Across the Bay

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'll Give You Nothing to Talk About

Let me start by saying that this was purely coincidental. But it seems that the stars were aligned to prove me right and bolster my argument.

Emile el-Hokayem and I both have back to back pieces on the ever-idiotic topic of "engaging" Syria.

Emile's well-written piece appeared in al-Hayat (English), mine in The Daily Star (a slightly longer version appeared in NOW).

Here's quote from Emile's piece that will ring a bell for readers of this blog (I emphasized the key terms):

[T]he logic of unconditional reengagement (as opposed to dialogue on discrete topics such as Iraq) is deeply flawed, and carries risks and costs that its proponents dismiss too easily. Unconditional engagement would send all the wrong signals to Lebanon and Syria. Damascus is already attempting to reassert its influence in Lebanon. While it will not send back its troops, it seeks indirect domination of Lebanese politics by reinserting itself in the Lebanese game through its intelligence assets and friends in Lebanon and, thanks to international fatigue with the Lebanese crisis and the US need to stabilize Iraq, even hoping to gain foreign acquiescence as it did throughout the 1990s.

Syrian-Israeli negotiations are not cost-free for Lebanon. In the 1990s, the United States, concerned that Syria would leave the table, barely challenged its occupation and use of Lebanon as a card during the negotiations. Today, the delighted Syrian reaction to American and European visitors clearly shows that Syria derives supreme confidence from the mere fact of being talked to.

If you were wondering where else you heard this, check some of my older posts where I note that contrary to the prevailing punditry, talking to the Syrians is in itself a reward and the Syrians themselves, as Emile notes, perceive it that way. The other key issue, highlighted by Emile, is one I've been harping on for a long time, also against the prevailing wisdom of the pseudo-realists, and that is that "you lose nothing by talking," that somehow, a super power engaging in diplomacy is consequence- and cost-free.

The only other place aside from Emile's piece where this was articulated was in an LAT piece by Lee Casey and David Rivkin which I had highlighted in the past.

My own conclusion read:

It's time to dispense with the myth that it's not in Syria's interests to support jihadists in Iraq or Lebanon. In fact, Syria's sole foreign policy asset - the only reason why people want to talk to Syria - is its ability to destabilize countries around it, hence inviting bargaining. It's a strategy designed and perfected precisely to induce the kind of proposal put forth by Issa. Engagement most often does not dissuade the Syrians; it encourages them. You'd think we would have learned the lesson by now.

And like I said, the stars were aligned to prove me right. Enter Italy's FM, Massimo D'Alema.

D'Alema goes to Damascus to practice appeasement. Now that the tribunal passed under Chap VII, D'Alema wanted to beg the Syrians not to kill his country's soldiers in UNIFIL as they have been threatening to do, and to stop sending arms and fighters to Lebanon.

So naturally, as they always do, the Syrians say, oh yeah, sure! And then, on the very same day, the Syrians smuggle arms and fighters through the Bekaa!

It gets better. Aside from the smuggling to the Syrian proxies (which I note in my NOW piece) the PFLP-GC and Fateh al-Intifada, the Army intercepted a truckload of arms coming from Syria (which makes you rethink this story from a few days ago: "Turkish Authorities Confiscate Weapons Sent by Iran to Syria").

Numerous reports in al-Hayat, an-Nahar, al-Watan, and al-Qabas have indicated increased movement in the Qusaya region in the Bekaa, in the camps of Syria's closest, and in many ways last remaining, proxies: the PFLP-GC and Fateh al-Intifada. As I noted in my piece (the NOW version), the PFLP-GC, which in essence is an extension of the Syrian mukhabarat, has been giving Fateh al-Islam political cover, and reportedly military succor.

Jordan added the cherry on top: Jordan is holding a trial for Shaker al-Absi and members of an organization for running a military training camp in Syria to host and prepare suiciders and elements tied to al-Qaeda in preparation to sending them to Iraq.

The 17 members of the organization that were arrested had confessed to trying to join al-Qaeda in Iraq after having received training in Syria under the supervision of... Shaker al-Absi.

In other words, this bolsters my point (in the NOW piece) about what I dubbed "double agents," for lack of a better term. (Another interesting bit of information appeared in Asharq al-Awsat today saying that Ahmad Mer'i, who was recently arrested in Beirut, is another such middleman. He was responsible for smuggling fighters from Syria.) I'll have more on this issue in an upcoming post. Syria has a long history with this, all the idiotic assertions and lies by flacks about Syria not working with Islamists notwithstanding.

So once again, a Western diplomat is made to look like an absolute fool for trying to "engage" Syria! D'Alema pulled a Colin Powell: make ridiculous statements about "encouraging signs" and be slapped in the face by the Syrians on the very same day! This why I and others (including the WaPo's editorial page) have said that there are no results in Damascus, and that it is a dead end.

The thing is, this is not something new. This is chronic behavior. This is how the Syrians always behave. Which is what makes this story one of the most pathetic ever: D'Alema, according to al-Hayat, actually revived the hysterical proposal to give the Syrians equipment and training for better border control! This story is one of the most comical, and telling, in the annals of the absurd realm of ME diplomacy.

Barry Rubin, who covers and analyzes this particular tale in his new book, had mentioned it before in one of his columns:

Consider the tale of the night-vision goggles.
US forces in Iraq discovered that Syria had given the terrorist insurgents there night-vision goggles. Israeli forces in Lebanon found that Syria had given Hizbullah night-vision goggles. European governments are now considering Syrian requests for even more night-vision goggles, supposedly to be used to block arms-smuggling to its own clients - smuggling which the Syrian government itself is doing.

I guess being embarrassed by the Syrians is not enough for Mr. D'Alema. He insists on doing it himself as well. Thankfully all this nonsense means nothing and won't change anything. Syria remains isolated and the international and Arab consensus over Lebanon remains intact (again, contrary to the noise of flackdom), as evident from the passing of the Chap VII tribunal. The Syrians won't change their behavior -- they can't -- and they have already said they won't cooperate with the Chap VII tribunal, and so they will suffer the consequences and the appeasement track will hopefully die on its own.

In many ways, even D'Alema said so himself. Reportedly he told the Syrians that they have two choices: cooperate by fulfilling all the international obligations enshrined in the multiple UNSC resolutions on Lebanon (1559, 1680, 1701, 1757), or face impending tough measures all alone. The Syrians have already given their answer: dispatch terrorists to Lebanon. It's the same answer they've been giving every "engager" that was foolish enough to go their way.