Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tony Badran and others on Syria

Writing in Beirut's Daily Star, Tony Badran talks about Syria's intransigence in diplomatic negotiations. Assad still works to recover a Pax Syriana which made Lebanon a Syrian appendage.

In all likelihood, the point of such leaks is to present the Saudis (but also the Iranians) with a fait accompli and tell Riyadh that it has to deal with Syria directly and accommodate its demands, or else face mayhem in Lebanon. The timing is important: In March, an Arab summit will be held in Saudi Arabia. The targeting of civilians, not to mention the continuous threats directed against the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon stationed in the South, is intended to show that Syria will not hesitate to escalate its activities to whole new levels.

This has been Syria's method since the forced extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate in 2004: to force "respect" through brutishness. However, it allows no margin for maneuver, even for President Bashar Assad's allies in Lebanon or those outside who are working under the illusion that they can "draw Syria in from the cold." In many ways it is a replay of Assad's misreading of the political winds when UN Security Council Resolution 1559 was passed. At the time, Assad misguidedly thought he could bend the international community to his will.

At his blog he references an excellent explanatory piece in the Weekly Standard by Lee Smith worth reading in full, concluding with the following...

So, will the wise men who counsel we sit down and talk with Damascus--the Brzezinskis, the Powells, the Obamas, the Bakers, and Djerejians--will they have the decency at last to recognize what their high-minded posturing can no longer obscure? This is how Syria negotiates, with its knife on the table and dripping with blood.

This aspect of Assad's regime seems so alien to the benign-looking, soft-spoken gentleman blinking sweetly at Diane Sawyer. Most Americans have never heard of Alawis, the offshoot faith from Islam that Assad represents. These three paragraphy are a nutshell explanation of how Assad appears to be working.

Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri two years ago, every single attack in Lebanon has targeted either a Christian or a Christian area. Lebanon was once a country known as a refuge for minorities. And yet, Christians have been singled out for attack by a Syrian regime that is itself run by another Middle Eastern minority, the Alawis.

Before Hafez al-Asad made a deal of political convenience with Imam Moussa al-Sadr to acknowledge the Alawis as real Shia Muslims, their blood was believed to be licit, by both Shia and Sunni. The fourteenth century jurist Ibn Taymiyya ruled that the Alawis were "more infidel than Jews or Christians, even more infidel than many pagans."

That fear of being swept along in a current of their own blood, as they themselves are letting Christian blood, is what keeps the Alawi regime from being able to negotiate or make peace with Israel, or indeed anyone, and it is why they embraced Arabism and became more "Arab" than even the Sunnis. It is also why they must be flexible enough to incorporate Islamism as well. As a minority sect running a Sunni majority state in a Sunni majority region, they have no choice but to follow regional trends. And they have no legitimacy except for what they can establish through violence. That is how things work in Syria. In Lebanon, there is an agreement between minorities, however difficult, to share power. It's not surprising that Syria's ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, would prefer to play by Syrian rules.

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