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Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Be forewarned: The writer of this blog is an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-US, secular, libertarian, disgruntled sandmonkey. If this is your cup of tea, please enjoy your stay here. If not, please sod off

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The syrian bluff and the next step

A lot of people in my country seem disinclined to believe that the Rafik Harriri assassination was carried out by the Syrians as I believe, the Harriri family believes and the one million mourners that walked in Harriri’s funeral believe. Despite all of that, and the fact that Harriri was killed by a highly sophisticated bomb and the threat that the current Lebanese Prime Minister addressed to the opposition, some people still chose to think that the Syrians are innocent and that they are simply being implicated in all of this. Their argument is this: What do the Syrians have to gain by this? To them I say : a hold on Lebanese power. I would post my own argument, but there is this great article on Slate which kinda details why this assassination happened this way and what the Syrians meant by it. Here are the money shots: In the wake of Lebanon's 15-year civil war, Hariri played a key role in developing this property, which, in turn, made him a billionaire, a major political force in Lebanon, and a regional player with important patrons in both Saudi Arabia and Europe. Apparently, the message behind the murder of this real-estate and media giant is that no one in Lebanon really has power, Syria only leases it out. An independent extremely popular opposition leader, a Sunni man nonetheless, could really challenge that assertions that the only real power in Lebanon is the one backed by Syrians. The Syrians can’t have that. Especially with the continued international pressure that has emboldened the Lebanese opposition against them. Opposition leaders grabbed at the main chance when they saw how furious Washington was with Assad's continued support of the insurgency in Iraq. The White House has been threatening Syria for some time now and upped the ante by making the regime's occupation of Lebanon a high and very public priority in its Middle East policy. Of course, the Syrians do not want to leave Lebanon, but if they must, they at least want to depart on their own terms. In the meantime, Damascus wants the United States to shut up and remember how bad it can make things in this part of the world for American presidents and their interesting ideas. Certainly, the Syrians have not forgotten how, in 1983, they helped drive the United States from the region when a Damascus-backed militia killed 241 Marines, sailors, and soldiers with a car bomb. ****************************************** For his part, however, Assad is gambling that for all its tough talk, the White House has neither the troops, the time, the energy, nor the domestic political credibility to back up its threats. The Syrians are probably not wrong. After all, what kind of meaningful action can the United States take? A missile strike against Damascus will add much to Syrian prestige in the region and little to that of Washington, unless the White House is willing to commit troops—and right now those troops are tied down in Iraq. In short, Assad has called Bush's bluff. And that’s why Assad doesn’t care that much for all of the US tough talk. He knows, that for the time being he is safe. It’s the political equivalent of playing chicken. He knows that the US won’t bomb Lebanon and won’t bomb Syria, because it will just give Bashar backing and support the conspiracy theorists who will go on and on talking about how the US killed Harriri to find an excuse to attack Syria(like it needed one with the Iraq situation). This of course would fuel the usual “pan-arabism” in the hearts of all arabs who don’t know anything about whats going on expect that the US and Israel are “EEEEEVIL”. The irony would be of course, that the only people who would be happy if Syria is attacked are the lebanese. You know, for the same reason the Kuwaitis didn’t mind the US war on Iraq at all? Anyway.. To understand the repercussions, remember that the White House has maintained that success in Iraq would have ripple effects throughout the region. As it turned out, this is true. The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq indicated that the United States meant business, a posture that encouraged the Lebanese opposition to challenge Syria. But the ripple effect also works the other way. If opposition figures are assassinated in Beirut, this is a message that, for all its power, the United States can't always be there to protect you. Even worse is that if the Bush administration does nothing about Hariri's murder, the message will be that Washington cannot and will not protect you at all. It will be very hard to get people in the region to work with the United States if everyone believes that there is no difference between sticking your neck out and handing an executioner his weapon. It will cost Washington prestige among its allies in Iraq and show convenient "friends" like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that the White House is so vulnerable there is little price to be paid for ignoring it. And that’s basically it. That’s Syria’s plan. Kill the threat before it gets way too big for you to contain. The theory is, if they killed Harriri, his death would create a power vacuum and would scare the smaller opposition leaders into towing the line with Syria. They know that the US won’t do anything really; maybe pose a couple of sanctions, but so what? It’s not like their relationship with each other was that great to begin with. And as long as they get to stay in Lebanon they don’t really care what else happens. They must be really happy now with themselves and how they are going to get away with it: Who is gonna stop them now, with their biggest threat gone? Ehhh, how about Rafik Harriri’s son? It seems that the Lebanese supporters and mourners of Harriri, both Christian and Muslim, have been trying to convince Harriri’s oldest son, Bahaeddine, to run in his father’s place in next May’s elections. Use his father’s name to carry out his legacy and spoil the plans of those who killed him. This , of course, would drive the Syrians bonkers. The change won’t be in the form of invading westerners that they could brand as “crusaders against Islam”, but carried through from within Lebanon, by a Lebanese Sunni Muslim who will be fighting for his country’s sovereignty and democracy. That would be a completely different ballgame, one that the Baathist don’t know how to win and are bound to lose. And the moment that happens in Lebanon, its effect is bound to spill over to Syria and threaten their rule there. The irony of it all would be, that even by killing Harriri, they couldn’t stop what he stood for or what he demanded. Bashar’s regime may have called America’s bluff, but by killing Harriri, they might have gotten way more then they bargained for. They may survive the Bush doctrine, but it seems highly doubtful that they will survive Harriri’s legacy, and that is more then fine by me.


At 2/16/2005 05:45:00 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Sandmonkey, the article in naharnet.com brings to mind a question I've had for a long time. Maybe you have a knowledgable perspective on it. Is Bashar Assad really in charge in Syria, or are is father's goons calling the shots? I've always thought an opthamologist who trained in Europe would not fit well in shoes made for a thug, but maybe he is his father's son, afterall. Care to comment?

At 2/16/2005 07:56:00 AM, Blogger Tina said...

Oh, I wouldn't be so sure. President Bush is a pretty good poker player and it's not smart to bet against him. Calling his "bluff" might be just what he's been waiting for. The man has the patience of Job.

At 2/16/2005 08:43:00 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Sandmonkey, Could you comment on the people of Syria and how they view the US and US intervention in their country. Thank you.

At 2/16/2005 10:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy I would like to try and answer your question since I just got back from Syria in December 2004.The people there do not look forward to US or UN intervention in their country because the only ones who are going to loose are the ordinary people, the thugs and such are safe anyway. As for Asad, he's father was better in politics, he has been trying to get rid of the goons, but he cannot do so without destroying the Syrian society . Just as these things take time to build they need time to unravel. The Syrian people, are very very tired not looking to be heros. I was talking to one of the people i met there, and I asked her the sam question, she said if the US come, I'm not fighting, it would be futile, they've got the arms I have nothing, even if the Israelis invaded she said let them have what they want as long as I can have peace. The people's moral is very very low. But if it was up to them , they certainly do not want foreign troops on their land. Who wants that anyway? Certainly the mood in Syria is more melancholy then before. I guess I just might have answered Louises question in the process.Highlander

At 2/16/2005 02:17:00 PM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Thank you Highlander

At 2/16/2005 04:50:00 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Highlander, what can you tell us about your own country, Libya? Is Qadhafi's change of heart for real? What caused him to denounce the old ways? Did the Iraq war have any part in it?

At 2/16/2005 05:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy you are welcome.

Louise, with regards to Libya I had explained my view in one of my earlier posts I'll have to weed through my archive for that or if you have the time and patience you can check it :) . I don't want to usurp sandmonkey's blog to talk about my country ad nauseum.Basically I don't know what brought the change, I don't think it was Iraq because the rhetoric had started earlier. But whatever it was I'm grateful because honestly I don't want to die for nothing. The Libyans are 5 million only how much bombing can they stand? As an example if 6 people die in a car accident you will have mass mourning in Tripoli because everybody will be either a relative, friend, neighbour or coleague. I'm glad you appreciated the conversation between Tina & I. I have a high respect for her.

At 2/16/2005 05:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the previous post was me Highlander, I don't mean to be anonymous but somehow my computer is not accepting cookies and I cannot login with my own identity, it's either that or double posts. Maybe some technically minded blogger could help ?

At 2/17/2005 06:29:00 AM, Blogger Louise said...

As for Asad, he's father was better in politics, he has been trying to get rid of the goons, but he cannot do so without destroying the Syrian society

At 2/17/2005 06:34:00 AM, Blogger Louise said...

Oops. Trigger happy. I was going to ask Highlander to elaborate on that comment. What do you mean about Assad's father? My impression, which is probably as ill-informed as they come, was that Hafez Assad was the author of Syria's state oppression.

Also, I'd like to hear what you think will happen if Junior Assad did get rid of the goons? What do you mean that Syrian society would be destroyed?

I am waiting with bated breath.

BTW, yesterday I was getting double emails from family in the neighbouring province. Something was weird in cyberspace.

At 2/17/2005 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

The net has been buzzing lately about Syria, murder most foul, Rumors,Iran told them to do it and they would back them up against the Americans, on and on...and on.

One discussion


The US Special Ops, CIA and other factions of military have been gathering intelligence, targeting info and have been into Syria, Iran and I would bet the Bekaa Valley.

If there is military action it will be in concert. SO, air strikes, missles from the Blue water Navy.

Some ground troops may go to stay in the Bekaa Valley, that type of operation is custom made for the SO backed by Airborne troops.

What ever happens, Syria and Irran will be surprised at how fast and how terrible it will be.

The US Air Force and Navy have been chomping at the bit for the last two years to get into the war against Terror. They are ready and willing.

Papa Ray
West Texas

At 2/17/2005 03:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your impression about H. Asad is correct Louise.
Yet Hafez was a cunning fox and had managed to twarth many earlier escalations of the rhetoric on syria, that is what I meant. he would never have allowed it to be framed in such a situation,i.e.why I said he was a genius politician and survivor. Unfortunately (depending from which aspect you want to think about) Bashar is not his father and may miss some things.
Getting rid of goons is not easy, these are people who have a concentrated centralised power. You have to sideline them slowly and that's what he is doing. if he is seen as weak it won't work. sanctions, threats, pain will just hurt the syrians and give the goons the cause to be stronger and he cannot get rid of them then because they can rationalise their presence at his side. Give the guy a chance. Taking him out is not an option either do you want another Iraq? who will police the country? do you want to open another front for the terrorists to use , give them more justifications that they are right and the west just does not want the Arabs to prosper?
I say stand by him and help him just like the US gov is helping Egypt and then he will be in the west's hands like putty and do their bidding and even sign a peace treaty with Israel. That will help towards the US and Israeli security which is what matters at the end of the day for the white house ( and I can accept that very well they have the right to provide for their security by whatever means they think will do it ) if the ME gets any gain this is just accidental. However, you and Tina and many other sincere people I have had the honour to talk to in cyberspace are genuinely trying to understand and help towards freedom and democracy for the whole world. Please keep this support we need to help learn and understand from each other.

At 2/17/2005 03:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok last post was still me ..Highlander

At 2/17/2005 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

Well, goons don't know anything but brutality and force. They are not going to give up their nice jobs and perks and go peacefully.

But no fear, the U.S. has reinforcements ? coming !!

Yea...I think...

Papa Ray
West Texas

At 2/17/2005 07:10:00 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Highlander, thank you for your explanation. I have heard a few things in the last several months about the sons of some Middle Eastern/Arab rulers who want to bring reforms into their systems when they take over. Sure hope they make good on this. I can't really remember when I heard this or which country or countries it was, but I can't see the era of one ruler for life lasting for too much longer. Sometimes it takes a bit of an earthquake to open up a crack and let some light in. That, IMHO, is what has happened in Iraq. The light is now shining in on other countries in the region and I think it will gain momentum.

The people of Iraq wanted desperately to be rid of Saddam Hussein and I supported and continue to support the invasion. Some mistakes have been made, no doubt about it, but the elections on Jan. 30 left no doubt in my mind that Iraq will never again allow a thug to take over and brutalize their country. I think Iraqis were ready for the sacrifice, which is another of so many reasons why this was the right war, in the right place at the right time.

I'm not sure an invasion of Syria would result in the same thing though, if the general population feels so defeated. They have to be ready to rise up and help overthrow their oppressor.

Maybe Assad Jr's term will be a transition period. I have had a hunch, based on not much of anything substantial, that Jr. does not want to continue the Ba'athist traditions, but is too weak to crack the whip and clean up the joint. Most brutes in power train their sons to take over and that's all the training they get. Jr. trained as an eye doctor. It doesn't fit.

At 2/18/2005 06:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your hunch is right Louise he did not even want the job, his brother was supposed to get it but that guy died prematurely

At 2/18/2005 08:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Louise and Tina since you sincerely expressed a wish to learn a bit about Hariri and Syria please read this post it gives a wonderful and quite accurate view and explains things better than I would have done. As I said politics is dirty and in the ME even more so.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Hariri's Assassination
Sandmonkey your post was very nice bright and perky and most enjoyable but you forgot that "Hariri's deputies voted for Emile Lahhud's 2nd term, and he opposed 1559, and NEVER called for withdrawal of Syrian troops" , please go back to all the Arab and Lebanese newspapers from 1982 up to last year and you will see this don't just take Slate's opinion. As I said you have to look at all the angles if you want to 'nail a coffin'

At 2/18/2005 08:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok do I need to say again this previous post was Highlander? I still have web trouble...but at least I can post a comment :)

At 2/19/2005 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

Well, lets just have a revolution .

Papa Ray
West Texas


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