Across the Bay

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mobsters n' Pals

Not satisfied with his statements to al-Siyassah -- openly laying out that the US "abandon" Lebanon to Syria's tender mercies -- the Oklahoma-based academic, Joshua Landis, clarifies his views further, commenting on a post by David Ignatius:


Although US diplomats claim there will be no "grand bargains," such as Syria's role in Lebanon, but, of course, Syria can ask the Iraqis what they want and then explain that they will do it if the US takes Syria off the terrorist list or drops economic sanctions. At which point, the Iraqi officials will look at the American ambassador and wait for his response. It will help clarify the issues. At least this way, the American public will get a better idea of how interested its government is in stabilizing Iraq and can assess the price Syria and Iran will ask for cooperation. It is a positive turn of events which fits in well with the diplomacy that the US has farmed out to Saudi Arabia. Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia will be able to lobby Washington on Syria's behalf.

Did you get the message, through the typical twists? In essence it's this: the US should give Lebanon to Syria so that it could get out of Iraq, or else Syria will continue killing Iraqis (oh and Lebanese too). Or as he had put it before, "if the US refuses to bend, we will see more violence."

Here's the cynical offer Landis is presenting: Syria will continue to bargain with Iraqis' lives until it can control those of the Lebanese, and you will give it exactly what it wants.

Naturally, there's always humor involved, like Saudi Arabia lobbying Washington on Syria's behalf! Makes you wonder which world these people live in. It also makes you wonder why an American academic is so bluntly internalizing and rooting for a murderous regime with so much Lebanese and Iraqi blood on its hands.

Addendum: A friend and a sharp Syria analyst wrote the following in response to the quote from Landis, echoing a point I've been making for a while: "it is funny that he cannot say what Syria will do for Iraq. And the answer is this: All Syria can do for Iraq is to stop sponsoring a massive terrorist insurgency against it. But of course Landis cannot admit that this is the sole issue at stake between the two countries!"

Also, I should add -- since Ignatius quoted his recent piece -- what Kissinger actually said about Syria, which is of direct relevance to what my friend said. It would help if people quoting Kissinger for authoritative support of their arguments actually read what Kissinger is saying: "The contemporary debate over ending the Iraq war has ascribed an almost mythic quality to the desirability of bilateral negotiations with Syria and Iran as the key to an Iraqi settlement. ... But only a few of the objectives of the United States, Syria and Iran can be fulfilled via bilateral negotiations. Syria's role in Iraq, for better or worse, is limited."

Mythic as in Bashar's "we're the main player in Iraq" or "we have credibility with all the parties in Iraq" and other such fun tales.

The only thing the Assad regime has is terrorism. Period.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Sylight Zone

That Seymour Hersh's reporting is shrill, hilariously conspiratorial, thin, ideologically skewed, and based on dubious sources is hardly news. His latest doesn't break with that shoddy tradition. It does, however, reflect a bonus trait to add to his pieces: seamless meshing with the propaganda and ideological agenda of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah -- the fruit of his recent trip and dinner parties, as well as his sources.

There are several things I can rip apart in this typically ridiculous piece, but I will confine myself to Lebanon-related material.

In order to fully understand the piece, you must read it with Hersh's comments to Wolf Blitzer earlier today, where Hersh offered the "interpretive key" so to speak, as well as an interview with the pro-Syrian as-Safir daily. It also gives you a sense of the unfiltered, wide-eyed lunacy that got edited out in the New Yorker piece, and shows just how ludicrous Hersh's "reporting" is, amounting to little more than wholesale, verbatim regurgitation of Hezbollah and Syrian propaganda.

Hersh immediately presents the underlying, pathetically reductionist and silly premise: who is the "real" enemy and the "real" danger, Iran or the Sunnis? It was succinctly summarized in his as-Safir interview: "we are against Sunni jihadism, for it was responsible for 9/11, not the Shi'a." This was reflected in the article in a quote by Vali Nasr (who along with other Iranian analysts -- Ali Ansari, Kaveh Afrasiabi, Hossein Askari, Ray Takeyh, et al. -- has been pushing this line from that particular trench): "It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals." It was also "confirmed" by the useless Flynt Leverett in a side-splitting comment dripping with conspiracism and Flynt's usual narrow, shallow nonsense: "The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq ... The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them." The latter part is really the part that concerns Hersh the most.

The next step in Hersh's mental construct -- guided by overt hatred of the Bush administration -- is how this is setting the stage for war with Iran. This translates into covert (naturally!) action by the US against Iran and its allies and interests in the region. The basic idea is that the United States (namely the NSC, the OVP, and the DoD) are going after Iran and the axis it leads in cooperation with the Saudis, namely Prince Bandar. How are they going about it? By funding and arming Sunni extremist groups to counter pro-Iranian Shiites and Iran's sidekick, Syria. And the fun begins!

Again, Nasr provides the hook: "The Saudis have considerable financial means, and have deep relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis." We've almost reached the heart of the theory. The next step: How does this relate to Lebanon and Syria?

Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that "they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran."

Now, you are entitled to wonder here who Hersh's source is on this. Who is the person privy to this sensitive information? Surely, an NSC or OVP official. Perhaps even a DoS official, or perhaps someone from the DoD. What about a Saudi source? No, it's even better than that! It's a "U.S. government consultant." It's air tight!

But why stop there? Hersh insists on dazzling us with his -- and this "consultant's" -- superior knowledge of things relating to Lebanon. The "plan," known in its entirety to the "consultant," has "at least" four points. Might as well jump to the fourth!

Fourth, the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria. The Israelis believe that putting such pressure on the Assad government will make it more conciliatory and open to negotiations. Syria is a major conduit of arms to Hezbollah. The Saudi government is also at odds with the Syrians over the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, in Beirut in 2005, for which it believes the Assad government was responsible. Hariri, a billionaire Sunni, was closely associated with the Saudi regime and with Prince Bandar. (A U.N. inquiry strongly suggested that the Syrians were involved, but offered no direct evidence; there are plans for another investigation, by an international tribunal.)

Um, Sy, if you want people to take your theories seriously for more than five seconds, it might help to actually get some basic facts rights, like perhaps Assad's name (Bashar), or that the international tribunal is not "another investigation," but, er, as its name suggests, an "international tribunal" as in "trying" suspects in the murder. If you're picky, you might want to discuss that issue a bit more, but you know, I'm sure it wasn't the topic of choice at Imad Moustapha's dinner table. But certainly tying Hariri to Prince Bandar (based on what information?) might be something Moustapha could pander to people. After all, his boss's internet propaganda tool, Cham Press, has been doing just that with Hariri's son, Saad. We'll get to that later.

Also, perhaps you could've spent more time on the reason for Syrian-Saudi tension. After all, you are suggesting that Saudi Arabia is about to fund Salafis to take down Assad's regime. I'm sure there's more at stake there than Hariri's murder. Details, details... Who has time for that?

But Hersh hasn't yet provided us with the juice. It's just a tease. The rest is coming: "The focus of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, after Iran, is Lebanon, where the Saudis have been deeply involved in efforts by the Administration to support the Lebanese government."

Now, the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Sunnis, Druze and Christians who took to the streets to support Seniora's government might be surprised to learn that "[m]any in the Arab world" view "Siniora as a weak politician who relies on America’s support." And perhaps, King Abdullah (of KSA and of Jordan), Hosni Mubarak, France and a host of Paris III donor countries might also take issue with Hersh's contention that Seniora relies on "America's support" to survive. Furthermore, one could also argue that Nasrallah is also seen by "many in the Arab world" as a Shiite tool of Iran's Khamenei. But this (Nasrallah = supported by the Arab world vs. Seniora = propped by America) is part and parcel of what I described as pathetic reductionism and a penchant for facile dichotomies, which I will explore further below.

But there's more than just the US supporting a democratically elected government. Here comes the heavy stuff, based on what "American, European and Arab officials" told Hersh. The basic idea was summarized in his CNN interview:

My government, which arrests al Qaida every place it can find them and sends -- some of them are in Guantanamo and other places, is sitting back while the Lebanese government we support, the government of Prime Minister Siniora, is providing arms and sustenance to three jihadist groups whose sole function seems to me and to the people that talk to me in our government, to be there in case there is a real shoot-'em-up with Hezbollah and we really get into some sort of serious major conflict between the Sunni government and Hezbollah, which is largely Shia.

Yes, "largely" Shia. But where were we? Ah. The Seniora government is "providing arms and sustenance" to jihadist groups! Evidence? Oh yes, "American, European, and Arab officials." Who exactly? Let's start with the "European" one, Hezbollah-hugger Alastair Crooke!

"The Lebanese government is opening space for these people to come in. It could be very dangerous.” Crooke said that one Sunni extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, had splintered from its pro-Syrian parent group, Fatah al-Intifada, in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, in northern Lebanon. Its membership at the time was less than two hundred. “I was told that within twenty-four hours they were being offered weapons and money by people presenting themselves as representatives of the Lebanese government’s interests—presumably to take on Hezbollah," Crooke said.

The largest of the groups, Asbat al-Ansar, is situated in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp. Asbat al-Ansar has received arms and supplies from Lebanese internal-security forces and militias associated with the Siniora government.

Come again!? The pro-Hezbollah Crooke "was told"?! OK, how about this. "It was reported" that in fact, members from Fateh al-Islam were arrested by the government and during interrogation, two of them (one of whom was Syrian) confessed to receiving orders from Syria to assassinate Lebanese figures associated with the anti-Syrian coalition, and also to plan operations against UNIFIL, as many a Syrian official, including "Bashir" Assad himself, have threatened (specifically about unleashing such groups in Lebanon). The other members of the group, "it was reported," were smuggled into Lebanon, via Syria, after participating in action (again, via Syria, who in Hersh's facile scheme is on the receiving end of Salafi attacks!) in Iraq.

ّIn fact, about two weeks ago, the government forces clashed with Fateh al-Islam members who managed to capture three policemen (ISF) on patrol near the Nahr el-Bared camp and hold them for two hours. Maybe they thought they were Hezbollah! But wait, I thought the ISF was "the Sunni militia" that the US was arming, as irresponsible reporters like Megan Stack and Michael Slackman propagated in recent months.

Sultan Abul Ainein, the representative of Fateh (the original one) in Lebanon, strongly criticized this new phenomenon of Fateh al-Islam and gave support for the Lebanese Army to take the necessary measures to preserve stability. Maybe he didn't get the memo from Alastair Crooke.

What about Asbat al-Ansar? ّIs Alastair Crooke the source for that claim as well? What is the evidence? Was he "told"!? This is flat out preposterous reporting. We have now gone from Stack's and Slackman's "the ISF -- an official institution -- is a Sunni militia" to "the ISF is arming Asbat al-Ansar and Fateh al-Islam." Simply pathetic.

But Hersh added that not only is the ISF responsible for arming these groups, but also "militias associated with the Siniora government"! Apparently, what Hersh wanted to put here was edited out by the New Yorker. But never fear, he revealed it in all its hilarity to as-Safir. Who is this "militia associated with the Siniora government"? Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces! Why, of course! They are known to arm and support Salafist groups in Palestinian camps!

Naturally, Hersh's evidence and sources for such a preposterous claim are typically impeccable. Here's what he told as-Safir (emphasis mine):

Samir Geagea was strongly opposed to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and to his agreement with Michel Aoun. His Lebanese Forces were involved, I was told, in directly or indirectly helping a Sunni jihadi group that snuck in [to Lebanon.] The problem is that when my government distributes money to people in order to "take care of Hezbollah," we don't always know where it ends up. One of the theories of one of my sources, was that the money received by the security services and the Lebanese Forces comes from American aid unappropriated by Congress for this purpose. This is a very important point.

AS: Is this aid simply money or arms also?

SH: Money buys arms. There is a point I didn't write about. Money always flows in Lebanon, mainly from the Gulf states.


Simply impeccable reporting. What utter garbage. "One of the theories" of one of my sources?! Unappropriated funds sent to the Lebanese Forces?! Just what the hell is this nonsense? Oh wait, Hersh has an irrefutable response to such criticism. He conveyed it to Wolf Blitzer:

And a lot of this money, and I can't tell you with absolute assurance how, exactly when and how, but this money has gotten into the hands, among other places, in Lebanon, into the hands of three, at least three jihadist groups.

There's three Sunni jihadist groups whose main claim to fame inside Lebanon right now is that they are very tough. These are people connected to al Qaida who want to take on Hezbollah. So this government, at the minimum, we may not directly be funneling money to them, but we certainly know that these groups exist.

As Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would put it: "Oh Yes!" You gotta love Hersh. He starts with the assertion that the money "has gotten into the hands" of "at least" three jihadist groups, but he can't tell us with absolute certainty! Then asserts the purpose of these "funds" to these jihadist groups: to take on Hezbollah. And then, the coup de grace: the government, "at the minimum," we may not directly be funneling money to them, "but we certainly know these groups exist"! Oh Yes! That we know for sure! Such compelling Cartesian logic: I exist, therefore I am a jihadist funded by the Americans through the Seniora government! And people respect this guy?!

OK, Hersh, give us another one. Who's the American "official" who told you these things? Oops! No one else is quoted to that effect aside from Crooke. But don't worry, we'll take your word on it. Or rather, we'll take your word on one of the theories of one of your anonymous sources who is not quoted on this issue.

All joking aside, there is something incredibly disturbing about all this. For anyone familiar with the situation in Lebanon, and who follows the political discourse closely, as I do, will immediately realize that Hersh is internalizing and uncritically disseminating the propaganda of Hezbollah and its allies. There are unmistakable key words and claims used by Hersh that are a dead give away. The rest was supplied by Syria's ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha, I'm sure.

In fact, I bet you that the "Middle East ambassador" quoted in the piece is none other than Moustapha. That too might be discernible for those who follow the Syrian political discourse and official statements. For instance, the ambassador told Hersh:

Bandar’s mission—which the ambassador said was endorsed by the White House—also aimed "to create problems between the Iranians and Syria." There had been tensions between the two countries about Syrian talks with Israel, and the Saudis’ goal was to encourage a breach. However, the ambassador said, "It did not work. Syria and Iran are not going to betray each other. Bandar’s approach is very unlikely to succeed."

Anyone who reads the official Syrian leaks, which usually are put out by the Syrian regime through their man in al-Hayat, Ibrahim Hamidi, would suspect that the speaker is probably Syrian, as the same exact line was put out by Hamidi. Syrian functionaries, like the hapless Moustapha, are hardly the "free thinkers" who make statements on their own. They are people who follow the official line and regurgitate it. This is a perfect example. My money is on Moustpaha.

Therefore, all of Hersh's claims come either directly from Hezbollah, or from Hezbollah sympathizers, or functionaries of Hezbollah's regional allies.

To give you an example of the kind of "information" Hersh got from his meeting with Nasrallah. In December, Walid Jumblat revealed in a press conference that when he met with Hersh, he [Hersh] told him that Nasrallah had told him [Hersh] that when Jumblat and Marwan Hamade went to the US in March (before the summer war, started by Hezbollah), they went there in order to plan the summer war with the Americans!

The "information" put out by Hersh in this piece and in his interviews is of the same caliber, from the same sources, and is equally unprocessed.

Take this other claim for instance, attributed to seemingly two people, who may actually be the same person:

A former high-ranking C.I.A. officer told me, "The Americans have provided both political and financial support. The Saudis are taking the lead with financial support, but there is American involvement." He said that Khaddam, who now lives in Paris, was getting money from Saudi Arabia, with the knowledge of the White House. (In 2005, a delegation of the Front’s members met with officials from the National Security Council, according to press reports.) A former White House official told me that the Saudis had provided members of the Front with travel documents.

Let's start with the basics. The delegation of the NSF met with members of the NSC in 2006, not 2005 (it wasn't yet formed in 2005). Now, again, my hunch is that this "former" CIA officer and "former" White House official is none other than the above-mentioned Bashar cheerleader, Flynt Leverett. As for the information, Hersh needn't have talked to Leverett (oops, I meant the "former CIA officer" and the "former White House official") about it. He could've asked me, and I would've told him that Bashar's internet propaganda tool had put out the same exact "information" months ago! My feeling is that once again the source of this "information" is probably the same.

As for the "travel documents," Khaddam doesn't need them. He holds Saudi citizenship. Did Hersh even try to confirm any of this "information," if not with someone from the NSF (Ammar Abdulhamid lives in the DC area), at least with a "current" official or CIA officer (they could even be two different people!)? Details, details...

Speaking of Cham Press, that bit of unchecked "information" fed to Hersh by (who else) Narallah's aides about how "they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives" was also available on Cham Press in the summer! Wouldn't you know it, Cham Press also claimed that Jordan was training Hariri and Geagea militias and had set up offices in Lebanon for such purposes! What a surprise! Hell, I believe I could've written Hersh's entire article myself -- including the Leverett and Moustapha quotes -- based on Cham Press and Hezbollah "reports" and official Syrian leaks!

Although, I must admit, I can never make up the kind of stuff given to Hersh by Robert Baer. I mean who else could've provided this gem: "we’ve got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it’s going to be Nasrallah and the Shiites."

Yeah, let the militant Khomeinist Islamist group -- who burned tires and blocked roads and attacked Christian neighborhoods after a program on a Christian TV station satirized their leader -- be the "protector" of the Christians! Why didn't I think of that one!? Hell, let's also make Moqtada Sadr's Mehdi Army the "protector" of Christians in Iraq too! Sometimes I wonder if Hersh's articles, and this type of quotes, isn't just dark humor, or The Onion-style writing. Yet it's not a joke. This too is part of the Syrian and Hezbollah propaganda. That the "crazies" are the Sunnis, who are the real threat to the Christians. Hezbollah, on the other hand, is disciplined, pure, not seeking an Islamic state, etc. This is how Michel Aoun is trying to sell his unnatural alliance with Hezbollah to the Christians as well.

Moreover, this is the result of the facile dichotomies that I mentioned earlier and which underline the entire piece. The entire premise predicates that Iran and Syria are not themselves active supporters of Sunni Islamists and jihadists. That it's the exclusive realm of Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese Sunni Hariri! This approach is dangerously silly.

For one, a recent report (and earlier ones) noted how Iran is in fact actively supporting both Shiite militias and Sunni jihadists in Iraq. As for Syria, well, its alliance with Sunni jihadists and Islamists needs no introduction. Just ask the Syrian regime's US-based flack. I quote: "The al-Qaeda type jihadist groups are not emerging in Syria because Syria encourages them in other countries." That they do, especially in Iraq, where Bashar actively aided jihadists, and his regime worked openly with recruiters. Also don't forget the above-mentioned Fateh al-Islam and other Palestinian Islamists, pace Mr. Alastair Crooke. This is not to mention Hamas, because we don't want to upset Mr. Crooke, who is also a Hamas cheerleader.

There's also one other interesting Salafi Islamist allied with Hezbollah in Lebanon and who was received like royalty by Bashar Assad himself. He is one of the very few Sunnis in Lebanon who are openly allied with Hezbollah. He is also an open supporter of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden. His name is Fathi Yakan. Check him out sometime, Sy.

So you see, it's hardly the clear-cut scheme that Hersh and his one-sided sources want to make it out to be. But then again, without that neat configuration, how would we get the stellar conspiracism and all the "supportive" florilegium of priceless quotes!? I should also note though that some other quotes in there, like those by Patrick Clawson and the one by Leslie Gelb are rather interesting.

I could go on and demolish other parts of this ridiculous piece, especially the section on Nasrallah, but I don't want to ruin the fun for you. Just make sure you can find your way back out of the Sylight Zone.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How Assad Negotiates

Three pieces on the latest terrorist attacks in Lebanon, all of which agree that the bus bombings near Bikfaya represent an escalation by the Syrian regime to show the lengths it will go to in trying to kill the international tribunal and thereby reimpose its hegemony over Lebanon.

Michael Young surveys how Assad's intransigence "may be leading toward an unintended consequence: passage of the tribunal under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter."

Lee Smith's piece has two themes: one on how the nature of the Alawite family regime (to which my upcoming post will be dedicated) is integral to understanding the regime's behavior (as I've written many times, the nature of the regime does matter). The second is more specifically about the latest terrorist attack near Bikfaya, and what the intention behind it may have been. I am quoted in the piece, as is my colleague Elie Fawaz.

Smith's concluding graph is worth quoting in full:

So, will the wise men who counsel we sit down and talk with Damascus--the Brzezinskis, the Powells, the Obamas, the Bakers, and Djerejians--will they have the decency at last to recognize what their high-minded posturing can no longer obscure? This is how Syria negotiates, with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.

Finally, there's my own analysis in a piece in The Daily Star today. I examine the political context in which the attacks occurred, namely Amr Moussa's failed trip to Damascus (add it to the list of failed trips by credulous envoys who got absolutely nothing), the Saudi-Iranian talks, the upcoming Arab summit, and Amin Gemayel's visit to the US.

Like Smith, I see Assad's behavior for what it is -- classic mob behavior -- and I'll be back shortly with a post on how the nature of this regime matters.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Assad's Version of the Munich Agreement

For a while, especially around the time of the Baker-Hamilton report, people were spreading a whole bunch of lies and/or stupidities about what the Syrian regime's goals were. We were being told by clueless analysts and regime flacks, like Patrick Seale or Joshua Landis, that really Assad's priority was restoring the Golan. Yeah, right.

Now that all that facade has fallen, and no one took the bait, the real stuff is coming out, and it's exactly like we said it was: Assad's first and foremost objective is the total re-domination of Lebanon with all that this entails.

Witness this Feb. 1 interview (pdf) by said flack, Landis, in the Kuwaiti al-Siyasah. Twice he was asked about the possibility of rapprochement between the US and Syria over Iraq, and twice he made it clear that the price Syria is seeking for its terrorist blackmail was control over Lebanon. The Golan was not mentioned once:

Q: Does a détente in US-Syria relations signal a new era of bilateral relations, or just an agreement over common issues?

A: I don't think we are witnessing a détente in the relations between the two countries. After the failure of the Israelis in Lebanon and the Democrats' victory in the congressional midterm elections, many European countries and many US members of congress concluded that the US must change its policy in the Middle East. Many came to Damascus to see if they could create an opening for this change and determine its direction.

However, Washington still insists on separating the Iraqi case from the Lebanese case. In the end, the US is still the only superpower which could direct the West's foreign policy as long as Bush insists on continuing with his policy. Europe and the US congress have to follow him in that case. (Emphasis mine.)

Asked again, he gave the same response, again without mentioning the Golan:

Q: Did Syria get American guarantees in return for its participation in Iraq, as in 1990?

A: Syria is as far as it could be from getting American guarantees or rewards for coordinating and cooperating on Iraq, since Bush is still repeating the idea that "Syria knows what to do in Iraq" and he will not abandon the Seniora government. (Emphasis mine.)

What happened to the Golan?! Wasn't that the declared "overriding priority" for Assad?! But of course, we always knew that wasn't the case. The Golan is a bonus at best.

Naturally, Landis never once actually explains what he's suggesting and its foul implications (toppling a democratically elected government, squashing the massive popular will of the Lebanese people, imposing a regime of Syrian agents, enshrining Hezbollah as the Praetorian Guard for Syria and Iran, overturning several UN resolutions including 1701, signing the death sentence against Syria's opponents, reinstating a rule of terror, intimidation and assassinations, ransacking and pillaging the economy, giving the Syrians a free pass for all the assassinations, past and future, undermining the very concept of rule of law as well as state institutions, and essentially signing the obituary of Lebanon).

Landis's fellow regime flack Sami Moubayed, who, after making a total fool of himself in a monstrously terrible article about Lebanon, was intent on asserting that foolishness, and came back, only five days after Landis's interview (talk about tag teaming! I'll tell you more about that later in an upcoming post), with an even worse article on Lebanon (I don't have time to demolish it like I did his last one).

Moubayed was even more vulgar than Landis, even if the message was the same:

Syria has always implied, without saying it directly, that it is willing to deliver on Iraq if it gets what it wants in Lebanon.

If the Syrians are able to deliver on Iraq and thereby show the world that the keys to stability in Baghdad are in Damascus, how will the situation in Lebanon change and in whose's favour? The US administration, after all, despite all talk by US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, care more for Iraq than Lebanon.

This thuggish, gangster-like statement brought back once more the terrific line nailed by Michael Young to describe the Assad regime's spokespeople, like Moubayed: "even the tedious functionaries of despotisms end up sounding like the thugs they represent."

Aside from its total absurdity, Moubayed's statement is the clearest admission that the Assads will kill whomever and bomb whatever it takes, in Iraq or Lebanon, until they get what they want: Lebanon. Talk about echoes of Czechoslovakia and the Munich Agreement.

This shows that the administration's analysis, and its ensuing policy (and that of the main European and Arab players, see further below), are spot on. Sean McCormack put it thusly in a recent press briefing:

Very interesting, the Foreign Minister in talking to a columnist [ed.'s note: David Ignatius] in a column that was printed -- I think it was in the past month or two, something like that, again suggesting this idea of engagement with Syria, talked about, "Well, of course, in any sort of engagement, the outside world needs to take into account Syria's strategic interests."

Well, what do you think those strategic interests might be? I would suggest to you that those strategic interests mean letting, in some form, Syria back into Lebanon, something the international community worked very hard and diligently to get them out of after 20 years through the passage of Resolutions 1559, 1595. I would posit to you that they have an interest in not seeing the tribunal that is investigating into -- investigating who was responsible for the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri go forward.

Those are prices that we, as well as the international system, are not willing to pay.

In fact, to be fair to Moubayed, Landis had expressed this in an even more gangsta style: "America, I think, is going to be forced to bend to that. If it continues to resist, we're going to see more violence."

And they get upset when we call them terrorists! Now you get the implications of Landis's declaration about ceding control over Lebanon to Syria.

Aside from the thuggery of the regime and its flacks, you can also note the tremendous silliness of these so-called "analysts."

For instance, Landis is at pains to convince us that this is Bush's ideological intransigence (I mean, why doesn't he just abandon Lebanon already!) and that the Europeans and the Democrats are just dying to serve up Lebanon to Assad's wolves (and the nonchalance with which he says it is repugnant)! I mean even this administration, according to Wunderkind Moubayed, doesn't really care about Lebanon (where is Chamberlain when you need him?)!

Apparently, neither genius heard what those "Europeans and Democratic members of congress" actually said. I've recently discussed these matters at length. Let me repeat once again.

The Democratic congressmen who went to Syria, like Bill Nelson, were very clear that the US will not abandon the Seniora government or Lebanon. That there will be no deal or concessions on "areas where we disagree with Syria." So, unfortunately for Landis and Moubayed, this is hardly Bush's ideological intransigence. This is a matter of consensus, one that includes the main Arab states and Europe.

I had quoted what a European diplomat told me, as well as what another European diplomat told al-Hayat:

It's true that Britain, Germany, and Italy consider that the goal of talking to Damascus is to stress the need for it to change its policy in Lebanon and to stop supporting its destabilization, and to encourage it to take constructive steps in this regard and to cooperate with international resolutions. However, the delegates of these states, when they undertake this mission, they end up reaching the same conclusion France reached, and some return with great disappointment with Damascus. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, Landis has it wrong on both counts: 1- no one is looking to cut deals over Lebanon (Democrats and Europeans), and 2- the Europeans end up reaching the same conclusion as that reached by the Bush administration, France, Saudi Arabia, and Democratic congressmen.

Germany's Angela Merkel summed it up rather well yesterday: "[Syria] should have no doubt about the determination of the international community to protect Israel and Lebanon."

But hey, don't worry, as Landis and Moubayed informed us, that won't stop Assad from murdering as many people as he needs in order to show how "serious" he is about "engagement."

Now you understand the crucial importance of establishing the international tribunal, and, simultaneously, why Assad is doing everything he can to kill it. If you take away terrorism and political assassinations, what else would Assad have?

Monday, February 05, 2007

CFR in Limbo

The Council of Conventional Wisdom, aka. The Council on Foreign Relations, published one of its regular round-ups and analyses on Lebanon: Lebanon in Limbo.

Apparently, CFR couldn't resist but insert a line in there inevitably involving "diplomacy" and "Syria." These words are like knee-jerk reactions for purveyors of conventional wisdom, that they don't even bother to stop and think about what the hell it is they're saying.

Even after reminding everyone of Syria's involvement in the assassinations in Lebanon, and how the international tribunal, that would try Syrian suspects, is at the heart of the crisis in Lebanon, CFR's analyst offers this gem:

[I]nternational actors are scrambling for a solution. One widely offered proposal involves U.S. diplomacy with Syria. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), just returned from a trip to Damascus, told a CFR audience such engagement could achieve limited cooperation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Geoffrey Aronson, who participated in informal Israeli-Syrian negotiations, echoes this sentiment in an interview with CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman.

I won't try to explain to the poor gentleman who wrote this garbage how, if indeed the issue is the tribunal that would bring Syrian officials to trial over their role in the assassinations, no amount of "diplomacy," no matter how "creative," will matter, let alone work.

But I will take issue with the reference to Bill Nelson, as it's clearly deceptive and misleading.

As you know, Nelson recently met with Assad. Only CFR, and everyone else it seems, didn't really pay attention to what he actually said about that meeting. Nelson was open about the fact that he had a heated quarrel with Assad over Lebanon. That he got nothing of value from Assad on Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Lebanon. That the only reason why he even bothered (regardless of the wisdom of his decision or its uselessness) was the possibility for "limited cooperation" ("slight crack in the door" as Nelson put it) on the Iraqi border issue. This has nothing to do with Lebanon. It was made clear in fact, that the talk about Iraq is not a matter of quid pro quo on Lebanon, and that the US fully supports the Seniora government, which Assad is trying to undermine.

In other words, it has nothing to do with what CFR turned it into. As for Aronson's interview, for the life of me I can't figure out its relevance at all. Besides, we saw the nature and extent of Syria's "constructive influence" with Hamas in that hilarious, embarrassing fiasco in Damascus the other day.

Furthermore, I was recently told by a well-placed source that even John Kerry surprised Assad on Lebanon.

Assad, as evident from reading his statements and that of his functionaries and cheerleaders, was gambling that Democrats will revert to what Imad Mustapha and others (like regime flack Sami Moubayed) have dubbed "the perfect working relationship" or the "golden era"; in reference to the Clinton era, i.e., the time when the US essentially placed Lebanon in Syria's bloody hands.

But according to my source, Kerry allegedly told them that "for the US, the Seniora government is a matter of national security." The Syrian leadership was shocked, according to the source. Now, whether it's true or spiced up, the point is the same: the notion of cutting a "deal" with Syria on Lebanon is out of the question. And it has nothing to do with the Bush administration. Just look at what the Arab states, namely Saudi Arabia are doing, and what the Europeans are doing. As a European official recently told me, the notion of Syria restoring its previous position in Lebanon is out of the question.

Walid Choucair summarizes the European position on this issue rather well in al-Hayat, echoing much of what I have been saying on this blog:

European diplomatic sources say that despite differences in Europe on the relation with Syria and opening dialogue with it -- since France has reservations about opening channels for dialogue, as previous experience has shown that merely talking to the Syrians makes them believe that they could flex their muscles and continue their unacceptable policies in Lebanon -- the contacts made by some [European] countries with Damascus did not change the general European position which calls on [Syria] to cooperate with the decisions of the international community. The sources add: "It's true that Britain, Germany, and Italy consider that the goal of talking to Damascus is to stress the need for it to change its policy in Lebanon and to stop supporting its destabilization, and to encourage it to take constructive steps in this regard and to cooperate with international resolutions. However, the delegates of these states, when they undertake this mission, they end up reaching the same conclusion France reached, and some return with great disappointment with Damascus.

I have said as much in the past, and I was told by various sources, including European officials, what Choucair has written: all the European delegates who went to Syria, "got absolutely nothing." (Here's Angela Merkel today, for instance, slamming Syria on Lebanon.)

Here, let me go back to address the problem with Nelson's selective approach. Nelson explains his logic thusly (emphasis mine):

Logic instructs us we cannot succeed in stabilizing Iraq without the cooperation of all of Iraq's neighbors. And so, rather than simply making demands of governments who often do not share our interests, our effort should be focused on finding those limited areas where our interests overlap and developing them.

The diplomatic dialogue would not have to give up anything on areas where we disagree with Syria. But it most certainly can include the discussion of the costs to Syria of continued conflict, such as the imposition of additional sanctions under the Syria Accountability Act. And it should be coordinated with the diplomatic efforts of our allies.

That's all great and swell, but things are different with murderous thugs who view "engagement" (even if "limited" to Iraq) as a green light to retake Lebanon. The reality is that Assad knows this and has repeatedly said that it's all or nothing. Either a "package deal" (because "all the issues are related") or no deal. By package deal he means 1- control of Lebanon, 2- lifting the isolation (which also means terminating the Hariri investigation and tribunal). Renewed, perpetual, process with Israel would be an added bonus under this category, that would bestow additional dividends.

Too bad then that our "creative diplomacy" won't work, because Assad is not interested in our diplomacy. He's interested in his. That's why every delegate to Syria got nothing. For the Assad regime, the biggest threat is the tribunal, and the first priority is the restoration of his hegemony over Lebanon. Both are non-starters for the entire world, including the Arab states like Saudi Arabia which has washed its hands clean of Assad.

That's why, contrary to CFR's view, it's not just the Bush administration but its close European (France) and Arab (Saudi Arabia) allies that are advising against "engaging" Syria, especially over Lebanon.

I'll take their advice over CFR's.

La La Landis

It's always very amusing to watch regime advocates trying to present pure propaganda as objective analysis, even when it's so incoherent, paradoxical and twisted that the end-result comes out looking like a pathetically confused pretzel.

The latest spiel that the Syrian regime is trying to sell, and that people, like Joshua Landis, are trying to spin on their behalf, is the notion that talking to Syria about Iraq is so "crucial." When the ISG study came out, and in the run-up to it, all regime cheerleaders (the Moubayeds, the Kabalans, the Shoueibis), Landis included, were toasting themselves in self-congratulatory glee that now the US will "crawl" (or in Landis' words, "creep") to Damascus to accept Bashar's terms for its formal surrender. But the US didn't do so, sticking instead to its position.

That was then, when these "analysts" (spokesmen for the regime) were saying things like: "We will just wait and wait. They will eventually come back to Syria." Now you have Imad Moustapha making up all kind of funny claims about Syria's supernatural powers and abilities!

As always, Moustapha is merely regurgitating the memo from his boss, who, having realized that the US didn't fall for his terrorist blackmail, gave the hapless Diane Sawyer an interview she's been coveting for years. In that pathetic interview (typical Assad interview), he made hilarious claims like Syria is the "main player"(!) in Iraq, and that all parties trust it! I couldn't help but laugh.

Having failed to break his isolation and gain concessions on Lebanon, Assad needs to pump himself to comical levels (Imad Moustapha levels!), when even the most enthusiastic of "engagers" hardly view Syria as "key" or a "main player" in Iraq! In fact, most agree that Syria's influence inside Iraq is marginal at best.

I mean, not even a credulous observer would entertain this nonsense, as even the credulous observer has seen how much of a player Assad is with that disastrous embarrassment of a meeting between Meshaal and Abbas, that showed Syria's true status: a spoiler that is good at killing, but not a serious player able to deliver anything of value.

Everyone knows this, including the Europeans, who, as I've written before, and as Walid Choucair put it in al-Hayat, quoting European diplomats, "once the envoys of these [European] nations actually talk to the Syrians they end up reaching the conclusion France reached [that talking to the Syrians makes them feel cocky and think they can persist with their rejected policies] and they return greatly disappointed with Damascus."

What about the Arab states? Well, they are actually telling Western states not to talk to Syria, and Saudi Arabia is now intentionally bypassing Syria on Lebanon. Mustapha al-Ani, a Dubai-based expert on Arab affairs, says Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt may have pressed Bush not to talk to Syria, which they blame for the growing power of Iran in the Arab world.

"There is a widespread feeling in the region that no concessions should be made to Syria," said al-Ani. "Many Arab states see Syria's ties with Iran to be harmful to their interests."

What about the Iraqis, who supposedly "all trust" Assad?! Listen to Sami al-Askari. But what about the Sunnis, or even the Iraqi Baathists, whom Syria presents itself as their reference and patron (a hilarious notion, of course). Here's a hint: In an interview with a Chronicle correspondent in Iraq, a former division general of the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's most elite military corps, dismissed the widespread assumption that Syria's tribal links to the Sunni-led insurgents would give it leverage.

"We still remember how Syria sided with Iran during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, when they closed the Iraqi oil pipeline passing through its territory and provided Iran with ground-to-ground missiles to attack Baghdad," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

People from the Izzat al-Duri faction of the Baath Party, the people Syria is supposed to be able to "bring to the table," attacked the Syrian regime for trying to create its own splinter leadership of the Iraqi Baath party (like they did with Arafat and the PLO in the 70s and 80s) made of nobodies, that they would try to use as a selling point. The Duri faction labeled the Syrian regime "the natural ally of the Safavid regime in Tehran," in reference to its status as Iran's client. So it seems, pace Bashar, that nobody in Iraq trusts Syria, just like none of the Arab regional players trust it, just like none of the European players trust it, etc. Syria is the farthest possible from being "the main player" in Iraq.

Enter Landis and his latest hilarious post on Syria and Iraq. He starts off by essentially suggesting that Assad's bid for "controlled destabilization" in Iraq may have backfired as a result of the refugee problem (regardless of the validity of the claim, I'm just following Landis' own distorted logic) and the fact that the US didn't bite and beg Syria for "help":


Syria can see that there is no future course but to hope that the American surge can help the Iraqi government to survive. After all, with Washington committed to this course and refusing to bring either Iran or Syria into regional discussions on Iraq, there is very little choice. To undermine the present Iraqi government will only ensure that more Iraqi refugees come streaming into Syria.

But then this only validates the Bush administration's line that if indeed it is in Syria's interest to do something, and to support the Iraqi government, they will do it on their own without the US having to "give them" something for it. We don't have to "talk" to them or fall into their trap, giving them the impression that they now have a green light in Lebanon, which is how they would inevitably interpret it.

However, Landis can't admit that. So, instead he puts on his imaginary "Assad PR representative" hat and dishes out this hilarious conclusion:

Syria's recent policy shift toward Iraq underlines how futile and self-destructive Washington's policy of excluding Syria has become. US prospects of stabilizing the situation in Iraq are not good, but without cooperating from Syria, they are surely worse than they have to be. Syria shares many of Washington's objectives in Iraq - not all, to be sure, but enough to make cooperation the only wise policy.

Wait, what!? If anything, it shows that US policy was right on, and instead of having to "crawl" to Damascus, it is Damascus now that has to adjust, without being paid the blackmail it thought it would impose on the US (much to Landis' chagrin, I'm sure).

In a way, the following pathetic, confused, and rather sinister statement from an earlier post of his, somewhat sums up the paradox:

For the time being Washington is winning the game of chicken the [sic] it has played with Syria over Iraq. Syria hoped it could use the Iraq card to break Washington's isolation policy. Washington used the card right back, insisting that if Syria encouraged the Iraqi resistance, Damascus would inevitably pay the higher price because lawlessness, fundamentalism and sectarianism would wash into Syria. Syrian officials are undoubtedly telling themselves that by improving relations with the American backed Iraqi government, Syria will ultimately make it easier for Malaki [sic] and the Shiite government to turn against America.

Of course now, given how the Maliki government hardly sees Assad's actions as "improving relations," Assad's self-proclaimed imaginary PR rep. explains it thusly:

[T]he fact that Asad was willing to meet with Dhari at all has become a source of irritation for the Iraqi government.

The meeting points out that even if Damascus is in the midst of a major policy change toward relations with Iraq, it will not put all its eggs in the Maliki basket.

Having read the former quote you might now be scratching your head in bewilderment. Confused doesn't even begin to describe it: Syria is moving closer to the Maliki government; Syria is moving at odds with the government!

That's what happens when your posts are little more than attempts to whitewash Assad's subversive murderous policies, and to present an unreliable thug as a "player."

Update: Ammar Abdulhamid comments on the same point:

On the other hand, with regard to one of those other unchallenged yet equally ludicrous assertions, namely that Syria is “the main player” in stabilizing Iraq, well, if Syria is indeed such a player in Iraq, and if the Top Lion of Syria indeed fears the domino effect of “the chaos” and “the instability,” as he put it, why aren’t the Assads already doing something about stabilizing the situation in Iraq? Why are they waiting to be approached by the US for talks over Iraq? Are they really afraid of “the chaos” or are they afraid of the American troops? Or they simply unable to do anything about the situation in Iraq, but would like very much for the US to believe that they could, so they could carve a deal for themselves?