Syria and the Stone Wall

“Bush said he called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier in the day and instructed her to call upon the United Nations to convene a session "as quickly as possible to deal with this very serious matter."

Bush was not specific about what steps the international community should take to make sure Syria is held accountable. He said the United States has started talking with U.N. officials and with Arab governments about what steps to take.

"Today a serious report came out that requires the world to look at very carefully and respond accordingly," Bush said.  Associated Press

Somewhere along the "dusty trail" a wise man told me that one should never threaten to do what can not be done, nor should one issue an order that is likely to be disobeyed.  To do either of these things is to risk a loss of "gravitas."  In other words, people will stop listening to you if you do not perform after making rhetorical demands.

SYRIA and the Mehlis report are a case in point. 

President Bush and his administration understandably take the ominous but not very conclusive outcome of the UN investigation quite seriously.  The report is, in my opinion, overly dependent on single witnesses to events, but, it nevertheless points to high level Syrian involvement in the Hariri murder.

President Bush is calling for ACTION!  I am puzzled as to what kind of action he is thinking of.

The Syrian government has a long established and time tested methodology for dealing with external demands placed upon it.  It ignores them.  The late Hafez al-Assad (papa of Bashar) refined this technique over many years in office.  He was the master of "refusenikism."  He may have brought this form of "international relations" to a high point unlikely to be surpassed for a long time.

The old man even demonstrated his devotion to the method in interviews with visiting "firemen."  He would sit in his "throne room" for hours and hours listening patiently to foreign pleas, demands, etc., and then when the "Ajnabi" (foreigner) was finished talking, Hafez al-Assad would begin a monologue on Arab History, geology, literature or whatever had struck his fancy for that day.  He was quite learned and very fluent.  He would go on and on with never a "potty break" allowed to his "guest" or, for that matter, to himself.  It was clearly a contest of wills, and he always won.  In the end the great majority begged for the bathroom.  Everyone present knew then that Hafez al-Assad was in charge and there would be no response from him to foreign demands.

So, now we have his son, the doctor sitting in the same room.

President Bush may have in mind some or all of the following –

Economic Sanctions – Sure, but does Syria’s strange half statist economy depend a great deal on foreign trade?  I think not.  Life would be more difficult but people in Syria are accustomed to a much lower standard of living than we can imagine and are not as easily intimidated by want as we might be.  (Americans were shocked by awareness of poverty in New Orleans.  Clearly they have not spent much time in the wretchedness of most of the world)  The rich in Syria own property abroad and would retreat from Damascus to Nice or Monte Carlo in search of solace.  Embargo food and medical shipments into Syria?  Not likely.

Transportation Isolation – Translation = Airplanes would not land at Damascus International.  Maybe, but in any event those with money either travel by private aircraft or would go to another country to "connect" for London or wherever.    I seriously doubt that the US would bar Syrians from entering the United States.  We never did that to the Iraqis when Saddam ruled there.

Encourage "Democracy" demonstrations? – Whoa!  This is a police state we are talking about here.  The "folk" in Syria have been indoctrinated for generations with pan-Arab nationalism and Baathi socialism as the "bedrock" of their formation as adults.  The conflict between the security forces and any crowd that could be brought to the streets would be impressive.  This would not be a reprise of Beirut or Prague.

Military Action? – Our ground forces have their hands full.  The last thing we would need is yet another Arab country to "democratize."  The embittered may think that we would bomb major Syrian population centers to "get things moving," but I do not.  The "Giulio Douhet" school of "shock and awe" as foreign policy has lost credibility in recent years.  The Israelis?  No way!!  They are far too smart to want long term engagement with the "tar baby" that is Syria.  So, what could we do?  We could launch minor and temporary incursions (raids) into the desert barrens in eastern Syria to chase the beduins, jihadis and Iraqi guerrillas around.  These could be land or air or both.  I do not believe that this would de-stabilize Syria.  No. It would be used as a "rallying cry" by the government against the "crusaders," "imperialists," etc.

To further complicate things, there really is no Syrian exile opposition analogous to the Iraqi National Congress (INC).  There is no Chalabi or Hariri waiting in the wings.  There has been a search for one, but, so far, only minor "players" have been found.

So, given their past record of non-cooperation, who can say what Syrian reaction might be to whatever "Steps" we may decide to take?

The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon may not be a good indicator of their reaction to increased pressure. That was foreign soil, and the complex issue of the growth of Hizballah power played a role in their decision to leave.

Pat Lang

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7 Responses to Syria and the Stone Wall

  1. searp says:

    It seems to me that the report says what has been known for decades: the Syrian regime will protect itself and its perceived interests ruthlessly. Shocking. Did anybody anywhere think the Syrians didn’t have a hand in the Hariri assasination?
    I shudder whenever the words “regime change” and “Syria” are conjoined. I sure hope the gov understands the internal situation before it floats those trial balloons.
    I sure hope that instead of taking premature credit for freeing the (second, third?) country in the Middle East from oppressive government we understand the cauldron of tribalism that is Lebanon.
    Why can’t we just stay the hell away from these people? Anything we do is almost certain to blow up in our faces. Talk about masochism.
    Comforting to know that we cannot do anything effective, but will that actually stop this administration…

  2. Michael Murry says:

    Have you heard the famous conversation between the masochist and the sadist?
    The masochist pleads: “Hurt me!”
    The sadist replies: “no.”

  3. b says:

    They are waging the dog. Let´s hope the dog doesn´t bite.

  4. Curious says:

    If we are keep doing the same thing in Iraq (no big diplomatic change or ground strategy), ho much damage can the Syrian do to us?
    -start entering Iraq and play the political scene just as they do in Lebanon.
    – what sort of supply can they give to Iraqis? (military advice, supply, etc etc… They have strong baathist tie afterall. )
    – what is the chance they actually call our bluff and create an actual military movement that will drag Israel into the scene. (hence bringing the entire region to war) or to put it simply, what is the chance they can create a war condition (Israel/us vs, the entire middle east)
    – what is Russia, Iran and China stand on Syria?
    – If time is no concern, how many troop do we need to win against ‘Syria+sunni insurgency’ ? Say in the next 10-15 years? (noting Lebanon, southern Lebanon)

  5. Curious says:

    I shudder whenever the words “regime change” and “Syria” are conjoined. I sure hope the gov understands the internal situation before it floats those trial balloons.
    Posted by: searp | 22 October 2005 at 08:14 AM >>>
    And knowing how dumb Bush can be. It is that much more dangerous. I seriously doubt Bush even consider, what if the syrian respond to his threat, and already executing various soft power strategy?
    Remember how Bush was loud for 1 year, and Saddam prepare all his secret service and military to go underground? And Bush thinks he can pull a latin american gambit/regime change? (Which requires the government NOT preparing, so the operation can be swift and effective.)
    So, what if Syria starts developing long range hostile plan against our international assets while chimpie busy talking tough? (ie. the Syrians are thinking. Okay better move it and do something now.)

  6. J Thomas says:

    I want to assume that the syrian government will look after its own survival, and failing that the survival of their population.
    In that context they wouldn’t want a big hostile plan against our international assets, except maybe in iraq. They wouldn’t want the US population ready to kill them, if they can help it.
    Smuggling advanced weapons into iraq would be good, shouder-fired antitank and anti-helicopter weapons would be good, if they were easy enough to learn. Anti-warplane stuff would be good if they have them that work. It would be risky. We’d get mad at them for doing it at the same time we saw how hard it was to occupy the area.
    It wouldn’t be a good idea for them to get a war started with israel. A lot of people would get killed for no good result. Not like pakistan or indonesia would come save them.
    If I was Assad, and it looked like a US invasion was very likely, I’d figure that the syrian government couldn’t survive it. So I’d ship all the top people to russia or china to start a government in exile, and disband the military (let them take their weapons home) and announce to the USA “We have decided to skip the shock-and-awe phase and go directly to the occupation phase. Come occupy us but please don’t blow anything up first.” The trouble with that approach is that Assad might possibly win a fair election afterward, but he couldn’t keep control. Once the weapons are spread among the people there’s no avoiding a rough democracy. “One gun, one vote”.
    But look at it from our side. How can we possibly be serious? This just does not make sense. Would the US public put up with it? Fool Me Twice? Would Congress put up with it? With the whole House up for re-election next year?
    It’s more plausible that this is an attempt to distract the media. Since the media can’t pay attention to more than one political issue at a time, we can go some months discussing syria while the various scandals get pushed to the background. Then maybe they can try another failing attack on Social Security to distract us some more. The media is looking for excitement. So the administration needs to go on the offensive or else the media will spend their time on scandals.

  7. Old Bogus says:

    “Did anybody anywhere think the Syrians didn’t have a hand in the Hariri assasination?”
    Actually, I did. My first reaction was that Israel had done it to frame Syria.

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