Friday, November 11, 2005

Assad in Syria tells everyone to go to hell..

Aweseome analysis from ACROSS THE BAY Blog: Bashar Opts for Brinksmanship Public "emotions" in Syria are, to a large extent, the product of the authorities and what these authorities do. It is a well-known case in military and dictatorial regimes, where the societal sentiment is subject to daily cooptation and regulation. The "patriotic" awareness that is being produced by the Syrian regime -- chauvinistic, hateful of Lebanon and the Lebanese -- may succeed in absorbing the contradictions of said regime, yet it will certainly not succeed in building a healthy Syrian patriotism. Hazem Saghieh, Al-Hayat, 07/30/05. How is Syria coping with the pressure? The way it always has, with violence. It is worthwhile to note that a state fearful of sectarian conflict runs a regional policy in Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel that aims to provoke elsewhere its own worst nightmares at home. This real fear of being surrounded and vulnerable not only drives the regime's authoritarian apparatus, it is also the source of Syrian identity. Eventually, Syrians will have to learn how to construct a positive national identity out of a multisectarian, multiethnic society without dispatching their demons abroad or sweeping them under an Arab nationalist rug. Lee Smith, The Weekly Standard, 10/10/05 Rallying around this regime, under whatever pretext and regardless of the motives, is like rallying around a corpse. The only thing that this regime can deliver is decay. Ammar Abdulhamid, 11/09/05. To noone's surprise, Bashar has opted for brinksmanship. In a speech, aptly described by an AFP report as "typically long and rambling," the Syrian dictator essentially declared war, as Josh Landis put it. Similarly, Lebanese politician Roger Edde described the speech as "a decision to go to war against the International Community, and against the political stability and security of Lebanon, represented by its Prime Minister." The direct targets of the war, consistent with long-established Syrian foreign policy, are Syria's neighbors, especially Lebanon. This is a predictable move, and certainly more expected than the fanciful notion that Bashar would bring the battle home and turn against his brother and/or brother-in-law, as some analysts like Seale and Leverett suggested. Back on Oct. 23, Michael Young explored Bashar's two equally bad options: With his back to the wall, what can Mr. Assad do? He can, of course, fully comply with the U.N. But that would be political suicide amid the fingers pointed at members of his inner core. Or Mr. Assad can pursue brinksmanship--in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict--assuming this will strengthen his hand at a time when there is no ready alternative to his rule. He may be right, and his regime's collapse may take some time as nobody wishes to see Syria descend into chaos. However, such an impasse only heightens the chances that Syria will face increasingly harsher sanctions and perhaps even military retaliation from the U.S. over Iraq. Mr. Assad is being offered several ways to impale himself; his only leeway is choosing which is the most painless. If the Baath Party Congress didn't convince you that Bashar was a believer, or, at the very least, that he was going to stick with "revolutionary" Arab nationalism, then his speech today should end all discussion on the issue (see Beirut Spring for links to an English summary and audio excerpts).Actually, we caught a glimpse of what the theme of the speech was going to be from the "regime's liberal" Sami Moubayed, who wrote a long English version of the "Syria as the Pan-Arab citadel of steadfastness" (which, by the way, said the exact opposite of his piece from a couple of weeks earlier). Lending credence especially to the quote by Saghieh, but also the ones by Smith and Abdulhamid above, Moubayed informed us that "there is a consensus between the street and government" on the issues of "Lebanon, Palestine and the Iraqi resistance." That was one of the main messages of the speech: that there is no chasm between the Assad regime and the Syrian people. While Bashar's chauvinistic and paranoid (see Feris Khishen's piece) speech splattered the Iraqis, its main target was Lebanon. (And for all the "deal on Iraq" folks, let me point out what Bashar said in his speech -- the Americans must pull out of Iraq -- and what I recently wrote on the issue: "The only 'deal' the Syrians have in mind, to quote a friend of mine, is one where the U.S. agrees to withdraw, and a 'partnership' in which the Syrians see it out the door -- in Lebanon as well as Iraq.")

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