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May 18, 2005



Have you kept up with the news from Egypt? It was pretty much a sham. The idea of a real opposition party developing any time soon to challenge Mubarak is fantasy, from what I've ascertained.


Ya know it took us a long time in America to "honestly" open society. So, I think it's wise to acknowledge that the process will involve babysteps, lots of dirty diapers and potty training, and that the process is in motion. Will what's germinated bud and bloom? I don't know. Is what's germinating a crop of thorny weeds? That would be my guess, but I have no reason to hope I'm right about that.

Is Egypt a sham? Well, two of the most popular opposition parties are being constitutionally outlawed because they run on unconstitutional platforms-- they seek theocratic Islamic rule-- the constitution insists on religious pluralism. Is that a sham? One of those parties is the Muslim Brotherhood. Babysteps. A third party is being outlawed because the rules for parties require a party to be established for at least one full year prior to elections-- Mubarak's toughest competition this side of Mus Brohood falls in the too young category. Is that a sham? It's opening.


It's a sham that Bush is trumpeting it as a spring of democracy in that country, yes. Lebanon is really the only country that's had one, and that was due quite a bit to the assassination. It's interesting that Syria has some role to play in both theirs and Leb.'s situations; I'm much less impressed by the tiniest of baby steps in Egypt and the ascension of Hamas in Palestine--a development that in less news-filled times would have been a bigger story.

But I think we all expected Assad's son to be more malleable; he is a child of the West. My intent in commenting was not to belittle what are positive signs from Damascus, but to caution against any real extrapolations. Let's not forget that win or lose, Iraq is the core country in any "movement," and frankly it has not looked as out of control since Sadr was at his height.


Can they be augmenting the spring while they're keeping Iraq in winter?


Talk about "cautiously" sourced unsubstantiated intelligence as sabre rattling... whew.

Personally, I think it is preposterous to suspect Assad of futher undermining Syria by destabilizing Iraq. It's really bad math, but it plays well to the warmongers, and likely rattles Assad even more.

I'm not saying radical elements in Syria aren't assisting terrorists in Iraq. But blaming that on Damascus is like blaming the White House for the Minutemen. Obviously the stakes are much higher for Assad, and I won't be surprised if he "joins" the coalition soon by mobilizing counterterrorist forces near the border hotspots.


If Damascus is turning a blind eye to it, IMO they're culpable.


That's a viable but dangerous point. Damascus is culpable for not doing anything about it. So what next? That's what bothers me. Certainly the battles on the eastern border (oil infrastructure) have been more costly and lasted longer. Certainly the enemy has been and still is based in the old badlands on the Iranian side of the border. Tehran is culpable through lack of support. So what next? As Hitchens pointed out this week in an epic screed, most of the foreign fighters are still Saudis, and that border is as loose as any. Riyadh is culpable. So what next? Clearly the Taliban are in cahoots with Pakistani sympathizers. Islamabad is culpable. So what next?

Is it incumbent on every government to foment huge civil discord within their own borders to support the US side of things in Iraq and Afghanistan? That's not rhetorical. Honestly, I'm not sure of an answer, but I sure sense some very thin ice for governments in the region that I'd rather not see break.


"What next" is a pertinent but side question as to whether it can be said that Syria (or any ME country) is "opening up" to the US and/or relatively progressive forms of democracy. My point was that currently, it's my impression that they're talking out of both sides of their mouth.

It's perhaps not incumbent on every government to switch to "our side" regardless of how its citizenry and leadership feel--but I think it IS incumbent to attempt control of their own borders. Remember that Iran admitted giving a free pass to foreign fighters as they made their way to Iraq. I think by all accounts Syria doesn't give a rat's ass who's moving back and forth, despite knowing exactly what's occurring on the borders.


I'm sure Damascus is gravely concerned with the issue. I'm sure Damascus is terribly concerned with Hezbollah and Israel currrently lobbing mortars at each other too. It seems a fairly large lapse of dimplomacy to say Assad doesn't give a rat's ass. It's a situation where there are no easy answers, but perhaps there is an easy answer. In which case, I suppose, Damascus better choose sides very soon. There's a blogger in Syria named Josh Landis who has much better input and insight than we do, but I have pool chores.

On that note it's high time for some subtle changes around here, a little freshening up by increasing the references available. I'd like to add some regional categories, both domestic and international, to the blogroll. I'd also like to add a "single issue or expert" category. It's a lapse on us not to have scotus blog, or Intel Dump, or Head Heeb, or the Counterterrorism blog available for readers and us. Any thoughts on header titles and sites you use that you'd like to add are requested. email is better.


It seems to me that Bush's fixation with Syria has more to do with distracting attention from the size of the indigenous Iraqi insurgency than anything else. He appears to be gambling that if he can keep attention focused on Syria and Iran long enough that the Iraqi military can be propped up sufficiently to get the upper-hand on the insurgency and then it'll all be water under the proverbial bridge. Which is really more about domestic politics than it is about the Middle East.

Obviously that marks me as a skeptic on the NeoCon's domino theory for democracy in the Middle East. I don't think the NeoCons still consider it to be a realistic theory. But... the current situation needs to be spun, so they spin it.

As for Assad, he's clearly trying to kiss up to Bush with the Allbaugh connection. Which is disturbing in the sense that it confirms the new American imperialism/hegemony. I don't see any evidence that Bush et al have learned the historical lessons from the Imperialism of the 19th and 20th centuries. Which is the chief source of my discomfort with the current attempted hegemony.

One interesting thing to throw in here is that I was watching a PBS documentary last week. One of the two segments was on Lebanon and the Cedar Revolution. Walid Jumblatt, the Druze powerbroker and onetime Druze militia leader, categorically stated that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization. He then repeated it word for word to emphasize his point. That is NOT a good development if you subscribe to the Bush view on the Middle East. The Druze have never been friends with Hezbollah. And while Jumblatt has long been very, very critical of Syrian control over Lebanon in the past... In the interview he went to great lengths to downplay anything even remotely negative about Syria.

Do some digging on the Lebanese Druze and how they fit into the strategic jigsaw puzzle in their corner of the Middle East and you'll quickly realize that Jumblatt's new positions pose a strategic problem for the American and Israeli hawks.

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