Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Why the Embassies Burned

A few important items on the matter. First, a sharp article by Lee Smith in the WS.

Lee wonders why "only in Damascus and Beirut have institutions -- embassies or consulates -- representing Denmark and Norway been attacked"?

He reminds readers that "Syria is an authoritarian state where nothing happens on the street unless the regime permits it to happen. Actually, that's something of an understatement--the government almost always determines and drives public actions. So, many of the Damascus protestors venting their pious outrage likely either work for Syrian security services or are rent-a-mobs being paid to riot."

As for motives, he offers three possibilities:

[W]hy is Syria so hostile to a Europe that is by comparison much more accommodating? There are at least three possible reasons: (1) To prevent the international community from bringing down Syria's ruling regime; (2) To raise money for Hamas; (3) To warn against interfering with the Iranian nuclear program.

Indeed, regarding #2, it was Bashar who was first to scream that the Arab League should foot the bill for Hamas if the EU decides not to subsidize them anymore. Of course, the message behind that was -- besides the lame attempt at reviving Syria's status as the "beating heart of Arabism" and "citadel of resistance" -- that Hamas should not succumb to the conditions set forth by the EU (and later, Egypt) and recognize Israel and cease terrorist attacks. In other words, Bashar was solidifying his position in the Iran axis of upheaval and rejectionism.

Read the whole article for more. But Lee's essential thesis is also held by people like Olivier Roy, and Italy's deputy prime minister and foreign minister Gianfranco Fini.

Fini said the following about Syria: "I'm about to make a serious but grounded accusation: I think that at this stage Syria poses a serious threat. I'll take my responsibility for this statement ... I can't believe that in a country like Syria demonstrations that lead to violent attacks by armed men on embassies and consulates are not tolerated by local authorities." Fini added, "When countries like Syria, Iran and, God forbid, Palestine are led by groups of fundamentalists, we can't but face similar consequences."

Roy saw that Syria's act was motivated by "scores [it has] to settle with the Europeans." Roy pointed to France's "very hard-line" positions over Syria's influence in Lebanon and Iran's nuclear activities.

Last but not least is Martin Kramer's take, and his proposal as to what the EU should do:

Seek the answer in the palaces, not the streets. Some Muslim governments have come under intense pressure from the Transatlantic alliance. They have reacted by seeking to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe. Iran needs a divided West to avoid sanctions over its nuclear program. Syria needs it to escape accountability for the Hariri assassination. Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood allies need it to break an embargo of the new Hamas principality. Egypt and Saudi Arabia need it to escape Western demands for reform.

Since the United States refuses to be intimidated, the focus has been on Europe. And for embattled regimes, the cartoon affair has been an Allah-send. The palace-dwellers aren't interested in Danish apologies or expressions of media regret. They want to be paid off in political coin for dousing the fire. Until they are, Danish and other embassies will burn. Syria and Iran especially need a Europe cowed into meek submission, which may be why the worst violence rocked Damascus and Beirut.

Europe must stand firm and united, lest it become a tributary of despots and fanatics. European states should close their embassies in Damascus and Beirut, in solidarity with the Danes.

Another crucial point is that the US and the EU should remain united in their positions. After all, as Lee said, this is "practically an act of war."

Addendum: Ammar Abdulhamid is on the same page:

[W]e should not fail to see the emerging bigger picture here. We should not fail to take under consideration Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the international community, nor Muqtada Sadr’s pledge to fight for Syria and Iran, nor Khalid Mishaal’s assertion that Hamas will never acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. The Axis of Evil, minus N. Korea, is making a move here and is throwing the glove in the face of the international community.

No, this is not a simple petty defiance, but a calculated move based on the assumption that the international community, for all its current bluster, has no choice but to yield. After all, this Petulant Lot may not be wrong in assuming that it holds, if not hordes, all keys to regional stability.

So, what will the international community to do?

Ammar's proposal is one I agree fully with. To deal a blow to this alliance, you focus on its weakest link: Syria.

Update: For more from Olivier Roy, see here (French). Here's a translated bit on the Damascus riots: "It is evident that these demonstrations are entirely manipulated by the authorities. It's revenge for the European pressure on the Syrian presence in Lebanon. The EU has firmly intervened on that file, especially the French. The message is clear: they tap the Danes to say stop the European intrusion in the region."

Update 2: More still from Roy, in Le Monde: "La carte des émeutes montre que les pays touchés par la violence sont ceux où le régime et certaines forces politiques ont des comptes à régler avec les Européens. La violence a été instrumentalisée par des Etats et des mouvements politiques qui rejettent la présence des Européens dans un certain nombre de crises au Moyen-Orient. ... Ici, il s'agit d'une manoeuvre purement politique pour reprendre la main au Liban en s'alliant avec tous ceux qui se sentent menacés ou ignorés par la politique européenne. ... Au Liban, la France — et donc aussi l'Europe — a pris soudainement une position très dure sur la présence syrienne, qui a exaspéré le régime de Bachar Al-Assad: il se venge aujourd'hui en organisant en sous-main les attaques contre les ambassades (qui peut imaginer qu'une manifestation spontanée et incontrôlée puisse se dérouler à Damas aujourd'hui?)."