Lions on Probation!

Yes, even if the ongoing inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese PM, Rafic Hariri, should end up exonerating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from duplicity in the ordering and planning thereof, the young lion and his regime should still be put on a certain probationary period before their relations with the rest of the world are normalized.

Why? Well, in a police state such as Syria, the involvement of high level security people in the assassination of an important political figure as well as a number of well-known public figures from a neighboring country for reasons related to corruption, graft, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, drug smuggling, arms smuggling and money laundering, among many other crimes and offenses, is not something that can be taken lightly by the international community. Nor is the situation simply a question of one country’s internal affairs, seeing that Lebanon and Iraq are clearly involved as well.

The nature of the situation, therefore, calls for direct UN involvement, even after the conclusion of the UN inquiry. For putting the guilty parties on trial is not the endgame here. Far from it. This is only the beginning.

For, in order to deal more effectively with the problem at hand, which is the continued criminal dabbling of high level Syrian officials in the affairs of neighboring states, one needs to tackle the whole affair as a structural problem, one that cannot be resolved by arresting a few hapless individuals. Rather, a certain amount of structural adjustments need to be implemented within the decision-making hierarchy in the Syrian regime.

It goes without saying, of course, that the Syrian authorities cannot be trusted to handle this matter on their own, as many of them seem to be implicated, both directly and indirectly, in the cycle of corruption. Indeed, the Syrian President has amply demonstrated that he lacks the political will to carry out the necessary reforms. Moreover, and even should he be exonerated from involvement in Hariri’s assassination, the whole affair does, nonetheless, cast much doubts about his abilities as a leader.

For these reasons, there is a serious need for the establishment of a special UN commission to supervise the restructuring process of the Syrian security apparatuses. Due to the complexity of this task, which, in effect, goes to the very heart of the decision-making process in the country, the Commission needs to be granted broad powers allowing it to tackle issues of political reforms, economic reforms, constitutional reforms, the role of the military in the country, as well as the civil rights situation therein, not to mention some some measure of involvement in Lebanese affairs as well.

This might sound a bit far fetched, but, frankly, anything less than this will only come as a reward to the Assad regime and will serve to make them more impervious to international pressures in the future. It will also set a very negative precedent for other problematic figures in the region and elsewhere. As such, and if we are going to look for a way out of the current stalemate, one that does not involve regime change, let us at least give some necessary teeth to the process of behavior change, transforming it from a vague almost meaningless demand, lacking any implementation mechanisms or guidelines, into an actual institution with a specific agenda and timetable, set for a certain period of time, renewable by a UN Security Council decision.

This might smack of the old mandate system to many, and perhaps it does include elements of that. But I’d rather refer to it as a necessary probation period that this problematic regime has to go through in order to prove to us that it has been fully rehabilitated. We are dealing with criminals after all, so we might as well borrow some relevant terms and practices.

Saddling the Assad regime with a UN Commission that will have the power of oversight against every little thing they would want to do, and that will envision and guide the process of reform in the country in their place and in their face, but with them on board nonetheless, might indeed be the best way to go seeing that the necessary international political will for outright regime change seems to be lacking at this stage.

No, this arrangement may not, at first, satisfy the basic demands of the Assads’ growing internal and external opposition. But, if the regime change is not on the table at this stage, I, for one, will then endorse such an arrangement, because it does not give the Assads the free hand they used to have and do now have, neither internally nor regionally, and might indeed posit some hope for the future. True, the arrangement does not win any battles for us, but it does take the war to the Assads regime inside the country with international support and approval. As such, it does give us a fighting chance, especially if some of us end up being on board of that Commission. Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?

10 thoughts on “Lions on Probation!

  1. I agree with your conclusion that if carrots are provided, in exchange, the regime must be accountable to a much more ambitious timetable for reform. But if you want to gain the support of the Syrian people, you might want to go for something less insulting than the UN mandate. You might feel that Syrians won’t mind at all seeing UN resolutions targeting 10 or 20 corrupt regime officials. But such an approach has some weaknesses:1) If the UN takes quick decisions to go after these names, then many will complain that there was no fair trial, no clear evidence of their corruption, and … 2)The following question would be raised: Why only Syrian officials and not all the other corrupt officials in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia …or Pakistan! … people will conclude that the whole thing is an attempt to silence Syria’s role as the defender of arab rights…etc. You know Egypt has many more political prisoners than Syria, they have similar type of corruption ..etc.I prefer, again, a publicly announced offer of carrots … an offer that is presented in public to the Syrian people (Bush interview to Aljazeera for exampele) an offer the Syrian people can not refuse … this offer should be contingent on the ability of the Syrian regime to meet specific reform goals according to a reasonable but demanding timetable. Something similar to the conditions for joining the European Union that Greece had to meet. If that Greek government at the time failed to meet those conditions, the Greek people would have revolted. Similarly, If the Syrian regime fails to live up to its responsibilities, then you can expect widespread resentment from the Syrian people who would know by then who is to blame… the regime, not the United States.As for corrupt officials: 1) if you want them to be part of the problem .. threaten them. If you want them to be part of the solution … try offering them assurances and rewards and recognition for their service, in exchange for their early retirement… leave their punishment to God!2) Many of the Syrian officials who resemble antique furniture are not “evil”, but they are useless … they really believe they are serving the country to the best of their abilities. Those should get lots of recognition for their lifetime achievements… who cares? why not if it helps them retire more easily?3) As for the top, top security and army officials … if you hope to see their roles diminished, then make sure there is no internal threat to the regime in sight … no MB, no Kurdish meetings with US army officials in Iraq, no “opposition” attempts to sell the idea of overthrowing the regime… otherwise, the regime will not volunteer to extract its own teeth. “Syria” (leaders, people, Baathists, army generals ..etc) believes it has been paying the price for maintaining Arab rights and Arab dignity for many, many years. Syria needs to one day get “recognized” for that… when it comes to national pride … the lines between the regime and the rest of the country get fuzzy. America has to go back to treating Syria as well as it treats stupid Jordan … enough arm twisting and enough secretaries of state visiting Amman and boycotting Damascus. So, again, I agree with your logic, but I would prefer this version:President Bush can go on Aljazeera to tell the Syrian people: I will personally get involved in Syria/Israel peace talks based on 242, and I have worked hard to convince the gulf and European countries to commit $25 Billions in aid to Syria PROVIDED your regime can meet the following reform deadlines.If the regime fails to benefit from this offer … I, and most of the Syrian people, will be ready to join you in your call for change.

  2. If my proposal was far fetched Alex, yours is part of some nice fantasy, especially that part about Bush and Al-Jazeerah. This kind of approach works with statesmen not thugs. My point was about cornering the Assads and forcing their hands, not cajoling them. As for the Syrian people, you’re right, unless we can develop an effective media message for communicating with them, their “patriotic” sentiments will make them into some very handy pawns in the hands of the Assads, just like they are now.

  3. I think it is fair to say I agree with Ammar, he is more in harmony with his thoughts/arguments, frankly Alex . . . . You seemed . . . defending the regime or hesitating at least, I know the situation in Syria and I don’t agree in principle withAmmar’s willingness to use US/International community powers to get rid of the regime no matter what! In the end it’s not my or your or his decision how they deal with Syria – although he is trying his best to help. And Ammar! …. When do you think that we might be crossing lines? Is it possible that the beast we are trying to use for our benefit will turn around and attack us? Or it doesn’t matter anymore how we do what we do! I believe history has a lot to say about who implanted the dictators and took care of them, but it’s always like this …. Politicians are not really concerned of the long way; they need to see results in the very near future, Syria or any other similar country will not really be better unless a huge mind-restructuring takes place and a new spirit is given to the society, I might be more dreamer than Alex in this, but I think some body should talk about it at least once in while.

  4. Ammar,I agree that both our proposals are not easy to implement (fantasy in my case). But I gave just a general guideline. I believe my “fantastic” proposal can be communicated/sold to all three parties (US, Syrian regime, Syrian people)… if you want me to fill in the boring details (I won’t, don’t worry) you might be receptive to it.Hammam, first of all, lucky you for being an architect. Since I was 5 years old, I told everyone I will be an architect. It did not happen…yet. I will study it one day.I know that I am branded “a regime supporter” here and on Syria comment. I do not shy away from “defending the regime” and I do not shy away from “criticizing the regime” … I believe my opinions can be more harmonious with reality if I am situated near the center, not on one of the two extremes. My being NOT in the opposition, should not make me “with the regime”.My fantasy proposal was a win/win/win proposal. If you can just play along for a bit more:1) The Syrian people, will get economic aid, recognition for their country’s role in “defending the Arab causes”2) The “good” and “reasonable’ members of the regime will get help in securing their place in Syria’s history books. They will get recognition, and they can keep their moderate financial gains they accumulated (some of them). 3) The US administration can gain the most from changing its policy towards “Syria”. It can not look like it lost a battle with “one of the members of the axis of evil”. But if the president addresses the Syrian people, then he is on their side, he is on the side of democracy, and he can package it as “this is how we can challenge the Syrian regime to show if it cares about its people or only about its own interests …etc” … Bush can make up for his image in the Middle East as the destroyer, America can have much more sympathy among Arabs if it can, for a change, become the builder of Syria (without destroying it first, like they did in Iraq)…Syria can be the biggest asset for the Americans … you know all the details.The money ($25 billion) is not too much these days … compared to the $200 Billions spent on Iraq, considering the amount of extra cash on the side accumulated by the gulf states…and they already know that they HAVE TO reinvest it in regional projects. As for the “thugs” … there is always a way to design a complex reward system that can motivate any personality type Ammar. There is no need to discuss it here. But there is no need to dispair. It is not that challenging, really. The only thing you have to give up is your wish to punish them. For the sake of avoiding confrontations, and for the sake of facilitating change, if you drop the punishment requirement, the whole process could be considerably easier.And if you feel the proposal is still a fantasy … you did not live in Egypt when Sadat went to Israel. That whole thing he did was not imaginable to anyone … but it worked… no? … and America’s role in the reconstruction of Japan and Germany after WWII?The United States needs to take the lead here. They can do it.Of course, someone still needs to sell the Syrian people Ammar’s compromise proposals for sunni/minority balanced govenment. But with teh US and Egypt and Saudi Arabia behind it, it can be sold much more easily.

  5. Sorry Alex if I seem to be “bashing” you a la Anton Efendi these days, it’s the frustration talking, because with your win/win/win ideas you often remind me of where I was just a couple of years ago. But when I say that the Assads are not statesmen, the point is to exactly underscore the inability of thinking of Bashar as though he could be made to be another Sadat. He doesn’t have it in him to be another Ghaddafi type for crying out loud. He is a moron, a moron, and he people around him are thugs, thugs. You cannot reason with these people, because they don’t want to be reasonable. They want everything. And they think they can actually have it too. They are a lost cause. I would never have advocated regime change with such vehemence, had I not reached such conclusion, after years of working against my better judgment and my every instinct about thee people, hoping they are indeed reformable.I am not seeking revenge, by the way, and I am willing to see a lot of people of regime figures go off the hook and live the rest of their lives without ever being bothered about their past. The problem is the Assads are effectively writing themselves out of such a formula. They have made their choice, and they seem to be “at peace” with it. Therefore, if you give them even a little of what they want now, you will only be reinforcing that narcissistic trend them that will make them behave even worse in the future with regards to all issues involved: the policy towards Lebanon, the policy towards Iraq, the policy towards the opposition… etc. Your arguments might hold true for Khaddam and the NSF. And for whatever regime figures that might sooner or later “cross over.” But they don’t hold true for the Assad Gang. Alea Jacta Est and all that. Hammam, American politicians will pursue the interests of their country, as they perceive them of course, wherever this pursuit might take them. They will support dictators when they deem that necessary, and they will support democracy activists when they deem that necessary. My battle is to make them see that they are better served by supporting democracy activists and their projects, even if this created many headaches for them on the short-term. This is a very tough sell sometimes. In the case of Syria, had t not been for the stupidity of the Assads, no one would have much attention to what I have to say. Hell, had it not been for the stupidity and avarice of the Assads I would be adopting a logic quite similar to Alex’s, which was indeed the case a couple of years ago, as I have noted earlier. Anyway, my point is that Syria is simply too small to butt heads with the US, or the EU or even Israel for that matter. We have to chart a path where our “national” interests are being constantly harmonized with those of the powers that be in this world. If we need to make a stand every now and then, and we should indeed do that every now and then, the cause will have to be more identifiable and manageable and not so intimately tied to the particularistic and criminal interests of the ruling elite who continue to show complete disregard for the interests of the average Syrian, and look at him/her more as a pawn to be used in some foolish game of theirs than a citizen with specific rights and duties.

  6. Don’t worry Ammar… I know the reason you are tolerating my repeated attempts to “defend the Assads” is because you know that my arguments (old arguments) are still shared by many many Syrians … you are frustrated partially because they don’t see it yet. But that’s exactly my point: unless a decent offer is put on the table, Syrians can not conclude that the regime is not interested in what is good for Syria … it is sort of a deadlock. Many Syrians will continue to give the regime the benefit of the doubt as long as “America” is not offering Syria a respectable deal that guarantees its dignity … few weeks before Hafez passed away, he jumped on the opportunity to go to Geneva to meet Clinton who assured him that “the” good deal is finally ready to be offered to Syria. Hafez could have used the excuse that he is basically dying and can not travel. But he did not. He took a lot of medicine and he traveled.And it was not him who damaged that opportunity .. it was Barak trying to do a last minute smart negotiator act (you read Clinton’s book I’m sure).When President Bush the father and James Baker did the right thing with Syria, they got its “blessing” for the first Iraq war.Besides, Ammar … if they were really about their own personal interests, and nothing but, wouldn’t it have been much easier for Hafez and Bashar to take any deal and live all their lives as comfortably as a Jordanian King or a Sadat … visiting Washington and European capitals, enjoying wonderful praise from western newspapers who seem to repeat the same language used at the latest state department press release.I am sure you can blame them for making many mistakes, and for missing opportunities, and for being too risk-averse. But we will disagree for now on the degree to which they base their decisions on factors that optimize their own personal interests exclusively.Only a decent offer to “Syria” can show if the Assads are for real.I can not believe all the dead ends in everything around Syria, yet America does not want to make a deal with the Syrians.IranLebanonHizbollahSyrian-Israeli peaceKurdish issuedealing with fundamentalistsHamasDemocracy in the Middle eastThere is nothing Baathist about it: America has to do the right thing for a change … Flint got it right before he changed his mind.

  7. Indeed you could blame Barak for the failure of the Geneva Summit, but there is a lot of blame to be pout on Hafiz as well for foot-dragging and waiting until the last possible minute. Be that as it may, Hafiz’s ultimate concern was never for the Golan, but for what he already had in his grip and for the whole issue of succession. There were camps already forming even as he lived and his son’s succession was not a shoe-in. A less than perfect deal over the Golan would have been used to offset his plans in this regard. Like all dictators before him, he was not omnipotent. Moreover, he was dying, and a dying dictator, no matter how formidable he used to be in his glory years, incurs betrayal and mutiny, even from those closest to him, in fact, especially from those closest to him. Remember Rifaat? Still, you have a point with regard to making a decent offer to the Syrian people. Let’s see how this Brammertz thing turns out, and we can then do some more brainstorming about the exact nature of the offer.

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