Across the Bay

Friday, August 18, 2006

Why Syria Should Not Be "Engaged"

David Schenker has once again provided a definitive argument why Syria should not be "engaged" by the US.

He once again reminds of Assad's history and unreliability. This has been the refrain of people who have tried to engage the murderous thug of Damascus and regretted it, such as French President Chirac and Martin Indyk. Schenker also highlights the prohibitive costs of such an engagement, to top its virtually guaranteed failure.

That such a misguided policy is certain to fail can be easily gleaned from listening to the paradoxical, dishonest, self-imploding garbage of the regime's pitbulls, apparatchiks, cheerleaders and propagandists in the media and the blogosphere. But Schenker does an excellent job dispelling many myths that have been thrown at us in recent weeks, mainly by people (former careerists) who have axes to grind with the Bush administration.

Here, another article by Itamar Rabinovich is also worth mentioning (though, I disagree with his conclusion). Rabinovich also goes through Assad's horrendous track record. He also notes what I had written about Syria's relationship with Iran, and dispells the ridiculous myth that Syria's alliance with Iran is "a marriage of convenience" or what have you. Rabinovich rightly notes, as I have, that the relationship dates to the very first days of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and has been enduring, and strategic, and has consolidated precisely around Hezbollah. Assad's speech, which I will hopefully return to soon, as well as an equally rabid interview with the Egyptian al-Ousboua', clearly demonstrate that Assad has long made his strategic choice with Iran. Even a regime hired hand recently said on TV that Syria will not abandon Iran.

That is why I will venture to slightly modify Rabinovich's final remark: "it is possible, if not likely, that Syria might seek the political and diplomatic dividends of such a dialogue without actually disengaging from Iran." No. It's absolutely, 100% certain that it will do that! Furthermore, and this echoes Schenker, Syria's so-called cards are its policy. In fact, Rabinovich spent the first half of the article telling us how Hafez Assad, who had all the diplomatic goodies offered him during the 90s, still straddled the fence and never gave up these cards. It's guaranteed that his son won't. By the way, this alone should answer Dennis Ross' remarks ("None of these things can be available if Syria is not prepared to cut off Hezbollah and Hamas. Why, after all, would we invest anything in a peace process when those two organizations retain the means -- with Syrian support -- of subverting that process at a time of their choosing?"). Assad's speech (or rather, speeches, as this speech was a rehashing of the pathetic speech he gave last year in November) should answer the rest. And here I should add that Bashar is not interested in anything but the process of "peace talks," which would give him international legitimacy. He's far more interested in killing the Hariri case (which no one is willing to give him) -- i.e., the regime's survival -- and everyone knows it. The rest is just fluff. Update: As Michael Young put it:

Syria won't liberate the Golan by force of arms because Assad can't risk losing his regime; nor can he negotiate a return of the territory, because his regime could not go through with talks that would almost certainly lead to a worse deal than the one his father rejected in 2000. What Assad wants is a process that can protect him for a time from the U.S., one that will pay him dividends, but which otherwise will never come to fruition.

As a friend of mine put it, peace with Israel would mean the end of the Alawite-dominated security order in Syria. It would be political suicide for Assad.

Schenker said it best: "A former US diplomat in Syria used to say that discussions with the Syrians regarding Hamas, PIJ, and Hizballah were largely "sterile" affairs. They were also futile affairs. Today, Syria remains a state sponsor of terrorism not because Washington refuses to engage with or otherwise offer sufficient incentives to Damascus. Syria supports terrorism because the repressive Assad regime perceives it to be in its interest."

Enough already with the nonsense, ok?