Tarek Barakat | Fashion Industry Dubai
November 2nd, 2007

Re: ‘Syria's foreign policy

The simple answer is all of them. And I mean all of them (i.e. including Israel). Because as the saying goes; Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

The best Syrian example of such a policy occurred in the 90’s when Hafez Al Assad managed one hell of a balancing act with most regional and international powers. This won him and Syria unprecedented influence over Lebanon and the region, a membership in the new Arab power triangle (along with Saudi & Egypt). This was no small feet especially since the latter countries were strong American allies. But Syria’s close relationship with Iran played an ironic roll in trying to appease and pull Syria closer to the “Arab world”. Even the Americans were playing ball by unofficially blessing Syrian control over Lebanon in exchange for Damascus’s blessing of Gulf War I/American control of the gulf. And even when things went sour with Turkey nearly invading Syria’s northern border, Assad used backdoor diplomacy with Egypt to calm the waters. Not to mention fulfilling Turkish demands of kicking PKK leaders out of his country (i.e. being a realist and know when to stand down).

Unfortunately this influence has subsided since the Hariri assassination. The triangle has long been replaced by a predominantly Saudi dominance, with Egypt playing a marginal role. Damascus’s clout has declined to the bare minimum in the Arab world. Even their Lebanese assets have been marginalized to become mere opposition parties. And the trend of becoming, or at least being viewed as, an Iranian satellite is only hampering the hard climb out of this hole more and more.

This is not to say that all of Syria’s problems are Syria’s doing. Whether we like to admit it or not, the world did change after September 11. And with people like VP Dick Cheney and his ilk enjoying an unprecedented influence over world and middle eastern affairs it means that the pressure has been and will continue to be exerted on countries such as Syria. But all is not yet lost, and Syria has utilized some of the problems in the region to its advantage. The mess that is Iraq gained it a much needed friend in the form of Turkey. Who’s extremely unhappy with the way the US is handling Iraq and the EU handling its membership application. Therefore it’s a classic case of you’re enemy’s enemy (or rather your enemy’s ex-lover) is your ally.

But Iran and to even a lesser extent Turkey, can offer Syria so much before the latter will need to move back to a multi-polar realm. Syria needs Saudi Arabia and the Americans way more than they need her because both can provide Damascus influence Iran cannot. And if the Syrians can’t win the American support due to conflicting strategic interest then at least they should avoid antagonizing them. The Saudis are also here to stay for the foreseeable future and therefore must be accommodated (especially in Lebanon). Compromise might sound like an overly simplistic solution to a very complicated situation. But time, especially in the Middle East, crops up new opportunities and tribulations. The trick is to sit out the current tribulations and exploit any upcoming opportunities. And while I am merely stating the obvious; this is a better solution than “surrendering” or committing fatal errors due to blind stubbornness.

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3 Responses to the Article

AnotherIsraeliGuy Says:

No country without normal relations with Europe and the US can have real economic development. Why not just say it out loud?

Tarek Says:

umm i think i did??? look at my first sentence and last paragraph. i just choose not to deal with every single entity out there.

david s Says:

well written and analyzed Tarek. Compromise is required from all sides.

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