Surreal Heresies!

My take on Syrian politics have often been compared to neocon stands, and I have been often accused both in private and in the comment section of this blog of advocating war against the Syrian regime. This is recent response to a private criticism that echoed the above themes:

To me, my take on Syria has nothing to do with Zionism or neocon thought, it is about the reality we have to deal with in Syria on a daily basis. I cannot ignore this reality, or, to be more honest and accurate, my perception of it, simply because it coincides with that of some neocon thinker here or there. The Assads are the way they are, a brutal corrupt clique that will do anything to stay in power, I didn’t make them this way and I don’t see why they would, of their own volition, and in the absence of any pressures, choose to change their behavior. If there are those who want to ignore this reality and deal with the Assads as if they are some reasonable statesmen guided by consideration of national interest, then, I have the right to say that these people are wrong and are bound to screw things up for us, as a people, even more that the current administration, which might indeed be employing wrong tactics, but they are, at least, making the right assessment, namely that the Assads are unchangeable irreformable thugs.

But if some, while acknowledging the fact that the Assads are thugs and still want to talk shop with them, in the name of real politick and all that, then, this is extremely problematic, because, as 9/11 clearly demonstrated, empowering such figures is no longer detrimental to the interests of the peoples of the region only, but to peoples everywhere. For in this shrinking world our problems, our dissatisfaction, our dejection, our rebellion end up assuming an international character and our ire end up focused on external parties and powers, just as easily as it is focused on the internal actors, if not more so, a matter that is facilitated by the constant brainwashing to which we are subjected, certain messianic cultural traits, and good old-fashion human nature.

The corruption and authoritarian nature of the ruling regimes are serving to break the civil fabric in our region and are driving populations into recoiling onto primordial modes of belonging and extremist modes of thought. This, in turn, creates existential problems for the regimes which they can only address by encouraging their exportation elsewhere in the region and the world. This is why the Saudis back the establishment of wahhabi and salafi currents all through the world, and this is why the Assads, driven in particular by their minoritarian background which precludes any possibility of reform, or internal legitimization of their position, have gotten in bed with so many Jihadi movements in the region, back in the good old 80s, and now.

On the other hand, and if people want to wax critical of the current US administration, that’s quite fine by me, but I caution against letting our criticism turn, or be turned, into an endorsement of policies that are bound to be equally disastrous. The reality is neither the neocon nor the liberals have a clue of how to handle the current crisis. Their continuous political bickering on so many issues not related to the Middle East, mostly domestic, is serving to recreate Cold War conditions in the region, where regimes attempt to ingratiate themselves to one side of the argument in the hope of relying on it to check the other side when it comes to certain critical decisions pertaining to the region.

Add to this, the continuing inability to coordinate with the allies in Europe, to carve place for China and Russia in the global decision-making process, or to come up with a new vision for NATO that will allow it to compensate for the shortcomings of the UN, not to mention actually coming up with a new vision for the UN itself, because, in the final analysis, this is what is really at stake here when we talk about a New World Order, and you have the recipe for a virtual disaster, the brunt of which will be felt by us all.

Unless there is a sufficient international will to tackle the challenges highlighted above, so that a real reform/peace package can be submitted to the peoples of the region, with real carrots and real sticks, for people tend to forget that this is not an either or situation, and the willingness to use both when needed, the only thing that the current politicking can produce at this stage is to move us from one disaster to another to yet another, until we hit the big one.

When it comes to real preemptive efforts, human beings have always proved lacking. We can only preempt in retrospect. But when it comes to plunging headfirst into disaster, we have always been proactive.

This is why I don’t bother much to criticize the Bush administration, what’s the point? My recommendations are too surreal for any administration to warrant serious consideration, and any criticisms I might have will simply be used as fodder in a meaningless political battle that will serve no real purpose, as far as I am concerned at least. The only reason I bother to criticize our side of the equation is my desire to find like-minded people with whom I can work and cooperate with regard to my surreal projects, including Tharwa.

35 thoughts on “Surreal Heresies!

  1. Since I am one of those who keep criticizing you, both privately and in the comments section, for your inability to communicate your thoughts in a neutral, trustworthy way, I will explain, again, why despite your impressive attempts to explain the reasoning behind your one-sided analysis, there is still a problem1) As you correctly pointed out: this is your perception of reality, not reality itself. You always admit that it is only your perception, but on the other hand you talk with absolute conviction and you mention sometimes your sixth sense.Sometime you will be right and the rest of us would be wrong, but I don’t hear you ever admitting being wrong about anything specific that you wrote in the past (when it comes to the Assads). When you discuss anything else you are the most reasonable, pleasant, and open minded intellectual.2) The Assads are as good or as bad as the other collection of leaders now in the Middle East. When you have a practical formula for changing all of them, then we can all look at it. But since for now, and as we found out lately, teh US practically dropped “democracy” in the Middle East, we have to live with the Assads (and the king of Saudi Arabia, and Mubarak, and the King of Bahrain …), and we have to stop wasting all our energy criticizing them. And NO, it will not lead to another 9/11 if the Americans and Israelis make peace with Syria .. it will turn into more corruption mixed with economic prosperity that will make young Syrians move away from excessive religious attachments. If teh US and its Arab allies can not get rid of the Assads, then they (the Americans) are the first to blame for driving young Syrians to extremism. And you are ignoring this reality. The Assads can indeed provide an excellent boost to efforts to make the region more secular… but it will require that the US and its friends stop trying to over throw and corner the Assads!.. when they are not threatened they will not need the fundamentalist allies they now tolerate.3) Your claim that you do not criticize this administration because you can not make a tangible difference, applies also to the case of Syria … you will also not help overthrow the Assads or make them change their policies. So why is 90% of your energy (in this blog at least) spent on the Assads?4) You are the only opposition figure who is worth debating with. The others are either not democratic enough to accept harsh criticism (like here) or not impressive at all … not honest, not any better than the Assads. So why should we be so excited for total change?5) You can gain many more people to help in the Tharwa project if you did not push them away with your extreme way of seeing things. I know and you know a few good people who would have otherwise been very happy to help in Tharwa if they were not put off with the right wing politics here.Of course this is my perception .. I might be wrong.

  2. Alex, my extremism in degrading the Assads on their basis of their record of oppression and corruption has been more than matched by your extremist defense of them as champions of secularism, no matter how illusory, and stability, no matter how tenuous and fragile. A corrupt minoritarian regime can only lead to an increase of sectarian consciousness and religious extremism in a country like ours. Moreover, the corruption of the Assads will ensure that no real economic reforms are produced to improve the living conditions of Syria’s youths, even after the return of the Golan Heights. The dividends of peace will only serve to enrich the Assads, but will do nothing to the rest of the country, and just like in Egypt after Camp David, extremism will continue to grow and will eventually blow up in our face. I know I have given more space to the Assads than I should have and than they do deserve, but, this was in part a necessary response to the constant attempt at defending them by others and as portraying as reforms, when I had a difference perception all together born out of practical experience. In other part, this is was also a necessary response to months of interrogation (indeed the blog came into being as a result of the interrogation and to allow me to continue to voice my criticism of the Assads to a larger audience), which I blogged about while still in Syria, followed by exile, with which I, and my family here and there, are still trying to come to terms. But of course, my exile is my fault, I guess, and can in no way be blamed on the corruption and authoritarianism of the Assads.Still, you want to hear me admit that I am wrong about the Assads in particular, fine, there it is: the Assads will survive longer than I have anticipated, and there is a strong possibility that I may not see Syria again anytime soon. But then, that possibility could hold true even in the aftermath of the Assads eventual collapse. And collapse they will, I predicted it even before I was politicized, so it must be true. As for Tharwa, don’t worry, we are slowly but surely moving forward.

  3. Ammar and Alex-Ammar mentions something that constantly comes up “Moreover, the corruption of the Assads will ensure that no real economic reforms are produced to improve the living conditions of Syria’s youths, even after the return of the Golan Heights.”This kind of reminds me of Ammar’s comments about the “Win-Win” when attacking Israel in general…you win if you lose and you win if you win. I’ve been to the Golan…there really is not all that much there…no oil, no gold, not a whole lot of people…yes it is strategically important, both militarily and water-wise. But is Syria got the Golan back tomorrow…what would change in Syria…except maybe a short burst of pride that y’all finally got one over on the Israeli’s”?I have to agree with Ammar…I don’t think Assad has anything much good to offer to anybody. Why doesn’t he say…offer open elections in Syria if he cares about the Syria people. Is it easier to fire them up with “Golan” and “America” and “Israel”? I think so…I think the Golan is the best thing Assad has going for him…a bone he can toss to the unthinking masses. And the JEWS invented algebra!

  4. “Alex, my extremism in degrading the Assads on their basis of their record of oppression and corruption has been more than matched by your extremist defense of them as champions of secularism”Fine, but at least I limit my “praise” of the Assads to two things only:1) I believe they would indeed be a big plus to secularism in the Middle East when the rest of the players (US and allies) are not challenging Syria 2) I believe they are much more interested in a strong Syria than you think. Not because they are pure revolutionaries, but because of a number of reasons which I can discuss with you later if you want to.It so happens that to me, a secular, stable and strong Syria that made peace with Israel is the best thing that can happen to the Middle East. If Syria and Israel can reach an understanding to respect each other’s well defined role in the Middle East, then things can be much better for everyone.But unlike you, I do not praise everything about “the Assads” I am capable of saying man bad things about their corruption and mismanagement and their lack of P.R. skills … al I am saying: they are better than the other options.And by the way, if you remember, we discussed the points you raised about wat happens after the return of the Golan .. gradually delivered, well audited and outside controlled economic aid and investments, and the return of the golan itself can be made contingent on the Syrian authorities meeting clearly set goals of economic and political reforms… if they don’t live up to teh expectations, I am confident the Syrian people will not disappoint you Ammar. You will have a repeat of Beirut’s demonstrations and the Assads will not be tolerated anymore by the Syrian people.Or they might deliver on economic reforms, and semi-deliver on political reforms .. I am OK with that.And I have no doubt Tharwa is doing well, I did not mean to imply that it is in trouble .. I just hoped more and more talented people (Zenobia?) could feel comfortable working with you.

  5. Howie!First, I did not find a Haaretz article admitting that the Arabs invented Algebra, but there is WikipediaBut again, we’ll give you the rights to Houmous and Algebra for the Golan… although of those three, Houmous is probably the one with the greatest potential economic value to Syria.As for the second point you made, most of the Syrian people would not allow their government to sign on anything less than the full return of the Golan heights. Bahsar knows it, otherwise if his regime was as corrupt as many people claim, then he should have been happy to be very well bribed by the Saudis to sign on anything .. and then the Americans would love him, and no one would stop him from stealing all the money .. right?So I agree that the golan is not a “need” … I do not care much for it to be honest. But it is the right thing to do in a peaceful settlement if you want the Syrian people to not continue to hate or dislike dealing with Israel.As for not trusting the Assads and therefore not dealing with them .. who do you trust? Olmert? Mubarak? Khaddam? the Muslim brotherhood?Ammar is not the type who makes it to the leadership of a country .. politics in not that clean and those like Ammar can not survive long there.Jimmy Carter was clean, he failed. Rabin was assassinated, Dukakis was clean and lost badly before he started, Colin Powell was clean and he was forced out … so let’s not wait forever because “I don’t trust the Assads”

  6. I believe one of our region’s biggest problem is our insistence on pointing the finger at the west and zionism every time we have a problem…we will never solve our own problems if we do not a) admit that we have problems and b)identify them. It is in our interest to do so after all! Why should discussion of our own problems translate into a pro-zionist or western agenda as people all too often claim?it’s simpler than that. before focusing attention on other people’s problems, you have to fix your own. start from within and then work your way out. unfortunately, we haven’t come close to solving our problems within. `

  7. Alex and Reem-I am confused…because I tend to agree with both of you.And if it wasn’t algebra we invented…they it must have been the wheel…or was it the pyrimands???

  8. Alex-You are correct about Ammar “not being the type” to get into or, at least, last in a political party.I have always been of the opinion that the reason we end up with so many nasty leaders is because it is only that type of people who seek that level of power. And typically nastier types that hold on to it.I think this is an enormous tragedy for all mankind, the wrong folks seek, obtain and maintain power…nice guys finish last.Your points about the Golan are well taken. Look…you can freak’in have it, wineries and all, if you just don’t shut off the water or start blasting us again…that is all I would ask…but that is an enormous, even exestential “if”. That will be an enormous divide of trust and convincing a whole lot of very suspicious people, most with very long memories.

  9. Howie,”I think this is an enormous tragedy for all mankind, the wrong folks seek, obtain and maintain power”So true. And I see another serious challenge to mankind: This understanding that each leader is supposed to be doing the best he can for his country even if it means hurting other countries, is becoming not doable … there is much more interaction between nations now … For example, the United States is so involved in what happens in the Middle East today that most Arab freinds I know felt frustrated during the last U.S. elections that they can not actually vote for their choice of U.S. president! … The fact is, the president of the United States’s policies and values now affect the whole world, but only the American people have the right to vote on him.Same applies on a smaller scale for some Lebanese who would love to vote Bashar out of office because they feel his (and Syria’s) role is instrumental to their country’s future.So, as long as there will be countries interfering heavily in the affairs of other countries without caring much about those other countries’ well being, “Democracy” will not prevent those leaders from doing terrible things.Hopefully one day those same western democratic secular values that work relatively well internally, can be modified to govern and set limitations on foreign policies as well.Actually, it is not that bad .. there is Canada, Sweden, and Italy … they are “good” most of the time.

  10. What I like about Ammar’s posts and comments is that he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Too many people today are afraid to do so. They are afraid to tell the truth because it might be used by “the otherside” to promote their agenda. You see this in the U.S. media and their reporting on Iran. Reporters and pundits on the Left publicly discussing whether or not they should report on Iran and the possiblity that those reports will be used by those who “want war” with Iran.If the Assads are “good” because they keep Syria in the secular camp, then one could make the argument that Stalin was also “good” for keeping Russia in the secular camp. It seems to me that Alex wants a strong and prosperous Syria regardless of the type of government. Ammar on the other hand wants a “democratic” form of government that will produce a strong and prosperous Syria. I have to side with Ammar; less government interference creates a prosperous and strong country. A dictatorship, regardless of how benign, is based on extensive government intrusion into the private sector. It may be able to create a boom period or short term prosperity, but eventually, a dictatorship will succomb to its own inherent need to control.My question to Alex, Ammar or anyone else: Why is it in Syria (and I suspect in the rest of the Middle East) that one must be extremist or fundamentalist in order to “stand up” to the U.S.? Why can’t an young Syrian become secular and still remain opposed to the U.S.? Why must one in the Arab world become self-destructive in order to “stand up” to the U.S.?

  11. But Kevin … if we had the option to have democracy in Syria sometime soon, I will also agree with Ammar. The option is simply not there, so I am trying to find the next best thing, instead of just boycotting everything.So, I don’t think using Stalin’s name proves that my proposal that could leade to economic reforms and to some political reforms is a vote for a Stalin-like leadership in Syria.Your second question: Not all those who oppose the U.S. are extremists and fundamentalists … most Syrian people dislike the U.S. today… and most of them would love to be friends with the United States if few things change.

  12. Ammar and Alex,While you two can differ on reality versus perceptions of reality, the facts on the ground remain indisputable. Mr. Dardari was interviewd by Bloomberg news and if you read between the lines, what he finally admitted is not good. I posted the story and my comments on Syria comment. The forgotten story is the Syrian economy and its significant future challenges. When it comes to this, reality ought to take hold

  13. I don’t know why people act surprised. An article by Marwan Kabalan (who’s no “dissident”) said it plainly: “Syria’s reform project has reached a dead end.”Of course, some would say there was never a “reform project.”

  14. Ammar,If I were you I wouldn’t argue with Alex. His head is completely screwed up – the result of his occupation as computer technician.

  15. Alex: “:1) I believe they would indeed be a big plus to secularism in the Middle East when the rest of the players (US and allies) are not challenging Syria 2) I believe they are much more interested in a strong Syria than you think. Not because they are pure revolutionaries, but because of a number of reasons which I can discuss with you later if you want to.”You believe Alex? Are these assertions elements of faith for you? I hope not, otherwise, I wouldn’t feel comfortable refuting them.1) You should ask our friend Joshua Landis about his study on the erosion of secularism in Syrian schools under the Assads. This aside, bear in mind that Hafiz al-Assad encouraged financed the establishment of over 400 Qur’an learning centers all over rural Syria that now function more or less as traditional Madrassas responsible for churning up thousands of messianic nitwits that preach the most wonderful mixture of salafi doctrine and unenlightened sufism, just what secular Syria really needs at this stage. In addition to this, the Assads have been tolerating and encouraging the flourishing of all different varieties of Islamic circles all through the late 80s and 90s, up to this very moment, in an idiotic attempt to channel Sunni passions in a more politically quietist, yet socially unenlightened, direction, so, you end up controlling the Sunnis and degrading them at the same time, what fun! But enough about that. I mean, you should know all this already, or you can research it for yourself. Point is: no, the Assads are not good for secularizing Syria. 2) I have no doubt that the Assads are interested in a stronger Syria. But they re also interested in maintaining their grip indefinitely on the reins of power there, and have no clue or desire to move away from the existing sectarian arrangements because they make their money by mani0pulating it. Establishing a strong Syria and keeping it under control are mutually exclusive dreams. Guess what side they are willing to err on? No, my friend, dictators will not opt out. They have to be kicked out. I don’t the Americans to do it for us, but I also don’t want them to make things harder for us by empowering the Assads through some idiotic and cynical policy of engagement, based on cutting perceived losses, regardless of the costs involved for us. We never asked the American to come and save us. Hell, we have been advising against such intervention since 9/11. But ever since their dabbling became a reality, ever since the invasion of Iraq, my position had to be modified. The Americans (and the Europeans) will not be allowed to leave without working out a clear realistic mechanism for setting everything in order after they leave and for pushing forward. They will not be allowed to leave us with a mess that none of us (liberals, democrats) can clean up and that will allow the region to fall more and more under the sway of all sorts of atavistic forces and greedy cliques. I said it before that I would support a regional process meant to address all outstanding problems. Arrangements that can accommodate only the interests of the Assads will leave us at their mercy and will entangle Syria in a web alliances and arrangements that are bound to backfire. If the Americans and Europeans cannot see the wisdom of this now, then let’s them be dragged further and further in until they do. For in this global world, where many of our regimes have been propped up and imposed on us with outside support, and where much of our rebelliousness and ire is aimed externally anyway, change cannot come only at the hands of local actors, neither could it come through the aegis of external actors acting out on the basis of their culturist assumptions and particular socioeconomic and security concerns, it has to be a cooperative efforts, and it has to involve all players, and a lot of carrots and a lot of sticks and a lot of political will to use both, over a reasonable period of time. Nothing less would work. If this sounds like an unreasonable all for nothing approach, well, I am not at the negotiations table yet, so I have to be unreasonable. Put something realistic on the table, and let me then reassess my level of reasonableness. On the other hand, I have to say that, while flattered with your remarks about me, I am definitely not a lonely figure in the wilderness when it comes to my oppositional activities. There are quite a few people in Syria that have much longer histories in this work and have made many sacrifices for the cause of freedom and democracy. Many of them opted to join the Damascus Declaration, a spokesman of which just reiterated a short while ago that the Assads regime is “irreformable.” So, I am definitely not the only touting this line, I am in a good company at this stage. For almost every known and respected opposition figure in the country says very much the same thing. Indeed, we might not represent a force that can appeal to the street at this stage and oppose the regime in a serious manner, but we have come to agree, it’s been a couple of years now, that reforms are illusory and change is a must. If the international community chose to ignore us and side with the Assads, in the name of real politick and engagement, it will be the end of us, in every which way you can imagine: exile, death, imprisonment travel bans, constant security harassments and irrelevance. Once we are gone, I don’t think anyone will be allowed to fill our shoes. And no, the world is not going to follow your nice and reasonable engagement plan, everybody that has written on engagement so far was more busy thinking about the “high politics” involved, to think about such trivial issues as human rights, democracy and political reforms. Human rights will come as an afterthought, just as they did in the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement. Can you name a single case when Article 2 was seriously enforced? So, you see, Alex, unlike your friends who wish they can vote in the American presidential elections, I am doing the next best thing, I am lobbying, that still give some influence over the decision-making process hereabouts. Some is better than none. And my some, for what it’s worth, is against engagement.

  16. Re: Panel to Seek Change on Iraq (LA Times Oct 16)The conclusion of the panel is false and does not pay enough attention to the natures of the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Mr. Baker is perhaps out of date and does not recognize that the present Assad of Syria is not the same Assad he dealt with a decade ago. The current Assad is a novice untalented and quite rightly a failed politician. You cannot deal with such a person and expect the kind of outcome that Mr. Baker received from the deceased Assad. Moreover, a critical examination of Mr. Baker’s dealing with the late Assad is needed in order to assess the exact nature of the outcome of his dealings relating to the perceived ‘successes’. It may turn out in retrospect that Mr. Baker did not achieve much by talking to the late Assad. It may well be that the current Middle East problems are the result of dealing with a despot which laid down the foundation for the current debacle.Iran and Syria were and still are involved in an existential conflict with the US ever since it invaded Iraq. The US had failed to recognize the nature of this conflict and fell into the trap of taking poisoned carrots presented to it by both Syria and Iran on the eve of the Iraq invasion. These carrots were a false promise by the Syrians for an imaginary assistance in the war against terror. As it turned out the Syrians were using zealot opposition groups in a war against the US and at the same time providing the US with information about these groups. The US foolishly accepted the Syrian carrot. The result was a ‘free ride’ to the Syrian regime by unwittingly aiding it to diminish its opposition at the hand of the US while the US suffered tremendous losses in the process. Iran on the other hand offered the poisoned carrot of ostensibly aiding the US occupation of Iraq by maneuvering the Iraqi Shia into a position of neutrality regarding occupation with the aim of overthrowing their archenemy Saddam Hussein. The end result was the emergence of an Iraqi radical Shia political bloc allied with Iran and with little sympathy if any to the US and its policies.So what does Mr. Baker hope to achieve in this quagmire by talking to Iran and Syria? Such talk means one thing and one thing only to these two regimes: surrender Iraq to us and by extension the Gulf or continue to suffer losses and credibility as you continue Iraqi occupation. Besides why would Iran and/or Syria want to talk to the US now that they know full well that the US effort in Iraq is on the brink of collapse? There are no penalties suffered by either regime as a result of the status quo.A better approach would be for the US to go on the offensive and to seek to destabilize and eventually overthrow one regime at a time. The Syrian regime is the weaker of the two and is ripe for toppling and getting replaced by a more representative government. Once gone, the Middle East will enter into a new era which would be more positively responsive to US policies with regards to secular democratic governance leading to the achievement of a lasting peace. Iran will become totally isolated and if it does not fall from within it will face one of two alternatives: It may fall with the help of outside opposition supported by the US or the regime may have to come to terms and deal positively with US demands.

  17. Ammar,I don’t know why apparently I am giving you the impression that I meant to say that you are not effetive or not successful at all…not being able to single handedly overthrow the Syrian regime does not mean that your efforts are useless.All I said was that most Syrian opposition figures (not all) are not as respectable as you are (or: you are alone in being driven by the right moral values in your opposition, as opposed to the others who are driven by their lust for power for example), so I am not very motivated to tolerate chaos so that a Khaddam or some Ikhwan figure pretending to be moderate for now, can get to power.As for joshua’s “islamic Education In Syria” I did read it and I even linked it on his profile page on my site. You are right to remind me of the religious schools that Hafez Al-Assad tolerated or encouraged after Hama. But that is exactly my point … as I said earlier: if the Americans and their Arab allies stop trying to corner the secular Syrian regime, they will not need to be extra nice to the fundamentalists. Instead, the way things are now, the Syrians have to be sure they don’t add another enemy to their existing enemies and competitors (the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel …) so they they made the conservatives and fundamentalists their allies.But Ammar, you know that Bahsar is not in love with those conservative teachings and he would be the first to restrict them if he feels he has long-term reliable support from outside. Your proposals for a bicameral assembly will be resisted by both the Alawites and the Sunnis at the beggining, but it is the only compromise that can work, and I am sure there is a way to eventually sell it to most Syrians.And finally, I share your concern that if the west decided to abandon its previous policies in the Middle East, they might forget completely about democracy and human rights.My opinion on this: it is not too late for you to lobby for a partial shift in US policy .. not sticking to the current failed policies of isolating and punishing the Syrian regime, and on the other hand not totally abandoning democracy and human rights for the sake of any face-saving solution.Why don’t you lobby more for a middle East peace conference? … it won’t make the Syrians the stars of the show, there will also be Hosni and two King Abdallah’s ..etc, and you can lobby for including human rights, economic reforms, and democratic reforms in the agenda. This administration would still value those components at least as a face-saving way out of their failure to impress the world with the democracy they tried and failed so far to introduce to the Arab world. The next administration will not care much for democratic reforms I agree with you. But it is not too late now as long as this administration is here. Read for example this article in Chronicles by our friend George Ajjan this week.

  18. It may turn out in retrospect that Mr. Baker did not achieve much by talking to the late Assad. It may well be that the current Middle East problems are the result of dealing with a despot which laid down the foundation for the current debacle.True .. and it may turn out in retrospect that if I did not pass my driver’s test 20 years ago, I would not have had the accident I had last year.

  19. Ammar, just to let you know you have my total support and don’t worry about people criticizing you. It seems like people know only how to criticize people when they are right and weak. They don’t dare to critisize the authorities but compete to find them excuses!!! you hear me Alex. Anyway here are some pictures which will show you the value of having an Assad ruling the country Exotic Aleppo Flood PicturesBy independant Journalism….who needs media when we have digital cameras and critical eyes.

  20. Wow Fares, you really showed him. As always you’re arguments have are immature, unimpressive and backed by simple rage. You may have a point on many issues, but that doesn’t make you smart. What Alex and Ammar are doing is something called DISCUSSION. While they often disagree, they still RESPECT each other’s opinion. Both of these matters seem alien to you. I personally pity Michel Kilo for two reasons. First, the man is in prison on bullshit charges. Second, he has you as a supporter. Back to the topicAmmar said “1) You should ask our friend Joshua Landis about his study on the erosion of secularism in Syrian schools under the Assads. This aside, bear in mind that Hafiz al-Assad encouraged financed the establishment of over 400 Qur’an learning centers all over rural Syria that now function more or less as traditional Madrassas responsible for churning up thousands of messianic nitwits that preach the most wonderful mixture of salafi doctrine and unenlightened sufism, just what secular Syria really needs at this stage. In addition to this, the Assads have been tolerating and encouraging the flourishing of all different varieties of Islamic circles all through the late 80s and 90s, up to this very moment, in an idiotic attempt to channel Sunni”Well this could all be perfectly valid but what would have been the alternative? Deny islamists (as ridiculous as they may be) their religious schools? I am sure critics would have called that a violation of religious freedoms/human rights. So I would rather have the state allow such Madrassas to run and control the crap they teach instead of banning it completely and force unmonitored underground ones to flourish. I think its also worth mentioning that Syria produces fewer international religious fanatics than most, if not all, Middle Eastern countries. “2) I have no doubt that the Assads are interested in a stronger Syria. But they re also interested in maintaining their grip indefinitely on the reins of power there, and have no clue or desire to move away from the existing sectarian arrangements because they make their money by mani0pulating it. Establishing a strong Syria and keeping it under control are mutually exclusive dreams. Guess what side they are willing to err on?”I couldn’t agree with you more. But I disagree with the notion that they are worse than their counter parts in the Middle East. Which many Assad critics, including yourself, make them out to be. And that is simply not the case IMHO. I am not trying to champion “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” mentality. But ALL people in power are interested in maintaining their grip indefinitely, not just dictators. But what the Arab public lack; are the basic judicial & civil institutions to enforce some sort of competition for their leadership. We simply “prefer” to remain sheep. And not a single Arab society can declare that they’re immured from this pathetic yet highly successful model.

  21. I think its also worth mentioning that Syria produces fewer international religious fanatics than most, if not all, Middle Eastern countries.Actually all the major theorists of salafism and jihadism are Syrians. Ever heard of Abu Mus’ab al-Suri?

  22. before asad,syria had never known sectarianism and mass graves this explain the 40 years long international cover on this regime…Who hate the syrian people ,like the asads…

  23. Hey Criminal,1) I don’t need your testimony on how smart I am or not.2) I respect Ammar’s and Alex and everyone opinion but there is limit to logic sometimes. We are tired of excuses.3) You should not pity Michel Kilo, you should ask your Syrian leaders to release him immediatly regardless of who calls for his freedom.4) I am not a supporter of Michel Kilo, I am for people expressing their opinions without being jailed or tortured. I don’t pity you for your indifference, I pity the people who are managing a zoo in Syria and producing people who have great opinions like yours.

  24. One of the main reasons why we have managed to have really some wonderful discussion on this blog is the ability to keep things civil, despite how heated the debate got sometimes, and how emotional we got about them, and how sensitive the issues were. So Fares, IC, you know I always appreciate your contributions, but please keep things civil, and let’s avoid vilifying each other. Just to set an example in this regard, I am not going to say anything about the latest attempt at vilification that I have been a victim of, although being described simultaneously as a Baathist and an Islamist makes it easy to ignore the whole thing, it is simply too comical to warrant any serious rebuttal. I will just post the release prepared by the Brookings Institution in this regard.

  25. Sorry Ammar and thank you for the reminder, also sorry IC, I don’t care if you criticize me, but please leave Michel kilo out of it.Thanks

  26. I must have missed it but who called Ammar Baathist and Islamist? or was it outside of this comment section?

  27. Ammar, Alex, hey guys, don’t you see that the both views of yours and others are essential to the country. The pool of ideas and stands are necessary for the change, which we all hope for. Ammar continuous degrading of the Assads figures and the regime is so important and valuable to help strip that image of the dictator who thought he is untouchable, to show the youths of the country who have been raised during the dictator’s dad era who are clapping for him now, to show them the real face of these people. Leaders and elites who have stolen and accumulated 10% of the country fortune ( by 1998, his father and the rest of the family fortune owned almost the national budget of the country), in the hands of few, and had and still preventing the country’s economic wheel from turning which resulted in putting the country 100 year behind the world, dose not deserve any sympathy and they must be exposed to the people. An uncle, Rafat, who has blood on his hand and who has stolen a sizable amount, and who has run thief operations and all type of illegal activities under the watchful eye of the dictator, now living in luxury and still influencing our lives through his media. The concentrating on the regime figures is helpful in this stage. Those people, the regime and their cronies still think that they own the country and this mentality should change. Freedom is valuable thing and Syrian people do not know the taste of it yet. A man like Ammar is doing great job, to insult and put these people in their real place in history way before waiting 100 years to dare to say so. Alex, you are doing a great job too in exposing the weak, fragmented opposition and the bad apples in this opposition. I do respect your stands as much as I admire Ammar’s voice.

  28. If teh US and its Arab allies can not get rid of the Assads, then they (the Americans) are the first to blame for driving young Syrians to extremism. The above statement just seems surreal to me… The Americans are the INTERNAL actors that are stealing Syria’s wealth, supporting extreme Islamic schools, suppressing its citizens, retarding its economic progress, and funneling arms to Hizzbo and fighters to Iraq at Iran’s bidding?I see most of the discussion here regarding the US role in the Middle East being a “heads I win, tails you lose” circular argument. The US doesn’t do enough for you/ the US meddles too much. The US should overthrow the dictatorship in Syria and force regieme change in Iran. The US has isolated Syria/the US should not engage with Syria/the US should engage with Syria…The US made a grave mistake by invading Iraq to overthrow a dictator and force regieme change… And on and on it goes! The US supports the ONLY DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT in the region, shame on them!The only point of agreement that I have with the above comments is that the US policy in Iraq is not working out very well. The Iraqi on Iraqi slaughter is escalating… THIS IS THE FAULT OF THE US! After all, had we been good little world players after 9/11 we would have kept on with the no fly zone over the north and south of Iraq to prevent further slaughter of Iraqi citizens at the hands of their own gov’t and at the expense of the American taxpayer and with the blood of American servicemen. We would have continued to turn a blind eye to the theft of billions of dollars by Saddam in the Oil for Food scam, the program so blessed by the UN… Hell, even I knew the thing was rotten to the core back in 99′, it came as no great revelation to me, an ordinary citizen! What did surprise me was the 300,000 and counting corpses in Iraqi mass graves, the rape and torture of Iraqi citizens (and no, I am not talking about panties on your head at the end of a dog leash, or a cold room or loud music or EVEN a belly slap!)… I am talking about the chopping of hands and feet, the gouging of eyeballs and the use of branding equipment on someone’s head. Not a peep out of neighboring countries about that little FACT (The US should have done more to prevent this, anyone, Bueller?)Just from reading these comments, I now learn that there is a real possibility of mass graves in Syria! Who dug those graves? The US?As a citizen and a taxpayer of the United States, with a first born son in the United States Navy, I am disgusted with the “Daddy Complex” that you all cling on to in regard to the US. You are like survivors on a sinking life boat. I would like nothing more than to remove all US personnel from the Middle East and let you just keep slaughtering each other and turning your world back into the Flintstones. Are you surprised that a United States citizen would feel this way?Can you imagine the squeeling that would go on in the world community if John Bolton stood up at the UN and declared that the US was going to completely disengage with the Middle East and all Jews in Israel were invited to immediately apply for immigration to the US? Then, you could all get on with building nuclear weapons and killing each other. After all, Islam is a religion of peace.Would the last person out of the Middle East please turn off the lights?

  29. Since we’re on the topic of 9/11… One thing that struck me as odd in the days after 9/11 was Bush saying “We will not tolerate conspiracy theories [regarding 9/11]”. Sure enough there have been some wacky conspiracy theories surrounding the events of that day. The most far-fetched and patently ridiculous one that I’ve ever heard goes like this: Nineteen hijackers who claimed to be devout Muslims but yet were so un-Muslim as to be getting drunk all the time, doing cocaine and frequenting strip clubs decided to hijack four airliners and fly them into buildings in the northeastern U.S., the area of the country that is the most thick with fighter bases. After leaving a Koran on a barstool at a strip bar after getting shitfaced drunk on the night before, then writing a suicide note/inspirational letter that sounded like it was written by someone with next to no knowledge of Islam, they went to bed and got up the next morning hung over and carried out their devious plan. Nevermind the fact that of the four “pilots” among them there was not a one that could handle a Cessna or a Piper Cub let alone fly a jumbo jet, and the one assigned the most difficult task of all, Hani Hanjour, was so laughably incompetent that he was the worst fake “pilot” of the bunch. Nevermind the fact that they received very rudimentary flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, making them more likely to have been C.I.A. assets than Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. So on to the airports. These “hijackers” somehow managed to board all four airliners with their tickets, yet not even ONE got his name on any of the flight manifests. So they hijack all four airliners and at this time passengers on United 93 start making a bunch of cell phone calls from 35,000 feet in the air to tell people what was going on. Nevermind the fact that cell phones wouldn’t work very well above 4,000 feet, and wouldn’t work at ALL above 8,000 feet. But the conspiracy theorists won’t let that fact get in the way of a good fantasy. That is one of the little things you “aren’t supposed to think about”. Nevermind that one of the callers called his mom and said his first and last name, more like he was reading from a list than calling his own mom. Anyway, when these airliners each deviated from their flight plan and didn’t respond to ground control, NORAD would any other time have followed standard operating procedure (and did NOT have to be told by F.A.A. that there were hijackings because they were watching the same events unfold on their own radar) which means fighter jets would be scrambled from the nearest base where they were available on standby within a few minutes, just like every other time when airliners stray off course. But of course on 9/11 this didn’t happen, not even close. Somehow these “hijackers” must have used magical powers to cause NORAD to stand down, as ridiculous as this sounds because total inaction from the most high-tech and professional Air Force in the world would be necessary to carry out their tasks. So on the most important day in its history the Air Force was totally worthless. Then they had to make one of the airliners look like a smaller plane, because unknown to them the Naudet brothers had a videocamera to capture the only known footage of the North Tower crash, and this footage shows something that is not at all like a jumbo jet, but didn’t have to bother with the South Tower jet disguising itself because that was the one we were “supposed to see”. Anyway, as for the Pentagon they had to have Hani Hanjour fly his airliner like it was a fighter plane, making a high G-force corkscrew turn that no real airliner can do, in making its descent to strike the Pentagon. But these “hijackers” wanted to make sure Rumsfeld survived so they went out of their way to hit the farthest point in the building from where Rumsfeld and the top brass are located. And this worked out rather well for the military personnel in the Pentagon, since the side that was hit was the part that was under renovation at the time with few military personnel present compared to construction workers. Still more fortuitous for the Pentagon, the side that was hit had just before 9/11 been structurally reinforced to prevent a large fire there from spreading elsewhere in the building. Awful nice of them to pick that part to hit, huh? Then the airliner vaporized itself into nothing but tiny unidentifiable pieces no bigger than a fist, unlike the crash of a real airliner when you will be able to see at least some identifiable parts, like crumpled wings, broken tail section etc. Why, Hani Hanjour the terrible pilot flew that airliner so good that even though he hit the Pentagon on the ground floor the engines didn’t even drag the ground!! Imagine that!! Though the airliner vaporized itself on impact it only made a tiny 16 foot hole in the building. Amazing. Meanwhile, though the planes hitting the Twin Towers caused fires small enough for the firefighters to be heard on their radios saying “We just need 2 hoses and we can knock this fire down” attesting to the small size of it, somehow they must have used magical powers from beyond the grave to make this morph into a raging inferno capable of making the steel on all forty-seven main support columns (not to mention the over 100 smaller support columns) soften and buckle, then all fail at once. Hmmm. Then still more magic was used to make the building totally defy physics as well as common sense in having the uppermost floors pass through the remainder of the building as quickly, meaning as effortlessly, as falling through air, a feat that without magic could only be done with explosives. Then exactly 30 minutes later the North Tower collapses in precisely the same freefall physics-defying manner. Incredible. Not to mention the fact that both collapsed at a uniform rate too, not slowing down, which also defies physics because as the uppermost floors crash into and through each successive floor beneath them they would shed more and more energy each time, thus slowing itself down. Common sense tells you this is not possible without either the hijackers’ magical powers or explosives. To emphasize their telekinetic prowess, later in the day they made a third building, WTC # 7, collapse also at freefall rate though no plane or any major debris hit it. Amazing guys these magical hijackers. But we know it had to be “Muslim hijackers” the conspiracy theorist will tell you because (now don’t laugh) one of their passports was “found” a couple days later near Ground Zero, miraculously “surviving” the fire that we were told incinerated planes, passengers and black boxes, and also “survived” the collapse of the building it was in. When common sense tells you if that were true then they should start making buildings and airliners out of heavy paper and plastic so as to be “indestructable” like that magic passport. The hijackers even used their magical powers to bring at least seven of their number back to life, to appear at american embassies outraged at being blamed for 9/11!! BBC reported on that and it is still online. Nevertheless, they also used magical powers to make the american government look like it was covering something up in the aftermath of this, what with the hasty removal of the steel debris and having it driven to ports in trucks with GPS locators on them, to be shipped overseas to China and India to be melted down. When common sense again tells you that this is paradoxical in that if the steel was so unimportant that they didn’t bother saving some for analysis but so important as to require GPS locators on the trucks with one driver losing his job because he stopped to get lunch. Hmmmm. Yes, this whole story smacks of the utmost idiocy and fantastical far-fetched lying, but it is amazingly enough what some people believe. Even now, five years later, the provably false fairy tale of the “nineteen hijackers” is heard repeated again and again, and is accepted without question by so many Americans. Which is itself a testament to the innate psychological cowardice of the American sheeple, i mean people, and their abject willingness to beli
    eve something, ANYTHING, no matter how ridiculous in order to avoid facing a scary uncomfortable truth. Time to wake up America.

  30. (on a lighter note)Fares,Did you hear the joke about Michel Kilo?He’s being released from prison gram by gram…LOL

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