realitycheck(dot)ie

Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Syrian weakness?

The US might be getting something right with its Iraq policy. The strategy was always to fundamentally weaken the various thugocracies in the Middle East by 1) showing that the US would use force to remove unfriendly regimes. This leaves other regimes nervous and limits their room for manoeuver and 2) creating an example of an Arab, Islamic state with a civil society with a functioning economy which would be more responsive to its own public.

According to Dan Drezner, it might be working with regard to the first point. Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg.

It's getting uncomfortable for Syria

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote the following at TNR Online:

The area specialists aren't necessarily wrong; democratizing Iraq won't be easy. But the conditions aren't nearly as barren as these experts suggest, and the potential upside is enormous. If a democratic transition were to succeed in Iraq, then Syria, suddenly surrounded by established democracies (Israel and Turkey) and emerging democracies (Iraq and Jordan), might start to feel nervous as well.
Note that Lebanon was not mentioned in that graf, because that country has essentially been a Syrian fiefdom since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.
However, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri yesterday highlights the increasing crunch Syria now faces. David Hirst -- who's covered the Middle East for over forty years -- explains what's going on in the Guardian:

It is Syria, with only one real ally left in the world, Iran, that is on the defensive. So are its Lebanese allies, inside and outside the regime. The conflict is an outgrowth of American strategies in the Middle East, from the war on terror to regime change, democratisation and the invasion of Iraq. Syria is not a member of President Bush's "axis of evil", but, with Iran, it is increasingly targeted as a villain. It is regularly charged, for example, with aiding and abetting the insurgency in Iraq, interfering with the Arab-Israel peace process and sponsoring the Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. The Hizbullah are in turn accused by Israel of aiding and abetting Hamas.
For decades now Syria has been losing card after card in a steadily weakening strategic hand. Its domination over Lebanon is one of the last and most vital of them. Ultimately it will perhaps be a bargaining counter in some grand deal to be struck with America that secures the Ba'athist regime's future in the evolving new Middle East order.
Conversely, however, Lebanon, as a platform that Syria's adversaries exploit against it, is liable to turn into a source of great weakness, if not an existential threat. The Ba'athists, now under siege in so many ways, feel that they are struggling desperately to keep their grip on Lebanon.
But the methods Syria uses, such as political intimidation and backstage manipulation by its intelligence services, seem, if anything, only to be backfiring against it....
Down the years the Lebanese have attributed many political assassinations to Syria, but never dared say so publicly. This time, they have.
Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Beirut-based Daily Star, agrees on the tectonic political shifts uinleashed by the assassination:

The speed, clarity and intensity with which Lebanese opposition groups Monday blamed Syria and its allied Lebanese government for the killing spoke volumes about the troubled Syrian-Lebanese axis being the central political context in which this whole matter must be analyzed....
The events of Monday have unleashed political forces that could transform both Lebanon and, via the Syrian connection, other parts of the Middle East. The already intense backlash to the assassination may lead to an accelerated Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and faster reform movements inside both Lebanon and Syria.

The fact that within just hours of the murder five distinct parties were singled out as possible culprits - Israel, Syria, Lebanese regime partisans, mafia-style gangs, and anti-Saudi, anti-U.S. Islamist terrorists - also points to the wider dilemma that disfigures Lebanese and Arab political culture in general: the resort to murderous and destabilizing violence as a chronic option for those who vie for power, whether as respectable government officials, established local warlords, or freelance political thugs.

The New York Times' Steven Weisman and Hassan Fattah report that the assassination itself has already made life more difficult for Syria:

The Bush administration recalled its ambassador to Syria on Tuesday to protest what it sees as Syria's link to the murder of the former prime minister of Lebanon, as violent anti-Syrian protests erupted in Beirut and several other Lebanese cities.

At the United Nations, the administration also demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and the Security Council called for an urgent investigation into the killing of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who died Monday with 13 others when a huge car bomb blew up his motorcade in downtown Beirut....

In Beirut, large crowds went to the site of the explosion, which investigators said appeared to be the work of a suicide attacker who managed to drive in between cars of Mr. Hariri's motorcade. Another theory was that the bomb had been placed in a sewer or under the pavement.
Though there were some in Lebanon who argued that the murder might have been engineered by Al Qaeda, presumably to punish Mr. Hariri for his ties to Saudi Arabia, demonstrators mobilized throughout the country to blame Syria. In Damascus, Syrian officials continued to vigorously deny involvement in the explosion.

In Sidon, Mr. Hariri's hometown, Syrian workers were attacked by dozens of protesters before the police intervened, and hundreds of Lebanese marched with black banners and pictures of the slain leader. A mob also attacked a Beirut office of Syria's ruling Baath Party.
Thousands of protesters also massed in the northern port city of Tripoli, according to Reuters.
Megan K. Stack and Rania Abouzeid have additional reporting in the Los Angeles Times. And Greg Djerejian has a post up on this at Belgravia Dispatch.

Labels:

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home