Across the Bay

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Syrian Mirage: All Bills and No Merchandise

Here's my latest for NOW Lebanon, which in a way follows up on Michael Young's recent piece in The National.

Syria has long tried to convince the world that nothing could be done in the region without its help. But Syria’s regional relevance is on the decline, and while the US is re-engaging Damascus, the reality is that the Assad regime comes to the table with a weak hand.

I explore two recent headlines that draw attention to Syrian marginality and limitations: Farouq Qaddoumi's storm in a tea cup, and Moqtada Sadr's meeting with Assad.

Assad is looking anywhere and everywhere for the semblance of strong cards. Ultimately, this reflects the fundamental flaw in the Syrian mirage: For structural reasons the Syrians cannot deliver what the US expects of them. Therefore, they trade in snake oil to create the illusion of importance.

When it comes to describing what dealing with Syria is all about, we can borrow from the title of a song by the American soul singer Clarence Carter. It’s like “getting the bills; but no merchandise.”