Across the Bay

Saturday, October 01, 2005

In the Syrian Minefield

Lee Smith has a fine piece in the Weekly Standard on Syria and the sectarian fears and tensions that define and drive it. It is quite related to my recent post, "Syria: Apr├Ęs Assad Le Deluge?" below.

In his response to critics, Josh Landis wrote: "The invasion of Iraq ignited a sectarian war there. It is being exported to the rest of the Middle East." He was talking mainly about Syria. Lee's argument, and I think he's right, suggests that the picture is indeed reversed. The Syrian regime is exporting its own sectarian fears and violence, in an attempt to keep it away from ravaging the interior, while hiding behind a thin veneer of Arab nationalism (see my post below). Furthermore, this was not caused by Iraq or the US-led war. This has been standard Syrian policy for decades:

It is worthwhile to note that a state fearful of sectarian conflict runs a regional policy in Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel that aims to provoke elsewhere its own worst nightmares at home.

This is why I thought that Josh's statements on the Asad regime and the Iraqi insurgency (let alone his proposal for Bashar and the Syrian Sunnis) simply misses the point.

Lee recognizes that "the regime has effectively booby-trapped Syria," and, quoting Farid el-Khazen, it has turned its political landscape into a desert. Therefore, the likelihood of Syrian sectarian strife is real. But Lee rejects the usual response to this problem:

Would a Syria in free fall cause trouble in the region and for the United States? Well, it's unclear whether a failed state exports more violence than one already determined to export violence, especially if it is going to take that failed state a long time to exhaust its own sectarian furies. Moreover, the fact is that Syria's intercommunal violence has already spilled over into Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Eventually, Syrians will have to learn how to construct a positive national identity out of a multisectarian, multiethnic society without dispatching their demons abroad or sweeping them under an Arab nationalist rug.

I can't see how they can begin to do that with the current structure in place.