Across the Bay

Friday, November 11, 2005

Syria on Bush's Mind

President Bush made two interesting references in his speech today:

This week, the government of Syria took two disturbing steps. First, it arrested Dr. Kamal Labwani for serving as an advocate of democratic reform. Then President Assad delivered a strident speech that attacked both the Lebanese government and the integrity of the Mehlis investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

The government of Syria must do what the international community has demanded: cooperate fully with the Mehlis investigation, and stop trying to intimidate and destabilize the Lebanese government.

The government of Syria must stop exporting violence and start importing democracy.

It's significant that the message is being sent out that the US is not just interested in changes (or, to use the common parlance, "deals") in regional policy (notice, no mention of Iraq in this scenario), but is also interested in supporting democratic reform in Syria.

Ammar Abdulhamid has two relevant posts on this issue. Here's his advice to the Syrian opposition:

Moreover, balking at American support for ideological reasons, or what might seem at first like “strategic considerations,” is simply foolish. America is the main mover and shaker in the region these days and any group seeking to present itself as a viable alternative to the regime needs to show that it is capable of dealing with it constructively...

If the opposition can just let go of its ideological predilections for a while, they can see that there is absolutely no way they can present themselves to the Syrian people as a credible alternative to the regime without showing themselves capable of gaining international recognition first. Even Bashar needed French approval to be internally accepted. Gaining international legitimacy and credibility will be translated into internal legitimacy and credibility as well.

Meanwhile, the opposition in Syria should begin to realize that if they are indeed serious about “saving” the country as they said in the Declaration, then the first step that they need to learn is the Art of Compromise. In our situation, this means that they need to bite their leftist tongues and talk to the Americans.

His reminder is equally important:

it does not matter in the least that Syria’s opposition does not have a popular mandate at this stage. Guiding the transitional process is an elitist mandate anyway. The main task of the opposition now should be to prepare itself for this task and to hasten its arrival.

The current crisis affords a unique opportunity for challenging the regime from the inside. But this window of opportunity is not going to be there for long, should the internal opposition in Syria, and the secular elements in particular, fail to take advantage of it. Else, the regime, which is bound to collapse under the deadweight of its own internal contradictions, is going to collapse on our heads, and there will no one to manage the aftermath.

Let's see what happens.