Across the Bay

Monday, May 28, 2007

You Can't Play Nice with Syria

Barry Rubin has yet another excellent piece piece out on Syria (emphasis mine):

In the Middle East, violence is not the result of poor communication but a tool for political gain. Nothing proves that point better than Syria's successful use of violence and terrorism to promote its interests. No amount of dialogue is going to change that reality.
The Syrian government's message is simple: Lebanon will know no peace until it again becomes our satellite.
Since the tribunal is in co-operation with Lebanon, Syria must ensure that country's parliament vetoes the plan. Suddenly, bombs start exploding in Beirut and a Syrian-backed Islamist group stages an uprising against the government.
What is less understood is how the regime's radical strategy is used at home and why this makes it impossible to gain anything from engaging with Syria. Like other Middle Eastern dictatorships, Syria's rulers face a paradox. How to stay in power after failing so completely? The economy is a mess, there is little freedom, and the regime is dominated by a small Alawite minority which is historically secular.

Since taking power in 2000 on his father's death, Bashar has met this challenge. He sends terrorists against Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and even the U.S. military, but nobody retaliates in kind against him. At home, the regime sounds increasingly Islamist; abroad it is the biggest sponsor of radical Islamist groups in the region.
Bashar has even declared a new doctrine he calls "Resistance," which combines Arab nationalism and Islamism. The West's goal, he claims, is to enslave the Arabs. The mistake made by other Arabs was to abandon war. "The world will not be concerned with us and our interests, feelings, and rights unless we are powerful," and victory requires "adventure and recklessness." Any who disagree are mere "political mercenaries" and "parasites."

This mandatory radicalism ensures that Syria interprets western concessions and confidence-building measures as acts of surrender, proving its strategy is working. Years of dialogue and numerous visits by secretaries of state could not even get Syria to close the terrorist offices in Damascus, much less make any policy changes.
Being nice to Syria will lead nowhere because the regime thrives on conflict and its demands -- including a recolonized Lebanon -- are too contrary to western interests to meet. U.S. and Canadian policy should treat Syria's regime as a determined adversary whose interests are diametrically opposed to their own because that regime leaves them no real choice.

This kind of analysis is unfortunately all too scarce. If you are looking for a broader analysis of this kind, then make sure you get Rubin's new book on Syria which just came out.

It explains why the Assad regime will always continue to be a chronic exporter of instability and supporter of terrorism. It provides the conceptional framework for this argument backed by numerous accounts and examples.

I highly recommend you buy it and read it.