Across the Bay

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pajamas Media Podcast

Michael Totten has posted his podcast interview with me on Pajamas Media. The interview was done several days ago, before the current cabinet crisis in Lebanon.

The interview is a bit on the long side (35 mins) and goes in some detail about issues relating to Lebanon and Syria, so be warned.

I'd like to add a little note that I didn't get a chance to explore in the interivew. When we go into realism, Michael rightly points out the issue of the internal constitution of regimes.

I spent my time discussing the balance of powers aspect, but I would like to address the internal nature of the Syrian regime as well, as I think it matters. It's an issue that President Bush recently raised with regards to Syria ("form of government does matter"), and I think he's right. However, he's right in an additional way (i.e., not just about "democratic" vs. "totalitarian" forms of government) when it comes to Syria.

The nature of the regime matters in Syria because it's 1- a minority Alawite regime, and 2- because it's based on a minoritarian, supra-national ideology: radical Arab nationalism. As such, the issue is the inherent structure, nature, interests, ideology, and the sources of legitimacy of the regime that make it inherently destabilizing. That's why it needs to project itself on its neighbors, subversively. It exports its own instability abroad. And that's why, if we're going to make comparisons as to what kind of outcome we hope to see, Bashar can never be, say, a Sadat.

It is inherently tied to the fact that Assad is an Alawite autocrat of a majority Sunni state, which is why he needs to cling to the supra-nationalist, Arabist (now Islamic-Arabist) ideology. (It is also related to Syria's own definition as a nation-state, but I'll save that for another time.)

It is hardly a surprise then that Assad's is basically a state sponsor of Islamist jihadists. It is directly linked to the nature of the regime.

Finally, a couple of additional lines on the issue of diplomacy which I also touch on in the interview.

1. Bashar knows his own interests and has been pursuing them rationally as he defines them and according to his worldview. Subversion and anti-Americanism is his interest! The idea that US diplomats can show him where his best interests really lie is not diplomacy. To believe that one can show him the "true" nature of his interests is missionary work. Christian missionaries failed spectacularly in the ME and this approach will fail also.

2. The problem isn't in talking to your enemies but in forgetting that it is your enemy you are considering talking to. So, you need to seriously figure out how talking might hurt your position and strengthen your enemy's.