Across the Bay

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No Grip on Reality

The Carnegie Endowment has just published a terrible report on the Middle East with a particularly god-awful and remarkably clueless section on Lebanon and Syria.

I trash that section of the report in The Daily Star, here.

Here's a sample:

The authors' faulty premises about Syria are captured in this revealing passage: "A new policy toward Syria also needs to recognize the country for what it is: a small country without massive ambitions or ideological crusades, trying to maintain some role in the region."

This statement grossly misstates reality. Syria's goal, which its regime has acknowledged, is the restoration of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. So while the Carnegie experts fantasize about "compromise," Syria always had other plans. In an interview last year, Syrian President Bashar Assad showed no ambiguity in declaring that the "normal place" for Syrian-Lebanese relations was where "they were a few years ago," in other words before Syria withdrew from Lebanon in April 2005.

Aside from hegemony over Lebanon, Syria has accorded itself the right to meddle in the affairs of all its neighbors - including Iraq and the Palestinian territories. This stems from a self-image and sense of entitlement to being a major player in the Levant - "the fortress of Arabism." Syria's strategic posture is intimately linked to the regime's ideological worldview. It was best described by Assad himself recently when he dubbed Damascus the "capital of the Arab culture of resistance." The identity and legitimacy of the regime rests on this perception. Syria has always strived to fulfill the perception through violence - its only asset - and by keeping an open front against Israel through the Lebanese border and encouraging attacks by Hizbullah or Palestinian proxies.
Syria's goals in Lebanon and those of the international community are diametrically opposed. This, quite simply, leaves no common ground for meaningful engagement with the Assad regime.