« We, the Barbarians! | Main | Democracy vs. Engagement! »

September 23, 2006

Comments

Alex

Ammar, if we are going to go through round two, you should blame others too ... For example, Before Bashar made his hardline speeches after the war, the SYerians were quite optimistic that they would finally see an improvement in US Syrian relations ... but then president Bush went back to playing the same old tune ... "no dealing with Syria until they burn all their cards".

Well too bad .. because for the past 30 years we have often been playing the same game: the US would only deal with a weak Syria. A Syria that can not ask for too much in return for signing peace with Israel. A Syria that accepts any role the west and Israel decied to give it post-settlement.

As a Syrian, I can only continue to be frustrated because the Americans still want to try to weaken the Syrians.

And the fact the Syrian regime is a dictatorship does not have much to do with this one. It so happens that the Syrian "dictator" has the support of a clear majority of Syrians on his hard line positions, while the democratically elected American president these days enjoys a 35% popularity that can esily dip a few more points if the price of oil goes up again.

Ammar, the hardliners include most of the Syrian people. Blame all of them if you want, and don't forget that in Israel Netanyahu these days is ultra popular too ... and the restricted vision in Washington that can not come up with any peaceful positive policy option for dealing with Syria ... that's the biggest problem here.

The Syrians would reciprocate immediately if Washington accepts to be reasonable for a change.

Every action has an opposite reaction ... who knows who started the whole thing, but both sides are responsible for the escalation. And it is not looking good.

R

Alex,

While george bush might be a hardliner, and not have more than 35% of the support of his people (deservedly), he was still an elected presented, which is more than you can say for bashar. The fact (or the contention) that the syrian dictator has the support of his people on his hardline policies means nothing, because he does not act based on the popular wishes of the Syrian people. If his policies (or lack of policies), coincide with those of the Syrian people, I wouldn't consider that as a sign of support for the regime...

On another note, Ammar, is there any real coordination between democratic movements in Syria and their counterparts in Lebanon? If so, how? And if not, is there anything being done to work on that? I believe both sides have a lot to gain from each other, and they share a lot of common ideals and incidentally enemies...

Cheers

R

*president not presented... obviously.

Kevin

To make the claim that the Syrians expected relations to actually improve at the end of the Hizballa/Israeli war is really outrageous. Did Bashar or the Syrian people really believe that precipitating more death in destruction in Lebanon and demonstrating to the world that Syria is not only still interfering in Lebanon, but embroiled it in a war that the Lebanese government and people clearly did not want would actually encourage the Americans to see Syria and the Bashar regime in a positive light and thus improve US/Syrian relations? I may not have a full grasp of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics, but if those were really the hopes and excpectations of the Syrians, then they are just as clueless about the Americans as we are about them.

And Bush's overall popularity may be low, but he was greatly supported by the public on his support for Israel during the war. If you are going to qualify Bashar's popularity then you must also qualify Bush's. Apples and oranges, my friend, apples and oranges.

Alex

Dear R and Kevin,

Bashar and Bush Jr. have been in power since 2000 but "The Syrians" (the regime) have been in power since 1970. They have met with Nixon, Carter, Busht he father, and Clinton. While they make mistakes, they still understand the United States very well.

I wonder if you read the avalanche of editorials and opinion pieces in the NYTimes, teh Washington Post and everywhere by all kinds of former US officials (like president Carter for example) who wrote that the US policy of boycotting Syria is a disaster. The Syrians hoped that this overwhelming movement (matched in ISrael by the way) is indicative of an imminent real shift in US policy.

I will not link here to tens of examples, but go to this page if you want and click on the left column in the PRESS SELECTIONS area. Maybe you won't be too surprised at the Syrians for raising their expectations for a better dialogue with the U.S.

You want more? ... today the Israeli defense minister said:

قال وزير الدفاع الإسرائيلي عمير بيرتس إن سوريا هي "مفتاح الاستقرار" في الشرق الأوسط، مجددا معارضته لغلق باب التفاوض معها.

وأضاف في تصريحات للإذاعة الإسرائيلية العامة أن دمشق هي حلقة الوصل في ما وصفه بمحور التطرف الإسلامي "الممتد من إيران إلى لبنان"، في إشارة إلى الدعم الذي تقدمه دمشق وطهران لحزب الله.


He said that Syria is the Key to stability in the Middle East and that Israel should talk to Syria.

As for Apples and Oranges, I agree with your good point, although the numbers do not even match, 60% supported Bush's policy on the Lebanon war, Bashar (and Nasrallah) have the support of 90% of Syrians... if not 95%. YOu also mentioned that the "Lebanese people" do not want that war ... you know that during the war Nasrallah support reached 87%. You know that the US is now considered as a freind of Lebanon by about 9% I think (the same opinion poll)

If you are a lover of democracy, no matter what tthe results bring, you should respect the overwhelming popular opinions on this issue.

And one last important point: sadly, teh United States's interest in talking to Syria in the past has been highly correlated to the degree to which Syria can create troubles to the American policies and plans in the Middle East. Did president Bush even mention North Korea in his latest speech at the UN? no ... they are strong, we have to be nice to them... this is the lessont eh US is teaching the leaders of the countries who have disagreements with teh US: The Americans will talk to you only if they need you or fear you.

Kevin

Alex: Like I said I don't claim to know the intricacies of Middle East politics, but using the editorials of NYT and the Washington Post, and the utterings of Jimmy Carter and other Democratic leaning souls as indicators "of an imminent real shift in US policy" is exaclty what I mean about not understanding the Americans. In all honesty, how often have you seen the Bush Administration take into consideration the editorial pages of the NYT and WashPost or the opinion of Jimmy Carter and change policy? At one time the opinion pages of the NYT, WashPost and other prestigious press organziations were able to influence public opinion and decisions made by the White House. I think that in today's America, those days of influence are long gone and especially, for this Adminstration. Rather than looking to the NYT, WashPost, LA Times, The Guardian, the BBC, The Natonal Catholic Reporter, et al. to discern the Admininstration's thinking, you should look at the National Review, Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.

And, yes, I realize the amount of support Hizballah acheived during the war in Lebanon. But what of the criticisms since then. Nasrallah can bus as many supporters into South Beruit that he wants to, but there is no way that one can claim that the Lebanese people supported starting a war with Israel. I wonder if the Lebanese had the opportunity to debate such an issue prior to the War, what the outcome would have been.

I also question wisdom of Bashar. Having Hizballah in control of Lebabon can not be in his best interests; especially a Hizballah so closely tied to a much more brazen Iran. It has even used Iranian techniques to gain control of Lebanon. Hizballah precipitated a war with Israel and then claims to be the defender of Lebanon. This is basically the same technique the Mullahs in Iran have used since 1979 to cease and stay in power: use an international crisis to rally the people to support you and if you can't find a crisis, create one. Hizballah will end up being in control of the Lebanese Gov't. for a long time and it will no longer be Damascus pulling the strings in Beruit, but the other way around.

Bashar and his advisers may have thought that there was a good chance that this gamble would pay off and the U.S. would come to the table. But I assure you that the Mullahs knew exactly what U.S. reaction would be. And their rather outspoken and public support and actions during the War put the odds in their favor. I wonder how Bashar's father would have handled such a situation.

Alex

Are we sure this will reain under control?

وزعم أزنار أن العالم الإسلامي "لا يعتذر أبدا, فيما يطلب المسلمون من الغرب الاعتذار", وتساءل بقوله "لماذا علينا دائما أن نطلب الصفح وهم لا يعتذرون أبدا؟".

وأضاف أزنار خلال إلقائه محاضرة بعنوان "التهديدات العالمية" أن العديد من الأشخاص في العالم طلبوا من البابا أن يعتذر عن محاضرته، و"أنا لم أسمع يوما مسلما يقدم اعتذاره لغزو إسبانيا واحتلالها على مدى ثمانية قرون".

واستطرد بقوله "إننا في زمن حرب, فإما هم وإما نحن, الغرب لم يهاجم الإسلام, إنهم هم الذين هاجمونا",

Kevin

Sorry Alex, I don't speak or read Arabic (if that is indeed the language your quote is written).

324501

oops, sorry Kevin. It is not even related to the topic we are discussing.

Basic translation: ex Spanish prime minister today said that "we are at war with Islam, it is wither us or them"

Ammar, my question is: do you think we should continue to continue to focus on things like "democracy in Syria", while it seems like the whole area might be heading towards a very possible wide conflict? ... not certain, but quite possible.

I am finding it bizarre how many influential people from all sides are talking about the possibility of a serious war with complete ease. They all feel empowered.

Alex

324501 was me (Alex) by the way.

R

Alex,

Don't get me wrong, I am in no way defending either Bush or American policy. All I am saying is that you cannot apply to democratic principles to countries that are not democracies. For example, if Nasralla's support in Lebanon was 87% during the war, which is highly questionable, yet explainable, that does not mean that he has the right to launch a war on behalf of Lebanon. Even if the war he launched was not on Lebanon's behalf, Lebanon at the end of things paid the price and sufferred the wrath of Israel. It is the democratic process that matters. It is the democratic process that gives the person the legitimacy to act on behalf of a country. Take that democratic process away, and you can no longer selectively choose issues on which to apply democratic principles...

Cheers

ghassan karam

I hope that it is not too late to post a comment on this thread which I have just seen.

The war cry from Ahmadinajad serves a purpose. It buys the Iranian regime some time and legitimacy in why it should continue its oppressive domestic policies that are becoming less popular in Iran. The Iranian beligerancy towards Israel is also an inexpensive way to spread the image that Iran is still very much opposed to the "great satan" and that it is willing to support radical movements in the region . As for Bashar the Cub he really does not have a choice but to side with his new masters since Syria has become the new pariah state, thanks to every position that Syria has championed under his leadership.

Nasrallah on the other hand is proud of HA belicosity and provocations that have costed Lebanon dearly. Lebanon has nothing to gain but everything to loose by seeking the road of confrontation especially when the bigger boys; Egypt and Jordan; have decided that recognition of Israel and normalization of relations is the better option. Lebanon on the other hand has had two wars with Israel desides a few other major incursions and is still acting as if it needs more destruction and mayhem. The onlt thing that Lebanon has gained from these two wars is to set itself back over 30 years. The Lebanese have sacrificed for the sake of bankrupt slogans at least three decades and possibly more. No calculus will ever justify such an outcome especially when it is so clear that Lebanon can avoid all confrontations with Israel by following in the footsteps of its "Arab Brethern" by signing an official peace accord with its southern neighbour. A peace agreement for Lebanon will also signify that the country will be under less pressure for wasteful military expenditures. The war cry of HA is nothing short of being the most destructive step that Lebanon could ever undertake. Would there ever be a return to reason or are we going to allow Bashar and Ahmadinajad lead us again into the abyss?

howie

Karam-

Well said

Alex

R,

I accept your point... The non-elected Nasralla acted without consulting the Lebanese people when he decided to abduct the 2 Israeli soldiers. On the other hand, the elected Israeli leader Mr. Olmert, did not do a referendum on the war either.

When war started, both nations (Israel and Lebanon) clearly supported their two leaders. Today, after the end of the war and after each side had a calmer look at the whole was exercise, the non elected Nasrallah still enjoys the support of the majority of his people (a smaller majority) but Mr. Olmert's support is at 22%?

Did Israel's Democracy help Mr. Olmert take the right decision in this case? Did it help him do a good job with this war he decided to launch?

Most of the destruction happening the past few years was initiated by democracies ... perhaps we should not continue to automatically excuse their bad judgments simply because "they were elected democratically"

They, and the dictators, are equally to blame.

And Ghassan, I think it is time to admit that Lebanon’s problems will not be solved magically when you get rid of the dictatorship in Syria. Lebanon is not one country ... you will still have to deal with a number of conflict-ridden issues ...

1) Secular (and materialistic) vs. conservative and spiritual.
2) Redefining future mix of Sunni/Shiite/Christian roles
3) Future relations with Syria … a wide spectrum of opinions … from those who want to unite with Syria to those who hate Syria.
4) Accepting relations with Israel before the Syrians and Palestinians settle with Israel .. some don’t see why not, others will never accept it.
5) The balance between the roles of Saudi Arabia and Iran (and even the new wanna be regional player Qatar)
6) Investigating the stolen Billions in the late Hariri’s time…. Aoun really wants to do it. The Shiites will insist on it too if you push them too hard on other issues. Obviously, Hariri and Jumblat do not want to go there at all.

All the nice talk from the different Lebanese politicians will not go far... the crippling disagreements are coming. The only things that can unite the whole country are external aggressions .. like the assassination of late prime minister Hariri, or the Israeli destructive war. Anything less, it would be a mistake to ever say “the Lebanese people are for, or against it” … and that is the point I am trying to make here: “the Lebanese people” will need to define what is “Lebanon” and who is their favorite, trusted outside ally and protector of Lebanon.

Kevin

Alex:

I'm not sure if there is any form of government which helps its leader take the right decision in regards to war. History is full of leaders of various forms of government who, in hindsight, did not make the right choice.

Mr. Olmert may regret his decision now, but his low numbers of support are not due to his original choice to attack Hizballah. To the contrary, it is due to his government's and the IDF poor perfomance during the War.

My question to Mr. Nasrallah would be what did he anticipate Israel's reaction to kidnapping of its soldiers; especially when the world saw its reaction in Gaza? Obviously, rightly or wrongly, Israel sees the destruction of Hizballah in its best interests. Why give Israel such encouragement? Unless, of course, he (and the regimes in Damascus and Tehran) calculated that by co-opting the Lebanese government and provoking a miltary response by the Israelis (though the severity was unexpected), he could demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the government in Beruit, rally support and enhance Hizballah's power there.

Kevin

Is this the new reality of the Middle East, political blocs instigating/encouraging international "events" in order to enhance power at home?

Ammar

“it is not looking good” well, we can at least agree on this Alex. Regarding your other claims, I think others here have really done a great job in responding to most of them, but let me add these points:

* You seem incapable to relinquish the delusion that this about relations with Israel and getting the Golan back. This is more Lebanon, and the reestablishment of the Assads hegemony there and he legitimatization thereof, once again. Well, technically, Lebanon is not the US and France’s to give, and if it is, the Assads do not seem the suitable custodians that they used to be, from the perspective of US and France, their return to the Lebanese scene is bound to usher a new round of civil conflict, rather than lead to any sort of stability. Much has changed since the Syrian pullout. You cannot roll back the clock.

* I very much doubt that the radical policies of the Assads are as popular as you think them to be. But in times like these people say what is expected of them to say, the rhetorical that falls squarely and safely within the framework of accepted patriotic discourse. They keep their real thoughts to themselves.

* Yes, I always blame “us” first and foremost. Why? Because we have been using this victimary rhetoric for decades now, to no avail. We need something better. We need different approaches. And by “we” I definitely do not mean the Assads, who are too stupid and corrupt to think along different lines. I actually mean people like you Alex, who, by now should know better, who should know how recourse to victimary rhetoric and playing a zero-sum game have only served to empower despotic regimes, wreaked havoc upon our economies and degraded our infrastructure. Raison d’êtat in this case means that we should learn when and how to cut down our losses, so that we can invest whatever little we have left in developing our countries and integrating them in the global economy in such a way that will allow us to accrue some benefits, and not just pay the price. Our resistance has always been futile, not to mention all too costly, the Egyptians and the Jordanians understood that all too well, which is why they signed that deal with Israel and got out of the loop. But peace with Israel, as we have seen, does not automatically translate into development, reform and democratization. So, if development and democracy are the real goals, why not start with them? A democratic Syrian government might indeed be much more capable of sealing that deal than an authoritarian one.

* Regarding Aznar’s statements, indeed, some major showdown is looming, but Islamic terrorism will remain a staple in our lives for a few more decades to come. The struggle for development and democratization cannot be postponed every time a new conflict is introduced into the region, in fact, development and democratization, internally driven, might be part and parcel of the strategy to help offset the introduction and expansion of conflicts in our region. So, yes, I’d push for democratization in Syria even now, especially now. But, I also, know that this push may not bear the right fruit for many years to come, and that it may not serve to prevent the looming conflict.


R said: “is there any real coordination between democratic movements in Syria and their counterparts in Lebanon”

There are indeed attempts at coordination, but they are not progressing fast enough.

newc

Let us get this straight now. ALL of Lebanon belongs to Israel. Property rights by GOD. I do not care about who thinks they are in charge. Damascus barely missed being turned into rubble in the last conflict. It is too pretty of city to destroy.

Baby Assad is way over his head in these matters - in fact, that is why they got Mercy. No one in their right mind would follow the bearded ones in policy that can and will destroy their county. That kind of stupidity coulld get you killed with good reason. Come back home Lebanon, and get rid of Hezbollah before I decide to.

Alex

Is there a possibility that perhaps all the Israeli ministers and journalists, all the Americans (senators, ex-senior officials) and think tankers (even some friends of yours) who said that the best way out is to talk to Syria ... is there a possibility that maybe Alex and all those people who know a thing or two, might not be that misguided?

You are free of course to stick to an ideal scenario where we can get rid of dictatorships (without a US invasion) and sign peace with Israel and get the Golan back (which most Syrians insist on) and not have any ethnic or religious bloodshed in Syria ...

I just want to explain again, that I am not in love with the regime, I do not have illusions about them being saints or being exceptionally smart. But every politician involved in this game in the Middle East (including those in Israel and the United States) is guilty of similar things: acting partially out of self interest, and making mistakes. The fact they were democratically elected does not excuse them for taking wrong decisions that lead to killings of innocent civilians.

Kevin,
I realize that going to war was popular in Israel. I have many Israeli friends. But my point is that democracy can not protect us from mistakes. Mr. olmert made many mistakes in the way he conducted the war.

Dictatoship is bad, but pride is worse. Pride and ego exists in democratic and non-democratic countries. I feel that most of the big costly mistakes (from leaders, or from people who support them) are the result of being blinded by ego. Everyone justifies his ciolence in a way to make them pretend it is about "national interests" .. Hamas's suicidal missions were to help them regain Palestine, Israel's invasion of Lebanon was to make the other side undertand that Israel is too strong to mess up with ... yet the resutl is that Hamas's actions made is much more difficult for the Israelis to trust the Palestinians, and Israeli war made them much less feared in teh Arab world.

Apply the same to the decision of the US administration not to talk to Syria agains the advice of most analysts in Israel, Europe, and the US.

R

Alex,

You keep missing my point, time after time, so I will rephrase it one last time. People in all forms of governemnt are liable to committing mistakes and blunders among other things. That said, under democracies, people can peacefully get rid of politicians that fail them consistently. Under dictatorships, people have to thank the dictators, heap praise on them, and then blame the world... I hope that highlights the difference.

A couple of other things. You are absolutely right about the danger of pride, regardless of the form of government. Now take that danger, and absolute power to it. It can get pretty scary. My point is that democracies provide exit mechanism that do not involve internal bloodshed...
Also, in one of your posts, you mentioned that Israel is much less feared in the arab world. I would like to ask, if there is a single arab country leader, or a number of them capable of embarking on a war with Israel and surviving it. Think in terms of the regime surviving on the one hand, and the casualties that they will sustain on the other. Israel was never existentially threatened by HA, so they could afford to revert to tactics that appease the world as much as possible, even though they are pretty ruthless. If existentially threatened, Israel would have made us feel the pain...

Ammar

The number of people endorsing a certain policy does not make it right, even in a democratic society, especially when you take under consideration the political motivations involved here.

Indeed, the reality is: we are all sticking to our guns – you, I, and all our mutual and not so mutual friends in all the relevant circles. We all think we are justified in our stands and motivated by the rights ideals and intentions. We all just know that we are enlightened enough to know what is really involved here and to see what the other side does not see. And even though we all speak about compromises and dialogue, none of us has so far made any real compromise or concession. The only thing that changed over the course of our dialogue de sourds is the fact that more and more people are adopting an alarmist tone, perhaps I can say, by way of conceding to my ego at least, my alarmist tone.

Pretty soon, we will find ourselves at different sides of the new Great Divide, shouting if not shooting at each other, for all the similarities in our ideals and all the right intentions we have always had. Human nature at work. This is what happens when we rally behind murderers and charlatans, all while knowing the reality of who they are, citing raison d’état and real politick and live and let live and don’t rock the boat as the main motivations. But, in truth, we just did not have the guts and the vision to resist when resistance would have really meant something and would not have been in any way futile, albeit, it might have required too many sacrifices and a lot of patience. We couldn’t rally behind ourselves and select new and more worthy leaders, out fear, clashing egos, whatever, the fact remains, we had our chance, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had a window of opportunity that lasted for 15 years to take some initiative and pave the way for some change, and we blew it. Oh yeah, things were never that easy and that simple, but are they supposed to? Could there ever be in life a time when things are that easy and simple?

Facts are always muddied, realities always hard to face, change always difficult to work out, and good leaders hard to come by and will not emerge except through the process itself. Things are not set in motion by the right leaders, but the right leaders could be produce in the process of motion and change. This is why the status quo should be broken, breaking it, even at the cost of instability and of finding ourselves at opposite ends of all sorts of weapons of war, both rhetorical and real, is our only hope. Or is this my pride and sense of folly talking?

I haven’t read Herman Hesse in a while, but I think he had a few things to say about such existential crises.

But the blame game and the exchange of mutual recriminations between people who have always been too powerless to really influence things, regardless of how highly they regard themselves, is an essential part of this little tragic charade that is unfolding all around us. Let’s enjoy it, shall we?

Ammar

I have just made a few very minor edits on the post, nothing that will effect the meaning in any way, but the post will read better now.

Kevin

Alex: I agree with you, democracy does not guarantee the right or moral choice will be made. I believe it may, and I underscore may, allow the right or moral choice to be made. My point was that you can not take polls of a leader after a disasterous military action and claim that the population didn't support the action at the outset. They may regret it now, but at the time of the first attack on Lebanon this summer, Olmert enjoy a 85%+ approval rating in the polls, for whatever that is worth.

At least in a democracy, theoretically, a leader who makes bad decisions, can be removed,either by election or a term limit. The American public may now see that the war in Iraq was a mistake, but they know Bush will not be President after January 20, 2009. I doubt the Iraqis wanted war in 1980 or 1991 but they were stuck with Saddam regardless.

I agree with Ammar that the world is marching toward an abyss. Hopefully, forums, such as this blog and other like it, can change attitudes and preceptions. I know that I have learned quite a bit just in my discussion with you. I have a better understanding of the motivations of Syria's regime in this instance than I did before. It is my hope that you too walk away with some clearer insight on American actions in this situation.

Alex

R,

I do get your point, it is just in these days that I am not too impressed with democracy ... So I am supposed to accept that "it does not matter if most people and analysts want something that their government is not doing" as Amamr says, and I am supposed to be impressed of the theoretical "exit strategy" that is one of the benifits of democracy, but not in this case .. no matter how unpopular was the Iraq war, no matter how many Americans oppose it ... we seem to be heading towards another, much bigger, war .. the Iran war. Or even better: the America vs. Islam war.

So the minority, the hard liners, might be taking us to war again because "it is the right thing to do".

Ammar, courage is when I can personally go there and accept to take the risk of the war I am advocating. If I am not leaving North America, then I don't see the courage in it. Gambling with other people's life is not too noble.

Instead, we can take a serious look at the same challenges which I agree with you are not supposed to be ignored (like Islamic fundamentalism, and dictatorships in the Middle East) and be a bit patient and plan to solve them in n a realistic period of 5- to 10 years. Not this year through wars.

Alex

Thanks Kevin,

I want you to know that I push the Syrians (from Syria) the same way I am pushing Ammar here too. I guess I am doing what the pope did ... it is OK to be courageous with words, instead of courage with weapons.

And Ammar is a friend from elementary school. No matter how agressive things sound here, we are both used to criticism.

Cheers.

The comments to this entry are closed.