Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

OutLandis Duplicity

It's always interesting to watch apologists at work. It's especially amusing when you start keeping track of their statements, hypocrisies and duplicity.

And then you catch them in the act. In the case of Joshua Landis, keeping record of all the things he said from all the different sides of his mouth is not an easy task, especially lately, when he has reached new lows.

Instead, I'll just point out one little example of what happens when someone decides to consciously sell out integrity and scholarship for the sake of apologetics for thugs.

In a recent pathetic discussion with the clueless Philip Weiss (a discussion that I don't have the time to fully demolish as it deserves to be), Landis made this remarkable statement:

As it was, right or wrong, "we shed a lot of blood for the value of national integrity. When Arab nationalists do that, we call them fascists. Yet Syrians are thinking about their country in precisely those terms."

It was particularly odd, because as I recall, back when Josh was interested in scholarly integrity, he wrote an interesting and thorough response to a couple of his academic colleagues who were trying to wiggle around Arab nationalist fascism and its fascination with Nazism. (The relevant threads are "Non-Iraqi Arabs in Rashid Ali's Wartime Baghdad" and "De-Baathification, Nazism, and history")

Josh, who at the time was not interested in apologetics on behalf of thugs to hip Leftist bloggers, very convincingly marshalled irrefutable evidence from the Arab nationalists' writings that they were indeed fascists and Nazi sympathizers:

For example Jundi writes:

"We were racists who admired the Nazis. We read their books and the sources of their thought." (p. 27)

He mentions the works of Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883-85 and The Birth of Tragedy, 1872), Fichte (Addresses to the German Nation), and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the Anglo-German racial theorist who argued that the German nation was the best nation (Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts or The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 1899.) The book's central idea is that Western civilization's moral, cultural, scientific, and technological superiority comes largely from the positive influence of the "Germanic" race.) He also mentions someone whose name I don't recognize (Darah, who wrote (Race or al-`arq) and insists, "We were the first to have the idea of translating Hitler's Mein Kampf."

He adds: "Those who lived this period in Damascus can appreciate the tendency of the Arab people to sympathize with Nazism. It was the power that took revenge for them. Losers naturally like winners. But we (the Ba`thists) were of a different school." (27)What he means here is that the Bathists were not like ordinary Syrians who just wanted revenge. Rather, they were deeply interested in Nazi thought and nationalist theories.

Jundi describes how on 29 November 1940, Arsuzi founded a party named al-Ba`th al-`Arabi (the Arab Resurrection or Renaissance), which originally consisted of six students. It was at the apartment of Abd al-Halim Qadur, a law student. Arsuzi gave a four-hour lecture on the occasion which dealt with "democracy, communism, and Nazism."

These are the ideological underpinnings of Arab nationalists, whose ideology was directly related to ethnic cleansing campaigns against Kurds and Assyrians.

My my, how things change when you become a full-time apologist. Now we have statements about how "Syria has managed the internal ethnic and religious divisions better than its neighbors." Yet, back in the day, we were told that not only was that same Arab nationalism the only ideology allowed in Syria (and that in the school curricula, there is no mention of "Syria"), but that "[w]ithout Arabism, Syrians have only their sectarian communities to fall back on, because Syrianism has been denied to them. The strength of sectarian identities in Syria is potentially very dangerous should there be sudden regime-change."

So let me see if I get this straight. Syria has better managed its ethnic and religious divisions than its neighbors have. Nevertheless, without Arabism, the same ideology that Josh clearly linked to fascism (before recanting), Syrians will have nothing but their ethnic and religious identities to fall back on, which is "potentially very dangerous," i.e., it might lead them to kill each other (which Josh has said or implied elsewhere). He repeated this in a truly nauseating NYT op-ed back in 9/05:

[A]uthoritarian culture extends into the deepest corners of Syrian life, into families, classrooms and mosques. Damascus's small liberal opposition groups readily confess that they are not prepared to govern. Though they welcome American pressure, like most Syrians, they fear the deep religious animosities and ethnic hatreds that could so easily tear the country apart if the government falls.

It's worth noting that in that worthless op-ed, Josh actually gave us an indication of how Syria's regime manages its ethnic and religious divisions. He advised the US to help Bashar crush Syrian Sunnis, whom Josh blamed as the reason why Assad was aiding insurgents in Iraq (and on this issue, Josh has used up every possible millimeter of his mouth saying everything and its opposite). But then he had the audacity to write that the regime has "worked hard to repair sectarian relations in Syria"! Indeed!

In another post, Josh explained to us the situation of the Kurds in Syria, which, mind you, we are now told that ethnic problems are being managed better than in neighboring countries:

Solving the Kurdish question has become urgent not only because of the glaring inequality the stateless Kurds in Syria, but because of the radical changes to the status of the Kurds in neighboring Iraq and Turkey. Syria has always been able to boast that it treated its Kurds better than its neighbors did. That boast is now hollow. In the future, Syria's Kurds of the North-East will no longer be content to submit to the deprivations of old. The riots of last spring testify to this. If Syrians want the loyalty of the Kurds, they must accord them equal respect and rights. The plight of the stateless Kurds has long been a stain on Syria's claim to treat its people with equality and dignity regardless of ethnic or religious background.

The question of stateless Kurds in Syria began in 1962, when President Qudsi, passed a law that required that the inhabitants of the Governorate of Hasaka (the region of North-East Syria between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers) be counted in one day. Those who were found to have come into the country without proper papers were stripped of their citizenship in August 1962 along with any children born in Syria.

In fact, Josh quoted another regime cheerleader and fellow traveller, Sami Moubayed, to explain the ideology behind Syria's Kurdish policy. You'll see that it relates quite well with what Josh wrote to his academic colleagues above:

To prove their Arab zeal, Syria's new leaders passed decree number 93, stripping about 120,000 Syrian Kurds of their Syrian citizenship.

Josh ended by saying:

Everyone, not just the Sryian authorities, tended to view the Kurds of the Jazira region as a problem and infiltrators who could be dealt with in the most humiliating and discriminatory fashion. It is this past, which Syria is now struggling to put behind it.

It should be noted that the current regime has been launching a brutal campaign against Kurds, which included house demolitions aside from mass arrests and other brutal policies.

So my question is, how exactly then has Syria better managed its internal ethnic and religious division?

Well it depends on which Josh you're talking to. One time Josh told us this:

When Hafiz al-Asad came to power in 1970, one of his primary goals was to establish a new balance between the government and Islam. One of the central planks of his "Corrective Movement" was to abandon the radical secularism and socialism of the Jadid regime that preceded him. Although he reached out to Sunni clerics, giving them greater leeway in society, he strictly limited their influence in politics. At the same time, he encouraged Alawites to embrace mainstream Islam. He declared the Alawites to be nothing but Twelver Shiites, forbade Alawite Shaykhs to venerate Ali excessively, and set the example for his people by adhering to Sunni practice. He built mosques in Alawite towns, prayed publicly and fasted and encouraged his people to do the same.

In short he tried to turn Alawites into "good" (read Sunnified) Muslims in exchange for preserving a modicum of secularism and tolerance in society. (For a better understanding of this process see my article on Islamic education in Syria.) To police this understanding, he squashed any semblance of democracy in Syrian political life, forbidding elections even within professional organizations and trade unions. As a result, civil society was crushed, ministries became havens for mafia groups, and any political life outside the secretive factions in the regime came to a standstill.

More recently, when he became more involved in the type of propaganda he threw at Weiss, he spun this brutal picture by telling us (he actually wrote this!) that Hafez Asad, "[r]ealizing that he could not convert Syrians to liberalism, he spent considerable energy trying to convert Alawites into mainstream Muslims." Yes, everyone knows that champion of liberalism, Hafez Asad! Poor Hafez! His liberal utopia crushed, he went on to kill 30,000 people and imprison thousands upon thousands of others, 17,000 of whom have "vanished."

Lee Smith nailed it in a couple of pieces in the Weekly Standard. The essential truth is best expressed in this sentence:

It is worthwhile to note that a state fearful of sectarian conflict runs a regional policy in Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel that aims to provoke elsewhere its own worst nightmares at home.

Bingo. In other words, as Lee wrote, the regime has always pursued a policy, that is at once regional and domestic, of exporting violence in order to exhaust its own sectarian fears and furies. This is what Josh sells as "better managing" ethnic and religion divisions: brutal repression at home, along with deadly export of violence to neighbors, and then, as Lee put it, "sweeping" it all "under an Arab nationalist rug." Mind you, that same Arab nationalist rug was what Josh once properly labeled fascist before deciding to take the sure Bush-bashing route with a Leftist blogger in order to defend the thugs in Damascus. It's the sure route that every dictator in the ME (and their Arabist cheerleaders) treads. That is one of the reasons why Josh has become utterly unreliable.

So, in the end, Josh, to respond to your "outrage" at how "when Arab nationalists do that [ethnic cleansing], we call them fascists." No, not "we" Josh; "You." You have called them fascists, and now you are calling them "worth protecting," and something Syrians "can be very proud of." Indeed.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Client at Work

Lee Smith pointed out in his recent excellent piece on Iran and the Gulf states how the Syrian regime is acting in its capacity as Iran's client to "mediate" between Iran and the Gulf states.

Lee pointed to Walid Muallem's visit to Kuwait. Now Farouq al-Sharaa is planning a visit to the UAE and then to Yemen, carrying "reassurances" about the "peaceful nature" of Iran's nuclear program and to "remove all sources of anxiety" the Gulf states may have. This report may shed some light on the Iranian and Syrian efforts.

Confirming what I wrote that not only will the Syrian regime not abandon its status of Iran client but will rather continue to cement it (witness the number of Iranian vists to Syria in recent weeks, and in upcoming weeks), Syrian sources addeed, "[Syria's] relations [with Iran] are old and experienced and can be used in favor of Arab causes."

That last line is what Lee meant by "playing both sides of the street." It's what Hasan Nasrallah has been doing in Lebanon as well, trying to ease Sunni concerns (Hezbollah's main target audience) by pointing to Ahmadinejad's adoption and defense of the Palestinian cause. Read: this is not a Shiite menace as Jordan's Abdallah and Egypt's Mubarak have maintained. This in fact is like Hezbollah's Pan-Arabist Islamist brand.

Alas, no one seems to be paying much attention to that line (or, for that matter, to Nasrallah's attempts at reviving his image as the regional Shiite version of Nasser). Jordan's recent statements on Iran are indicative. This Turkish report on Iran's nuclear intentions is also interesting.

Another Threat by Assad?

Readers might remember how after Bashar Assad ordered the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, many a pundit (including a certain blogger who acts as the regime's propagandist in the US) sought to examine the context leading to the assassination, and concluded that one of the reasons for the assassination was that Hariri was really the man behind UNR 1559 (some called it "his baby"). The whole point was a post factum justification of the murder (as that certain blogger in fact ended up doing in one post, in a typically dishonest and indirect way). Of course, Assad's pitbulls had already done that in the run-up to the assassination, which was understood as message that Hariri was now a marked man, with the justification for his murder already established by Assad.

So now I come across this op-ed published in al-Hayat (May 25) and penned by (or at least carrying the byline of) the regime's most tortured and inadequate apologist, its inimitable ambassador in the US, Imad Mustapha.

The piece is an open attack on the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, whom the regime and its sycophants have been attacking relentlessly in the openly expressed desire to topple him and the Lebanese government (as well as the parliamentary majority):

Let us begin by saying frankly and unequivocally that we in Damascus believe that whoever goes to the United States to instigate against us from all its [US] forums and on every possible occasion is not someone who is keen to establish cordial and sound relations with Damascus.

Seniora, then, is "instigating a hostile foreign power against Syria." That was the justification for Hariri's murder, and, e.g., is the charge leveled against Kamal Labwani (which potentially carries the death sentence), and indeed against Walid Jumblat for remarks he made to the Washington Post that were seen by the regime as "instigating a hostile foreign power to attack Syria."

Mustapha continues, first with the typical propaganda (which could also be read regularly on a certain blog), and then with the attack against Seniora:

Whether the Arab reader agrees with the policies of Damascus or not, we expect him to at least be fair and show the minimum level of political awareness that allows him to realize that the relations between Damascus and Washington have reached the highest level of difficulty because of two basic matters, compared to which all other issues are insignificant: Syria's position toward both the Iraqi and Palestinian issues.

With our due respect to any Arab brother who might not accept our position toward these two issues; out of our understanding that some may not like Syria's options concerning these two issues; and out of our acceptance of their declared and undeclared criticism of us regarding these two issues, we believe that differences within the one Arab family are an acceptable reality, which can be handled. Conversely, we do not respect some of them trying to exploit the serious deterioration in the Syrian-US relations to attack Syria from US forums, thinking that the US politicians today like to hear this and that this may increase their political assets in Washington and win them the approval and favor of the great master.

I wish I could say that the oblique reference at the end to Bashar's "slave of a slave" slandering of Seniora was cute, but frankly there is nothing cute about any of these thugs and their mouth pieces.

After making a disingenuous ode to Michel Aoun, Mustapha continue with the attack only this time not just on Seniora, but the entire "March 14" coalition:

We have become fed up with the repeated statement by the symbols of the ruling majority in Lebanon that Lebanon cannot be ruled against Syria. They are saying this at the same time when they are skillfully leading a fierce and rabid campaign against Syria, its government, and president. This applies to all the symbols of this trend without exception. They have gone stages past the principles of political rivalry and even past what might be acceptable in the typical political wrangling among rivals.

Once again the same accusation is made. Ironically, the piece came out on exactly the same day as Speaker Nabih Berri, trying to play middleman, reiterated the line that was supposedly given to him by Assad that "Damascus' doors are open to any Lebanese politician, including Seniora, so there is no need to further tense up the air between the two countries." It was a slap in his face and it undermined his position.

Mustapha cannot resist taking a swipe at Walid Jumblat, who is being openly targeted by the regime, and it is common news that he is marked for assassination:

This includes, among other things, the fact that one of their key figures, who came to Washington several months ago and spoke at the Chaim Saban Center in Washington on 6 March 2006 -- one year after the complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon -- said: "I came to the United States to ask for its help against the Syrian dictatorship ... Can the US policy, in cooperation with the Arabs, change the behavior of the Syrian regime? The Syrians are smuggling terrorists and takfiris into Lebanon, just as they did in Iraq ... your policy in Iraq allowed the Syrians to play [games] in Iraq. I advise you to take advantage of the defection of Mr Abd-al-Halim Khaddam, for he might one day play an important role in the transitional stage in Syria ... that is why I say that I have no objection to the United States trying to do something to change the behavior of the Syrian regime."

It is realistic not to ignore the fact that this prominent national Lebanese leader has differences with Syria and that his political calculations allow him, according to his logic, to exploit the current political situation between Damascus and Washington to score points, which he believe would enhance his political and electoral position in Lebanon. We leave it to the intelligent reader to evaluate his repeated accusations regarding the Syrian role in Iraq, which most US officials themselves stopped repeating and which he makes to curry favor [with the United States] and win the approval of the experts at the Chaim Saban Center in Washington.

In case you didn't know, the repetition of the name "Chaim Saban" (as opposed to, say, "Brookings") and the point about "winning the approval of the experts at the Chaim Saban Center" is a crude anti-Semitic remark about how Jumblat is seeking to please and instigate Jews against Syria. I.e., Jumblat is an agent of the Jews. (I'm just disappointed that Mustapha lumped Flynt Leverett in there, considering how he's been one of the loudest of the Bashar cheerleaders. But then again, Martin Indyk blasted Bashar recently, so Brookings got its comeuppance!)

This charge (which for the Baathist thugs is the highest charge of treason, thus warranting death) has been levelled at Jumblat before, both at Hezbollah rallies and also in those "spontaneous" pro-regime rallies in Damascus, where caricatures of Jumblat, Minsiter Marwan Hamade, and the late MP Gebran Tueini, all depicted as consipring evil Jewish rabbis, were paraded. Hamade has been targeted by Assad before the murder of Hariri. Hamade miraculously escaped death. Gebran Tueni wasn't so lucky, and he was killed the day after Detlev Mehlis submitted his second report to the UNSC. It was a message that is being repeated here, as I will explain.

I won't stop at the Iraq refrain, as that certain blogger has done nothing else but repeat the official line on this issue (of course, after speaking from every possible side of his mouth). Instead, I'll stop at the redirection of the attack at Seniora.

After lambasting Jumblat, Mustapha actually reserves his venom for Seniora:

We come now to the high-ranking Lebanese official, who at first glance looks more intelligent and cunning than his previously mentioned colleague. But the intelligence he is trying to show in his continuing flowery talk about his belief in the need to improve the Syrian-Lebanese relations no longer deceives anyone, neither in Syria, nor anywhere else in the world. All the US politicians I know and who followed his statements and interviews in the US media were unanimous that he did more damage to Syria's reputation in the United States than did his previously mentioned colleague, whom they described as an untrustworthy loudmouth.

So Seniora is even "more cunning" than the treacherous puppet of the Jews, Jumblat. Not only that, Mustapha asserts that Seniora has done "more damage" than the "loudmouth" Jumblat. After going through choice quotes from Seniora's public appearances on talk shows and in interviews, Mustapha insinuates that what he told US officials must then be infinitely more vicious:

Those were a select host of statements which the high-ranking Lebanese officials made publicly in Washington. We leave it to the reader to imagine what happened between him and the senior US Administration officials and politicians behind closed doors; a letter can be understood from its title. We can say that the direct US escalation against Syria, which came immediately after his visit to Washington, was an outcome that is in harmony with his good efforts and his unwavering belief in the need to improve the Syrian-Lebanese relations. The jewel of the crown, however, is the Security Council resolution issued recently after his historic visit.

This is interesting, considering that Seniora had a watchman over his shoulder throughout his trip in the person of Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, who was chosen by Hezbollah to do just that! Nevertheless, the charge is repeated again, and Seniora is billed as the man who is doing the most "damage" to Syria. More than Jumblat, who is already marked for death.

And the "jewel of the crown" is the UNSCR 1680, passed recently, which is now being billed as Seniora's doing (just like 1559 was billed as Hariri's).

It's worth noting here that the recent brutal crackdown against dissidents in Syria came after they signed a joint declaration with Lebanese intellectuals calling on Syria to essentially implement the demands of the then-draft resolution, that was eventually passed as UNSCR 1680. Those demands were also the demands of the Lebanese government. The declaration was billed by the regime rags (what passes for newspapers in Baathist Syria) as the "March 14 declaration." We just witnessed what Mr. Mustapha thinks of the March 14 coalition.

Indeed, the dissidents were punished, and are now being held in jail facing trumped up charges, and even looking at life imprisonment. As one anonymous Syrian official put it, "when the regime is under outside pressure, our internal patience runs out." Therefore, as Burhan Ghalyoun recently put it, the regime, anxiously awaiting Serge Brammertz's report in two weeks, has decided to "create a kind of absolute silence" on the domestic scene. Commenting on the crackdown, Mustapha made one of the most hilarious statements by a diplomat. A classic really: "Yes, there has been a crackdown on opposition leaders in Syria," Imad Moustapha, Syrian Ambassador to the United States, told United Press International in a Wednesday interview. "But," he added, "it is not the long-term policy of Syria." No wonder his schedule is so booked these days in Washington! It reminded me of probably one of the funniest golden nuggets by Fayez Sayegh, a spokesman from the Syrian Ministry of Information, who, commenting on Bashar's "reformist policies," was quoted as saying: "It's an example of the enlightened policy of openness. From time to time people will be released."

So if this was the fate of the domestic dissidents, then one wonders about the "engineer" of UNR 1680, keeping in mind not just Hariri and 1559, but also the message sent via Gebran Tueni after Mehlis' second report. After all, as Mustapha put it, "we are here talking exclusively about the incitement undertaken by some Lebanese Government leaders against Syria in the United States and at the Security Council."

And in case you stil haven't caught his drift, Mustapha asks the following question:

We pose the following question to this high-ranking Lebanese Government official: "If your statements, incitement, and the amazing accomplishments you made in your latest visit to Washington were not the best example of how Lebanon can be ruled against Syria, then give us one different example and enlighten us so we may get the benefit and learn?

In other words, the case against Seniora is locked as far as Assad is concerned (we sort of knew that anyway, you know, when Syria's sycophants took to the streets and called for the toppling of the Seniora government).

In case you had any doubts, the anti-Semitic slur against Jumblat was then thrown at Seniora through a reference to John Bolton, who in Mustapha's and Hezbollah's vocabulary is synonymous with "the Jews" (he is a "neocon" after all!).

And if you still don't get the message, Mustapha writes this, discussing the issue of diplomatic representation: "The only US interest in the exchange of diplomatic relations between countries has until recently been confined to Israel and to whoever exchanges or does not exchange diplomatic relations with it." (hint, hint!)

If that's not enough, then this should bring everything together:

The efforts of that official, which prompted the United States and France to issue a strange, historically unprecedented resolution encouraging Syria to establish relations with Lebanon, reveal what he exactly wants. He wants to create all the possible obstacles to the development of these relations and the opening of embassies. The political climate that this resolution created is exactly the same climate that does not encourage any two governments in the world to begin an exchange of diplomatic relations.

Seniora is therefore not just the godfather of UNR 1680, he is also the obstacle to the "development of relations" between Lebanon and Syria. Mustapha then dishes out that typical regime venom and sarcastically wishes Seniora "more victorious conquests." (I.e., Seniora is leading a war against Syria.)

I don't know about you, but much of this sounds like a thinly veiled threat. Seniora gets the treatment of the Israelis by Mustapha (or whoever wrote that piece and published it under his name). He's Public Enemy #1.

If that threat wasn't enough, the message was repeated by Hezbollah's Hasan Nasrallah. He in effect "decoded" it: "[stop] resorting to the Security Council and the Great Powers to solve the problems between Syria and Lebanon, because this complicates matters," adding, "if we want war with Syria, then let's continue resorting to the Security Council and Ms. Condoleezza Rice, but if we want normal and special relations between Lebanon and Syria, then these relations are achieved through the will and acceptance of both sides, and cannot be imposed." (Emphasis added. Actually, for the "declaration of war" reference, that certain blogger made that message clear even before Nasrallah in one of his posts using an almost identical line for the title.) Abu Kais recently wrote about one manifestation of this war.

In other words, if Mustapha's (or whoever it was) screed was too complicated for you, Nasrallah just made it much easier: if you keep going to the UN (hence Seniora is the godfather of UNSCR 1680), then this means a declaration of war as far as Assad is concerned. Put differently, keep doing this and Assad will unnleash his war. I.e., a word to the wise: You, Mr. Seniora, are worse than Jumblat. You are the most "cunning" instigator against Syria. Look at what happened to Hariri and then Tueni. As for the rest of the Lebanese, Bashar will not relent until a coup is enacted in Lebanon that restablishes his dominance and brings to power those of whom he approves. Which makes rather amusing, and quite frankly utterly sinister despite its seeming stupidity, the genius thesis that the propagandist blogger floated around the US, that "Bashar gave up Lebanon to win Damascus." Sure he did.

So as we've been saying all along (contra the propagandist blogger and his "50% justice" theory), Bashar is playing a zero-sum game. It's quite obvious to any honest observer with half a brain. He should be dealt with according to the same logic.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Who's Really Afraid of Iran?

Here's an excellent piece by Lee Smith on Iran and the Arab Gulf states. Smith points to Syria's role as Iranian client and how pressuring Syria would be a logical move to counter Iran.

One thing I'd add to the part about Bashar and the possibility of him returning to the Sunni Arab fold. I've written about this before. It's unlikely to happen. This is Bashar's only leverage, both with the West and with the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. He's not about to give that up. He'll continue to try and sell himself as mediator (i.e., blackmailing), and play both sides of the street, but the notion that he will abandon his client status is unlikely. Besides, he seems to relish this role more than anything else. Anyway, whether as Iran's client (and doorway to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian rejectionists) or as mediator, he figures this would reestablish Syria's role in the Levant vis à vis the Arab states. It would also keep the Gulf states in check, as Lee notes in a perceptive passage:

The Iranians have essentially taken a page out of the modern Middle East political playbook, where the adventurist regimes try to undermine their rivals by espousing and funding radical causes. Ahmadinejad is the new Nasser, and there's no reason to think the Iranians can't bluff themselves into a disastrous war with Israel just as Nasser's Egypt did in 1967 (he also wanted to dominate the Gulf). Ahmadinejad's ascendance and rhetorical flourishes have effectively driven a wedge between the Gulf states, which are terrified of him, and the radicals of the Mashreq region--Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority--where ordinary Arabs are delighting yet again in visions of an anti-Zionist apocalypse, even one that threatens their own existence. It is telling that many regional analysts think Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets constitutes a deterrent against any Israeli attack on Iran, apparently without recalling that the Egyptian air force was destroyed on the ground as the opening move of the 1967 war.

This is the scenario that most fits Bashar's rhetoric and behavior, and is most consistent with Syrian policy. He has signed on to it in full as his best bet, especially since he's the junior partner in this alliance, which means he can spend on Iran's tab with the world too occupied with the latter's nuclear program.

For another take on Syria and Iran's Levantine expansion, see this recent piece by Michael Young.

Update: The Sunni state most openly dealing with Assad as a fait accompli Iranian client is Jordan. Sparks between Syria and Jordan have been going off for a while now. This piece from as-Siyasah may be interesting in that regard.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Regime Binge

After the arrest of Michel Kilo, the Syrian regime today arrested human rights activist, Anwar al-Bunni.

The regime preceded this move by stripping Bunni of his license to practice law for up to four years. It had also shut down the human rights center that he heads (which was mostly funded by the EU).

Bunni and his brothers have signed the joint statement by Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals who called on the Syrian regime to, among other things, correct its relations with Lebanon, demarcate the borders, exchange embassies, recognize Lebanon's sovereignty and independce, cease interference in its affairs, and release all Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and reveal the fate of the missing.

Bunni's brother Akram said that the arrest was more like a kidnapping, as the security agents did not summon him, rather staked him outside his house and jumped him as he was getting into his car. They yanked him away screaming.

Bunni's arrest is the latest (so far) in a true "binging" campaign by the regime, which has arrested about 10 of the signatories to the joint statement.

As for Kilo, he is now facing ridiculous charges ("weakening nationalist sentiment" and "provoking sectarian strife" as well as "diminishing the stature of the state" and "propagating false news" and "defamation") that could carry a life sentence. At the very least, he is facing a year according to a law that prohibits participation in any political or social grouping of an international character without permission, which carries a sentence of 3 months to 3 years.

This campaign comes on the eve of Brammertz's report, which is due in June, and as the UNSC passed a resolution calling on Syria to demarcate its borders with Lebanon, exchange embassies, stop arm shipments to militias, and stop interfering in Lebanese affairs. The Syrian foreign ministry called the resolution "a provocation."

Update: The story has just been reported by Reuters.

Addendum: This article by Bahia Mardini in Elaph contains an interesting statement: "discussing Syrian-Lebanese relations is now considered a red line [in Syria]." She added that certain Syrian officials described the joint declaration signed by Kilo and Bunni, the "March 14 declaration," in reference to the anti-Asad coalition in Lebanon.

Making Good on Threats

The Syrian regime has repeatedly threatened to destabilize Lebanon if the UN Security Council does not back down. Now that the UNSC is meeting to issue a resolution urging Syria to demarcate its borders with Lebanon, exchange embassies, stop smuggling arms to Palestinian and other factions, and stop its disruptive interference in Lebanese affairs, the Syrian regime is making good on its threats.

First, a pro-Syrian Palestinian group, Fateh-Intifada, clashed with a Lebanese Army patrol, injuring a soldier and kidnapping another.

This move is meant to send various messages, one of which is probably a response to the reopening of the PLO office in Beirut, which is meant to formalize and attempt to structure Lebanese-Palestinian affairs away from Damascus' manipulation (as has been the case for years), and attempts to address the issue of Palestinian arms and their status in Lebanon. It is also a way to show that the Lebanese consensus to disarm the Palestinians outside the camps -- in fact, the decision of the "national dialogue" altogether, including border demarcation and diplomatic exchange -- is meaningless (which is what Minister Marwan Hamade said in response to the clash earlier today). It's a message to the UNSC as well as to the Lebanese.

In fact, one of the reasons for the arrest of Michel Kilo and a host of other Syrian activists, was a joint statement with Lebanese intellectuals which called on Syria to correct its relations with Lebanon, demarcate the borders, and exchange embassies, recognizing Lebanese independence and sovereignty and ceasing interference in Lebanese affairs. (The other, more significant, reason was Kilo's article, which touched on sectarian divisions in Syria, a big no-no despite, or rather because of, the fact that the entire essence of Syria's socio-political culture, not to mention its regime, is nothing but sectarian!).

Then, to drive the point home (to everyone: Lebanese, Syrians, and the Intl. Comm.), the Syrian regime reshut the border crossing with Lebanon (northern Lebanon, 'Abboudiyye), causing Lebanese trucks to be stopped at the border, as they did last summer. It thus threatens to reuse the blockade card, especially with Lebanon's summer tourism season around the corner. Of course, Syria has always used this card with Lebanon, going all the way back to the 50's.

Bashar is not budging from his hardline, zero-sum brinkmanship. This has been his position from the beginning, and now that he's a full-blown Iranian client, he's relishing this role even more. All of this highlights what I have been saying all along, that ultimately there is no real option other than regime change in Syria. It all comes back to that conclusion.

Update: The UNSC resolution passed by a majority 13 votes, with Russia and China abstaining from voting.

Update 2: The Syrian foreign ministry has responded to the UNSC resolution by calling it "a provocation" that "complicates the situation." I guess now that the regime has been "provoked" it will continue to "complicate the situation" in Lebanon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Chomsky and the Chomintern

Lee Smith wrote a really good, and really funny, piece on the truly pathetic and absurd visit of Noam Chomsky to Lebanon.

If only you'd read the kind of garbage that Chomsky spewed during that visit. Anyway, Lee has his number. Here's a sample:

At its best, Chomsky's political analysis strikes me as though it was written by a sensitive, deeply disillusioned teenager who has just found out from someone's older brother that states pursue interests. At his worst, Chomsky's just a vicious sensationalist, like when he asserted that the United States' demanding Iran cease its interference in Iraqi affairs "is like Hitler calling on the Americans to stop their interference in the affairs of a Europe pacified under German occupation." Is it really like that, professor? Don't be naïve. Do you have any facts to back up that rhetoric, professor? Don't be naïve.

In short, Professor Chomsky is the kind of luxury that only the U.S. can afford.

Lee has some choice words for the newly endowed Prince Al-Walid bin Talal center where Chomsky "spoke truth to power," and where MESA president Juan Cole made a hajj in December (which he did not advertise on his blog, yet he did make sure to precede it with a fawning puff piece in Salon praising the "devout" King Abdullah, "who has the smile and goatee of a genial beatnik"). It might give people an idea of what may come at the newly endowed Al-Walid centers at Harvard and Georgetown.

Apparently, so is the AUB, which receives between $3 million to $4 million dollars every year in American taxpayer money. If I didn't know better, I'd think that the university still took its role seriously as a bridge between the U.S. and the Arab world. As such, it would try to present a fuller range of American political discourse and intellectual life, an especially useful calling at this time in our shared history. But recent invited speakers and conference attendees like Chomsky, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole and Mark LeVine of the University of California, Irvine, suggest that the only American voices worth hearing on Bliss Street are from a left decidedly hostile to current U.S. Middle East policy. Wouldn't it be instructive to hear other voices? Does everyone, even in Lebanon, think American policy in the region is really sinister? Or is it just every academic invited by the AUB who thinks so?
But at the American University of Beirut's American studies lecture series, the oldest and largest democracy in the world is represented by a left-wing professoriate that believes their country has been hijacked by an extremist right.
So, how is the AUB educating Arab students at a time when it is pretty useful to have a close understanding of the American political process, cultural and intellectual life?

Careful Lee. There are quite a few MESAns in your neck of the woods. Remember how they reacted to people bringing up the issue of ME studies in the US and federal subsidies and such. Now if you're trying to do that in Lebanon, well... then you're just an Orientalist, racist, hegemonic, neo-imperalist, neo-colonialist, McCarthyite, neocon laying siege to academia in the "East," which you're essentializing and reducing to serve your power structures. Does this sound like a good "Edward Said lecture"?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Egyptian Blogger Arrested

Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey reports that fellow Egyptian blogger and democracy activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, has been arrested along with several others (their names are here) while participating in a rally in solidarity with Egyptian judges and other detainees.

Sandmonkey has called for action on behalf of Alaa and the detainees. Several bloggers are publicizing this case, including Ammar, Mustapha (who is designing banners for Alaa), Abu Kais, The Lebanese Bloggers, and Big Pharaoh (who provides contact information to Egyptian embassies in the US and elsewhere as well as another banner), to name but a few. Sandmonkey also provides other relevant contact information and updates us on the situation so far.

If you are a blogger, or if you're interested in civil liberties and free speech (the lack of which counts for two of the primary maladies in the ME), please help publicize this matter.

Update: Alaa's wife and fellow blooger Manal informs us that "Activists in the U.S . will picket the Egyptian embassy and consulates in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and San Francisco on Tuesday, May 9 at 12:30PM (local times) demanding the immediate release of all jailed pro-democracy protesters arrested from April 24–27, 2006, in Cairo."

If you're able to participate, please do.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Jingoistic Hack

Wait... just give me a minute to wipe the tears... this is too funny. OK, much better.

So, yet another brilliant Syrian official (they all are, they just compete in the level of brilliance), Communications Minister Omar Salem, has accused five Lebanese IT experts working in Syria of hacking into Syrian national security network (the password to which they themselves had created!)!

Wait, there's more! Minister Cyber Sleuth here personally uncovered this conspiratorial web of evil, and tracked these sinister Lebanese hackers until he caught them red handed. But -- this is the best part -- showing the well-known Syrian magnanimity, he recommended they be deported, not arrested, on the condition they transmit all their work expertise to Syrians before leaving!

I can't stop myself from laughing even as I'm typing this! Now all you haters out there wondering when exactly Syria managed to digitalize its national security files, should be reminded that Bashar is the Wunderkind of the "internet generation" as all the hapless journos like Charlie Rose and James Rubin still blithely refer to him!

Besides, considering that Syria's "national security" is a family matter, confined to a total of 5 people, I guess all one needs to do is hack into Bashar's PC! As the Minister said, "their hacking would have been a disaster on Syria had they been able to continue undetected"! Indeed!! But he did reassure a worried nation that protective measures will be increased. A collective sigh of relief was heard all over Syria, as Syrians languishing in jails, unemployed, and facing hikes in the prices of food and medicine, felt that at least their digital security was a priority of the Wunderkind reformer! "Wheeww, that was a close one," said one Syrian detainee in jail, who hitherto had been held incommunicado, and is now facing military court on trumped up charges. Another Syrian slipped and said, "we have computers in government?" At which moment he was promptly whisked away and has never been heard from since. As he was being taken away he was heard screaming, "why don't I just get deported like the Lebanese guys?" The men in black didn't think that was funny, and punched him silly.

I mean this is just hilarious! Hackers!? The regime needs to whip up more chauvinistic jingoism, and continue to mess around with Lebanon (as in their continued encroachment on Lebanese territory), so it musters all its creativity and comes up with this nonsense!

But it doesn't beat Buthaina Shaaban, the queen mother of con artists. A worthy student of the Farouq Sharaa-Walid Moallem school, and a strong rival of Faysal Mekdad, and mentor to Imad Mustapha, Buthaina recently told a delegation of the US Institute for Peace (what the hell are they doing in Syria is my quetsion) that Syria is moving steadily in its reforms!! Indeed. For instance, now instead of just arresting Kurds at random, the regime now also demolishes their houses. Instead of merely arresting middle-aged opposition members, they arrest 70 year-old retired men for openly discussing the sorry state of affairs at a cafe with friends, and hold them incommunicado. Indeed, instead of arresting opposition members themselves, they now arrest them and their sons, and hold all of them incommunicado. Then, when they're pressed to reveal their whereabouts, a month later, they refer them to the State Security Court!

One must admit, that for such a short period of time, Bashar's reforms have been monumental! Not wanting to share his status as representative of the "internet generation," Bashar has shut down a couple of independent internet publications. And for good measure, he's prosecuting people for printing out and distributing material. Besides, as Walid Moallem recently said on al-Jazeera, there is no opposition in Syria, it's just "a few individuals, no more than ten or so" and no one arrests them. The regime "respects" them and has "discussions" and "exchanges views" with them!

Indeed, the pace of reforms has been moving forward so quickly that the committee of the Damascus Declaration declared that Syria has returned to the 1980's, the dark ages of state security repression, arrests, and crackdowns. So much reform has been unleashed, in fact, that practically every single day now has reports of massive crackdowns, arrests, summons, harrassment, or the like.

Human rights activists can barely contain their enthusiasm at this unprecedented show of "reformist impulses." One of them, Akram al-Bunni, reflected on the sense of euphoria and optimism and encapsulated it in this buoyant comment: "All it [the regime] has left to assert its power is to sow traditional fear and terror in society."

Syrian writer Taher Ibrahim, commenting on Moallem's sorry performance on al-Jazeera, captured it well. He wrote a piece entitled: "Lie, then lie some more, and we'll know you're a Syrian official."

Update: Abu Kais tries to understand Syria's national security information network, but stops before his head explodes.