Across the Bay

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Subprime Engagement

Martin Kramer has a superb new essay on the "engagement" craze that is really essential reading:

Behind the financial crisis was a well-practiced mechanism for concealing risk. The risk was there, and it was constantly growing, but it could be disguised, repackaged and renamed, so that in the end it seemed to have disappeared. Much of the debate about foreign policy in the United States is conducted in the same manner: policymakers and pundits, to get what they want, conceal the risks.
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And in the best American tradition, these risks are repackaged as opportunities, under a new name. It could just as easily be called appeasement, but the public associates appeasement with high risk. So let's rename it engagement, which sounds low-risk—after all, there's no harm in talking, right? And once the risk has been minimized, the possible pay-off is then inflated...

The engagement package rests upon a key assumption: that these "radical" states, groups, and individuals are motivated by grievances. If only we were able to address or ameliorate those grievances, we could effectively domesticate just about every form of Islamism. Another assumption is that these grievances are finite—that is, by ameliorating them, they will be diminished.

It is precisely here that advocates of "engagement" are concealing the risk.
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We are told that the demands of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran are finite. If we give them a concession here, or a foothold there, we will have somehow diminished their demand for more concessions and footholds. But if their purpose is the reversal of history, then our gestures of accommodation, far from enticing them to give up their grand vision, only persuade them to press on. They understand our desire to engage them as a sign of weakness—an attempt to appease them—which is itself an enticement for them to push harder against us and our allies. And since they believe in their narrative of an empowered Islam with the fervency of religious conviction, no amount of insistence by us that we will go only so far and no further will stop them.
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In the Middle East, the idea that "there's no harm in talking" is entirely incomprehensible. It matters whom you talk to, because you legitimize your interlocutors. Hence the Arab refusal to normalize relations with Israel. Remember the scene that unfolded this past summer, when Bashar Asad scrupulously avoided contact with Ehud Olmert on the same reviewing stand at a Mediterranean summit. An Arab head of state will never directly engage Israel before extracting every concession. Only an American would think of doing this at the outset, and in return for nothing: "unconditional talks" is a purely American concept, incomprehensible in the Middle East. There is harm in talking, if your talking legitimates your enemies, and persuades them and those on the sidelines that you have done so from weakness. For only the weak talk "unconditionally," which is tantamount to accepting the enemy's conditions. It is widely regarded as the prelude to unconditional surrender.

Make sure you read the whole thing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Syria Illusions

Here's a pleasant surprise: an actually sober editorial on Syria in the Financial Times. Although the last graph on Iran and the SOFA is off, the editorial is overall quite decent in its reading of Syria and the many associated illusions and stupidities that are so much in vogue these days:

First France, and now Britain. The courtship of Syria proceeds apace. There is, of course, nothing wrong with engagement, as the Bush years have taught us. Ideally, however, robust diplomacy should be harnessed to a coherent strategy. That is what is lacking in the cosying up to Bashar al-Assad and his regime.

Mr Assad owes his re-entry into polite geopolitical society in the first instance to Nicolas Sarkozy. The Syrian leader became persona non grata under President Jacques Chirac after the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, which was linked by United Nations investigators to Damascus. Syria, above all, was on the US black list, not just for backing Hizbollah and Hamas but because the regime facilitated the passage of jihadis into Iraq - even allowing recruiting in full view of the US embassy in Damascus.

Western reappraisal of Syria began in May, after Mr Assad gave his blessing to the Doha agreement settling - at least for now - the stand-off Damascus had helped create in Lebanon. But he would, wouldn't he? The deal gave Syria's allies, led by Hizbollah, which had just overrun West Beirut, veto powers over the elected Lebanese government. The Syrian gambit is to obstruct, if it cannot prevent, the UN tribunal on Hariri's murder.

Syria's tentative reopening of talks on peace with Israel, through Turkish mediation, does address a strategic objective of enormous importance to the region. For the Assad regime, however, it looks like a get-out-of-jail-free card. Syria has not changed its regional behaviour.

Mr Sarkozy, nonetheless, invited him to a summit in Paris and sat him in the front row on Bastille Day. Mahmoud Abbas, who has taken great risks to try for peace with Israel to no avail, was sat at the back alongside a Somali delegate. The message this sends to the Middle East is disastrous. Now, David Miliband, UK foreign secretary, has journeyed to Damascus to call Syria a potential force for stability. Damascus is gleefully exploiting these vain attempts to peel Syria off from its alliance with Iran.

This tactic is an evasion. It avoids the need for a real strategy to deal with Iran. Tehran, empowered by the US upending of the Sunni order in Iraq, now holds high cards throughout the region. It has just played one: encouraging its allies in Baghdad to endorse a new deal on US troops in Iraq. That seems to respond to the election of Barack Obama, who called during the campaign for talks with Iran. The need is to get Iran interested in regional stability, not a dalliance with Damascus premised on an illusion.

If It Looks Like a Duck...

From the Washington Post:

The first independent investigation of the suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel destroyed last year has bolstered U.S. claims that Damascus was building a secret nuclear reactor, according to a U.N. report that also confirmed the discovery of traces of uranium amid the ruins.

Officials with the United Nations' atomic agency stopped short of declaring the wrecked facility a nuclear reactor, but they said it strongly resembled one. And they noted that Syria had gone to great lengths -- including elaborate "landscaping" with tons of freshly imported soil -- to alter the site before admitting outsiders.

Despite the apparent cleanup effort, environmental sampling by U.N. inspectors turned up traces of uranium, the fissile metal used in nuclear reactors, according to the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world body's nuclear watchdog.
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[T]he senior U.N. official, in describing the finding, said soil collected from areas that had not been obviously landscaped contained "significant" amounts of uranium. Although uranium is present in nature, the particles discovered by the IAEA teams had been "chemically" manipulated by humans but not "enriched," he said, referring to the highly complex process of converting uranium into forms used in nuclear weapons.

"In our view, this kind of material should not be there," he said.

Some nuclear experts speculated that uranium may have been stored at the reactor site for future use. The experts noted that some nuclear reactors, such as the Yongbyon reactor built by North Korea, use a form of processed uranium that has not been artificially enriched. (Emphasis added.)

More from Reuters:

The confidential report, obtained by Reuters, said the IAEA would ask Syria to show debris and equipment it whisked away from the site after the September 2007 Israeli air raid.
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It noted that Syria has not produced requested documentation to support its declarations about the nature of the building nor agreed to follow-up IAEA visits to three other locations seen as harbouring possible evidence linked to Israel's target.

"The agency ...intends to request Syria to permit the agency to visit the locations where the debris from the building and any equipment removed from (it) are, for the purpose of taking (test) samples," the report said.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rubin: Syria Can't Be Flipped

Michael Rubin has an excellent article in Forbes arguing against the silly current fad -- the latest policy buzz, which has only been peddled for the last 30 years -- of how to "pry Syria away from Iran."

The added benefit of Rubin's article is that it includes an all-too-often neglected, yet crucial, angle: the angle of inter-Arab relations, and the regional balance of power effects thereof (one I always try to draw attention to). Michael offers a very interesting historical take on that.

For an earlier post of mine on the Syria-Iran alliance, see here. David Schenker also wrote about it here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Terror 'n Nukes

The IAEA has found uranium traces at the Syrian al-Kibar site destroyed in 2007:

A senior Western diplomat said that the inspectors' investigation was only partly based on the analysis of soil samples taken at al-Kibar. In addition, the IAEA had also received additional intelligence that pointed to a possible involvement of North Korea in the alleged Syrian project.

Reuters adds:

Moreover, Syria has been made an official agenda item at the year-end November 27-28 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, unlike previously when IAEA officials said initial inquiries were inconclusive.
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"The agency clearly thinks it has something significant enough to report to put Syria on the (nuclear safeguards) agenda right after North Korea and Iran," said a senior diplomat with ties to the Vienna-based UN watchdog.
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Diplomats close to the IAEA say Syria has ignored agency requests to check three military installations that may have harbored materials connected to the alleged reactor site.

This is on top of aiding and abetting al-Qaeda and directing it against US troops, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, hosting Imad Mughniyeh, arming Hezbollah and a host of Palestinian terror groups, ordering the assassination of people in Lebanon and such. And you still don't understand just how much the peace-loving Assad wants to "realign" with the West!?

Addendum: Noah Pollak weighs in on this over at contentions.

Noah brings up Sy Hersh. It's an interesting coincidence given how the Syrian regime is reportedly once again using Sy Hersh for info ops (as they did in 2007). The regime pitbull/comedian otherwise known as Sami Moubayed recently brought up Hersh (as he did back in 2007 as per the information warfare the regime was launching against Lebanon at the time) to at once lend credence to the elaborate theatrics the regime was putting on display with regards to the recent bombing in Damascus and the supposed "confessions" of (who else?) the "Fateh Islam" cell (who laughably repeated what Rami Makhlouf's al-Watan printed right before the explosion!), and also to set the stage for an alleged upcoming piece by Hersh which will in all likelihood repeat the same regime disinformation which was fed to him by the regime in 2007 and which was then used as cover for the Syrian-sponsored operation in Nahr al-Bared, and which is now being peddled in Rami Makhlouf's paper and by the regime's little comical poodle, Moubayed.

I'll have more on this latest regime ploy in the next few days.

Update: Hussain Abdul-Hussain is on the Sy Hersh hype over at NOW Lebanon.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Syria Knowingly Harboring Al-Qaeda

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdulkarim Khalaf told NOW Lebanon that before the cross border strike into Syria on Sunday, his government had informed Syrian officials that a "terrorist cell" was operating in their territory.

Khalaf told NOW Lebanon, in an exclusive interview on Friday, that "Syria didn’t take any measures to uproot the terrorists in the Bou Kamal border region with Iraq."

For one, this confirms what Maj. Gen. John Kelly said last week:

But we do know that there are operatives that live, we believe, certainly -- let me say, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi intelligence forces feel that al Qaeda operatives and others operate, live pretty openly on the Syrian side. And periodically we know that they try to come across.

But this also recalls, almost verbatim, what Jordanian intelligence officials had said about the Syrians and the Jihadis they harbor and redirect against neighboring countries:

Last year, an attempt on the Amman Airport was barely thwarted after the arrest of Mohammad al-Darsi upon his entry on Jordanian soil. He had left Libya a few days earlier to go to Damascus, where a jihadist recruiter dissuaded him from going to Iraq, directing him towards Jordan instead, where he was to self-detonate among the travelers at Amman Airport.

For the Jordanians, who had flagged -- in vain -- Darsi's arrival in Damascus, their neighbors [the Syrians] are buying their security by tolerating jihadists on their soil.

This is not to mention the case of Shaker al-Absi and other details which you can read about in the recent district court ruling against the Syrian regime.

So what we have here is a clear pattern -- a policy -- where Syria actively and knowingly allows freedom of movement and operation for Jihadis on its soil, and not only explicitly refuses to cooperate, but also redirects and uses these Jihadis to target neighboring countries, including allowing Zarqawi to plan operations on its soil against Jordan and against US diplomats in Jordan and to tolerate training camps as well as allow a logistical support line through Syria for foreign fighters headed for Iraq, not to mention redirecting these fighters into Lebanon, in what became known as Fateh Islam. Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have all suffered from this Syrian-sponsored terrorism.

The Iraqi spokesman goes on to say: "Iraq is surrounded by Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but we face the most serious problems along the Iranian and Syrian borders."

This again echoes Gen. Kelly's statement:

[T]he Anbar Province, which we all call home, has three national borders. One with the Saudi Arabians -- that border is actually quite tight. There is no regularly scheduled or regularly opened port of entry except for one place during the hajj period that's coming up. But that's -- that's a good solid border.

The Saudis are great soldiers and they take care of this side very well. We don't have to worry too much about that.

Same comments for the Jordanian border; we have a very, very active port of entry there. A tremendous amount of commerce goes in and out of that port of entry. And the Jordanian side for sure; have that, their side locked up. I would say that we have absolutely no issues of corruption or security really on the Jordanian border at all. There are very, very good soldiers and police services in Jordan.

Syria, different story... The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side. We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement, not much, through Anbar because of our activities out there, with the police and with the Iraqi army and with the Iraqi border forces, so less and less of that kind of thing coming through.

Notice that the reduction in foreign fighter infiltration is not due to Syrian efforts, but to US efforts. In fact, the US has reduced that number and the death toll (which in October was the lowest since the war began), not because of any Syrian help, rather in spite of every effort by the Syrians to ensure failure and defeat for the US, its allies and Iraq.

As Farouq Sharaa said in 2003, "Syria's interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq." So much for all the hot air about "common interests" with the Syrians. The interests are diametrically opposed, which is why all engagement will fail (as David Schenker notes) as it has without exception in the past. And so, the US doesn't need to "reward" (after five years of direct war against the US and Iraq) Syria for "cooperation" -- a la the late and idiotic Baker-Hamilton report -- as it has been able to move towards its goals (thanks to the surge and its aftermath) despite Syrian sponsorship of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And the US has built good ties to the Iraqi Sunnis and the tribes, making the Syrians all the more irrelevant. The US didn't, as the Syrians had banked, come "crawling," begging for an "honorable surrender" as regime hounds such as Landis and Moubayed have been peddling.

If the Syrians continue to provide safe haven (in direct violation of UNSCR 1373) to senior al-Qaeda commanders, such as Abu Ghadiyah, the US military has shown that it will go after them inside Syria. As a senior US official put it: "As targets present themselves, and are identified... they become more and more at risk. Just like in Pakistan, there will be steps taken to deal with it."

Khalaf said that "the terrorists in the Bou Kamal region included Bou Ghadia, who is accused of murdering Iraqis in the Qaem border region, but the Syrians didn’t take any measures."

Yeah, so the US did -- five years past due, some would say.