The Syrians are Waiting for Obama

2rcahz9tdicabfkrr6caqxf9ydca43j5qrc " The Bush administration’s attempt to isolate Syria has failed, even in the judgment of senior White House officials. That leaves Assad in the catbird seat, courted by European and Arab nations and conducting back-channel talks through Turkey with his erstwhile enemy Israel.

Asked, for example, about reports that Saudi Arabia is seeking to improve its relations with Damascus because it sees U.S. engagement with Syria ahead and fears that "the train may be leaving the station," Assad laughed.

"Maybe it has already left the station," he said. But he vows that he is ready to receive any emissaries. "I have no problem with the Saudis. We would like good relations with every country in this region."

Assad said that he is ready to move to direct talks with Israel as soon as he receives clarification on two points: One, he wants assurance that the Israelis will withdraw fully from the Golan Heights. To clarify that issue, he sent a "borders document" to the Israelis this month that highlights some points along the pre-1967 border. As of Monday, he said, he hadn’t received an Israeli response. His second condition for direct talks is that the United States join as a sponsor."  Ignatius


The "borders" issue in the Golan Heights has become a non-issue.  This is not the ’60s.  Israel’s survival does not depend on the possession of a few hundred square kilometers of stony, scruffy land.  Technology and capabilities have moved on.  The military realities that the Likudniks like to talk about render such consideration "oldspeak," mere excuses for not giving up a square centimeter of the others side(s) land,

Bashar Assad’s Syria has sought accommodation with the US for the last several years.   This was firmly rejected by the Bush people because it was and is neocon/Likud doctrine that Syria must be subdued and eviscerated, not accommodated.  Assad wants to be let out of the "doghouse."  He wants there to be a new beginning for the Middle East, one that a modern man like him can accept.  This is our chance and the biggest opportunity the Israelis have ever had.  Can the Israelis and their American "friends" rise to the occasion.  I doubt it.  They are so paralyzed by fear that their options are self limiting.  We should hope for the best.  pl

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23 Responses to The Syrians are Waiting for Obama

  1. Matthew says:

    Col: Is it fear or lack of imagination?
    The Bushies and their Likudnik friends dreamed of a world where Arabs beg and grovel. And that world is receding. Maybe they can’t imagine having to ask an Arab for cooperation.
    They certainly can’t articulate the aspirations of people in the ME. Remember’s Dubya’s “surpise” that people in Dubai were so entrepreneurial?

  2. John Howley says:

    Syria needs direct talks with US in order to get off the “state sponsors of terrorism” list.

  3. ked says:

    who ISN’T waiting for Obama?
    {& Merry Christmas, Col, & to everyone who makes his site a little island of rationality in a strange world.}

  4. Mad Dogs says:

    From the Israeli perspective, I’ve never quite grasped what they expect to get from Syria.
    Syria gets back the Golan Heights. Sure, that makes sense.
    What do the Israelis get in return?
    A “Peace Treaty” with Syria? Hah! I’m sure the Israelis find that piece of paper as worthwhile as 2nd hand toilet paper.
    Syria promises not to attack Israel. Yeah, as if they would dare. Hah!
    Recognition of Israel’s right to exist? If Israel is dependent on Syria’s blessing for their existence, even I find that worth slightly less than 2nd hand toilet paper.
    A commitment on the part of Syria to cease support of anti-Israeli organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.? What Israeli would believe Syria “promises” to stop its machinations? Hah! I could imagine Israelis believing in Santa Claus before believing in that.
    The only thing that comes to my mind is that Israel would like to have the PR benefit from the rest of the world applauding and lauding its “adult” behavior in making nice with its neighbors.
    And it would also serve as a short-term distraction from the realities of Israel’s occupation policies towards the Palestinians in the West Bank, ghetto-ization policies towards the Palestinians in the Gaza and continued illegal creeping Israelization of Palestinian land.
    I write this not to suggest that the incoming Obama Administration shouldn’t pursue a rapprochement between Israel and Syria, but that pursuing such a policy is still a sideshow compared to real progress in solving the problems between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

  5. Matthew says:

    John says: “Syria needs direct talks with US in order to get off the “state sponsors of terrorism” list.”
    NK got off the list by shutting down its nuclear reactor. I wish we would just rename the list: “People Who Have Been Naughty (or Just Too Independent of Senior Management).”

  6. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    If Martin Van Creveld still adheres to the assumptions underlying his book, Defending Israel, he would agree with the assessment re: security value of the Golan Heights
    Moshe Dayan never was keen on taking the Golan Heights. The desire for the Golan Heights appears to have come from the Yigal Allon wing of the IDF.
    John Hagee apparently is all for keeping the Golan Heights. Go figure. Martin Van Creveld and Moshe Dayan vs. John Hagee and Yigal Allon. Take your pick.

  7. jonst says:

    I share your hope…and your pessimism. Some how, the American public is going to have to get this ‘plucky little democracy surround by Soviet surrogates’ out of their/our heads. It is a ‘marketing’ campaign that will have to be led by a bold leader, ala Sadat like. I don’t see one, in the American body politic.

  8. Mad Dogs says:

    Pat wrote: “This is our chance and the biggest opportunity the Israelis have ever had. Can the Israelis and their American “friends” rise to the occasion. I doubt it. They are so paralyzed by fear that their options are self limiting.”
    Your doubts (and mine too) have grounding in reality.
    The latest from the Big Cheese of Likudniks:
    “It should be clear to the Syrians and to the world, the Golan Heights will stay in our hands,” Netanyahu said.
    This from the odds-on favorite to return to power in the forthcoming February 2009 elections.
    And so it goes; one step forward and two steps back.

  9. zanzibar says:

    “They are so paralyzed by fear”. – PL
    What are they so fearful of? More peaceful times for their neighborhood?? They have the Armageddon option if they ever face an existential situation.

  10. pbrownlee says:

    Or is it crass, short term, political self-interest that makes a dismal situation a whole lot worse?
    In “Bleak House’ (I think) Dickens said that the only business of the law is self-interest, “to make work for itself”, and this may be applied elsewhere.

  11. Michael says:

    Assad has been having nightmares since March 2003, fearing he’ll wake one day with American troops surrounding his residence and escorting him to prison. He’ll continue to have these nightmares as long as the US is in Iraq and the International Tribunal is hanging over his head. I can hardly see him as a modern man he’s described by the writer. His main objective is to hang on to a dying dynasty of a despotic father. He lacks imagination, vision, decision and he is not crafted for the role of a statesman. The only failure that Mr. Bush can be accused of is his failure to continue his march towards Damascus after liberating Baghdad. I don’t see any reason why Mr. Obama would want to talk to Assad about any ME policies. Perhaps Obama can correct Mr. Bush’s failure by doing what Mr. Bush was failed to do 5 years ago, and may be with Israeli participation. Is it not time to create PAX AMERICANA in the Middle East instead of being gripped with this imaginary circle of fear? And fearing what? Perhaps fear itself!

  12. mo says:

    I am of the mind of thinking the opposite, especially if Netanyahu comes to power.
    Kadima and Labor have lost any chance of doing anything that involves any land sacrifice after losing any kind of military credibility in 2006. Netanyahu on the other hand has the credibility and is, much like Bush and Blair, a tremendous egoist who is looking to cement his place in Jewish history. He is also, quite oddly, the only Israeli PM since 1978 to not be responsible for any Lebanese deaths. So if he wins its, imho, more likely that talks will happen especially if the US administration is pushing for them.
    On the other hand, the “borders” issue in the Golan Heights will forever be the issue. You are right, from a military objective its completely irrelevant; In fact former Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Yaalon admitted as much in ’04.
    But the Sea of Galilee is on that border. The Sea that is fast becoming too toxic to provide the water Israel needs still provides as much as 55% of Israels consumption.
    Even if the Israelis were willing to accept Syria having access to the water physically, which would be unlike them from a national security aspect, any deal would have to include terms forbidding Syria from using its waters and I would be surprised if they agreed to this.
    Mad Dogs,
    Before 2006 your belief that Israel would have nothing to gain would have a lot of merit. The Summer of 2006 changed all that.
    Israel met an Arab force that was ready, willing and able to fight back and, to put it diplomatically, it failed to win. In that war they saw a future that perhaps was a little too perilous. A future of being surrounded by Hizballahs not just in Lebanon but in Gaza, Syria and maybe even in Egypt. So maybe they are just smart enough to think that what they will get in an agreement today will be far better than what they may get in the future.
    How very retro, very 2003. A joint Israeli-US attack to “liberate” Syria followed by a PAX American? What a quaint notion. Perhaps once Bush has actually “liberated” Baghdad and not just a small Green Zone part of it, he may still have time to attack Damascus.
    Finally a Merry Christmas to one and all and may 2009 actually bring peace and goodwill to all of us.

  13. John Howley says:

    Regarding what’s in it for Israel…my understanding is that Syria has been very reliable in terms of following through on commitments made to the governments of Israel and USA (few though such deals may have been).
    Perhaps Col. Lang would help us on this crucial point.

  14. Patrick Lang says:

    You all need to differentiate among aome things.
    First, try to escape from the effects of all the propaganda and political wafare that has been waged for decades for the purpose of making you hate and fear the Arabs, Iranians, etc. That propaganda was wrought upon you for the purpose of making you easy to control. It has worked admirably.
    Second, see the difference between tactics and strategy, especially long term strategy aimed at national survival. You may thing that a peace with Syria is unimportant to Israel from the tactical point of view but from the strategic point of view Israel’s chances of survival in its present form are very poor if the country does not find a way to eliminate some of its state enemies in the immediate region that surrounds it. Syria is the most important of those state neighbors. There are Israelis who have come to accept and even relish the status of a beleaguered fortresss in the midst of enemies but the sad truth is that Israel’s small Jewish population is difficult to maintain in the midst of so many opponents. Emigration is always a problem, the ever increasing militarization of the state and the people, the spiritually corrosive effect of a perpetual status as an occupying power holding down and administering a hostile and subjugated people who will inevitable become a majority in Palestine/Israel, the eventual prospect of facing Muslim forces who have not been “contained” technologiocally; all of those things bode ill for Israel in the long run.
    The removal of Syria from the array of hostile state forces will greatly improve Israel’s chances. The smart ones know that.
    “The Syrians don’t like the Israelis?” What are we playing at here? “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm?” pl

  15. Michael says:

    I do not believe that eliminating Syria as an enemy of Israel through some kind of peace deal based on land for peace swap is achievable or even good for Israel. Particularly, any deal with the current regime in Syria is as good as long the regime is in power. You may argue that the peace deal with Egypt has lasted for over thirty years now. The comparison, however, is not valid. Egypt is a well established nation-state with civil institutions (Thanks to British rule) that go back for at least 300 years. Syria’s problem is that it came out from under Ottoman rule unprepared for nationhood. Its short-lived period of being under French mandate benefited Syria very little and basically produced a dysfunctional State. The current ruling regime represents a tiny minority of the Syrian population and it rules over the majority by sheer force. The possibility that it may fall is very real. Your analysis about the Jewish State basically dooms that State for eventual dissolution with or without a peace treaty with Syria.
    I can see your point where you would like to differentiate between tactical and strategic points of view. The Jewish State, however, was established based on the Zionist ideology. Succumbing to autocrats such as Assad of Syria is short sighted and betrays this Zionist ideal.
    Hence, the only solution is to establish a PAX AMERICANA while the US is militarily present in Iraq thus eliminating the Syro/Iranian axis and then plan for a regime change inside Iran.

  16. Mad Dogs says:

    MO wrote:
    “Israel met an Arab force that was ready, willing and able to fight back and, to put it diplomatically, it failed to win. In that war they saw a future that perhaps was a little too perilous. A future of being surrounded by Hizballahs not just in Lebanon but in Gaza, Syria and maybe even in Egypt. So maybe they are just smart enough to think that what they will get in an agreement today will be far better than what they may get in the future.”
    And Pat wrote:
    “The removal of Syria from the array of hostile state forces will greatly improve Israel’s chances. The smart ones know that.”
    I’d agree with both your points, but there doesn’t seem to be a willingness on the Syrian side to “negotiate” things like their support for Hezbollah.
    Recent comments like this from Syrian President Bashar Assad:
    “…he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah’s arming in Lebanon. “I am not Israel’s bodyguard,” he reportedly said…”
    may only be his public negotiating stance, but the bellicosity implied can lead one to the conclusion that for Syria, the pas de deux with Israel is only a means for the return of the Golan Heights, and not for any meaningful lessening of other areas of ME friction.
    I do agree that achieving even an inch forward movement in the Syrian/Israeli relationship is positive.
    However, I’m just less optimistic of its value in the near term. Things like this continue to roil the waters:
    “Lebanon army: 7 missiles ready to be fired at Israel found in south Lebanon.
    Lebanese authorities discovered seven missiles aimed at Israel in southern Lebanon, an official Lebanese news agency reported Thursday…
    …Two senior officers said that the rockets’ timers were activated, and one of the officers said the rockets were to have been fired overnight Thursday…”

    And this:
    “Israel preparing for an invasion of Gaza.
    …defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the plans, said the Israeli operation would likely begin with precise airstrikes against rocket launchers and continue with a land invasion. Harsh weather conditions are hampering visibility and complicating air force missions, so the operation won’t be launched until the skies clear, they added…”

    The old adage of “When you’re deep in a hole, it’s best to stop digging” seems pertinent here. The Mideast shovel brigades just can’t seem to lay those shovels down.

  17. Patrick Lang says:

    Michael (not Singer)
    From your e-mail address you are a Canadian. I think the exchange would have benefited from an admission of that. What is this? “Let’s you and they fight?” A “Pax Americana?” Why not a “Pax Canadiana?” We are now adding more people to our regular (active) forces than you have in all the Canadian forces. I was at a Christmas party last night with a captain of the Green Berets who is returning to Iraq in three weeks for his third tour of duty in the same province. God bless him. If you want tell us what to do with our foreign policy you should become an American or an Israeli. You could then seek to influence directly their fate.
    How much time have you spent in the Middle East? Your assertion that the Egyptian government is more “legitimate” than that of Syria is laughable. You are either ignorant or dissembling, but then, you neocons tried to unseat Mubarak’s government as well.
    “Pax” Americana? Are you mad? Where have you been for the last eight years? pl

  18. My school-aged son asked me what happened in Baghdad the other day when he was listening to the news with his grandmother. We don’t listen to broadcast news so the children don’t normally hear of bombings and strife. I told them that there still is a war in Baghdad, and yes, Bush did start it.
    What are we going to do? younger son asked. He is 7. It’s Christmas and I was giving them a light lunch after they’d played in the snow. (big dinner is tonight).
    We’re going to pray for peace, I said.
    It’s really the only viable option. Reasoning and logic and argument are not working.
    My mother chose to fly to Lebanon for the holiday and is ensconced in my village in the South for three weeks. I hope reports of an impending war are more rumor and hysteria. Selfishly I hope for her sake that pestilence passes over our houses this time, and always.
    Merry Christmas to all.

  19. cletracsteve says:

    My wife and I just returned from a vacation trip through Egypt and Jordan. On the plane home from Amman, a U.S. State Department employee working in Iraq and on his way to a 3 week R&R sat next to us. He informed us, and therefor everyone around us, that he despises Obama, that Obama is a expletive deleted Muslim and plans to populate the U.S. with minarets. Additionally, just 8 days after the Feast of Abraham, he bemoaned the loss of Iraq’s tourism business for Jews and Christians to visit Abraham’s birth place, not realizing Abraham’s place in Islam. With this bigotry, ignorance and pathetic public behavior of our foreign representatives in the ME, how can we hope for any progress?
    I talked (in English) to many Egyptians and there was a general support for Mubarak for two reasons: A: ‘The Devil you know’ and B: there is nominal peace with Israel – Egypt can ill afford to waste money on military adventures with all its pressing needs at home.
    Regarding the hate and fear of ME residents – while walking through downtown Amman, people repeatedly stopped and welcomed us to their country.

  20. Charles I says:

    Israel will never be able to make peace, because it finds itself unable to give up enough of the remaining booty it holds – water and land – to accommodate the rest. If Gaza had as much waster as the rest, it’s still be occupied, instead of just blockaded, starved and bombarded. Even if water weren’t the issue, Eretz ideology seems impervious to prayer or reason.

  21. graywolf says:

    The world is bad guys and good guys (us).
    Syria has been a bad guy for a long time.
    It’ll take a lot more than “divine intervention” from “the one” to make them good guys.
    Before you thunder at me for not understanding the “grayness” of international relations as espoused by the “realists” of the inside-the-beltway careerist cabal, I would remind you that “realism” and refusal to label bad guys as such brought us 9/11 – along with a lot of incompetence from the inside-the-beltway crowd.
    Bush is no rocket scientist, but at least he didn’t continue along the same old rut of giving away US National Interests as practiced for prior decades by the State Dept./CIA losers – as they focused on their perqs. and retirement plans.

  22. Medicine Man says:

    While black and white thinking is comforting in a way, Graywolf, adherence to this kind of thinking doesn’t quite whitewash the fact that Bush’s ME policies haven’t exactly advanced US National interests.
    Personally I’m of the belief that every country in the world has its share of good and bad guys.

  23. Medicine Man says:

    I suspect that Michael (not Singer) is merely a troll, Col Lang. Please don’t think ill of us (or our armed forces) based on his dribbling. The majority of Canadians I know would be quite happy to have American troops out of harm’s way.

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