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Monday, August 31, 2009

'Engagement' with Syria is a waste of time

There are a couple of interesting comments about Syria over at Contentions. Michael Totten explains why Bashar al-Assad cannot make peace with Israel even if he wanted to - and he doesn't really want to anyway.
Assad’s late father and former president Hafez Assad imposed his dictatorial “emergency rule” on Syria in 1963, and he and his son have justified it ever since by pointing to the never-ending war with the state of Israel. Many Syrians have grown weary of this excuse after more than four decades of crisis, but Assad would nevertheless face more pressure to loosen up his Soviet-style system without it.

An official state of war costs Assad very little. His army does not have to fight. His father learned the hard way in 1967 that Israel could beat three Arab armies, including his own, in six days. Assad can only fight Israel through proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah, but that suits him just fine. Gaza and Lebanon absorb Israel’s incoming fire when the fighting heats up.

Assad gains a lot, though, by buying himself some legitimacy with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syria’s fundamentalist Sunnis have long detested his Baath party regime, not only because it’s secular and oppressive but also because its leaders are considered heretics. The Assads and most of the Baathist elites belong to the Alawite religious minority, descendants of the followers of Muhammad ibn Nusayr, who took them out of mainstream Twelver Shiite Islam in the 10th century. Their religion has as much in common with Christianity and Gnosticism as it does with Islam, and most Syrians find it both bizarre and offensive that the Alawites are in charge of the country instead of the majority Sunnis.

In 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood took up arms against the regime in the city of Hama. The elder Assad dispatched the Alawite-dominated military and destroyed most of the old city with air strikes, tanks, and artillery. Rifaat Assad, the former president’s younger brother, boasted that 38,000 people were killed in a single day. Not once since then have the Muslim Brothers tried to rise up again.
Given that the Obama administration knows all this, one has to wonder about the purpose of its 'engagement' with Syria. Does Mr. Realpolitik, who has totally taken democracy and human rights off the table as an issue, believe that President Assad is going to give up power to 'engage' with the US and make peace with Israel, even if it does get him back the Golan Heights? No way.

More ominously, Emanuele Ottolenghi reports on something that largely went unreported this weekend: What the IAEA had to say about Syria.
The IAEA report says that
Syria has not yet provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to determine the origin of the anthropogenic natural uranium particles found in samples taken at the Dair Alzour site. Syria also did not cooperate with the Agency to confirm Syria’s statements regarding the non-nuclear nature of the destroyed building on the Dair Alzour site and to determine what, if any, functional relationship existed between the Dair Alzour site and three other locations, or to substantiate Syria’s claims regarding certain procurement efforts and its alleged foreign nuclear cooperation.
Even in the bland diplomat-ese spoken and written at the IAEA, this is not exactly an endorsement of Syrian compliance.
It looks like 'engagement' is making a real difference in Syrian behavior, isn't it?



At 11:34 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - Barry Rubin has some interesting comments about Syria's support for yes - Al Qaeda! As documented by the Iraqi government, Syria supports active terrorism against the Iraqi state. This is known to the Americans. With such evidence, one would think the last thing the Americans would do is engage the Assad dictatorship that is arming terrorists killing Iraqis and murdering American soldiers.

Think again.

Read all about it here

Read it all


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