Saturday, November 12, 2005


The current US policy is one of a weakened Syria. The administration is of the opinion that such a policy will limit Syria’s ability to harm US interests in the region, whether in Iraq, occupied Palestine, or Lebanon, without the instability a total regime collapse would cause. More importantly perhaps, the policy is convenient because it serves as a compromise on both the domestic and international level. It is half way between neo-con calls for regime change on one hand, and the traditional State/CIA approach of cutting deals with Damascus on the other. On the international level, a weak Syria policy is one with which finds resonance in Europe, particularly France. It offers the administration a platform through which it can bridge the US-Atlantic divide and pursue its policy objectives in a multilateral fashion.

On Deal Making:

Syria has put forward several generous offers in the past few weeks, one of which was in the form of a letter by Imad Mustafa to Congress. Still, there seems to be very little interest. To shift its current stance the administration expects nothing short of a complete strategic realignment that would break Syria’s alliance with Iran and bring it into the US orbit. It is equivalent to what Syria calls “surrendering all cards.” The response out of Damascus thus far has been “you can’t ask a leopard to shed all its spots.” That said, it’s my understanding that this leopard is now ready to shed quite a few spots.

Looking forward:

The likelihood of a deal will depend on what Syria is willing to offer. Anything short of a complete strategic realignment will not be sufficient to dislodge the convenience of the current policy. In its absence, the bar will be set high enough to insure Syria’s inability to cooperate with the UN investigation without endangering regime stability. Such a stance is buttressed by a belief amongst many administration officials that Bashar is too weak to deliver even if he promised. This perceived lack of cooperation will then be met with further isolation and possible punitive measures.

If, however, Syria proves capable of a shift that would leave Iran isolated and provide a counterbalance to Iranian infiltration of Iraq, then there might be a room for discussion. Such discussions will of course include the regular laundry list involving reigning in rejections Palestinian groups, assisting in disarming Hizballah, resuming intelligence sharing and so on.

In my opinion the first scenario continues to be the most likely absent a surprisingly irresistible Syrian offer.


Doha said...

I don't think at all that Syria will turn its back to Iran. There are strategically allied now. Just recently I read on Al-Arabiyya discussion forum a comment by someone who is a Lebanese Shiite extolling Bashar's speech as that of salvaging the Shiite cause in the region...He wrote that Bashar should continue on with his country's alliance with Iran to broker a deal in Iraq and with Hizbullah and Amal in Lebanon...and he interestingly advised him to distance himself with the former Iraqi Baathis. (Ironic indeed).

Anyways, the whole situation is of course playing to the advantage of America's foreign plicy in the area...however we should not forget and we should constantly remind our fellow Arab friends that this is all not about Syria versus the Imperialist/Zionist plot, but that about Lebanon's quest to regain its independence from both Israel and Syria (foe and friend, interestingly....) and that of uncovering the truth once and for all about who killed a dream, who killed Hariri.

Raja said...

So Firas, you appear make a couple of claims in your analysis:

1. The ultimate objective of American policy in the region is to isolate Iran.

2. The "bar" of cooperation with the Mehlis investigation is consciously set too high to expect any real cooperation from the regime in Syria. Consequently, Syria's only way out of the box it finds itself in is to conduct nothing short of a "complete strategic realignment."

The obvious question that arises in the face of such an analysis is: why doesn't Bashar initiate this "complete strategic realignment?" Or more precisely, why can't he simply follow the lead of Qaddafi and become the next celebrity Arab leader who takes the "courageous" step of steering his country in the "right" direction? I would definitely imagine such a move to be easier than giving up Maher or Assef.

In your analysis, you articulate your belief that the Syrian response to that question is: "a leopard cannot shed all of its spots." But you do not take the next step and answer the question of why that is so. Is it because the regime fears it will loose its legitimacy when it abandon’s its definition of Arabism and the causes that define it? Is it because the regime is afraid of certain elements within its security apparatus that would rebel against a strategic realignment that would ensure their redundancy? Is Bashar fearful of Iranian retribution or hopeful that the Euro-US coalition will crumble in due time and allow him to relax and not undertake any tough initiatives at such an early stage of his rule?

In short, there must be some very powerful reasons Bashar does not initiate the strategic realignment that you believe is needed to alleviate the pressure that the Mehlis investigation is piling on him and his ruling clique. Either that is the case, or he believes that no matter what he does, the investigation is going to continue to pursue him and his family until it gets its man.

Anton Efendi said...

Doha, but that precisely shows you how ultimately HA's reference is Iran, not Syria.

Nasrallah's self-image is too large for the current agreement in Lebanon. He looks at Iran as a rising political force in the region. He looks at Iraq, where his co-religionists are the major political force. Then he looks at Lebanon, and he realizes that he can't do anything of that sort. He doesn't have the numbers (neither politically nor demographically) to be what the Iraqi Shiites are. He needs to constantly temper everything through compromise and consensus with others. It's just too damn inconvenient and stifling for him. He is AbdelNasser. He needs to dictate foreign policy. He doesn't have that clout. He only has weapons. That's why he won't disarm. His weapons make up for what he lacks politically and demographically.

Here is where people often make a killer mistake (like Amal Saad-Ghorayeb) and suggest that he's bargaining for great Shiite influence and participation. He's not. More Shiite participation means more Shiite competition and less HA clout. It means more compromise. It means others can strike alliances with other Shiites against HA. It means that HA can no longer claims that HA=the Shia community. Without weapons, the party's image disappears, and all its less attractive religious image comes to the front.

HA is not interested in broader Shiite participation. It's actually uneasy about it. Hence the electoral campaign in 2005.

I think, ironically, that we should lobby for Shiite participation. This is not to say that I am for deconfessionalization (HA uses that only as a blackmailing threat). For that matter neither is Jumblat nor is Hariri. No one is for deconfessionalization in Lebanon despite all the rhetoric. The Shiites have managed to compensate some of the shortage in Parliamentary representation through administrative appointments, the Speaker's office, and certainly in local government. So the question is how to increase Parliamentary representation and make it closer to reality (without forgetting that there is the "real representation" factor, whereby MPs from other sects actually represent Shiite parties and areas) without putting off the other sects. It's not deconfessionalization. It's not a redrawing of the Taef (though I'm not against revision of certain contradictions and pro-Syrian elements in the Taef). Rather, it's through its proper implementation of a few provisions. 1- decentralization, to allow that local representation I mentioned to be more meaningful, and allow for proper growth and services in Shiite areas (HA actually stands as a hurdle to Shiite economic growth!). 2- start thinking about bicameralism as a serious option (in tandem with a new proper electoral law that would break the kind of monopoly that HA has tried to create). One chamber would use a system, proportional or other, that would likely increase Shiite seats, while at the same time increasing Shiite diversity, competiton and proper political participation. The other chamber either retains the 5-5 ration, or even increases representation of minorities (not Maronites), like Catholics, Orthodox, Syriac, Protestant, Druze, Melkite, etc. and may even be headed in rotation by a member of these minorities.

The trick is properly dividing the authority and function of both chambers in order not to fall for either tyranny: of the majority or the minority. Rather, allow both consensus and integration, without putting people off.

Obviously this is a rough sketch, but something to think about. But I can assure you, it has nothing to do with what HA has in mind, no matter what erroneous nonsense people like Saad-Ghorayeb say.

JoseyWales said...

Anton and others,

With you (Anton) on expanding and diversifying Shia participation.

On that subject, any thoughts/info on Iraqi gvmnt/Shia connection to Lebanese groups?

When the new Iraqi state becomes less wobbly, isn't it a matter of time before Iraqi-Arab Shia will overcome the influence of Iranians with the Lebanese Shia? Or at least counterbalance it?

Isn't there something for the Lebanese gvmnt/parties to start cultivating/playing right now?

PS Welcome back Lebanese Bloggers with an "s".

Anonymous said...