the U.S. somehow decided to work against Damascus no matter what the latter offered. In other words, you imply that rather than being driven by self-interest, the U.S. suddenly became blindly resentful of Syria. You kept referring to the fact that the U.S. took this stand for ‚??ideological reasons‚?Ě.

Would you care to elaborate? What ideological reasons have surfaced that they were not there over 40 years of dealing with Hafez Assad?

You also wrote the following:

‚??The Syrian regime wisely concluded a long time ago, that it costs less to oppose the unpopular external power than to be obedient and risk the imminent local wrath and radicalization of society coupled with deterioration in internal security‚?Ě.

Are you saying that had Syria not opposed the U.S invasion, it would have faced the local wrath and radicalization of its society? Are you correlating the internal security situation in Syria to the decision to oppose the Americans? Syria has had an extremely efficient internal security system way before America came to the region. Your analogy is poor at best.

Atassi Says:

why keep on repeating this statement ” the regime has a long term views” ..” who will be laughing last”?!
What do you mean by “LAST” please define this term. I think, by the time ” this last” comes, the US and it’s allies are long done with sets of planded agendas ….
The Syrian leadership had one goal .. Preserve the regime with any cost..I mean it when I say Any cost

Ford Prefect Says:

Well articulated article, Ehsani. While I fully agree with you regarding the long-term presence in Iraq of the US (which might not be that bad after all!), I would like to mention that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was not based on a single, harmonized ideology or agenda. Instead, it is the culmination of many converging ideologies and Western interests. These ideologies are based on two main pillars: American nationalism (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice) and Neoconservatism (everyone else beneath them).

A third distant pillar can be attributed to the religious fundamentalism exhibited by the President and the far-right evangelical (e.g., Bob Jones University) dogmas. (Indeed, these people truly believe that the end is near – now that the Jews are back in Israel and they are defeating the forces of Satan!)

Whether Syrian foreign policies were fundamentally wrong or just wrong (they were never right) remain to be seen. However, as AnotherIsraeliGuy mentioned above, these policies cannot be analyzed using traditional political instruments. The Syrian government was fighting a basic and intuitive battle of self-preservation. Faced with immediate and existential danger from its Western borders, the Syrian government had little or not time to think clearly (let alone acquiring the capability to do so.).

What we see today in Syria is a combination of patriotism with plain ignorance. I don‚??t doubt that the Syrian people (and their government) have a genuine intention of protecting Syria form external harm. Doing the right thing, however, is another story. A quick look at the cadre of experienced decision makers in Syrian foreign policy should tell us something about the calamity that is in front of our beloved motherland.

However, Ehsani is right: Syria should have taken a smarter step and toned down its rhetoric (e.g., on March 31, 2003 Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara said that Syria ‚??has a national interest in the expulsion of the invaders from Iraq.‚?Ě) While such rhetoric gained him ground with the Arab street, it was not necessarily the best stance Syria could have taken ‚?? now that the US with its might (good, bad, or indifferent) is right next door. Saddam was and remained a sworn enemy of Syria and the Syrian people. No force on Earth was capable of removing him but the US. And he has siblings. Ruthless siblings who, left to their own devices, will certainly pose a tremendous threat to Syria and its people (And of course the continued suffering of the Iraqi people).

Smart US policy would have played the US invasion card to the overall benefit of the Syrian people (including and Egypt-style self-preservation of the regime).

Zenobia Says:

Ehsani,
interesting points, truly, and I am not sure what I think about all of them.
two that stand out….. in your reply to Idaf you say that Ideology is not at work in the American policy!…. oh my.
ok, for some time- western nations including the United States can be described as having real politic foreign policies.
However, I just can’t believe you would say with a straight face that the current administration is not ideological. They practically brag about their ideology. it is no secret.
The entire plan for a “New American Century” authored by the Cheney group….is allllllll ideology.
and i think a lot of Americans would complain that none of this plan for American supremacy is truly in our self interest actually.
It is in the self interest of Oil companies and weapons manufacturers.
anyhow, Ford Prefect already did a better job of saying something on this point.

In your reply to me: you ask about why the arab world and people of the region didn’t rise up and “go crazy” when the Americans invaded Iraq?
I thought you might comment on this.
but…. according to my own conception of people going crazy…they did.
again, I am not concerned so much about what the leaders do….if they sit still or bring out the weapons and the ’emergency laws’.
The point is what the people do.
And I believe that there are people from all over the middle east – Saudis (even though we aren’t supposed to talk about that), Syrians, Palestinian, Gulfies, Egyptians, as well as our friends from Pakistan and Afghanistan who have traveled to Iraq to engage in violence against the Infidels. I am more concerned with the recruits to the al-Qaeda inspired movement and whatever else militia army or guerrilla group. That is my idea of the people going crazy.
And Iraq is one place. When we start talking about the whole area including Syria and Lebanon, and the whole mix….I think it will be much much worse.
who cares if the leaders are still sitting on their hands not moving. they will become irrelevant.
And no amount of ‘self-preservation’ on their part is going to calm it down.

Zenobia Says:

oh and one more thing Ehsani about ideology.
I think you and many people have a difficulty… recognizing Capitalism as an ideology.
we just like to call this self-interest…. and there is of course, nothing wrong or dangerous or dogmatic about that…:)
but it is , it is ideology.
and the promotion of Capitalism without keeping its ideological dangers in check and without Democracy being at least as powerful a participant, it can only lead to treacherous results.

You say that the other US ally arab states can keep their people happy and content because they have the money. But they don’t seem to be doing a very good job.
UAE. ok but 70% of the people of the UAE are foreigners.

And i just don’t consider the people of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to be very content and happy. Again, i think the resentment is building steadily.
And you say…that the leaders will keep control just like Musharaff is keeping control.
Oh my, again.
and then where is the ‘democracy’…what is the point of it all?
the emergency laws and permanent repression are the answer?

all of this seems like a giant contradiction to me.

Zenobia Says:

btw, these “people” getting arrested in Pakistan today…were one quarter of the countries lawyers!…
the lawyers….. i hardly think these were the most radical elements… dreaming of control…

EHSANI2 Says:

Zenobia,

Musharraf is just another dictator who does not know how to let go once he gained power.

You want me to state that the U.S. is ideological? Fine. I have no problem that. What does it really change?

My point was the US policy towards Syria have clearly changed for reason s other than “ideological”.

I hope that I did not give the impression that all is dandy in the Arab world. Most of the leaders are crooks and dictators. Their populace have been robbed of the most basic of freedoms.

Alex Says:

My friends Ehasni and Ford Prefect

As you know, I am a big supporter of Syria’s foreign and regional policies. Besides the “mistakes” that they did, like every human makes mistakes, I can’t fault them for much, really.

I can answer all your arguments if I had the energy to type few pages .. but I won’t.

To me it is clear: We are trying to survive … to control the confrontational lunatics … the neocons, their Israeli backers, Ahmadinejad, and the Wahabis … these are the ones pushing the Middle East to war …. pushing with all their energy … from an unnecessary war in Iraq, to an unnecessary war in Lebanon, to crazy statements from Tehran, to stupid Saudis arming Sunni militias in Lebanon without knowing what they are doing or how to control them …

These are the leaders of regimes driven, or at least influenced, by the wishes and ideologies of religious fanatics … Zionist Christians from Texas (tens of millions of Bush voters) … Israeli settlers and hard line voters … Wahabbis in the KSA … and whoever supports Ahmadinejad’s confrontational statements.

One or more of these four can easily push the region into unprecedented bloodshed …

For those of you who are criticizing Syria’s foreign policy … I respectfully want to tell you that you would not be able to know what to do if you were in their place … You would simply give up, or mess up.

Internal mismanagement and corruption is another story… the regime is corrupt … but the regime is uniquely experienced and qualified in avoiding conflicts in the Middle East without givig up on Syria’s national interests.

EHSANI2 Says:

Alex,

Besides getting back the Golan, what are Syria’s “national interests” exactly?

Alex Says:

Ehsani,

The tall buildings you would like to see in Damascus need solid and secure foundations… you think that the foundations are there? and they are secure?

We need to start by setting the rules for the management of the area .. it is no secret that Israel, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia are all pushing each other to try to arrange the neighborhood to their liking.

This is the stage we are at now … you get the international circus of the Hariri investigation trying to keep the Syrian regime busy on a daily basis for two years … then when there is nothing else they can squeeze from it … they come up with the brilliant idea of “we might have hit a possible Syrian box-like building that might have been used to develop nuclear weapons” … to keep the Syrian regime busy again.

But this time the Syrians decided to not be busy with it …

EHSANI2 Says:

My friend Alex,

You did not answer my question:

“Besides getting back the Golan, what are Syria‚??s ‚??national interests‚?Ě exactly?”

Alex Says:

Syria’s national interests are the same like every other nation on earth .. you know them Ehasani. I was simply explaining that in addition to trying to maximize future earnings, we need to minimize risk and we need to spend a lot of money and effort on buying insurance … because our neighborhood is … not safe yet .. not stable yet .. not settled yet … and we are not isolated from it.

idaf Says:

Ehsani,

You asked me these question: “Are you saying that had Syria not opposed the U.S invasion, it would have faced the local wrath and radicalization of its society? Are you correlating the internal security situation in Syria to the decision to oppose the Americans?”

For the era after the Iraq war, my answer to your question is Yes and Yes. Had Syria not opposed the US invasion, I argue that we would have been watching videos on Al-Jazeera for the last few years, featuring people with names such as “Abu Bateekh Al-Homsi” and “Abu Balloot El-Hamwi” calling for violent attacks on Syrian cities to ‚??take down the infidel regime and restore the caliphate in bilad elsham”. If Syria did not oppose the Iraq war, such voices would have found considerable supporter base as was the case in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi. These media jihadi calls usually morph into attacks on entertainment places (like what took place in Egypt and Jordan) and internal stability would have been flushed down the toilet. The opposition to the war made life easier for the regime in maintaining internal security. For comparison, Jordan has a reputation of a stronger internal security system than Syria (one that‚??s supported by all the US and Israeli know-how has to offer), but nonetheless that did not stop the emergence of people such as Zarqawi and bombing of hotels in Amman.

If as you are calling, the Syrian regime was to support the war publicly, ignoring the local sentiments (coupled with the poor economic state of the people), there would have been a very good chance that Syria would be taken back to the eighties, where the regime would be focusing on fighting these radical forces, instead of dealing with reform and development (even as limited as it is now). Moreover, in return, there were absolutely no guarantees that the regime would get anything back from the US administration for its obedience.

By choosing to keep the solid internal stability and security instead of scarifying them for a farfetched few years of friendliness with the US, the regime made a wise cost-benefit analysis of the situation. Ultimately, this choice proved to be to the benefit of the Syrian people on the longer run.

Bashar Says:

Excellent article Ehsani. Many thanks.

One more addition, I believe it all stems from the top.
I call it Citizen Kane’s complex. -:)
Cheers.

EHSANI2 Says:

IDAF,

So, ‚??Abu Bateekh Al-Homsi‚?Ě and ‚??Abu Balloot El-Hamwi‚?Ě are going to dictate how our country runs its foreign policy going forward?

‚??Abu Bateekh Al-Homsi‚?Ě and ‚??Abu Balloot El-Hamwi‚?Ě did try the violent attacks on Syrian cities once before, no? I don‚??t think that it was because their country was getting too close to the Americans.

So, let me get this straight:

The only way, the leadership could avoid throwing internal security down the toilet was to publicly oppose the Americans? Is this how our country going to be run going forward?

Did you also consider that the ‚??poor economic state of the people‚?Ě (your words) is perhaps correlated to the Iraq stand and the sanctions that followed?

I think that the majority of Syrian people have no interest in seeing their country take on the U.S. and the west. Your argument that all hell was going to break loose if Syria did not oppose the invasion so forcefully does not make sense in my opinion.

The appeasement of ‚??Abu Bateekh Al-Homsi‚?Ě and ‚??Abu Balloot El-Hamwi‚?Ě (even if you believe your thesis which I don‚??t) at the expense of taking on the U.S. next door is certainly not a trade that I would have made.

Finally, you also seem to fall into the illusion that the U.S. is in Iraq for ‚??few years‚?Ě. It is this strategic miscalculation that is at the heart of the issue. It is not ‚??few years of friendliness‚?Ě that is involved here. The U.S. will be in Iraq for decades and not few years. That is a bet I am willing to make.

Bashar Says:

IDAF,

Ehsani makes great point. But to reiterate, I think the idea that if the regime did not make an opposing stand against US policy in the region it would have cost it its downfall by internal extreme Islamic militancy is ludicrous. In fact, it is the regime today that is using such elements to further its goals towards the shortsighted regional policies and choices it has made. The most ironic is that the late Assad kept those elements on short-leach for the past 30 plus years, while his son un-leached them in vengeance. The radicalization of the society is being encouraged by the government this time around. Mosques have been given more freedom in their Friday speeches and are encouraged to run their own affairs with less government watch as in the past.

Cheers

idaf Says:

Ehsani,

First, I‚??m glad that you like the names “Abu Bateekh Al-Homsi” and “Abu Balloot El-Hamwi” (you used them in your last response 3 times). I do plan to suggest them to a friend scenarist of mine. They can be featured in Syrian comedy next Ramadan tackling terrorism ÔĀ?

But seriously, you either deliberately or subconsciously misread my argument. I do hope it was the latter and urge you to read it again.

The regime‚??s opposition to the Iraq war had nothing to do with the existence of few radicals in the Syrian society. These fanatical elements (that exist in every society and religion) would have received a popularity boost had the Syrian regime supported the war in Iraq. The regime‚??s decision had neutralized these elements in the Syrian society (unlike the case of “moderate” Arab countries). If Syria had not opposed the Iraq war, such voices would have found considerable supporter base as was the case in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi. This choice of policy has managed to remove any recruitment tools from the hands of radicals inside (and outside) Syria and kept the Syrian people enjoying stability and internal security.

Opposing the Iraq war was a conscious decision to neutralize these radical elements NOT “appease” them! There are 2 ways to fight such elements: The neo-cons way or the successful way! You can either wage war with them (that would usually boost their legitimacy and give them even more recruitment grounds.. read the US in Afghanistan and US) OR follow a smart and less costly policy of neutralizing them and eliminating their influence.

Again, I am convinced that the ideological elements in the US administration (that you puzzlingly simply chose to disregard) that had the upper hand in policy making after 9/11 up until the failures in Iraq, had made up their minds back then on how Syria should be treated. I hope that you don‚??t think that Syria would have gotten a free trade agreement with the US (a la Jordan) if it was to support the war in Iraq! The anti-Syria sanctions and “acts” were there long before Syria made public opposition of the war.

You seem to ignore the Israeli factor on the US administration‚??s policy towards Syria and think that if only Syria becomes more obedient towards the US, it will start raining dollars in Damascus. The policies followed by different US administrations‚?? towards Syria are primarily influenced by the “Israeli Lobby”. No matter how Syria would‚??ve reacted to the Iraq war, as long as it continues to work towards regaining the Golan and opposing Israeli policies in the region, it will continue to be politically costly to any US politician to be friendly with Syria (regardless of how obedient it is on Iraq, democracy or whatever). The Israeli lobby and the media will eat such politician alive.

I advise you to read this book by 2 renowned academics, to get an idea of how “US interest” historically took the back seat to Israeli interests in many Middle East related policies (specially with regards to “Israel‚??s enemies”).

I also was perplexed to read your words: “I think that the majority of Syrian people have no interest in seeing their country take on the U.S. and the west”!! Who mentioned anything about a “take on the US and the west”?!

PS. Bashar, allow me to respond to your argument and to your misinterpretation of my comments with a famous quote that Ehsani usually uses to not waste time and energy in responding: “You do not know what you are talking about”.

Bashar Says:

IDAF,

Your reluctance to answer or respond to my comment speaks volumes.
You sound like our esteemed ambassador to Washington Mr. Imad Mustapha. I’ve heard your line being peddled against such arguments for years from the Ba’ath Party and the rest of the crooks in Damascus.

First of all, Syria is still a recruiting ground for those militant groups. You must be living in a vacuum not to have caught the news regarding them. Even the Boston Globe reported about suicide bombers finding their way to safe houses in Damascus on their way to their promised land in Iraq. It also profiled a few of those martyrs. So your reasoning is flawed regarding Syria foreign policy, even when Syria made the wrong choice and allied itself with the nexus of jihadism, Iran, it still experience plenty of radicalism.

“Opposing the Iraq war was a conscious decision to neutralize these radical elements NOT ‚??appease‚?Ě them!”

Conscious decision! By who? Mr President? Bashar could not see beyond his nose. His novice adventure in power cost him 30 years of political, ideological, and strategic maneuvering that his father built.
He was kicked out of Lebanon in a humiliating fashion, alienated his best money sources, i.e. Saudia Arabia, and opened the country for the Mullah’s of Iran and their fanatic adherents, and you talk about radicalism!

You are a mouth-piece of a regime that has lost touch with reality.
Ehsani analysis are based on reality, you on the other hand is delusional.
The whole world have opened up to the US for the concentration of capital, Syria under the ‚??wise‚?Ě and ‚??balanced‚?Ě decisions, as you and Alex like to say, of Mr. Assad seems to think it can take on the US and its allies around the globe.
Ehsani talk‚??s numbers that don’t lie, Syria is on the brink of disaster in its fiscal budget and without capital pouring into the country in the forms of massive foreign investments it won‚??t be long before street demonstrations become the norm all over the country.
I will not go into the internal affairs of the country in terms of corruption and cronyism as these will need a few more pages to fill. But to suggest that the US have an ideological vendetta against Syria is tribal thinking that seems to plague your vision of the real world.
As Ehsani indicated to you, the US bases all its foreign policies on self interest, no more and no less. And yes we know the Jews have the biggest lobbying body in the US and have great influence in the media, but please do not insult our intelligence by telling us the US have failed. The US will be in Iraq for the next 20 to 30 years. I‚??ll be my money on it. Your short-fuse political thinking is grounded in your animosity towards the US. When you stop thinking Syria is the center of the universe and look at the global picture as Ehsani tried to get you to see, then we can discuss regional ME politics. ‚??Till then keep dreaming that America has failed in Iraq and Syria won the battles of the wits.

Cheers

EHSANI2 Says:

IDAF,

First, you should be glad to know that I have already purchased (and half way through reading) the book that you recommended.

Of course, Syria does not stand a chance when it comes to Israel and its influence in the U.S. No one can argue with that. Regrettably, this will not change even with a new administration in the White house. The book that you referred to makes that very clear. But, we have to work with the hand we have been dealt. We cannot keep saying that Israel is treated more favorably by the U.S. and give up. Israel‚??s success in this field is the culmination of decades of investment, planning and hard work by their supporters. These groups understood the way America works and have planned accordingly.

While the current U.S. Administration is more biased towards Israel (even by U.S. standards), it is hard to see how things can change much in the future.

In my opinion, Syria needs to design a foreign policy that assumes the following:

1-The U.S. will not leave Iraq for decades to come. It may reduce its troops. It may leave Baghdad but it will not pack and leave from the country at large.

2-The Arab Gulf countries will continue to fear Iran. So long as this is the case, Syria will always be viewed with suspicion. This logic is now shared by most countries in the west.

3- The departure of this particular U.S. Administration is unlikely to change the geopolitical dimension by as much as most seem to think. It seems to me that Damascus seems to think that once the current occupants of the White House change, Syria‚??s world will dramatically change. I think that this is a mistake if you believe in my above two observations.

You were dismayed by my comment ‚??I think that the majority of Syrian people have no interest in seeing their country take on the U.S. and the west‚?Ě. That is certainly the way I feel. I also think that a number of Syrians agree with me.

Syria may not have gotten Dollar bills thrown at it from American Helicopters had it chosen a different path when it came to its policies in Iraq, Lebanon and with Hamas. having said that, i doubt that things would have gotten any worse than where the country finds itself today…

idaf Says:

Ehsani,

Just one note as it appears that you still did not get my comment: I totally agree that “the majority of Syrian people have no interest in seeing their country take on the U.S. and the west‚?Ě.

My “dismay” was that you brought this argument up in the first place, while it was irrelevant and I did not imply to it!

saint Says:

Ehsani2,
I like your great Post.
Thank you for putting the economic vision and policy above the nonsense of the philosophical nationalists. Man, when we are going to realize that we are in the year 2007 not 1950.
Second, anyone realize what Idaf said about the regime decision to change minds after the videos of Abu-Badeekh Al Homsi, shouldn‚??t we question what the real values the regime have are. It was not the killing of the Iraqis, it is their pretty picture as nationalist which is important in the eye of the pulpous, that is amazing.

And what is going on betting on the wrong house always. How come some are taking about the China as the new super power and all the China is just a labor workplace for the capital of the USA, not only that, poor china will go into hunger if the American consumer stop buying their products. They need rich country to buy the American produced product in China not poor third world countries, of course not to mention they need the evolved capitalist brain to continue feeding change and invention.

Hats are off to AIG for his persistent stand in defending the eternal democratic values for the sake of Syrians. I‚??m going to call you the Judah Halevi (1086-1145) of the Syrians.

Alex Says:

So we have here Idaf the Baathist going against Saint, Bashar, and Ehsani the defenders of Imperialism and Zionism : )

Time for me to support my fellow Baathist:

1) Ehsani: Syria is not asking for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Syria knows there will be chaos if the US withdraws. If you read carefully their statements, the Syrians are practically asking for a statement that clearly declares American intentions to withdraw (in principle) most of their troops out of Iraq within years.

Did Syria ask for the withdrawal of US troops from Qatar? from Saudi Arabia? from Kuwait?

No

So don’t worry …. Syria understands that the new military bases in Iraq will probably still have American troops in them for the next decade. But there is a difference between this current Neocon plan to secure Iraq and then move to Syria (as General Wesley clack was told at the Pentagon in 2004), and Having a couple of American bases, like the ones in Qatar.

Which brings me to Bashar’s comments above:

‚??Till then keep dreaming that America has failed in Iraq and Syria won the battles of the wits.

hmmm … let me tell you about Abdel Rahman elrashed, Director of AlArabia Saudi satellite TV channel and former editor of Saudi Asharq Al-Awsat. Abdelrahman is not a fan of Syria. he accumulated the largest number of Anti-Syria articles, as in this recent example (make sure you read how most Arab readers’ comments were defending Syria’s position following this article)

So, Abdelrahman himself who always criticized Syria in the past for being stupid in thinking that it can alter in anyway this administration’s plans in Iraq or the Middle East, concluded few months ago that “Syria should be credited for single handedly defeating America in Iraq”

I can’t find and link this article now, but IDAF probably has an Arabic keyboard and can Google search for it… it was an article on how Syria is the only country that knows how to use the fundamentalist forces to its advantage without getting burned.

So … I guess is it not an exclusively Baathist thing to conclude that Syria is not helpless when it comes to this administration’s plans for a new Iraq and … a new Middle East (following Success in shaping the new Iraq).

Bashar: while we both want the best for Syria, we disagree on the kind of relations Syria should have with Saudi Arabia. Do you have a schedule of how much Saudi Arabia was paying to help Syria economically … say, from 2000 until 2004 when their relations started to go sour with Syria?

Do you think that compares to what Dubai or Qatar are investing in Syria these days?

Qatar and Dubai invest in Syria without expecting Syria to submit to their political agendas … they don’t have political agendas that contradict Syria’s national interest.

The Saudis do. You know very well that Prince Bandar was until recently very active in shaping this administration’s mideast policies. Saudi relations with Syria deteriorated because there was no easy way for Syria to fit the American Saudi agenda without weakening Syria’s role in the Middle East.

The question of this topic included this part: “Should Syria be more involved or more hands off in its surrounding region’s many conflicts”

The Saudis and Americans say that Syria should be totally hands off .. while they would be totally hands on … if you watch LBC you would remember how Syrian TV news used to start by showing us who President Hafez Assad met with today… today on LBC you see who the American Ambasador in Beirut met with today.

Finally … Bashar’s success in establishing an alliance with Iran and Turkey is priceless.

How do we know it is that good? … the “Arab moderates” hate it!

EHSANI2 Says:

Alex,

I am glad that we are now in agreement that the U.S. may not leave Iraq for “years” to come.

Bashar Says:

Alex,

In response to your question;

“Bashar: while we both want the best for Syria, we disagree on the kind of relations Syria should have with Saudi Arabia. Do you have a schedule of how much Saudi Arabia was paying to help Syria economically ‚?¶ say, from 2000 until 2004 when their relations started to go sour with Syria?”

Check out these two articles;

http://www.alanbaaalalamia.com/mlf32.htm

and

http://www.suhuf.net.sa/2005jaz/sep/16/rj10.htm

Syria have lost plenty from its souring relationship with SA.

Cheers

Alex Says:

Bashar,

Thanks.

But you know … that’s exactly my point. The Saudis wanted to show how serious they are about supporting Syria by putting a 100 million investment in a holding company!

WOW … how generous f them.

How much did they give Lebanon? … few billions… Lebanon is 5 times smaller than Syria.

How much did they Prince Bandar take as a commission from th eone weapons deal he brokered with British manufacturers? … 2 Billion dollars (1 Billion pounds)

How much is Iran investing in Syria ?? …. 3 Billions.

UAE? … few billions.

Qatar? … few Billions?

Are Qatar and Dubai asking for Syrian political concessions in return for those Billions? … no.

Saudi Arabia? … yes, big time… their $100 millions was making the stupid Saudi journalists write articles saying “we are giving Syria money and they dare to be that unappreciative of our generosity !”

How much is Saudi Arabia giving Bechtel to built a high-rise building for them? … are you ready? … 13 Billions.

Saudi Arabia is not exactly an enlightened place … and they are not strong enough to bully Syria… and they are generous with hookers and with American companies they like to impress but not with Syria.

Its OK .. Turkey is a great replacement ally for now. If the Saudis want to genuinely help Syria because they really care, then they are welcome to do so. But if they want to use their $100 millions to make Syria shut up and let them take Lebanon, then Syria should not take a thing from them.

david s Says:

Well said Alex!!! where would the substance quality of this site go without you and Zenobia!?

EHSANI2 Says:

DAVID S

Why don’t you enlighten us with some “quality” and “substance” of your own?

david s Says:

Eshani, my sincere apologies if you infered my apreciation for Alex and Zenobia were slights on others. That was not my intention at all! I am just more familiar with their writings via this site and am less familiar with others such as yourself. After reading your riposte, I subsequently read through your article and it certainly is impressive both in its quality and its substance!
Again, my humble apologies for any misunderstanding Eshani.
Shukran
D

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