Across the Bay

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Syrian "Logic"

A refreshing piece on Syria by Matthew Brodsky in the JPost describing what he calls "Syrian logic" -- what I've elsewhere dubbed Syria selling snake oil:

Sami Moubayed, a Damascus-based professor, analyst and regime mouthpiece, recently floated a quasi-official trial balloon when he declared that if relations with Washington were to improve, Damascus could use its influence with Hizbullah and Hamas, and help to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. In reality, this is an empty offer. Syria, in effect, is proposing to prevent itself from arming the terrorist groups it already supports while offering the US a chance to end Syria's regional isolation. And in return, Assad wants "normalized" relations, a new US ambassador (recalled after Hariri's assassination in Lebanon in 2005), an end to the economic sanctions, compensation for the recent US air strike, and American sponsorship of indirect peace talks with Israel.

In other words, in return for agreeing to an increased regional role and an end to its isolation, the Assad regime would like to be offered an increased regional role, an end to their isolation - and a pile of cash to boot. This kind of circular reasoning might sound new and bizarre, but it is, in fact, the norm. Welcome to Syrian logic.
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Apparently, the hope of the regime in Damascus is that if it creates a regional problem, it should receive an international reward for fixing it.

The new overtures toward Damascus now being contemplated by some in Washington, then, are not motivated by hopes Syria can help, but simply a desire to have Syria sit out the fight. Needless to say, this amounts to a colossal perversion of diplomacy. Carrots, be they diplomatic or economic, should be offered to those who adopt genuinely helpful policies. Providing them to states that merely offer to temporarily reduce their degree of rogue behavior is not only bad policy; it is bound to lead Syria to light more fires and then ask for additional rewards for extinguishing them.

The Syrians' concept of dialogue was recently fully articulated by none other than Farouq Sharaa. Diplomats and engagers take heed of what Syria means by dialogue:

Those close to Obama say he wants a dialogue with Syria and that is very important. Obama had declared in his campaign that he wanted a dialogue with Syria and Iran as well, and that this dialogue would not be a dialogue of "compliance" such as the dialogue Bush wanted to have.

Sharaa demanded that the new American administration work on two essential points for Syria: first, have the US Congress lift Syria's name from the list of states sponsors of "terrorism." Second, repeal the law known as "[The] Syria Accountability [Act]," which was passed months after "the fall of Baghdad." Sharaa said: "If these issues were placed on the Congress's agenda, then that shouldn't be taken lightly, and as such, the dialogue would be one that doesn't target Syria, and after that we could seek settlements on various levels."

Get that? Read Martin Kramer's essay again. This is what the Syrians mean by unconditional dialogue. It means that no conditions (read: expectations) should be imposed on Syria, but Syria reserves every right to impose its own conditions for it to consider the dialogue to be "not targeting" Syria! And so, before doing anything, the US must give Syria everything it wants up front, then sit down and talk -- without conditions! Update: The memo has also been repeated verbatim by Walid Moallem.

Now, you'll note an intriguing resemblance between what Sharaa said and the article written by the regime clown Moubayed, which Brodsky cites. The comedian Moubayed recently fumed (in a non-denial denial) over the proposition that his pathetically laughable article was essentially a regime talking points memo (which applies to most everything he and his comrades write). Moubayed doth protest too much, however. Upon reading what Sharaa said, you realize that what this is is the Syrians placing their preconditions and setting the trap for the incoming administration to ensure that "unconditional engagement" would be -- to quote Martin Kramer -- "tantamount to accepting the enemy's conditions. ... [T]he prelude to unconditional surrender." Or if you prefer Syrian parlance: an "honorable exit."

This is related to another important point briefly touched on in Brodsky's article and that is the hilariously over-inflated Syrian self-image and role conception (see Jana Hybaskova's comments on that here) and what it can supposedly "offer" (hence, snake oil) even as it openly premises engagement on a US defeat and surrender -- honorable or not.

Staying with Sharaa for a moment, a particularly amusing example of Syria's over-exaggerated sense of self-importance was evident in how Sharaa explained his and the Syrians utter fury with the Iraqis over passing the SOFA (needless to say, this memo was channeled by the poodle Moubayed a few days ago, as usual). Sharaa explicitly expressed his ire with the Iraqis, stressing that "Syria has told many officials in the current Iraqi government that they should ask the UN Security Council to remove Iraq from under Chapter VII, and do so through Qatar, when it was the Arab member in the Security Council, or from Libya now, as the Arabs' representative in the Security Council."

This nonsense (which is nevertheless very brazenly and openly hostile to American interests -- for those who talk about "shared" and "converging" interests between the US and Syria in Iraq and the region) is an example of the Syrians' severely over-inflated sense of their own weight. It also highlights a point I've made repeatedly in the past, which is that Syria's claims of a "central role" and "influence" in Iraq are utter piffle. Their only "role" is what we saw last month: allowing free movement for foreign Jihadists and harboring senior al-Qaeda officials on their soil. And even there the US military has rendered their role secondary and secured gains with the Sunni tribes and the Iraqi military against al-Qaeda in spite of Syria's best, or rather, worst efforts.

One particular instance of hilarity involves, naturally, the aforementioned Moubayed (aka. the King of Comedy), who, in trying to doll up what Syria can supposedly offer, proceeded to repeat over and over again that Syria was instrumental (right after they finished inventing the internet) in releasing the British sailors that the IRGC held hostage in 2007. Moubayed kept including that in the memos he was putting out in Asia Times and Gulf News and it was just absolutely hilarious to behold how the Syrians were trying to find something, anything, to over-hype and sell in the hopes that some gullible Western official would take the bait.

Needless to say, of course, the Syrians had absolutely nothing to do with that entire episode, and Western officials in the know that I've spoken to about it openly laugh it off in ridicule -- that includes Brits.

This in fact can be said about another line of argument that's being sold now by regime flacks like Moubayed as well as some geniuszzes of the policy world. First we were told that engagement with Syria would lead to prying it away from Iran (uh huh). When it became apparent that not only was this utter fantasy, but that the Syrians were repeatedly and openly dismissing it as an option, the line changed to: no, what you should do is use Syria to help moderate Iran! Yeah! That's the ticket! I mean, look at the British hostages!

In reality, the Iranians put Bashar in his place very quickly. When it was floated that Assad was tasked by Sarkozy to relay some sort of message to the Iranians regarding their nuclear program, the Iranians came out and publicly ridiculed the notion that they needed someone like Assad to relay anything. "Our channels are open directly with the West," said an Iranian source back then. "We don't need a Syrian intermediary or any other." This same message was later repeated by Khamenei's advisor, Hussein Shariatmedari, who dismissed any notion that Iran needs a mediator, let alone Assad, whose role he belittled very blatantly: "We talk directly with the West. We tell them what we want directly. We declare our positions ourselves. We have spokesmen for Iran. But if Assad wishes to repeat Iran's known position, we have no objection. I don't know what's meant by a Syrian mediation. Do they want Syria to attend the meeting [between Solana and Jalili]? I believe Sarkozy asked Assad to relay to us the demand to halt uranium enrichment. Our position on this matter is clear: we will not accept halting enrichment."

Not only that, during his visit to Tehran, the Iranians made sure to have Assad publicly state in a press conference that he was not there to mediate or carry any messages, and that Iran doesn't need mediation. They also ensured that all he said about their nuclear program was exactly what they told him to say: the official Iranian line.

That's the extent of Assad's "influence" with Iran. The notion that the Iranians, who have an even more inflated self-image and role conception than the Syrians, and who see themselves as an unstoppable soon-to-be nuclear power on a mission to restore hegemony in the Gulf, would somehow listen to what a weak Arab dictator -- who relies on them and the proxies they create, finance and supply for any regional depth -- has to say about their nuclear program and regional interests, let alone "moderate" them (perhaps Bashar can fit that in with sponsoring al-Qaeda in Iraq, building a clandestine nuclear site with the North Koreans, passing along Russian weapons to Hezbollah, hosting Imad Mughniyeh, harboring Khalid Meshaal and the Palestinian terror groups, and ordering hits in Lebanon) is just laughable hallucinatory nonsense. You know, the kind of comedic material that is left for the likes of Moubayed to try and sell as "analysis."

Engagement of that type and on that basis is indeed a "perversion of diplomacy." Subprime engagement, as it were, with Sharaa and Moubayed junk repackaged as AAA rated securities with fake over-hyped value, is a sure path to serious damage.