Across the Bay

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Sweetest Taboo

For some reason blogger isn't letting me edit my previous post! I wanted to add the link (Arabic) to al-Jazeera's program "Hiwar Maftouh" where the Syrian Ambassador to the UAE, Riad Na'san Agha asserted (as a fait accompli) that it was indeed the Mossad that killed Hariri. Scroll down towards the bottom of the page for the quote. The program also featured Josh Landis and Michel Kilo.

On a separate note, but one related to some of the things discussed on the program, Josh Landis informs us that Syrian activist, and head of the Liberal Democratic Union, Kamal Labwani, has met with US Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch. The person who informed Josh of this meeting also said that Labwani is not hiding this fact, but is actually urging people to make sure word got out! I don't know what the purpose of the meeting was or what was discussed. But it seems that Labwani also went on al-Jazeera to talk about the meeting. I couldn't find any link on al-Jazeera as of yet, but if someone saw him or spots a link, please let me know.

Either way, I guess this should put to sleep the idea that the Syrian opposition inside Syria (as opposed to Ghadry's party) is averse to having any connection to the US. Apparently, they, or at least some of them, don't mind such a connection after all, and in fact seem to want it! At least Labwani is quite open about it. I still don't know the nature of the meeting, but clearly the man has something in mind, and I think that at this stage the opposition sees their goal on the horizon, and that this is the time to act, and they are trying to take some sort of initiative. And so they should, as this piece by Hazem Saghieh makes clear why (I once again remind you of my own musing on the subject):

The Syrian regime is not so much based on on the plurality of levels and centers of power as on their amalgamation and summation. This makes it difficult for the regime as a whole not to break up once one center (family, or...) collapses. In other words, the "minor" collapse might open the gates for the removal of the Baath, and is tied to it.

That, by the way, is one reason (among several) why I am quite skeptical about the feasibility of Patrick Seale's scenario of Bashar giving up Maher and Asef.

However, it is becoming clear that taboos (including talking about sectarianism, as evident from Anthony Shadid's recent piece) are falling.

Update: Kais caught Labwani's appearance on al-Hurra, and relayed some of what he said. The overall message is of weakening Assad's grip, opening up the system, broadening the base through national participation, in a (2-year) transition towards an open democratic system (that doesn't necessarily have an Assad at the helms. Although, the role of the Alawites is certainly there, and the overall idea is in many ways similar to my own proposal on the restructuring of power). Labwani "ruled out any chances of the regime implementing reform now or in the future."

The main premise of weakening Assad, and the lack of any trust in his will and ability to reform anything, echoed Michel Kilo's and Anwar al-Bunni's comments in an interview with L'Orient-Le Jour: "l’alternative se réduit à ces options: soit le président Assad coopère et il affaiblit son pouvoir, soit il rejette les demandes du Conseil de sécurité, et il menace ainsi également son pouvoir." (Emphasis mine.)

It struck me that these premises were in complete opposition to the recommendations by Flynt Leverett and his ilk. Whereas the Syrian opposition is against the cessation of pressure, and is asking for the broadening of the political base and the weakening of Assad's grip, Leverett prescribes the empowerment of Assad, the narrowing of his base down to himself alone (esp. with the theory of giving up Maher and Asef), and simply trusting his "reformist impulses" (based on the woman he married of course!) and giving him a carte blanche (with lots of "carrots" for the duration). It wouldn't be the first time Leverett uttered such nonsense. Back in the Spring when the Lebanese opposition (backed by 1.2 million people who took to the streets) was calling for Syria's withdrawal, Leverett advised against such a withdrawal, and called on the US to "enage and empower" Assad, all the while using Lebanon -- the way he put it was infinitely more amusing: "the threat of intensified criticism of Syrian hegemony in Lebanon" -- as a "stick." Sheer brilliance. Needless to say that his reading couldn't have been more wrong, and it remains so.

Update 2: I've just heard confirmation that Kamal al-Labwani was arrested upon arrival in Syria.