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September 28, 2006

Comments

Alex

There you go again!

Ammar, why are you so sure that you know the absolute truth about the future? You are sure that all those who favor trying to talk to Syria (Israeli, European, and American) are fools, including current Israeli "Hawk" cabinet minister Avi Dichter, who used to be the head of Shin Bet (after 27 years of service) ... one would think that he is not your typical naive or ill-informed western politicial you are worried about. Time magazine called him The Tough Guy Behind Sharon"

When I hear an Israeli Hawk stating publicly that he realizes that Israel will need to return the Golan Height to Syria after a peace agreement, and then I read my Syrian friend Ammar doing all he can to fight the process, I don't know what to think or say.

Today, we are faced with a serious possibility that war is not stoppable anymore. We are not talking a limited 2-week war, but a regional, totally out of control war. And Ammar has the luxury to discuss long term implications on prospects of having democracy in Syria one day.

Kevin

If a major contributing factor to the possiblity of a "totally out of control war" is the general lack of democracy and freedom in the region (and I'm not pointing to the usual suspects), then it needs to be addressed. In his book A War Like No Other, Victor Davis Hanson points out that until the reasons for a war are resolved (one way or another), the war itself can not be prevented. The main impetus for the Peloponnesian War was the construction of Athens' walls. Until they were destroyed, the state of war or proxy-war between Athens and Sparta would continue.

A peace agreement between Syria and Israel is not going to stablize the region. The Iranian regime has learned to use international crisis to stifle opposition at home. Hizballah has done the same thing in a bid to enhance its power in Lebanon. What is to prevent other regimes from doing so in order to distract quiet the yearnings for change? Hell, Hugo Chavez is doing it on this side of the Atlantic.

"Engagement" for the sake of engagement is not going to change this either. Europe has been "engaged" with Iran for nearly 30 years. Offering only incentives to a regime that has made it quite clear that it has no intention of changing course, is not only foolish, it is dangerous. It encourages every other thug regime to do the same.

I don't pretend to know a lot about Syrian politics or history, but Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights does serve the Assads' interests. Without a foreign invader or threat, martial law is rather pointless. The goal of regimes such as the Assads in Syria and the mullahs in Iran (and the rest of the Middle East) is to stay in power, at any cost. And histroy has shown that the Assads' power is not dependent upon the return of the Golan Heights.

The prospect of total war will not abate until the major contributing factors are resolved: a. Israel/Palestine; b. Freedom and democracy in the region; and c. World dependence on oil. I believe that all three of these issues must be fully addressed and resolved in order to defuse the region as a "flash point". Unfortunately, the West is dangerously divided issues related to the GWOT and the problems in the region. How serious can one take a "coalition" in which its members can't even commit militarily to the one action they all agreed upon? Some NATO-members won't allow their troops in Afgahnistan to be stationed in combat areas, much less be used for actual combat.

Alex

Kevin, I agree with many of the points that you, and Ammar, made.

However,

1) These days, the chances we might witness this "out of control" war are quite high. Think if the world is ready for it ... Iran will refuse to be defeated. It has many possible "targets" in case the US or Israel score some serious innitial hits. Dubai? Saudi Arabia? closing the persian Gulf? turning Iraq a living hell for the American soldiers ... tens of thoudands of suicidal soldiers ... can someone tell me if I am overstating the case?

Syria will refuse to be defeated .. they most probably have chemical weapons.

The Pakistani president could be overthrown in a couiple of days if Pakistani muslims are outraged at "US+Israeli agreesion". Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Yesterday, Jihad Khazen who is one of the most influenctial Arab journalists and a friend to all Arab presidents and Kings (especially the Saudi) wrote that he is seriously worried that Pakistan is the most probable danger.

Then you have the populations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia who could easily go to the streets in support of their fellow muslims ...

Very simply, we are not talking about anothe Lebanon war with 1500 casualties.

What do I propose in return? a gradual calming of the situation in the Middle East until the envirenment is more friendly to additional experiments in democracy.

The Syrian regime might be very corrupt and very much motivated by their desire to continue ruling (like all other regimes in the Middle East) but I seriously disagree with Ammar about their regional policies ... I believe they are very aware of the sensitivities in the area. I believe they really want to sign a peace treaty with Israel. They really want better relations with the US and Europe. But they will not accept a bad deal for Syria. The Syrian people would not allow them to.

The problem is that the US is willing to have WWIII rather than give the impression that a regime that opposed US policies can "win" at the end.

If you want to see how and why a deal with Syria would be the best and easiest way out (short of a satisfactory solution to the Palestinian problem today), you can read these two articles, and let me know which part of them does not make sense to you.

Why talk to Syria

Syrian Israeli talks within the regional context

Zenobia of the East and West

Excuse me for correcting you, but Hugo Chavez...is not a dictator or part of a repressive regime stifling reform or change. He is democratically elected leader with wide popular support.

As well, I don't think you can lump the Iranian regime in the same category with Hezballah. they are not the same. Hezballah, again, is a popular resistance.. albeit they are currently asserting power to dictate outcomes within the country and influence dynamics of internal power, however, they are still not a repressive government.... stifling reform. In fact, they are in favor of reform, just the ones that they support.
Same thing with Chavez. He is a reformist - through and through. He just happens to be an anti-american one.

Zenobia of the East and West

oh yeah, and I might also add to Kevin.....

that yes, Hezbollah capitalized on international crisis to prevent opposition to its internal assertion of political power... but then again, lets not be so hypocritical -

the Presidency and current American Administration wins the prize for exploiting international and national crisis for building its own power and furthering the ideology of the leadership and neocon agenda. there is no example more blatant than that.

Zenobia of the East and West

and.......
a point or two on ammar's post...

I have problems with the word "engagement" too....partly because the american military uses this word!.. to refer to engaging the enemy and killing them.
Nonetheless, I want to say that to my mind - the Engagement Faith- is based on the idea that engaging will always be ultimately... in the service of shedding light upon a political situation and reality as well as opening up possibilities, breathing air into an environment.
So even if the Syrian regime or another regime...is so incredibly plagued with "endemic and gargantuan corruption and ... mismanagement of the economy" that it seems engagment is useless... I would argue that it is still in the service of exposing and challenging this status quo.

Any Mafia organization or enterprise functions and survives by remaining a closed system with little interference or engagement with the outside. There is total secrecy and loyalty as part of the codes of behavior. So, any engagement with outside entities at all..... threatens this closed system and its ability to maintain control of itself and everything in its power.
I believe that engagement is not such a powerful force as to be able to puncture and dismantle such a system - but I disagree that it is only a distraction or concession that ultimately maintains the status quo or thwarts more substantial efforts at change and reform.

I think Engagement operates on a premise of good faith (that may be an illusion) but nonetheless, if a regime even shows the pretense of being in favor of economic expansion and growth or opening up...as well as international interdependence - then engaging them on this level... has the potential to allow an infusion of subversive ideas and influences.

We cannot fully equate political regimes with Mafias because the regimes at least have the pretense of being open to engagement with the international community. And as well - there is the reality - that the world is now unquestionably economically and environmentally interdependent as nations and societies. So, they automatically cannot remain closed if they want to survive for any length of time at all.

Even Iran has to engage somebody - maybe that somebody is China or India or Russia.....
and it is the United States' loss that that is not the USA that is engaging them.
America doesn't have the luxory... that you seem to think it does....of choosing not to engage such powers. WE are also dependent on them!....It is also pure hubris and blind wishful thinking (as you put it) to act like we can pick and choose who to engage and anybody America doesn't like we can control them militarily.
It is crazy thinking and ultimately self-destructive.

Kevin

Zenobia:

I would hardly call Chavez a "refomer". Let's not forget his attempt at "reform" in 1992 - his failed coup attempt. Yes, his foreign policy is anti-American, but it is his cozying up to Iran and Cuba that has pro-democracy forces in and outside Venuzuala worried. We'll see how long he remains President - my bet is that he's going to be there for a very long time.

Hizballah maybe a resistance movement now. But if they become the "party" (and I use that term in its widest meaning, since I'm not willing to call a group that arms itself a strictly political party) that ends up controlling the Lebanese government, what kind of reforms do you see them implementing? As a democrat, I have qualms about any reforms that have to be enacted at the end of a gun.

And your comparisons Bush and Hizballah are way off. If anyone paid attention to the debates during the 2000 election, Bush made it very clear that he was going to do something about Iraq. No matter what your opinion of the invasion of Iraq, it was a surprise to no one and it certainly wasn't done to boost Bush's popularity at home or to quite any dissent at home.

Kevin

Alex:

Great articles, but the first thing that comes to my mind is whether the "carrot" for Iran is really what you say it is? Is it just the Shiite in Lebanon that is their concern? I think that Iran wants to play a much larger role than just an "equal among powers" in the region. Furthermore, I believe that Iran is positioning itself so that when regime change finally happens in Syria, Eqypt, Lebanon, etc., it is a theocracy that emerges. What is it that the Iranian regime wants? Also, given the Iranian regime's poor track record of keeping any sort of diplomatic agreements with the U.S., who is going to guarantee they keep their word? Would the Syrians be willing to do so?

Another question I would want answered is who exactly is Hizballah beholden to? Is it purely a Lebanese resistance group? How autonomous of Tehran and Damascus is it?

As far as that goes, how much power/control/influence does Damascus have with the Palestinians? Can Damascus get Hamas to not only retract their "destruction of Israel" stance, but to actually accept the right of Israel to exist?

I agree that a war would have terrible consequences, but those that cry "Engagement" in the West seem to believe that engagement for the sake of engagement is a good thing. A perfect example is the West's offer to Iran for it to stop nuclear development. Iran has stated over and over it will not negotiate that, but the West keeps trying to sweeten the deal. What is the point? If engagement means talking and every one continuing what they want to do, then what really is the point?

Zenobia of the East and West

Kevin,

the crisis of the "war on terror" isn't used to quell any complaints about domestic policy?

while the "war" goes on......there was hardly a peep about the Bush administration pushing through incredible tax policy, as just one example. Domesticate wiretapping might be another example.

and what i mean is not that the administration keeps its policies secret, such as the intention to invade iraq. The analogy I am making is that the FEAR of the american people... generated out of a crisis was massively exploited by the administration to implement ideological goals and foreign policy that would hardly have been possible without such exploitation.
The american public is emotionally and intellectually manipulated as much as the populace of the middle east.
It is the same power game to my mind ...just done without the need for overt repressive threats against the public. Just stuff enough Fox TV in everyones faces...and at least half the population won't question the policies.
who needs a dictator when you can have mental totalitarianism.

Ammar

The only deal that will be acceptable to me at this stage is one that compels the Assads to come to terms with the necessity of reworking the entire political system in the country, releasing political prisoners, and allowing exiles like me to go back to the country without having to worry about any security harassments. The end-product here might still not be democracy, but a more open, humane, representative and flexible system of governance, one that allows for gradual improvements to take place. Anything less than this is simply unacceptable to me, even if it came with the Golan and even it meant peace and stability. If the quality of peace and stability promised and provided is going to as shoddy as what we have now or have had under the Assads for the past few decades, I am better off betting on war and chaos.

Is it principle that is involved here, is it tenacity, it is ambition? I am not sure really, and I don’t care. But here is where I stand, no matter what. You don’t concede anything before the talks begin and you don’t go into talks unless you know the other sides is serious, and the ground rules are clearly established. The would-be peacemakers are better off working on establishing these missing ground rules, rather than simply complaining about the perceived fanaticism of the various actors involved, otherwise, they will be making more piss than peace, further muddying our troubled waters.

Whether I like or not, I am a player in this admittedly foolish game, my actual size and weight notwithstanding, so I have to make my demands and concerns as clearly as I can, I am in the business of being or, at least, sounding like a fanatic at this stage, just like the Assads who turned their back on any discussion of political reforms within months after the ascension of Bashar to power, and have also failed to deliver any serious economic or administrative reforms. Moreover, there are so many officials in Europe and the US and so many Syrians, like you Alex in your recent comments, who are always so willing to put off talks of political reforms for an assortment of reasons all centering on national security concerns that cannot be challenged. So, we don’t take a stand now on these issues, the cause of reform in the region will set back for decades. Yes, war may not help matters, but neither will the kind of peace and stability we continue to be “blessed” with.

Indeed, ever since Bashar opted to put an end to what has become known as the Damascus Spring, his various pronouncements on all different sorts of issues, both domestic and foreign, became pronouncedly more combative and radical and he managed to create one mini foreign crisis after another with each getting immediately used in the national discourse as a way for what political reforms should not be on the agenda at this stage. Manufacturing crises and dog-wagging was perfected by the Assads for long, and we are always supposed to fall into this trap and reward their efforts and put off the calls for reform.

I say, NO. You want to engage, then all problems need to be considered, especially the democracy gap, just as I have proposed in a recent post.

Kevin

Well said Ammar.

Zenobia:

Tax cuts were pushed thru before 9/11. Domestic wire tapping had been done during Clinton's adminstration. Because the Democrats and the Left in general spent most of their time criticising Bush's policies without any alternatives or comparing him to Hitler, they have marginalized themselves. Howard Dean stating he's not sure bin Laden was behind 9/11 and that he should be brought to trial. Democratic Senators who passed the 22 point resolution approving the invasion of Iraq, back track when things don't turn out too rosey. To me the problem in the U.S. right now is that the opposition (to the Administration) is immature and lacking in any realistic alternatives. How realistic was the "6-month pull out" that John Kerry promoted during his candidacy?

Alex

انتقدت رئيسة الكنيست، القطب في «كديما» الذي يتزعمه اولمرت، الرفض الاسرائيلي للدعوات السورية الى استئناف الحوار، وقالت لصحيفة «معاريف» انه لا ينبغي تفويت فرصة تاريخية. واضافت: «ربما نحن ازاء فرص لتحالفات جديدة. سورية تؤشر منذ فترة الى استعدادها للسلام، ولا أظن انه ينبغي تفويت الفرصة... هل تتخيلون تحالفا جديدا بيننا وبين سورية وما يمكن ان يعني ذلك». وتابعت: «في حال ربحنا سورية الى جانبنا، فإننا سنربح امورا اخرى... سنربح الكثير اذا مكنّا سورية من التحرر من محور الشر، وعلينا دق اسفين بين سورية والعناصر السلبية (حزب الله وحماس وايران)». وزادت انها تؤيد توقيع اسرائيل اتفاق سلام مع سورية «حتى ان كان سلاما باردا على غرار السلام مع مصر».


احتمال هجوم سوري

على صلة، افادت «معاريف» في عنوانها الرئيس امس بان شعبة الاستخبارات العسكرية الاسرائيلية أحدثت تغييرا جوهريا في تقديراتها عن احتمالات نشوب حرب مع سورية وباتت ترى احتمال ذلك اكبر من ذي قبل. وأضافت انه خلافا للسنوات الماضية التي افترضت خلالها شعبة الاستخبارات ان الخيار العسكري الحقيقي مع اسرائيل ليس مطروحا، تبدل الوضع الآن واصبح احتمال نشوب حرب او هجوم سوري محدود على اسرائيل خياراً واقعياً بالنسبة الى دمشق، وان القيادة السورية تدرس بجدية مثل هذا الاحتمال. وتستدرك شعبة الاستخبارات لتضيف ان الحديث في سورية عن الخيار العسكري ما زال في طور افكار ولم تتخذ خطوات عملية في هذا الاتجاه.

ghassan karam

Ammar,
Is it possible that your analysis is mistakenly confusing appeasement with engagement? I am in total agreement that no illiberal regime should be helped or propped up in any way but that does not necessarily mean disengagement. To maintain a dialogue between two adversaries could never lead to a worsening of understanding , just the opposite , its worst outcome would be to maintain the status quo.
I am sure that you will agree that it was very helpful for the US to maintain a dialogue with the Soviet Union after WWII and that it has been equally helpful for the West to maintain a dialogue with China after the Tianamen Square debacle.

Alex

Ammar, I found your last comment to be much more reasonable. I hope something along those lines could be doable ... as part of the overall solution. Otherwise, there will be no reforms in Syria until the regime is comfortable that the United States and its regional friends (Saudi, some Lebanese, Jordan, Israel ..etc) are not waiting for opportunities to weaken the regime internally. While the Syrians might accept to take mini-steps towards democracy, those steps should facilitate revolutionary changes.

But as I said in my article on creative syria; Satisfying Syria's objectives and needs within an overall peaceful solution should indeed be contingent on verifiable political and economic reform objectives that the regime will be held accountable for. If the regime refuses a well balanced Golan-for-peace and-internal-reform deal (over a 7 year period) then I will probably join you in the opposition. Or at least I will shut up.

I liked this part of your last comment:

"You don’t concede anything before the talks begin and you don’t go into talks unless you know the other sides is serious, and the ground rules are clearly established"

That leads me to answer Kevin's questions:

Syria's position is very similar to Ammar's ...

1) Don't ask us to drop our cards before the talks begin. Asking Syria to cut its ties to Hamas, Hezballah, and Iran, is equivalent to telling Syria: "we can only negotiate with you if you are weak and harmless" ... no thanks. This is the language you use with the other side that you just permanently crushed in some massive war.

2) You don't talk unless the other side is serious and the ground rules are known... in Syria’s case that means they already got burned twice after they spent years negotiating, and nearly reaching agreements with late prime minister Rabin (assassinated by an Israeli citizen) then with Mr. Barak (replaced with Mr. Sharon). In both cases Israel cancelled all its agreements with Syria (they were not signed yet, so that was doable). By now, many westerners wonder why Syria is not showing enough flexibility with Israel. But they learned their lessons.

Now going back to your specific questions about Iran and Hamas and Hizballah:

1) Iran: If Syria is satisfied that it signed a fair peace agreement, if Hizbollah is satisfied that Lebanon's 40% Shia population now have their fair share of power in Lebanon (one man one vote democracy?) If the US starts cooperating with Syria and Iran on Iraq (recognizing both countries' ability to play positive roles) and if the US stops treating Iran (the Ayatollahs) in an insulting way, then the Iranians will find it much more difficult to expand their role and influence in the Middle East ... at least not in a negative way.

Another thing that will be needed to calm Iran, is to ask Israel to take immediate measures to improve the quality of life for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. Which leads me to your question about Hamas:

2) Syria has considerable influence on Hamas, but they can not order them to accept conditions that are not good for the Palestinian people. If the US and Israel decide to become more reasonable in what they are willing to offer the Palestinians in a potential peace agreement (close to 67 borders, small part of east Jerusalem) Syria can feel comfortable to try to tip the scales in Palestine in a way that next elections will bring a more moderate government (moderate Hamas figures plus Fatah for example). Hamas's vote was the obvious reaction to Prime minister Sharon's extreme policies int he occupied territories. When Israel moves away from those policies, expect (after some delay) to see positive changes in Palestine.

3) Hizbollah is also not entirely in Syria's hands (nor in Iran's). But again, if Syria (and the rest of the Lebanese who are friends to the U.S.) are satisfied with a solution for both Syria (the Golan) and Lebanon's democratic reforms (more power to the Shia) and if Iran is reasonably satisfied, then Hizbollah will not be the spoiler.

As I said in my small interview in Haaretz last month Syria's part of the deal is easy: Golan plus a recognition of limited regional role for Damascus. But to help Syria make the transition to the peace camp, and to get the extra benefits (modification in the behaviors and positions of Hizbollah and Iran and Hamas) you need to go half way in satisfying those parties too. Again, halfway on all fronts is doable.

I have a more detailed schedule of what steps are pre-requisite to future steps ...etc. But you get the idea.

Alex

correction to first paragraph:

those steps should NOT facilitate revolutionary changes over night. THe regime, and Syrian people do not want chaotic changes, even if they are supposedly leading to "democracy".

Ammar

Ghassan,

You are quite right, I said at one point that Engagement is being reduced to "containment," I probably should have said "appeasement." Indeed, it is confusion of engagement with appeasement that is problematic for me.

Alex,

Now, if only the Assads can deliver…

Alex

We will never know if the Assads can deliver until "they" strat talking to them to start the process.

Kevin

Alex: Thanks for your response, makes a lot of sense. But you didn't address the first issue regarding the mullahs. I don't believe it is just a matter of US treating the mullahs better. The matter is the outright double-dealing the mullahs have engaged in its diplomatic relations. They have gone out of their way to embarass American Presidents (not that they don't deserve it all the time). An example: The U.S. has kept its commitments made to resolve the Hostage Crisis, even when it is clearly not what its people wanted (defending frozen Iranian assets from various hostage lawsuits. The mullahs, on the other hand, publicized the whole Iran-Contra affair after promising to keep all US-Iran contacts confidential. I'm not even going to go through the litany of downright deception they practiced in their negotiation during the Hostage Crisis. Or the agreements with the British government regarding the death warrant on Rushdie. Or their dealings with the IAEA. Would the Syrians (Assad's government) act in the same manner? Or, if the U.S. seized your embassy, imprisoned and beat its employees and held them for over a year, how willing would Assad be to trust the U.S.?

It seems to me that the mullahs have no problem with breaking international commitments and standards in diplomacy at the drop of a hat. Their actions belie their obvious belief that everything is a zero-sum game. In diplomacy, sometimes the only guarantee is the word of the participants. The word of the mullahs appears to mean little.

Alex

Kevin,

Interesting question. I would approach it from this perspective:

The Mullahs had a long list of grievances against the United States and the way it handled Iran in the past. Therefore, they felt justified in their intentional actions which led to various embarrasements to the U.S.

Given president Bush's less than popular actions so far, you might be right that the Iranians would want to continue to confront him until he is out of office. Sadly, revenge is popular in the Middle East and it is not confined to the Mullahs. Israel, Hamas, the Lebanese during the civil war ... all practiced it.

When it comes to the Iranian Shia leaders (the Mullash) who seek wisdom, their logic begind this "revnge" is that they are teaching the US a lesson that would be good for the Americans not to make similar mistakes in the future.

That is why I am not suggesting for now to seek miracles on teh Iranian front. I think a general calming of the situation in the Middle East is the best defense against Iran's ability to succeed in gaining more popular support in the rest of the (Sunni) Arab world.

Hopefully a new American administration would start a new page with Iran that could eventually lead to a reversal of the negativity we had in the past.

As for their nuclear program ... I'm afraid the only way to stop them is to do something about Iran's two competitors in the area: Sunni Pakistn, and Israel ...both already have nuclear weapons and the US fully accepted it.

They will have their nuclear weapons... make them your friend.

And worry equally about Pakistan for now ... until the Middle East is calmed, god knows where it will explode.

As for "The Assads", in the past, president Hafez Assads was known for the way he respected his signed international agreements. He would negotiate forever to get the agreement he felt is the best Syria could get uner any circumstances. But when he signed it, everyone (Kessinger, Barak, Baker ...etc) admitted they trusted him totally to deliver.

Now, Bachar has the famous story of secretary of state Powell's visit to Syria in 2003 I think when Powell stated that Bashar promised him things that he did not deliver. Then there is the new Syrian "strategy" of declaring a position, then reversing it few days later (through offcial denial usually). So we do not know yet how well the current Syrian administration can respect it sword.

But to be honest, I think they developed this habbit of playing dirty tricks because the Americans and their allies in the Middle East did the same to Syria. When it comes to lies, te gold medal goes to you know who.

"The Assads" will probably respect their signed international agreemts ... if it is not forced on them.

One other thing .. tying "democtaric reform" to this peace agreemt is like promising them personal punishment through removal if they sign peace. That is why I propose a transition period of another presidential term of 7 years before serious democratic changes take place. During those years, economic reforms and various stepts of political reforms could be taken (establishing more political parties, then municipal elections, then pariamentary elections ..etc)

AND, finally, if you do not want anothe HAMAS to win in Syria, wait until the Syrian people are not angry before you ask them to pick their democratically electged leaders. For that a few years of calm in teh middle East an a few years of economic prosperity would make a difference.

R

Very interesting debate going on here. I have some serious doubts about some of the logic that Alex is using though.
The premise seems to be that the Assads would be willing to concede on certain points if enough is given to Syria. I just fail to see why a regime that is probably not propped up by popular support, would be willing to allow for a process by which governments would be elected by popular vote. Just seems like a recipe for disaster for them. That should apply now as well as seven years from now. Add to that, we are not looking at a 'benevolent' type dictator here, who would be willing to do the best for Syria at all times. We are (to my knowledge) looking at a regime that is more like a web of personal interests and powers that compete amongst themselves to a certain extent, but are aware that they are mutually dependent. I doubt that bashar is the strong man that his father was, in the sense that hafez probably could have made decisions on his own and enforced them, while this guy probably has to do some lobbying to do his bidding.
Bottom line, even if Bashar was miraculously convinced of the type of package deal that Alex was talking about, no amount of time would dilute the nature of the regime, or convince his co-players to relinquish their personal interests. I doubt that bashar would survive any such decision. Again, I am not a hands on expert in Syrian matters like many people on this blog seem to be, so feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Alex

R, your question is very valid. It is surely a challenge to convince those who are enjoying personal benefits from the current system, to cooperate, or at least to not resist gradual changes (over a 7 year poeriod) that will result in the end of their current benefits

But there are many possible "tools". Every person has a specific package of potential rewards that could provide the necessary motivation. Not all financial rewards. For example recognition for their service to their country (rather than humiliation, like the baathists and army generals in Irak got), assuming management positions in new corporations, membership in a Syrian Senate or advisory boards, and, of course financial investment opportunities that allows them to maintain their life style if that is what still interests them, but within a more legal framework of course.

It is important to understand the psychology of each type of character, rather than think of all as "corrupt thugs". Some are corrupt, others are really doing the best they can to serve their country (I do know a few). You can not group everyone into the negative sounding label: "the regime"

Also, many regime personalities, and army generals are in their mid seventies now (Hafez's colleagues). they are tired. They just want to be honored at the end of their "service to the country".

And if their children are still eager to grow their businesses, the Seven years will provides a good fadeout period during which they can slowly move their business to Dubai or Europe if they want to.

The prince or Qatar and the rulers of Dubai can help ensure that these people can have a VIP treatment in their new homes.

Those who would still resist, after 7 years can not confront popular momentum for change, if the change process is not chaotic like the one we are seeing today.

Again, we would never know unless we try.

Kevin called me a dreamer earlier. I don't mid that, but I disagree. I believe there are solutions out there for the Middle East's long-term problems. Sadly those solutions are rejected by the different parties becasue there are other requirements

1) some want revenge, or teaching lessons, to others (No one admits it, of course)...Any solution that does not satisfy their need for revenge is rejected as "not practical".

2) some countries have their own set of hidden additional requirements that complicate things exponentially. The Middle East has enough of its own issues to solve.

3) some do not want to solve anything. Chaos, uncertainty, and armed conflicts provide excellent opportunities for them. The point R raised applies on a much larger scale to those outside the Syrian regime and outside the middle east. To me this is the bigger challenge; how do you convince them to not resist a solution that will probably result in a sharp reduction in defense spending in their own country and in the different client countries in the middle east.

I guess, you make sure you promise them exclusive opportunities in other developement projects they can invest in, in the Middle East after peace is achienved.

to sum up my latest long post: you make sure no powerful party is going to be worse off as a result of peace process.

Ask President Bush Sr. and jim Baker how they managed to establish a broad coalition to get Iraq out of Kuwait.

A Syrian In The Far East

I believe the real problem of Engagement advocated by some versus the Firm-Intervention advocated by others here is that they are both very contingent on the benevolence of the engager / intervener.

I do not see that the West, or at least the government of the United States, has an ideology per-say. That is why there intervention / engagement differed considerably depending on the people at the top of the administration more than anything else.

The US approach has covered the full spectrum between being the most benevolent and good-bringing invader of all times (World War II for example), to the most evil and disaster-bringing one (Vietnam, Iraq), to whatever degrees in between those two extremes (Korea, Chile, South-America, Serbia, Afghanistan, East-Europe, etc.).

Having seen what Secretary of State George Marshall brought to Europe and what General MacArthur brought to Japan and Korea with their vision and far-sighted plans, I reckon many people would be willing to stand on the door with a flower to welcome them even if they come as invaders.
Having seen what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Co. did to Iraq with their purposely evil planning and short sighted vision, then most are against supporting even a useful dialogue with these people, not to mention a firm intervention.

Mr. Abdul-hamid, many of the people who are advocating engagement or even appeasement are doing so because they do not see any MacArthur there, they do not see the administration who built South Korea and Taiwan or the administration who supported Poland and the rest of East Europe in their break off the USSR, out of good will. They do not see an administration with a balanced vision between what is good to the US and what is good to the country that is engaging, appeasing, supporting, or invading. An administration that could give the example or hope for people like us in order to convince them that they should advocate any extra measures.

In fact, engagement or appeasement or whatever we can advocate, is not advocated for its own sake, rather it is just a way to cool things down until, hopefully, the cycle goes round and one clear-headed administration comes to light.

At least I speak for myself.

Ammar

Point well-taken, but my main point here is that we cannot advocate engagement without working out the basic rules and parameters of engagement. Otherwise, and as you so eloquently pointed out, our advocacy of engagement comes more as an indication of the measure of our frustration than anything else. But it also shows our inability to come out with realistic policy alternative that we can try to impose on the scene. If this administration is not providing the right caliber leaders, it is up to the engagement crowd to provide them, and the measure of the right caliber leader here is the ability to enunciate clearly what the rules and parameters of the proposed engagement are.

A Syrian In The Far East

“We cannot advocate engagement without working out the basic rules and parameters of engagement.
Otherwise, our advocacy of engagement comes more as an indication of the measure of our frustration than anything else.
But it also shows our inability to come out with realistic alternative policy that we can try to impose on the scene.”


But of course Mr. Abdulhamid, but of course. I cannot express enough how well said and encompassing to the real problem the above paragraph is.
The fact is, as dismal and caricaturic is the neocons’ visions for our country, the people who fight it the most are either ones without any vision or plan of their own, as in the regime and its crowd inside & the appeasement crowd outside, or ones with their own version of a dismal and caricaturic vision, as in the extremists and the likes.
How else then mediocre and vision-bankrupted characters like Nasrallah, Bashar, Baynouni, Bush, Rumsfeld to the end of the list of the effective players these days can be as popular as they are amongst their crowds? Don’t we have a proverb that says: when horses are rare, saddle the lapdogs.

Alex

During he next two years, the best we can hope is to avoid war, or to have some progress on few issues if we're really lucky.

I am fine with that.

Let's see who the American people would elect next. The world needs a break from the "Creative Chaos" we have been having for years now. "The new world order" will not emerge out of this chaos. at least no the type of new world order we hope for.

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