Democracy vs. Engagement!

In the aftermath of 9/11, democracy became a catch-word that was repeatedly enunciated by various American officials and commentators, from the President down, and brandished as some kind of magic weapon that can help make the differenced in the Global War on Terror. In the process though, Democracy was reduced to a single aspect of it, namely elections that, more often than not, produced undesirable results by empowering inherently non-democratic actors thus complicating the Administration’s push for greater political openness and reforms in the region.

This much has already been established, and criticizing the Bush Administration on these points is understandable, legitimate and necessary, especially considering the fact that we have still two more years to go in which much can still transpire, both positive, if new more nuanced approaches are adopted, or negative, if current tactics continue to be deployed unrevised.

But criticisms in this regard, however justified, will remain hollow and unproductive, if no clear and realistic alternate policy approaches are put on the table. To simply introduce a new catch-word on the scene, namely: Engagement, might make for some good sound-bites, and might indeed work within the context of the American electoral processes, and perhaps, Israeli ones, still, this is quite insufficient to help tackle the serious and critical problems involved in GWOT.

Indeed, engagement, with its current reduction to pure pragmatic containment, will likely prove even more naïve and disastrous than the democracy approach of the last 5 years, to the extant that muddling through using the current policies of the Bush Administration might make more sense.

How so?

Well, when engagement becomes all about containment, with no vision pronounced for addressing any of the real underlying issues in GWOT, the potential for empowering the wrong players and for abuse of the entire process of engagement becomes all the more likely, if not inevitable.

In order to understand how this might work, just consider what seems like the basic stand of the pro-engagement crowd, namely: their adamant dismissal of the very possibility that some sides may not be as engageable as we want them and need them to be. This opens the door for abuse of the process of engagement by dragging talks on and on without an end-game in sight. Meanwhile the regimes involved will be empowered to act as wantonly as they can get away with so long as they manage to maintain certain façades that will fool the pro-engagement crowd because they seem eager to be fooled.

For even before the talks are underway, engagement advocates have already conceded, in their various pronouncements, articles, op-eds and blog-posts, many of the basic demands of the regimes they want to engage without getting anything back in return, not even promises.

Take the Assads regime in Syria as an example of how the pro-engagement crowd proposes to do things. Indeed, in this case, the list of concessions seems to include: a readiness to bury the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination, and a willingness to see the entire country of Lebanon returned to the Assads’ control, in anticipation of the Assads’ help in disarming Hezbollah, controlling radical Palestinian groups and stemming the flow of Jihadi elements and funds to Iraq.

But the most important concession of all is the complete abandonment of any push for reform and democratization in Syria. The position of the Assads as the rulers of Syria will be legitimated, and all serious talk of reform will be consigned to that old “dustbin of history” that the allegedly socialist Assads are so fond of. Opposition members, human rights and democracy advocates, the critical position that most of them adopted vis-à-vis the Bush policies in the region and vis-à-vis their own country notwithstanding, will be decimated so thoroughly that the cause of modernization, democratization and secularization of the country will be set back for decades.

The impact of such a turnaround on whatever remaining support that the US still enjoys in certain reformist quarters around the region will be equally devastating of coursem, as other regimes follow the Assads’ lead. The US will have no real friends left in the region, and only charlatans and blackmailers to deal with. For, this is indeed what the Assads are, in the final analysis, and this is what their policies have been all about for decades now. Even the pro-engagement crowd concedes that, as many of them continue to deploy Godfather analogies to the entire situation. Engagement advocates simply hope that engagement will encourage the Assads to change their spots, eventually, though they fail to tell us how the Assads can actually manage such an unlikely feat, and who will eventually emerge as the Michael Corleone, of the family (and let’s bear in mind here that the Michael Corleone’s project for legitimizing the family business failed, as he was continuously sucked back in) .

Meanwhile, those who call for engaging Syria but not necessarily Iran, try to justify their Syrian-engagement policy by claiming that it is necessary in order to wean the Assads off of their newly-recovered Iranian dependency and take a step towards isolating Iran and weakening its influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon. The possibility that the Assads might just be too weak at this stage to turn against Iran, that such a course might indeed be suicidal for them as it might lead them into an internal showdown and/or a conflict with Hezbollah (not to mention the radical Palestinian groups, including the radical wing in Hamas led by Khalid Meshaal, who now get the bulk of their financial support from Iran) for which they are no more ready than the Israelis have been, is simply not factored into the calculations of the pro-engagement crowd.

Little intelligence indeed seems to be factored into the calculations here and much faith. So how different is the pro-engagement crowd from their neo-con foes?

While the Democracy Faith seems to have been based on the assumption that authoritarianism and corruption in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region seem to play a role in encouraging international terrorism, the Engagement Faith is premised on the assumption that authoritarian regimes are much more capable of cracking down on terrorists than democracies can. The facts that authoritarian regimes, due to their endemic and gargantuan corruption and their mismanagement of the economy are actually driving their populations further and further into the folds of Islamist extremism, and that this state of affairs leaves the regimes involved only one realistic option to deal with this problem on the short run, namely: to export it to other neighboring countries and the world by allowing the radical elements to take their violence elsewhere, are, once again, not factored into the equation.

But so long as policymakers continue to base their calculations on faith, wishful thinking and unjustifiable expectations rather than intimate knowledge of the new complexity of the region and reliable intelligence, and so long as policymakers in the United States in particular continue to lay a nihilistic partisan game, despite the serious nature of threats involved with regard to the US interests on both the short and long runs (not to mention the interests of the peoples of the region), and so long as US policymakers fail to coordinate their plans and policies with their European and regional allies, at least through NATO, if not the UN (and NATO seems more preferable here), and so long as there is no acceptance, on part of one and all involved, of the reality that the challenge of terrorism requires longer term commitment and planning, then the region will simply move from one disaster to another and the impact of that will be felt all over the world through increased acts of terrorism and mayhem.

102 thoughts on “Democracy vs. Engagement!

  1. R and EhsaniIt seems this is a point that most of you care about, and of course many in the U.S. administration also care about … the need to punish (take revenge from?) the Syrian regime.I have to ask you: why do you need to punish them? … if they performed well in the future (next 7 years) … rising up to the challenge, and relizing that their people for the first time are behind the international plans for Syria, then why would you still be not happy? … even if Bashar in 7 years went from CNN to the BBC telling all that he was right all a long … why should that be avoided?YES, I am aware that what I am proposing implies that either1) The regime fails to respect its part of the deal thus preventing Syria from getting the rest of the Golan and the economic aid package, and the Syrian people realize that the regime should be removed.2) The regime succeeds and they are admired by everyone s being the smartest Arab leaders… in the first real elections, Bashar is elected to the post of president again, and a Sunni Damascene is a new strong prime minister.Ehsani, thank you for your kind words. Here is the answer to your question:1) The package could be presented to the syrian people, to Syria, not as a reward to Bashar… President Bush can talk directly to the Syrian people on Al-Arabiyah telling them that here is what you can get if your regime accpts it and if they can meet the rigid expectations. The United States will work with you to help you reach your potential in a safe way, not the Iraqi way (without using those exact words of course)Believe me, it is not very difficult to orchestrate these things. The Americnas can still look like they know what they are doing and that they are taking the lead in a creative good new direction.2) You asked: what’s in it for the US? … since Iraq’s cost so far is $300 billions, and Israel’s cost so far (since 1973) was estimated at 1.6 trillions … and since the US will not pay a penny to Syria, all the money will come from the Arabs, as investments in Syria (they would love to, ther are great growth opportunities in Syria as you know) then can you tell me why the US should NOT go for this option?Basically I am trying to tell you: logically speaking ther is a way, but if some of you really need to take revenge, and you need to prove to the world that Bashar was a loser all along and you were right about him, then let’s go to war to please you and make you feel better about yourself.WHO CARES IF BASHAR LOOKS GOOD OR BAD IF HE EVENTUALLY DELIVERS??

  2. IF he delivers….This is the whole point. I, for one, have nothing against Bashar as a person. I do have a problem with his track record and the direction of the country under his leadership. This is not about punishing a person. This is about finding a person who is QUALIFIED to lead thsi nation. I Just don’t think that he is QUALIFIED TO DELIVER.

  3. Alex:So how long will the Mullahs be “teaching” the US a lesson? The last time I checked, the Persians still would like to seek revenge for Alexander the Great. The great sin of American was the overthrow of Mossedeq. Realistically, how supportive were the Mullahs of Mossedeq? I believe this is just another issue the Mullahs use to “rally” the Iranians. And again, why should the U.S. trust them in any agreement? And you really haven’t addressed the aspirations of the Mullahs. I’m not an expert on Middle East culture, but it appears to me that the Mullahs are seeking to be the next “torch bearer” for unity in the Middle East, in the same manner that Nasser and Saddam tried. Being confrontational with the US does the Mullahs good.As for your incentive package, you have got to be kidding. I guess the Assad women will be joining Mrs. Arafat in Paris. I guess the best way to forment regime change is to line the pockets of all the scoundrals of the Middle East. How is that different from “backing” or “supporting” a particular regime? Isn’t that what the U.S. did with the Shah? Lots of aid with low expectations of reform?Why is it that everything in the Middle East needs money to change? Money for the Syrians to reach some kind of peace agreement. Money so the Syrian people will hold the Assads to keep their international promises. Isn’t that the same idea behind sanctions, the loss of money and aid will spurn the people to overthrow their government? I thought Castro and Saddam effectively put that old idea to rest. Furthermore, if we are going to have to pay extortion in order for Syria participate in some sort of peace with Israel, then they should get the same deal that the Egyptians got.It seems to me that a summary of your “deal” is for the U.S., Israel and the rich Arab States to give the Syrian regime everying that it wants and more, in the hopes that somewhere down the line (25 years?) that there might be regime change. Don’t interfere with its foreign policy and keep your expectations of any kind of political and economic freedom low. And what exactly do the U.S., Israel and the rich Arab States get in return?

  4. EhsaniWhen the US, the Kurds, the saudis, the Lebanese, the Europeans are helping you instead of trying their best to create problems for you, you might manage to perform better? … does that sound reasonable?Do you know Bashar personally? … do we have to go back to your guess and Ammar’s guess, and Saad hariri’s paid newspapers’ P.R. that Bashar is much less talented than the other brilliant leaders who are doing ok in their pro-US countries? … When Sadat died in 1981 I was in Egypt … Hosni “Gamousa” moubarak was considered by most Egyptians as a dull idiot. The US is very happy with him, no?King of Jordan? Saad hariri? Iraqi prime minister? who is so much better than Bashar?I think I need to remind you that the story is not dinished in the Middle East … you can force on us your version of who is smart and who is a loser … I really hope that you are not trying to imply that Bashar’s enemy (you know who) is the winner? he is running a very large country, isnt’ he?Kevin, i think my boring long comments made you skip many parts … I answered all your latest questions. No one is asking the US to pay a penny, the Arabs paid over 500 Billions for the Iraq Iran war, they paid few hundreed billions for the Iraq Kuwaut war, and they are paying hundreds similar amounts for today’s hostilities, please realize that 30 billions is nothing these days … Syria has no foreign debt like Jordan and Egypt .. when those countries signed peace with Israel the US and Europe erased their foreign debt .. Egypt’s cost for the US so far (since Camp David) has been over 100 billions for example. And again, the money is not given to Syria not ot the regime, Ehsani is right in that the corrupt regime would take half of it. THe money would be controlled by the donners (UN, EU, Arab investors) and it would come in stages .. linked to political and economic reformsIf the regime fails to respect those reforms (within 7 years, not 25) The Syrian people will then stop supporting it.One more round: What is wrong with that?As for the Mullahs … again, you can isolate them when theUS for a change is adopting reasonable policies that the Arab people recognize as constructive and helpful and not stupid.

  5. Alex: Let’s see who the American people would elect next.What if it doesn’t change? What if, in your eyes, it is worse? When will the conditions in the Middle East ever be right for regime change? Why does it take a benevolent U.S. to change the regime in Syria? As much as I find the Mullahs in Iran as offensive, one has to give them credit: They were able to effect regime change on their own terms and when it suited them.You claim that logically, that the U.S. would save trillions of dollars by giving $30 billion to Syria and you may be right. But how sure are you that the Syrian regime would act logically? Would Syrian foreign policy independence include their continued military support Hizballah? Would it include their support of foreign terrorists in Iraq? What exactly should one expect from the Syrian Regime if it received this incentive package?

  6. Alex:Sorry, I didn’t read your complete comment before I responded. I hate to rain on your parade, but what makes you think that the EU and UN aren’t corrupt. The whole Iraq Oil for Food Program, failed because of corruption on the part of the UN and European interests. I know that Assad doesn’t have close ties to Europe like Saddam had.Also, I’m not trying to be argumentative, but what makes you so sure that the Syrians would rise up if the “promised reforms” weren’t met in 7 years? And what would be the proper response if Assad crushed any opposition that arose at year seven? Wouldn’t withholding future moneys be the same as sanctions?

  7. I give up. It all boils down to whether or not you have faith in the regime’s inherent ability to change given the right incentives. I believe not, based on its current and past behaviour. You believe yes, based on an expectation of reasonable behaviour, that eventually will lead to a dictator losing power. I just don’t see it happening, while you do.

  8. Zenobia where are you, I need a break!:)Kevin,If the challenge is to not have half the 30 billions stolesn (by the regime, or the UN ..etc) … therr are ways. We can have the whole process transparent and under multiple auditing organizations. Really we are not at that level od details, but I can’t see why such a thing would be beyond a solution.My point was:We are not sure the Syrian people would rise against the regime in 7 years because nothing in life is sure. However, if the Syrian people could ever be convinced that their regime is not working in Syria’s best interst, then there is a much higher chance they would rise. And the regime would not crush a million demonstrators. They did not do that to the million Lebanese who wanted Syrian troops out of lebanon.It is time we stop ignoring the people themselves. At this point, the regime is popular and hte promised “democracy” is considered by the Syrian people as “to be avoided at any cost” .. given the Iraqi example.So in comparison to the US chaos and to the US pathetic offer to the Syrian people “we’ll give you democracy and you’ll become our client state” the Syrian regime is seen as being reasonable and wise.All we have for now is Khaddam and Ammar telling us: “trust me, even if you give the Syrian regime the Golan, even if you give them all that Syria needs as a country, they will still mess up everything … and therefore let’s have a war now”Kevin, you are not Syrian, but I am, and I can not accept this madness. Rely on the “personal opinion” of those who hate the regime to accept destructive war. I don’t care if the regime comes up with its own creative solution, or if it is helped by outsiders … whatevers works is fine. This is how it worked with Egypt and Jordan … why do we now want Syria’s regime to be treated more negatively?Simply because it went against US wishes … why are we wasting time pretending it is about their performance and corruption?

  9. If indeed we have to dream, I much rather advocate this one. When Syrian expatriates put a good package of incentives and make them conditional on real political and economic reforms, there will be no stigma of foreign dictates and the whole thing will be as legitimate as anything we can think of at this stage. Moreover, such a move will come as a direct response to oft-repeated calls issued by self-styled regime reformers, it will, therefore, serve to put pressures on the regime to live up to its own promises. I think this is a more logical course, because the Bush Administration will not be forthcoming on any package deal to the Assads, ever. So, if you want to put this brilliant idealistic mind of your to work on something substantive, Alex, I will be willing to help, for all my cynical tendencies, the benefits of hindsight, and the dictates of my sixth sense.

  10. Alex:I’m not advocating the war alternative. I’m just trying to understand your perspective. My questions to you aren’t an attack upon your ideas (or you personally) and I appologize if they came across that way. I work in the legal profession and questions are a way to help us understand an issue. It is just that I want to take this opportunity to understand where you are coming from and have my questions answered.Originally, this thread began with Ammar’s column on Engagement (“appeasment”) vs. democracy and discussing engagement for the whole region. Now we seem to be talking about just Syria. Avoiding war at any costs is pipedream – history has shown it will inevitably lead to war. But, engagement/talks with Syria that would resolve some of the issues with Israel, protect Syrian autonomy/pride and encourage reforms within Syria is worth a try. Having its economy participate more in the region and beyond could help to lessen the significance and advantage Syria currently sees with its close ties with Iran. And I do see that your incentive package could possibly encourage Syrian domestic pressures for reform. And the U.S. coughing up the money, would do much to facilitate good will in the region, but of course we wouldn’t want to isolate the Arab States. So maybe the U.S. could chop in a significant amount along with the Arab States and Israel. And with proper over-sight it just might work. What was it that Reagan said? “Trust but verify.” Alex, you may have hit on something.

  11. Alex ,I realy feel for you but i think we are in hostile teritory ,they do not want Syria and the Syrian people better they want to destroy Syria but sooner or later they are going to understand that to calm Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian teritories they need Syria as it is the only who has cridibelity in these areas,so be patient Syria is moving toward economic reform and most Arabs love Syria and Bashar more than their leaders and goverment ,Arabs will not forgive the traiters to Arab nationalism.actualy they love Syria because of it,s stand against the US Gov stupid plan for the midleast.

  12. As a fellow Aleppian, I feel that Alex has been the lone man standing up against a barrage of commentators from the other end. I think he is doing a fine job to be sure. However,When I comment about Bashar’s qualifications, I do not compare him to Mubarak or the King Of Jordan. I compare him against his track record. You seem to suggest that America and the Arab leaders have been against him. This of course did not start this way. This man had a golden opportunity when he took over. EVERYONE supported him when he took over. In six years, however, he was able to waste it all. I can list for you incident after incident where he erred when it came to crunch decision-making time. You seem to also suggest that Bashar’s troubles are primarily due to his stand against America’s wishes. The fact of the matter is that America always had and always will have its interests in the region. You job as a President is to navigate your ship around American interests and cleverly anchor your ship in the process. Instead, this man simply blames America for all his mistakes and somehow makes us believe that if it were not for his stand against them, Syria would be the next Japan.During my first comment on such forums one year ago, I had talked about a CD that Arab leaders have played over and over to justify their existence. In the case of Syria, I had said at the time:“America supports Israel. Israel mistreats the Palestinians. Syria is targeted”.Bashar now has now made my original CD tune shorter:“America is targeting Syria”With this CD playing now, we are expected to simply ignore all shortcomings of our leaders and blame the Satan instead. Blaming the U.S. for everything has become our leader’s ONLY game in town. Sir,Dealing with America is part of your job description. Please stop the blame game. Reform your country. Improve the standards of living of your people. Dealing with America and returning the Golan need not be mutually exclusive events with progress and prosperity.

  13. I don’t just hate Arab nationalism Norman, I hate all nationalisms, and isms, including LiberalISM. Ideologies are too confining for me. As far as wanting to destroy Syria, you are entitled to draw your own conclusions, no matter how erroneous. I don’t give a damn anymore. A killer always has a chance to earn respect and audience in this world, a dissident critic, on the other hand, is a different matter all together. It’s as Yaman Salahi reminded me recently, using lines from my novel “Menstruation”:You could be the greatest killer of all time, the hungriest of all known assassins, the most infamous shedder of blood, human blood, in all of our glorious history, still, you will never be able to stir up, to tap into, as much feeling of hatred in people’s souls as can a simple, but earnest, jotter of words. We, the thinkers of the world, are forever an accursed and undesired breed.

  14. The idea of a fund for Syria sounds great Ammar. I was thinking about something similar few months ago, and our friend Ehsani convinced me to forget it (remember?)I will call you and we’ll take it from there. Ehsani, the president surely made some mistakes at the begining, but I believe him when he explains that part of the reason for the deteriorating relations with Chirac and Blair is that they started to tell him what he should do as if he was a child. At some point Chirac felt that his innitial help to Bashar gave him the right to expect compliance with his wishes.Remember that Bashar continues to have good relatios with Russia, China, Iran and Turkey.Kevin,Sorry if I got a bit frustrated at the end. Thank you for all your questions … I always communicate with intelligent people who see things from other angles. It is the fastest way to learn.Norman, I don’t think Ammar wants bad things to happen to Syria. I just feel he is, like Ehsani, over exposed to the other side of the argument. But he is a good man, trust me.So on behalf of my other team mebers (Norman, Zenobia and the few Israeli writers and cabinet ministers who want to talk to the Assads) I thank the members of the other team: Ammar, Ehsani, Kevin, Philip and R.This is the longest comments section I have seen in a long time.I probably typed over 10 pages, and made over 100 typos.

  15. Ammar ,Arab nationalism is the only thing that unite people who live in the Arab American nationalism unite American from all over the world who live in the United states .

  16. Alex, we the people who are against the regime or oppose the regime or who disagree with the regime cannot influence his stands and we should not care about his stands. We frankly fit up with everything. So, Ammar or others cannot actually back off letting the regime stand-alone since the regime along the years has prosecuted and imprisoned people and did not cooperate with other parties and civil people. Your solution for half way is very good for the regime which we hope to see him going that way because he still can do good while he is there. I think the regime now is absolute and run out of his time. No one can give live except himself can extend his life by starting the change and correcting his stands on civil liberty. I think the change is coming if he agrees or not. He either can be a hurdle or can flow with the draft and save himself from ugly death. Ehsani, you are completely right, this regime is not even giving a hint that he can go on the road of reform because in his prison reside people of conscious who never carried arms and only voiced opposition to his ideas. He cannot change the structure of he government (the family type) because he loses control.Ammar, do not buy Alex talk, what he is saying is what is happening so far till now. Working with the regime or changing the regime from inside or influencing him from the outside is an old theory and did not and would not work. Is forty years is enough or not for testing this theory?. I had friends inside the Baath party and inside the parliament and ministers and I know what type of opportunist they are. Every single one was opportunist and sold his soul. No one is happy even after selling his soul, they are losers. The time now is changed and they do not own us anymore and there are many vehicles to make our voice heard. Keep that one channel of TV for them and let see how they can survive. Yes, if there is election the Assad will win in their way and their system, but there is new wind and keep the good work and you will see that time is not on their side. There is one way you can work with them when they stop arresting the freedom advocate, when they big for cooperation and implement the tools for that. The new generation is not going to be on their side. Every time Ammar, you write about them, expose them and insult them you doing great favor to your country and to your conscious.

  17. Norman, neither the Kurds, nor the Turkmen, nor the Assyrians, nor the Amazigh, nor the Fur, nor the Massalit, nor the Zaghawa, to name but a few, will agree with you.

  18. Don’t worry Anonymous, I will continue to expose and ridicule the Assads. It’s one of those pleasures in life.

  19. This is one of the best and most civil discussions that I have had the pleasure of participating in since I started blogging. Alex, I admire your calmness and stamina as well as the sincerity with which you hold and express your views. Fund for Syria? I’m all for it. But you will find that it will not be necessary if the regime shows good intentions towards, and does not run scared of, the middle classes (the professionals, the writers, the academics and industrialists). It is quite simple really. Money will flow in and stay in if you do not censure, you do not harrass and you do not imprison those who disagree with you and those who are trying to build the country socially, economically and morally. Instead, you engage with them fully at home and abroad in order to tap into their immense pool of intellectual, financial, technological, cultural and political resources and implement policies that have been developed with and critiqued by them.Buthaina Shaaban, instead of engaging with, and acknowledging and responding to the concerns of expatriate Syrians, defends and advertises a product that is unfortunately rotten to the core. That may not be Bashar’s fault; it all started before he was born and, intellectually, he has become as much a victim of dictatorship and insecurity as the rest of his cronies. But it is high time that he and others in the regime grew up and faced up to the challenges of a well-informed and fast-changing world in which only productive and competitive nations survive and remain independent, and recognised the immense social pressures that are building up underneath them.Thriving on conflict is self serving and an apalling way of leading a nation of 20 million.

  20. Thanks Philip. I actually did “raise my voice” at some point, but I’m happy you did not notice it :)I will explain the idea I had, it is not exactly “a fund for Syria”. But first I’ll try to comment on the other point you made which is heard from you, and many others here, before more than once.What we have now is1) The Syrians saying that they are really trying hard to implement all those good things that Philip is suggesting (reform the economy, ease controls on freedom of speech, etc) but they are constantly being kept busy with obstacles and threats and potential threats that their opponents are making for Syria.They claim that they are honest in their struggle to regain the Golan heights and struggle to give Syria the place it deserves in “the new Middle East”. They claim that their top priority is to maintain the peaceful co-existance between Syria’s different religions and ethnic backgrounds.2) Israli right-wing leaders who refuse to start peace negotiations with Syria because they say they can not trust Assad until he drops all his cards … get rid of Hamas, disarm Hizbollah. Some even say they won’t trust him until he is more democratic in Syria.They also keep making life hell for the Palstinians living in the occupied territories because Israel feels it is fighting potential future terrorists and punishing the existing ones so that they don’t think of repeating any terror attack on Israel…etc.3) President Bush and this American administration insisting that the chaos they are creating in the Middle East is for a well-planned reason: they are at the beggining of a long-term fight with international terrorist, and Islamic terrorism ..etc.THey claim that they are really interested in Democracy everywhere in the Middle East, but they decided to start “fighting the dictators” in Iraq and Syria, which by complete chance happen to be the only two regimes not friendly to the US, even though these two are the toughest cases with their non homogeneous population of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Christians, Yazidis, Ismaelis, Kurds … In the mean time they do business with Mubarak, King of Jordan, Saudi Arabia …OK. Many of you do not believe the Syrian regime’s calims, for all the reasons you all mentioned repeatedlyMost Arabs and Muslims do not believe Israel’s claims and think instead that Israel is only making excuses so that it continues to occupy Arab lands etc.Most people around the world do not like, trust, or believe anything this American administration says. They believe the Americans are either totally mistaken (those who think president Bush is not very smart and is being used by others with special interest) or that the Americans are on some scary empire building crusade. Some Arabs and Muslims believe the Americans are there to control our Oil and to fight Islam …etc.So what do we do? Do we boycott the Syrian regime, Israeli Hawkish governments, and Americna expansionist Islam-fighting administrations?Do we wait untl Israel elects another Rabin? do we wait until the United States elects another Jimmy Carter? Do we wait until the Syrian regime one day gets weak and fall?I believe that the three leaderships are all genuinely convinced that their positions are in the best interest of their countries, despite knowing that there is a lot of political hype and personal special interest involved as well.So we need to take their concerns seriously. Not to boycott them. If we start with the boycotting and isolating business, we only have the option of confrontations.Going back to the case of the Syrian regime: I believe the Americans need to sit with them ans ask: what can we do to help Syria feel more secure so that we can move forward on everything.The Syrians have legitimate concerns … for example stopping Israeli Intelligence and American political backing to Kurdish activism in Syria. That would be a pre-requisite to any kind of political reforms in Syria. The regime has legitimate concerns regarding the way the Kurds would take advantage of such freedoms … The Americans are encouraging them to think about their dream “Kurdistan” and using them to put pressure on the Syrian regime.

  21. Norman:Re: NationalismYou must be careful when comparing American nationalism to nationalism in most countries/regions around the world. Almost universally, nationalism is based on race or atleast exclusion. American nationalism has always meant inclusion. Albeit, those that were included early on were limited in its early history. Look at the problems that Europe has recently exprerienced with immigrants and assimilation. The riots last year in France brought into the fore the question: What does it mean to be French? The only answer I think most can come up with is that that it means not being non-French. And I believe that would be the answer for almost all nationalism, except in America. Nationalism in America is based on the belief that with hard work one can achieve anything. As Azar Nafisi wrote in Reading Lolita in Tehran, the main difference between America and the Middle East is nostalgia. The Middle East is rich in hisotry and culture and the people are nostalgic for their distant past. America is a young country with relatively very little history, so its people are nostalgic for its dreams. American nationalism is based upon those dreams.Alex:Check out today’s WSJ. Looks like Rice is headed back to the Middle East. Do you think your money for peace and reform proposal could work in Iran? The more I thought about your proposal, the more sense it made. Change in any country is only going to take root when the people are the driving factor. This may be a way to encourage it.

  22. Dear Mr. Ammar,I am very reluctant to write this, I have been keeping it for a while thinking it might sound interfering with private ways of yours, but your last comment probably triggered it again, so I am going to take my chances and rely on your understanding and acceptance of a soft critique and some suggestions from an unknown real friend and admirer. I thought of making it a private correspondence, but I see that this particular thread of comments is extremely interesting and challenging, and Syrians here might have interest and certainly useful feedback. I sincerely hope that you maintain your “pleasure of exposing and ridiculing the Assads” as a personal hobby you enjoy with friends privately, as one of the very beautiful nature of Syrians in finding the joke and the funny side in every aspect and always being sharp tongued. But not here, not in your writings. Yes, I know that this is your personal diary and a window to a heretic’s thoughts who would not accept at any rate un-heretic-ing his language.But a heretic by definition is someone that nobody listens to. However, you somehow, like it or not, have reached, or almost on the verge of reaching, the limits of the “Heretic Avenue”, to the “Heretic Who People Seriously Listen-To Avenue”, a very interesting re-definition of the role. As far as I modestly know, you mark the beginning of the intellectual emergence of the generation of “US”, “Jeel El-Thawra” as we are called by our Baathi ancestors; the generation borne mostly in the sixties and the seventies in the last century and were the lab-rats of the ideological manipulations by both Baathi and Religious powers that ended up with a complete failure.The generation who until now have absolutely no vision nor a special way of thinking nor distinguished plans of our own. We either are completely sidelined by our father’s generation and shadowed by their ideologies, or when actually have roles, merely reverberate what ideas and methods the two generations previous to us had created.This avenue is much more serious and brings responsibility. From now on, we will have not only the Heretic, but those who do as the Heretic does, and write as the Heretic writes, and take sides regarding things because the Heretic did so.Keeping pressure on the regime is any dissident Syrian’s absolute right and choice, and I would add, duty to better Syria. The means are arguable though.In normal circumstances, no one has the right to question anyone’s methodology of doing such pressure or the way one chooses to manifest the action-aspect of such pressure, be it through political activity or journalism or blogging, or the verbal-aspect of such pressure, be it through soft critique or harsh scolding or even blasphemy.Unfortunately, we are as far as one could be from normal circumstances; we are faced with the sensitivities of the Syrian situation in the past fifty years, and the responsibilities on our shoulders to change the course of these circumstances during our lifetime and only during our lifetime, or it will be too late. This responsibility imposes on us certain conditions and requirements of rules-abiding that might not be acceptable normally by advocates of free spirit and free writing, and certainly not by a Heretic. Your ideas of getting people involved, the Tharwa Project, and the proposition of Fund For Syria is certainly echo your awareness and belief that we do not have the luxury anymore of “choosing the method of activism suitable to each one of us”, rather we require people to re-direct this activism towards a more unified approach.So in the Action-aspect, you are certainly a pioneer and are giving incentives to the right directions. But I would like to criticize the Verbal-aspect of the pressure on the regime.The issue at stake is not simply exposing the Syrian regime. You need not underestimate the power of the Western media. Unless your daily news source is Tishreen Newspaper and Al-Manar TV, you know that by now, every interested person from Australia to Brazil, from China to Sweden, from Antarctica to Alaska believes that the Syrian regime is merely a group of thugs. Interestingly for you to know, that from my personal experience there, many Iranians as well believe that our regime, aside from being right on the external policy matters, is very corrupt. I live in a country in the far east where ninety per cent of the population cannot, literally with no exaggeration, CANNOT point-out where is the Middle East on the map, yet so many now have heard about the “Syrian Dictator”!! And since Shishiria, that is Sicily, is pronounced in here’s language very similarly to our country’s name Shiria, some normal individuals are actually still confused how an EU country like Italy would allow a part of it, Sicily, to have its own dictator!!! As much as this is funny, it reflects the power of media on imposing ideas on people, especially that not very interested ones. In Syria, the situation is not much different. Syria is small and “Everyone Knows Everything” about the corruption and the mistakes. I assure you that if bitching is the issue here, then any normal uneducated Syrian can win in an hour speech over all what you and the other commentators had written at this site in a year. Admittedly, there are few outside Syria who think the government and Mr. President is very popular within Syria, and I mean popular as in: wining election popular, (Mr. Alex and Mrs. Zanoubia statements).They certainly confused, during the last Lebanon crisis, the emotional (not the rational) side of Arabic-Nationalism and humanitarian-benevolence of Syrians with their religious complex. That is, the all too-famous and too-old short-lived flag-affiliation versus long-lived tribal-affiliation that Syria has been struggling with since the days of the first National Assembly in the thirties of the last century. But it is not their fault, few Syrians know about the history of Syria in the last century as this history was always put in the dark for advancing other ideological agendas.It is true that most Syrian people are sincerely trying these days to work on some sort of acceptance of their national identity as Syrian citizens, build bridges between each others and leave the past behind. But nonetheless, as you clearly stated above, at least minorities so believe that Syria would NOT vote for another Alawie or other minority president in the next forty years even if Prophet Muhammad himself appears to his side in his election campaign, no thanks to any exposure or ridicule or any plan an opposition group would outline for Syria.Dear Mr. Ammar,I agree wholeheartedly and absolutely that the regime is not self-repairable. I also cannot see how Mr. Alex propositions, as good as they are theoretically, would be even considered or listened to by the major forces while coming out from a group of thirty something forty something years old Syrians like us, unless Mr. Alex, who I have absolutely no knowledge of his person, is a Syrian origin extremely influential politician in America. Are you Mr. Alex? However, your absolutism in supposing that Mr. President would not relinquish his rule does somehow need a more heart-to-heart debate because it leads into missing the real problem. I have said once in Zandaqa that the real problem is the new beneficiary elite that is growing like a mushroom, not necessary the regime itself. Because the regime, the family, always have alternatives, and believe me there are some that started thinking of alternatives way before this president was made president. You quite realize who is for example behind the “brilliant” idea of evolving the ruling family into an elitist entrepreneurs that one day either will be forcefully accepted by people out of need of their services and investments or more probably, will be able to continue-on in another place. You also probably know quite well that by now the most powerful attorne
    ys in the world cannot make a case against Mr. Rifaat and his sons investments. It would need a political intervention that would endanger the juridical credibility of some very respectful Western states, and no government of France or Spain would take that risk even for the sake of the cries of twenty million Syrians. So alternatives are out there. The one who will put the fight are the ones that are benefiting now but have NOT other alternatives. We might well ask ourselves honestly why not anyone from the “Syrian Citizens Representatives” besides Mr. Reyad Seif did voice a NO to the constitution-meddling in the year 2000? You are going to say fear? That would have been a good excuse if NO ONE at all rejected, but having ONE person that actually did not fear for his life and stood up there and said NO should have given a bit of incentives, don’t you think so? At least for some of the 40% non-Baathi non-affiliated representatives, no? His colleagues who stayed silent and even silenced him were not Assads, they were not brought from the outer-space, they did not undergo brain surgery; they did not even belong to our generation to use the excuse of not knowing better! Bringing about change in a country where forty thousand person, as in all major figures on the Syrian political and social arena, could sell their sole and mind for a Mercedes, is not a simple task, is it?Therefore, the real issue is not exposing the exposed, and I believe is not trying to convince the biggest forces on earth with a plan made up by amateur politicians like us (again unless Mr. Alex is an influential politician in America in which case I apologize Mr. Alex).The real issue at stake here is winning the hearts and minds of young Syrians who are not Mercedes-slaves yet, mostly born in the eighties and nineties of the last century. For those are the backbone and supporters of any good change on one hand, and they are the fuel and means of any mayhem and chaos on the other hand. Not me or you nor a sixty years old person would take to arm; in Newsweek-Asia magazine last week issue, it is estimated that 85% of all Taliban fighters nowadays in Afghanistan are under 23 !! On the verbal front, to win their hearts by the same methodology that Ideologists use is as unfruitful as it could be. We are no match to the “ISM” people my friend Mr. Ammar and you know this as a fact.We will achieve nothing by doing the Rs that everyone else do; Reverberating old ideas with new outfits, Re-exposing the regime (as it has been exposed to exposure satisfaction), Ridicule its figures and offense anything that has to do with them.We have to have a new Approach, a new language; A Trade Mark. I shall talk about that lengthily in Virtual Syria in the future. But one of the most distinguished trade marks we could create is complete abandoning of offensive words. No swearing no ridicule and no Syrian is called by anything behind their name but Sayyed or Sayyeda (Mr. or Mrs.), including and not limited to the ones that we all know have committed atrocities in the past, and certainly including the President of Syria regardless of who he is and how he performs. I understand very well that this new approach of strictly limiting the blame on certain family controlling Syria is a clever outlet to divert any sub-feelings of sectarian anger towards individuals rather than towards a whole religious or ethnic group. But I can see on many other sites that it is getting out of control and is back lashing as many find it offensive and it is turning the table by diverting the issue from criticizing the policies of certain individuals to merely attacking their persons. We do not have the luxury and security that allow the Americans for example to call Mr. Bush all sort of names. And most important of all reasons is that whatever WE, the emerging generation, do on the front of insulting and exposing, it would not match the work that the Syrian State’s media and mouthpieces and the Syrian opposition organizations and individuals are doing. As you read every day, it is becoming a war of “Inta Khaen A’ameel” versus “Hada Hayawan Sarek”, as an example just to spare you the list of the LABELS the past generation has brilliantly invented into the Arabic language. As I said above, we are no match to the “ISM” people, especially when defiling is involved; they are experts in that as they have been doing it for all their life.If we are different we shall be different in the methodology as well.It is not for the sake of the methodology it self, It is not about name calling itself, it is more about trying to establish a Trade Mark of respecting all Syrian individuals, a Trade Mark of eliminating name calling and disrespecting each others and accusing each others and playing Gods on each others, rather, just call things by their names and do not let the people who faulted feel as they have been completely outcaste by the others.So if we do not want a whole new generation to turn to Mercedes-slaves and swearers, our struggle is not of who best expose the regime here. We have to perform differently, starting from a clear definition of our rules and clear trade marks of our own, in thinking and specking that would draw young Syrians to adopt. Be vigilant; ADOPT not ENROLL in a certain organized institution.The Greens movement did not start as a political party, yet it grew in a speed unrivaled in history except maybe by the Hippie movement. The Greens’ Purpose Adaptation mechanism is not something to underestimate Mr. Ammar. After all, we do not have the regimes and other opposition forces money, we do not have their means, even with Fund For Syria and Tharwa and Mr. Alex’s projects and plans, we would be dreaming if we think we would achieve anything by following the conventional way of the others. Let our WAY start with; every Syrian is a Sayed, every Syrian is a Mister. We will talk more about all of this later, but let me know what do you think.And please do translate your call for Fund For Syria into Arabic. You are doing well translating things from this site to the Arabic one. Especially you need to work on the pieces that outline your main ideas and propositions.To lighting up the talk a bit and as a joke, I am beginning to think that most Syrian dissidents share Mr. Fareed Ghaderi’s views on the language issue; his first proposition to a Syrian Constitution more than three years ago, the first ever attempt of such effort among all opposition groups by the way, had in its first Item that English and Arabic are the official languages of Syria, and item 1.a it said that the government should make all efforts to revive the English language as it ALWAYS HAD BEEN the second language of Syrians! I regret not copying that piece of art because it is funny as hell. But they removed it after a week, I reckon one of his followers made a trip to Esh El Warwar or El Hajar Elaswad and examined first hand the English ability of common Syrians.But seriously, we speak Syrian in Syria (according to many educated Far-Easterners and even Westerners here who refer to Syria’s language), I mean Arabic in Syria, and Kurdish and Assyrian if you wish, but this ONLY English thing is not going to take us far. Sincerely,

  23. Alex:Good summary of the players. I’m curious, do Arabs in general really see Jimmy Carter in such good terms?The Europeans and the Arabs are seriously mistaken on the empire building and oil stealing scenarios. The main motivation for the Iraq War was two-fold: a. The idiot result of the First Gulf War – leaving Saddam in power; and b. Saddam’s attempted assasination of Bush I. Bush II made it quite clear during the 2000 election that he was going to change the regime in Iraq. After 9/11, he found his opening.Who I really don’t understand is Rice. She supposedly studied US-Soviet relations at Stanford. Why is she not applying this to players in the Middle East? The Soviets supported many guerilla groups throughout the world but the U.S. never isolated the Soviets. Wouldn’t it be better to do the same to less powerful regimes?

  24. A Syrian in the Far East:I just wanted to say that I am glad that Ammar’s blog is in english. Sites such as this and Syrian Think Tank give those of us on this side of the world a more complete picture of what is occurring in the Middle East. CNN may give a quick and accurate soundbite about Syria, but there is no in depth analysis. And there is virtually none presented in the press by Syrians.Without sounding trite, the world is much smaller today due to the internet. Being able to discuss issues with people like Ammar, Alex, Zenobia, et al. is a great privelege. Exchanging ideas and viewpoints only can make us better informed and hopefully, that in turn will help us to make better choices. It also helps to dispell some of the misunderstandings that we have about each other.I want to thank Ammar for his great blog and thank all the people who comment for their patience (Alex), thoughtfulness and politeness. I’ve followed other blogs, and this one by far is one of the most civilized.

  25. KevinI will answer your question about Jimmy Carter because I have a point to make:Again, when I lived in Egypt at the time of the Camp David accords (1976 to 1981) I learned so many lessons about the Egyptian experiment of a transition from war to peace with Israel. My father was a UN diplomat (stil is) so I got to know inside stories.And I even met Jimmy Carter! … I was a 12 year old at the time … stood in the street near my house (right next to where Hosni Mubarak lives today), I was wearing a “I love NY” T-shirt, so president Carter noticed me and waved and smiled to me. He was with president Sadat in his Black limo convertible.Here are few of my observations from those days that I feel are still relevant today:1) Sadat took a chance. He knew that despite the fact Israel was headed by a tough prime minister, the Likudist Mr. Begin, he could charm the Israeli people into trusting him and giving Egypt back the whole huge Sinai lands.The Syrians today are too cautious, they can really do better P.R. to make the Israeli public comfortable with Syria as a country. The president should talk to the Israeli press. It would be a significant signal to the people of Israel. I bet it could even infuence decision making on the issue of the Golan in Israel.2) However, when Sadat took that step, he had a U.S. president that he could trust as an honest broker between Egypt and Israel. As a matter of fact, the whole Carter administration was trustworthy. Zbigniew Brzezinski, cyrus vance, were the reasonable and honest types.One would understand if Assad is hesitant to gamble with his Arab nationalist standing hoping that maybe the Neocons and the Israeli hawks will be kind and reasonable to Syria in return.So, I am sure if Presidnet Carter was in charge, things would have been so much better.3) The personal style of president carter made a difference in convincing the Egyptian people to actually turn their backs on the Arabs and to be freinds with the US instead. Carter visited Egypt and showed them how much he personally cared about their country. They knew he is for real. In fact, when Carter left and President Reagan replaced him. Egypt got depressed. All the diplomats I heard at the time were saying that Reagan is not interested in Egypt, and does not know much about the Middle East. He never visited Egypt. A year later Sadat had major problems with opposition groups and few month later he was assasinated.President Reagan, like president Bush Jr., never understood the complicated case of Syria, never visited Syria and never met with Syrian presidents. Any wonder that during their 8 years in office everything went wrong in the Middle East? Israeli Invasions of Lebanon, suicide bombings … Isolating Syria, no peace treaties signed, … total failures.So, yes, the Egyptians love president Carter. I admire him too. i think the world needs someone like him to lead the United States for the next four years. It will be re-assuring after all the madness.Leadership style makes a difference. These types are not gaining the United States many freinds.And for my republican friends, Jim Baker would have been great too.

  26. Syrian in the far east,Thank you for communicating with Ammar here instead of sending him an email. We all enjoyed your comments.I know which parts Ammar will have an answer for. I will only comment on my part:1) You said: “But it is not their fault, few Syrians know about the history of Syria in the last century as this history was always put in the dark for advancing other ideological agendas.” I like to think that my positions on Syria are not the result of my lack of knowledge of Syria’s history. Especialy Syria’s 19th century history.Did you check my other website?Supposedly (according to many historians) my original collection comes second only to the Ottoman archives on nineteenth century history Syria.However, I am certainly NOT an influencial politician. I have quite a few influenctial friends from all sides who explain to me their points of view. I am here today for example testing some ideas in a blog that is known to be hostile to those ideas. I hope the fact I have no preferences and no limitations and no enemies make me qualified to be a good listener. Then I can circulate polished ideas to other people who are influencial enough to affect policies in some cases. That is good enough of a role for me.I also studied the psychology of change, part of my graduate studies in two different degrees (management and Human/Machine user interface design)… I hope what I learned there is also helping me understand few things.

  27. And one last answer to Kevin (then I’m gone for the rest of the day, I promise)Regarding Iran, money will be less important since they are a relatively rich country. What would help there is a crefully studied psychological analysis of the mentality of the Iranian people.The united states can gradually gain Iran back to the side of “good nations” if they knwo how to be firm (not weak) but vey respectful to 1) Shia Islam, and 2) persian culture and history.Don’t forget that the Iranian presidnet was actually elected .. he defeated Rafsanjani ( ninth presidential elections, June 17 2005) who is much more moderate. You can not continue to treat Iran as a nation headed by the evil corrup mullahs (regardless of how corrupt they really are) who are hated by their people. It is not that Black and White.Dealing with Islam or with Middle Eastern countries with rich culture is doable. You can’t be too controlling and you can not let them try to control you. Mutual respect.Sounds like an utterly generic answer, but it is really the simple answer … the US policy towards Iran (from the time of the Shah, to today’s other extreme) has not been balanced.Just like the case with Syria, you need time and understanding the people of those countries, not listening to Fox news.

  28. Alex:Thanks for your responses. I always enjoy reading your insight and perspective. Two points:1. Fox News is not responsible for American perceptions of Iran and the Middle East. I think that Americans who were in their late teens or older in 1979 will always have a dim view of the Iranian regime.2. The election of Aminehjad (sp) is no way a reflection of what the Iranian population wanted. It is akin to claiming that the Soviet leaders has the support of the Russian people because they “voted” them in. As you are aware, only candidates the Mullahs approve of are allowed to run for office. The population was coerced to participate in the elections and they were rife with ballot fraud (I doubt Kennedy or Johnson could have done better). The election of Aminehjad was the Mullahs response to George Bush and his policies, not the Iranians response.I realize the situation in Iran isn’t black and white and probably much closer to what A Syrian in the Far East describes as the situation in Syria. In Iran it has always been the Bazzari class which determines the regime in Iran. When that class determines that the regime is no longer a stablizing force, it will pull its support. What the Iranians desire most is stability. The demonstrations in 1997 proved that point. The Mullahs realize this, hence their use of the Abu Grahib photos in Iran. The problem for the Iranians is how can they reform a regime that has no interest in reform?

  29. Syrian in the Far East,It is perhaps not appropriate for me to respond to your note as it was addressed to Ammar. Please forgive me for responding to you with a few comments of my own. If I understood you well, your main point is as follows:-We already know that the country is being led by a corrupt dictatorship. There is no need to keep reminding us of this. -We must not use labels to attack each other. Instead, we must establish a trademark respecting all Syrian individuals.-We must work hard to prevent a whole new generation from becoming Mercedes slaves. To do this, we must win the heart of the new generation using a new civil language rather than exposing, ridiculing and offending current members of the regime. I hope that this summary does your note justice.With a few exceptions, I actually think that people like Ammar and many others have actually been extremely civil in their criticism of the country’s leadership. Though I am not a professional analyst or commentator, I have personally refrained from following anything but a civil tone when I have criticized the leadership. But, being civil does not mean that you should not pointedly and repeatedly criticize. In my opinion, the main problem with our country stems from the fact that its leaders are immune from accountability. I don’t want to hear that so is Egypt, Jordan and the Republic of Congo. I care about my own country and its prospects. You made a reference to Mercedes slaves who number around 40 thousand. I think that you were being too generous. How about Kia slaves or even $100 bill slaves. As for the thousands of police officers, it is more like SYP 100 slaves. This leadership has continued to allow our economy and society to rot at the core. It has done nothing about it yet. This is inexcusable. Some will continue to blame America and Israel. I think they are doing their people a disservice. So, what is the solution? We all know the country is corrupt you may claim. I think the Syrian people need deliverable solutions. Civil tone is great. It is jobs and the prospect of decent paying wages though that is their real priority. I have stated this many times before but let me state it again:While we opine here, our country needs to create 300,000 jobs a year to the newly minted job seekers who decide to enter the country’s labor force year in and year out. Creating this many jobs will not help the already unemployed. To help them, you way need to create many more thousands for years to come. Without such outsized job creation, the number of the unemployed will swell beyond control. This is arithmetic. It has nothing to do with civil tone or empty promises to the new generation that you seek to bring to your side. Failure here will mean that today’s $100 slaves will be tomorrow’s $10 slaves as poverty and unemployment continue to catch up wit us. The question that needs to therefore be asked is can this leadership deliver the goods?Technically, yes. Realistically, I doubt it. First, the Presidential family corruption has to stop at once. The leadership has to lead by example. When the inner most family members are stealing and using every corrupt method in the book to enrich themselves beyond control, how can we expect the populace to act any differently? The economy then needs to be liberalized. We need a minimum of 7% economic growth immediately before we can arrest the decline in our standards of living. Regrettably, this is impossible with a socialist Baath party and a political ideology that gives economics a back seat. Given the political course that our leader has chosen, any prospects of a turnaround look very grim indeed. Taking on America and calling the rich Arab states half men is not going to do the country much good when it comes to economic aid and future investments. Iran is sure building new industrial cities. In this particular case, I cannot help but think of the phrase “misery loves company”.In sum, it is not our tone that is to blame. It is the facts on the ground that needs to be exposed and explained. Our people need to know that the current leadership has failed to deliver. Rhetoric aside, our future prospects don’t look good. I personally do not care if Bashar was a Kurd, a Sunni or Christian. I care about the track record of the man. Six years into his presidency, there is precious little evidence to raise our hopes for the future. Civil tone is great but it clearly will not put the food on our people’s tables. The future generation of Syrians that you want to bring to your side needs tangible results. They need good and relevant education that can help them get a decent paying jobs without having to resort to Mercedes or Kia slavery.

  30. Arabs should become more like Americans look for the futre not the past ,that will change their behaivier into optomism and oportionty and away from violence but to do that they need the US help to improve by convincing them not forcing them ,like the US the Arab nation can be diverse composed of many ethnic and religous groups and live in decentralised country composed of many states like the US ,I wish only that the Arabs will learn from the US system of GOV and the American legal and economic System ,As that will open the way for the dream of all Arabs ,a one united states ,may be I am adreamer ,but if we don,t dream we can not progress and acheive.

  31. Ehsani 2Syrian in the Far East has made good points which you summarised well. In particular the issue of how you reach out to the young people in Syria needs to remain under the spotlight.Your response about jobs and the quality of leadership articulates very well the thoughts of many of us on this blog. Alex classifies us as the anti or regime-hostile camp. As you rightly put it, we are not anti anyone; it is policies and actions rather than personalities that we are implicitly concerned with. Of course when power is concentrated in a few hands, policies, actions and personalities become indistinguishable.We have probably flogged this topic to death but the discussion has been intellectually productive and politically useful. If our ideas, concerns or solutions are to make any difference to the lives of our fellow Syrians, most of whom are half our age, we must somehow communicate them effectively to today’s self-appointed rulers and the population at large. We are men and women armed only with pens rather than guns and there is a very long way to go, but Ammar is doing an excellent job as a leading intellectual and activist in his own right and catalyst for our thoughts on his blog.

  32. Kevin,I think when it comes to Iran you are much better informed than I am. Did you live there in the past?The only opinions I have are the type that applies to any country in the Middle East.1) I believe the United States will probably have to accept Iran’s nuclear program. They will not stop it since Pakistan and Israel have that technology already and the US did not resist. Iran will want to have the Shia Bomb, Pakistan the Sunni Bomb, and Israel the Jewish bomb.2) To stop Iran’s expansion into the Arab world the Americnas should learn to be a better freind to the Arabs, Muslims and to Iran. America’s allies like the King of Jordan are not helping ther United States either. They are too openly under the control of Washington. that makes the Iranians (and Hizbollah) look like the only real Muslims. So in the new middle East, the United States should not try to force the new entities to become weak client states.3) Inside Iran, same basic opinion … you have to earn the trust and respect of the Iranian people. Again, US policies towards Israel, US unlimited support for corrupt allies like Saudi Arabia and Jordan while classifying Iran in “the Axis of evil” will make you lose the typical Iranians who can see that American values are largely fake… these days they seem to be only applicable inside the United States.Whatever happend to the classic four virtues?σωφροσύνηφρόνησιςανδρείαδικαιοσύνη Why can’t the US behave that way in the Middle East?

  33. Syrian in the Far East: “I understand very well that this new approach of strictly limiting the blame on certain family controlling Syria is a clever outlet to divert any sub-feelings of sectarian anger towards individuals rather than towards a whole religious or ethnic group. But I can see on many other sites that it is getting out of control and is back lashing as many find it offensive and it is turning the table by diverting the issue from criticizing the policies of certain individuals to merely attacking their persons. We do not have the luxury and security that allow the Americans for example to call Mr. Bush all sort of names.”I think you understood my strategy all too well, but you might be right, and albeit Ehsani2 and Philip make excellent points in this regard as well, I think I might have overplayed my hand a few times here, especially with regard to that Moro…, I mean the President. (Ha ha! I just had to do it, one last time at least). Seriously though, this very levelheaded and rational discussion that has been taken place here over the last few days, and my increasing involvement with Tharwa, are having appositive effect on me, they are encouraging me to channel some of my energies into more productive outlets. I think, we can agree on that. I don’t know if I will ever be able to avoid an occasional jibe at the Assads completely, but I do need to focus my energies, as I have been doing recently, on the more rational and productive end of things. Kevin: “I want to thank Ammar for his great blog and thank all the people who comment for their patience (Alex), thoughtfulness and politeness. I’ve followed other blogs, and this one by far is one of the most civilized.”Thank you Kevin, I think the blog will be much less interesting had it not been for the contributions of people like yourself, Syrian from the Far East, Alex, Zenobia, Philip, Ehsani, Fares, Ghassan, Ghassan Karam, Abu Kareem, Fares, Ishtar, Yaman, Norman, Howie, et. al., not to mention the many anonymous contributors we have as well. One last point regarding the Syria Fund, my vision is that when enough Syrians pledge their services and contribute to an actual fund that will be charged with improving living conditions in poor urban areas and rural areas, and the existing educational systems through specially tailored investments, and make this pledge public and make it condition on real improvements and reforms, not just promises thereof, this will put real pressure on the current regime to deliver. Will this work, I doubt it. But it could help set the grounds for some real discontent on the longer run, if those supervising the funds were indeed committed to expressing their message in an effective manner, so that the Syrian people will have no way to ignore it. The conditions have to include as a set of minimal demands: * creating the proper judicial and administrative framework to ensure the smooth management of the proposed investments projects, * Lifting the state of emergency. * Freeing all political prisoners. * Allowing for the unconditional return of exiled opposition members and groups. * introducing a real plan with timetable for enabling the creation of a real multiparty system. * Allowing for real presidential elections with a number of candidates to take place, and not just rely on the old-style open referendum, that does not allow for closed balloting in stark violation of the Constitution. No. I don’t think this is too much to ask, or that this comes as putting the cart in front of the horse. For why invest in a country if your basic rights and freedoms are not guaranteed? Norman:“Arabs should become more like Americans look for the futre not the past ,that will change their behaivier into optomism and oportionty and away from violence but to do that they need the US help to improve by convincing them not forcing them ,like the US the Arab nation can be diverse composed of many ethnic and religous groups and live in decentralised country composed of many states like the US ,I wish only that the Arabs will learn from the US system of GOV and the American legal and economic System ,As that will open the way for the dream of all Arabs ,a one united states ,may be I am a dreamer ,but if we don,t dream we can not progress and acheive.”I think, we can agree on that. There is much that we can learn from the American system. And thank you all for keeping this interesting and for keeping on my toes.

  34. Mr. Alex, How can I express my apology? I am really really really sorry! Thank you for the links, I never realized who you are before!! Your sites are my favorite and since they came to light I always thought what a great person who did that effort. And all the time here, somehow, my moron mind, never made the connection. Your beautiful sites, together with a handful of similar efforts by people like you such as Mr. Mubayed and Mr. Haykal, are the best that any expatriate Syrian have ever done to this country.I certainly could not have made a worst choice in choosing you to say that you do not know certain episodes in Syria’s history. I am sorry. Please accept my apology.(I think I also ought to apologize to Mrs. Zanoubia as well. After Mr. Alex turned out to be who he is, I am afraid that she might turn out to be the real Zanoubia, our Syrian Queen. Sure she can then beat the crap of me in Syria’s history. ;))Mr. Ehsani and Mr. Philip,I understand you quite well, but please understand that we come from different grounds you and I. You talk out of hope and plans for the next two years or ten years. I talk about dreams for the coming generation, not ours.I heard many economical plans for Syria and analyses exactly similar to yours as long as since 1995 by a group of dedicated people like you. They hoped back then these plans can be realized. They are still hoping now, after ELEVEN years. (The world is small by the way, now that I know who Mr. Alex is, it seems that one of them is his friend!).I admire whole heartedly your and their’s hopes and plans, I actually envy you as I my self have absolutely no more hope for any plan. The one and only plan that I sincerely believe in, is the plan that attracted me to this site in the first place; Mr. Ammar’s 50 year plan, that is, the one that will never bear any outcome until another fifty years at least or more. And that is exactly what I was talking about in my message to Mr. Ammar above; our hippie revolution. So as you see, dream people cannot understand realistic people who hope in plans for two or three years to come. I had my share of hope and had certain circumstances and my reasons that made me loose it all. But dreams I have tons. I build tunnels and bridges in my dream Syria and construct cities on maps all the time, as this is my job actually, only in the far east not in Syria. And recently, thanks to a great opportunity that this great person Mr. Ammar had offered me, I have actually my own dream Syria, Virtual Syria, where I can make virtual constitutions and write virtual laws, and talk about all sort of virtual dreams I have. Hell, if I keep at it I might be able in a year time to even call for a virtual presidential election parallel and at the same time to the real ones we are going to have next year. (or should I say they are both virtual and un-real?).Anyhow, please do not understand me wrong, I really admire all what you say.Thanks a lot.

  35. Alex:No, I have never lived in Iran, but I have the next best thing – Iranian in-laws! In addition, a very close-knit and varied (politically) Iranian community in Dallas and a lot of study on my part.You are right about nuclear Iran, there is nothing the US can do regarding that. The Bush adminstration has done irreprable harm by joining in on the European “buy-out” offer. They could have maintain their “no-nukes” stand, presented numerous resolutions to the Security Council knowing that Russia and China would veto them and maintained the “high-ground” of not dealing with the Mullahs. All would be better served if the U.S. would place its focus on human rights violations in Iran and the rest of the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia and Israel).I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the U.S. knowing the four virtues. The only thing our schools seem to be able to teach is indifference – who needs to learn the virtues for that?As my Iranian partner has told me numerous times, the people of the Middle East will not enjoy freedom until the oil is no more. I’m afraid that the U.S. is also a slave to oil and that perverts all of its actions in the region. U.S. dependence on Saudi oil is costing too many lives and financing the spread of the ideology of militant Islam.

  36. Syrian from the far East,I’m afraid the damage you have done is beyond repair. Your appology will not be accepted.I’m joking. Don’t worry about anything, I just found this an opportunity to advertise my site to you, that’s all. Thank you so much for the kind words.And don’t worry about Zenobia either .. she is a Californian! but she promised she’ll learn Arabic this year… In Damascus.Now, can you tell me who is our common friend? the world is small indeed. I already learned that Ammar and I were in the same class room in elementary school in Damascus. And that Ehsani was a freind of my sister in Aleppo…Finally, regarding expectations for change … I have been noticing that the rate of change of anything has been accelerating the past decade … I believe Syria can somehow change faster than we realistically estimate.There are things which will need to wait for the next generation, but all is not lost with the current one … it will be hard, but honestly it can be considerably easier if we don’t have the chicken adn egg mentality … it seems everyone is waiting for something or someone to change before he or she can contribute or do something positive. I know the challenges are there, but we can’t always use them as excuses for not doing anything now.

  37. Hummos Update:Had lunch at the Fadi’s, a Lebanese resturant. I have to report that the hummos was superb. Smooth like silk. I’m assuming that it is very close in taste, quality and texture to that of Syrian hummos. I may have to go back for dinner.

  38. They Are calling Bashar a reformer again..Return of the reformer 895 words16 October 2006Economist Intelligence Unit – Business Middle English(C) 2006 The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has signed a slew of new decrees on the economy, including one that will pave the way for the creation of a stockmarket Of the two principal aspects presented by Mr Assad, the one associated with liberal economic reform has for some time been overshadowed by that of the political spoiler, repressing dissent at home and exercising a malign influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian-Israeli arena. However, the start of October has seen a return of the economic reformer, with Mr Assad signing seven decrees approving legislation on the exchange rate system, taxation, the budget, the management of the public sector and the proposed stockmarket. The measures are all aimed at enabling Syria’s transition to a market economy and at equipping the country to deal with the financial implications of the rapid depletion of its oil reserves. Lower taxes The most elaborate of the new decrees was No 51, comprising 29 amendments to Law 24 of 2003, which brought the top marginal corporate tax rate down to 35% from 65%. The amendments include provision for a further cut in the top tax rate, to 28% on net profit exceeding S£3m (US$58,000). The tax on profit of between S£1m and S£3m has been set at 24%; the other rates are 20% on profit of S£500,000 to S£1m, 15% on earnings of S£200,000 to S£500,000 and 10% for profit up to S£200,000. Public-sector enterprises, including the state oil and gas companies, will be subject to a fixed 28% tax on their net earnings. Private companies that offer at least 50% of the share capital for public subscription will only have to pay 14% corporate tax, and will be exempt from paying local taxes. There is also a 22% rate applied to the profits of companies set up under investment incentive legislation (to which these firms are presumably liable after their tax holidays have elapsed). Hotels and restaurants will be required to pay a 2.5% turnover tax and a 0.5% salary tax in lieu of tax on their profits. The next two decrees are also aimed at stimulating investment, as they entail lowering tax rates on the sale and rental of real estate. The new rates take effect from January 1st 2007. The IMF noted in its recent Article IV report that the total corporate tax take had not declined following the earlier cut in the top rate, suggesting buoyant profits and some success in combating evasion. Mr Assad has also approved a new basic finance law, the main significance of which is that it separates the operations of the public enterprises from the state budget. As of 2008, state-owned firms will be granted autonomy from the Ministry of Finance, and will be entitled to retain profits for reinvestment. They will pay corporate tax and will have the discretion to award dividends to the state, but they will no longer have to submit all their profits to the Treasury and rely on the state budget for their investment needs. The law replaces legislation that has been in effect since 1967. Other elements in the new law include giving the finance ministry complete control over the drafting and operation of the budget, in respect of both current and capital operations, enabling the budget to be managed on an accrual rather than a cash basis, introducing double-entry book-keeping and arranging budget categories by economic activity rather than government department. The government is also planning to introduce value-added tax (VAT) in 2008, and is reviewing its system of petroleum price subsidies, which the IMF has described as unsustainable. Damascus bourse Since assuming power in 2000 on the death of his father, among Mr Assad’s most notable achievements in economic policy has been the opening of the banking and insurance sectors for private investment. His pledge to deepen financial sector reform through the establishment of a stockmarket also now appears to be closer to being realised. The early-October decrees include Law 55 covering the creation, operation and regulation of the proposed Damascus Stock Exchange. The text was prepared by the Syrian Securities and Exchange Commission, which was established by a law passed in 2005 and is chaired by Mohammed al-Imady, a former economy minister. The passage of the law means that the market is likely to commence operations in 2007. Invest Group Overseas (IGO), a finance company based in the UAE and headed by Mowaffaq al-Qaddah, an expatriate Syrian businessman, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SSEC for the construction of the stock exchange buildng in the Eighth Gate, an estimated US$500m development being carried out at Yafour, on the outskirts of the capital, by the Dubai-based Emaar Properties. Many Syrian companies, including the leading mobile-phone operator and all of the private banks, have raised equity through initial public offerings, and such firms are likely to be among the first to list on the new market. Meanwhile, Abdullah al-Dardari, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, has said that he expects real GDP growth to reach 5% in 2006, compared with 4.5% last year. SOURCE: Business Middle East

  39. Atassi, don’t worry, that article is an exception. You’ll continue to enjoy the usual “bashar the dictator” types.Kevin, thanks for the Hummos update, but where did everyone go?!ok, I’ll try something. We are now at 94 comments, at least let’s close it at 100,no?Patrick Seale in Al-hayat (in Arabic) writes about the “panic” of Arab leaders about the high possibility that war is comingApparently Rice was mostly interested in asking for their help in isolating Iran and Syria.Patrick Seale wonders if this administration will ever learn that none of these empty innitiatives can lead to peace or anything good.And Israel refused most of Rice’s suggestions.

  40. Another article today form another Israeli former head of Mossad The Golan in the role of SharmBy Danny Yatom and Moshe Amirav In her fascinating book, “The March of Folly,” historian Barbara Tuchman exposes the blunders made by leaders with exaggerated self-confidence and rigid thinking. In this season of soul-searching, an evaluation of these elements is a worthwhile exercise, not necessarily through an examination of the second Lebanon war, but of a more distant event instead – the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The justification now for an investigation of the foolish behavior of Golda Meir’s government then – a government that refused to begin negotiations with then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year before the war – is the Syrian proposal to open peace talks. This overture was rejected by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as it was by Ariel Sharon before him. The rigid mentality of Golda’s government stemmed from its exaggerated self-confidence, and from the idea that the strategic depth of the Sinai Peninsula was better than peace. Sadat approached Israel in 1972 – then, too, through the foreign press (an Austrian newspaper) – and said as follows: “We are prepared for peace with Israel. If Israel rejects us, I will mobilize a million soldiers and go to war.” Golda dismissed Sadat’s words with characteristic scorn: “They are not even able to cross the [Suez] Canal.” And then defense minister Moshe Dayan explained the strategic importance of the Sinai in his famous statement: “Better Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.” The prime minister and the defense minister made a historic blunder, and failed to put the Egyptians’ desire for peace to the test. True to his promise, Sadat went to war a year later. The Golda-Dayan conception crumbled, and 2,700 Israeli soldiers paid for the arrogance and the stupidity with their lives. It took a courageous prime minister like Menachem Begin to be willing to give up Sinai to achieve peace and security on the Egyptian front. The peace with Egypt is one of the most important strategic legacies Begin bequeathed us. Syrian President Bashar Assad recently repeated his offer to begin peace negotiations with Israel. Olmert’s response was identical to the one Sadat got from Golda – only, Sharm el-Sheikh as the justification for the rigidity has been replaced by the Golan Heights. What is the Syrian president supposed to think when he hears Olmert declare that the Golan “will remain in Israeli hands forever?” Perhaps he will be tempted to follow Sadat’s lead and initiate a limited military campaign that will cost us dearly. The leadership explains its inflexibility with the slogan: “Syria has not changed.” This judgment ignores important developments, the most significant of which was the Arab League’s decision (endorsed by Syria) in Beirut, supporting full peace and normalization of relations with Israel in return for the territories it has captured. Also new is Syria’s willingness to begin talks without preconditions. Until now, it was always Israel that made that demand of its neighbors. Now that Syria has agreed, the government of Israel introduces preconditions. It is enough to listen to the rationalizations of the Olmert government to realize its rigidity of thinking. One is “solidarity of friends” – the United States doesn’t talk to Syria, so nor will we. But the U.S. does not talk to Syria because we are not talking to Syria, and not the other way around. The second rationalization is that Syria is militarily weak and diplomatically isolated, so why should we give it legitimacy? In fact, it is precisely Syria’s weakness that is the reason for making peace with that country at this time. True, the Golan is a strategic asset, and relinquishing it is not without risk; but the courageous step of renewing negotiations with Syria carries major strategic possibilities as well – avoiding a war with Syria, eliminating Hezbollah, ending Syrian support for terrorist organizations, isolating Iran, stabilizing the cease-fire in Lebanon, reinforcing Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East, and diverting resources for domestic needs. A peace process with Syria will draw Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians and other Arab and Muslim countries into a new dynamic of reconciliation with Israel. An assessment of the opportunities balanced against the risks justifies the renewal of negotiations with Syria. Danny Yatom is a major-general in the reserves, former Mossad chief and Labor MK; Dr. Moshe Amirav is the head of Public Policy Studies at Beit Berl College, and a Kadima MK.

  41. this one will help but i doubt that the US adminsration will change, WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (UPI) — This Friday, Oct. 6, marks the 33rd anniversary of the fourth Arab-Israeli Middle East war; four wars fought in as many decades. It was also the last time Israel fought more than one Arab army at any one time, and the first time the Israeli army was caught unawares, giving the attackers the upper hand, albeit temporarily. The Egyptian and Syrian military managed to maintain absolute secrecy during meticulous preparation leading up to the surprise attack on Israel, which at the time occupied all of the Sinai Peninsula and faced the Egyptians across the Suez Canal behind the heavily fortified bunkers and trenches of the Bar Lev Line. The Israelis believed the Bar Lev Line was impregnable, thanks to its formidable fortifications. But the Egyptians simply threw men into the battle in such large numbers that the Israeli machine-gunners couldn’t kill them fast enough. Their guns overheated and jammed and the surviving Egyptians made it through the defenses and captured the Bar Lev Line. Indeed, on that Oct. 6, in 1973, Israel faced the two largest and most powerful Arab armies at the time — Egypt and Syria — fighting them on multiple fronts for 18 grueling days. Iraq had also sent a contingent, but given the high level of mistrust that existed between the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties, Damascus refused to house larger numbers of armed Iraqi troops in and around Damascus. The war lasted 18 days and in reality ended in a stalemate, although the Israelis felt demoralized and the Arabs claimed victory. It was a situation not dissimilar to the recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The October War, as it was called in the Arab world — Harb October or Harb Teshrin — was a turning point in the Middle East conflict. The bittersweet victory gave the Arabs back their dignity and honor after losing it so disastrously in June 1967. It showed them that Israel could be fought, that it wasn’t this superpower it projected itself to be after the June Six-Day War. At the same time, it also showed the Arabs that while Israel could be fought, it could not be defeated. On the Israeli side, the October War — or the Yom Kippur War — allowed a harsh reality to sink in; and that was that Israel could be defeated. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who had reclaimed Egypt’s honor — albeit at the cost of much Egyptian blood — was now ready to discuss peace with the Israelis. Israel, thanks to a last-hour maneuver by Ariel Sharon, who managed to re-cross the Suez Canal and encircle the Third Egyptian Army a mere 60 miles from Cairo, was also ready to talk peace with the Egyptians. The hang-up was the Syrians. President Hafez Assad, father of the current leader, had hoped to reclaim the strategic Golan Heights which Israel had captured from Syria in 1967. Syrian forces fought valiantly for every inch of the Golan, but were pushed back by Israeli elite brigades. Thus began Henry Kissinger’s legendary shuttle diplomacy: the then secretary of state made no fewer than 36 trips to Damascus in under a month, on some days visiting the Syrian and Israeli capitals twice, as he relayed messages back and forth. Eventually, an agreement was reached in which Egypt was to reclaim the Sinai, and Syria the devastated capital of the Golan, Kuneitra. And the United Nations was to police a ceasefire. Thirty-three years later, the U.N. is still monitoring the “temporary” halt of hostilities, ensuring that peace on the Golan Heights is not shattered. But if the Syrians have remained silent for 33 years on the Golan, their fingerprints have certainly been found on multiple “action dossiers,” according to several foreign intelligence sources. The Syrians, say intelligence sources, have been supporting terrorist groups both in the Middle East and around the world; from backing and arming Lebanon’s Hezbollah and radical Palestinian groups, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad (whom the United States and Israel accuse of terrorism), to allowing foreign jihadi fighters to enter Iraq by crossing through Syria, to interfering in domestic Lebanese politics. This is Syria’s own way of letting the powers-that-be know that they still have unsettled demands: basically that they want the return of the Golan Heights and they want to be included in any ensuing dialogue in the region. Damascus wants the United States to know that they hold the key to the door that will open the way to a permanent settlement of the Middle East crisis. Or, if they feel the need to, they can open the door leading to further chaos. So long as Syria has not reclaimed the Golan, thus at the same time reclaiming some of its honor, the ruling Baath Party will see to it that even if a peace deal is reached between the Palestinians and Israel, no lasting peace will be enjoyed in the Middle East without including Syria in the fold. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice re-launches dialogue with friendly Arab countries, drumming up support for U.S. policy, she should be cognizant of the fact that one should also talk to one’s foes if one is serious about peace. — (Comments may be sent to | Digg it | RSS

  42. No, they won’t talk to the Syrians .. they have some more brilliant plans: They will wait until the Hariri assasination investigation can produce something they can use against the Syrians, or maybe wait 5 more years until Syria’s oil supplies are dry and the Syrian economy will be in such a bad shape that maybe then Syria can be better cornered and …No rush really.

  43. And here is proof that this Blog is well readLunch in Damascus By Uri AvneryOnce while, traveling in a taxi, I had an argument with the driver–a profession associated in Israel with extreme right-wing views. I tried in vain to convince him of the desirability of peace with the Arabs. In our country, which has never seen a single day of peace in the last hundred years, peace can seem like something out of science fiction.Suddenly I had an inspiration. “When we have peace,” I said, “You can take your taxi in the morning and go to Damascus, have lunch there with real authentic Hummus and come back home in the evening.”He jumped at the idea. “Wow,” he exclaimed, “If that happens, I shall take you with me for nothing!””And I shall treat you to lunch,” I responded.He continued to dream. “If I could go to Damascus in my car, I could drive on from there all the way to Paris!”

  44. I read somewhere this week that a poll was taken in Iran and 65% responded that they disappoved of the job their President was doing. Now I’m not a great advocate of polls and many times it appears that reading tea leaves would be of better value. But it did get me thinking. We appear to be at a point in history where no one is satisfied with their leaders, regardless of the mechanism that that got them there. As the world seems to be blindly marching towards the abyss, citizens world-wide are dissatisfied with their political leaders. Has this happened before? Was this the “reality” in the years prior to WWI, WWII and other large international wars? A general lack of leadership skills in the political leaders of the eventual belligerents?

  45. The conventional thinking has been that Syria has made clever bets evidenced by its support of Hamas, that ended up winning its elections, and later Hizbollah that was able to stand to Israel’s military might. With the wind behind its back following such successful moves, one would have expected Syria to play hard to please hence allowing it to extract the most it can out of a possible future deal with Israel. Yet, what we see is unprecedented advances towards the State of Israel to nudge it towards a peace deal. Indeed, I don’t ever recall a time when our country has appeared to almost beg for a deal as it does today. Presumably, as the country gives such an appearance of desperately seeking a deal, it is a good bet that terms of such a deal would not be too advantageous for the Syria.It seems to me that there is a divergence between our so-called recent wins column and the almost simultaneous signals to Israel that we are very keen to sign a deal with it. Hafez Assad was known to champion the idea that one does not sit at a negotiating table with an adversary unless he can match the other party in strength. Clearly, the current leadership appears to have gone all out to seek a deal. Is this a sign of recent strength or it is a sign of fear of what the near future holds instead?

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