“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.