Across the Bay

Monday, April 16, 2007

"The Rope of Lying is Short"

NPR's The Kojo Nnamdi Show held a panel on US policy toward Syria today in which I participated (you could hear it here [.ram] or here [.asx]).

There were a couple of things I wanted to get in but couldn't. One thing however that I didn't get to articulate more succinctly (even though it was the overall theme and premise of my argument) is the fact that the policy that has been a proven failure is that of engaging Syria. For every delegate which did do so (Nigel Sheinwald, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Javier Solana, Sen. Bill Nelson, the Italians, Amr Moussa of the Arab League, the Egyptians, and the Saudis, not to mention the Americans and the French up to 2005) came out with one unvarying result: absolutely nothing (not to mention that the engagement of the 90's also ended up being a dismal failure).

The reason why of course is because the policy and interests of all these people are diametrically opposed to those of the Syrians, and the Syrians have been playing a zero-sum game which means that the end-game of engagement is inevitable failure. Syria doesn't expect to change its behavior. It expects everyone else to change theirs, and essentially sign the terms of surrender on Lebanon in particular (but on everything else in general).

The Syrians have made clear, their primary objective is the retaking of Lebanon, which is something that no one is willing to give, and which goes against UNSC resolutions.

This is precisely why a diplomat who had been at the forefront of "engagement" efforts -- Martin Indyk -- ended up strongly opposing any engagement with Syria at this time, because he understood that, among other ploys, the Syrians were really just after recapturing Lebanon.

Landis participated as well and delivered his usual disgraceful, disingenuous spiel. For instance, after spending the hour saying how Syria is destabilizing Lebanon and supporting terrorist groups in order to get people to pay attention to it (because "it doesn't know how" to get the Golan back! And so it "makes American allies pay a high price!"), ends by saying this is a Lebanese issue (which, of course, is the official Syrian line!).

Also, after spending the hour talking about how the Golan is the objective for the Syrians, he ends by saying that the solution is to reach an accommodation with Syria on Lebanon! Of course, he had made this same slip in his interview with al-Siyasah.

The best way to describe the Syrian attempt to sell this ploy is the Lebanese proverb which goes: "the rope of lying is short."

Addendum: Landis tried to slip in the Syrian ploy at one point, saying that UNSC resolutions should go hand in hand, both on Lebanon (1559, 1595 [tribunal] et al.) and on the Golan (242). But aside from being absurd, this is actually a half-baked "suave" attempt to market a Syrian trap (remember how in 2005, after he had Hariri killed, Assad said he would only withdraw from Lebanon when peace is achieved with Israel? And he then tried to market this with the Saudis to get an Arab cover and failed. The policy hasn't changed much since. Here's Joueijati repeating that same exact line one day after the Hariri assassination.).

The trap the regime wants to set is to get locked in a process that would offer it protection against pressure (such as, say, having senior officials tried in an international court for murders in Lebanon), and help it scuttle the consensus and the drive of the Lebanon resolutions.

So the result they're after is in fact not to have the resolutions on Lebanon implemented at all. This is what they've been trying to do since 2004 (in fact, since 2000, with the Shebaa issue), including at the Riyadh summit, when they tried to insert amendments to the statement on Lebanon that would undermine both the tribunal as well as UNR 1701 and the government's 7-point plan that underlies it.

I believe this is what's usually referred to in Arabic as "an upright-sounding statement but the aim of which is deceit," and this describes well the Syrian position.

Update: Bad Vilbel at the Good Neighbors blog graciously picks up on my post (with very kind words, for which I'm grateful, as well as for Lisa Goldman's encouraging remarks).

The most gratifying thing about it is how transparent the thuggish blackmail inherent in the apologists' argument really is and how clearly it comes across to the American (and broader) public, despite all the spin and the use of sanitized language (like "strategic cards," or "sphere of influence,") to whitewash terror:

Another gem: Landis, and the other Syrian guy saying “Well, Syria is going to continue to be a destabilizing force until the US gives in to their demands” with a straight face. Sounds like blackmail to me, no? “We’re going to continue breaking knees until you pay us a ransom.” And these guys say that as a matter of fact, in the same sentence as talking about Syria wanting peace!

What Bad Vilbel wrote recalls my posts where I dubbed this as mobster and gangster mentality and behavior (which is precisely why Syria is still on the state sponsors of terror list since 1979). But I still think Michael Young's line nailed it best (scroll down to the Addendum): "even the tedious functionaries of despotisms end up sounding like the thugs they represent."