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SYRIA - The US Role.

The notion that the US will forcibly de-Baathify Syria no longer worries Assad or his old guard opponents within Syria's Baath Party. Both Assad and his Baathist opponents are convinced that, eventually, the priority for the Bush team is to get out of the Iraq "quagmire". But Syrian jihadis, of Sunnism's violent Salafi order, are determined to keep the Americans bogged down in Iraq until they have become strong enough to stage a violent insurgency in Syria.

As The Christian Science Monitor observed on June 30, the American course in Iraq - which, since 2003, has "zigged and zagged like a Humvee in a minefield" - will have more success "if President Bush displays better powers of persuasion back home". American public support for a victory and the 140,000 US troops in Iraq cannot wane if Bush's myriad goals are to be met. His speech on June 28, aimed at lifting sagging polls, revealed "yet another shift by Bush to justify this open-ended conflict". It was "hardly the kind of stirring pitch that's needed to sustain popular support against the media's daily images of bombings, body bags, and burials".

The very fact that Bush had to ask young Americans to enlist showed "a lack of leadership so far in rallying people to a wartime cause". The war's most public justification - eliminating Iraq's WMD - proved to be "as illusory as a desert mirage". The chances of Saddam Hussein slipping a WMD to Al-Qaeda, though possible and worrisome, proved slim at best. The final official report on that score, however, did find Saddam had the capacity and intent to restore his stockpiles, which he had already shown a willingness to use.

A less-touted reason given by Bush before the war - to implant a democracy as a model for ending autocratic, Middle East regimes which now breed terrorists - has only lately gained prominence. And for a while after the Jan. 30 elections, which saw millions of ink-fingered Iraqis relish a first step of civic liberty and other steps towards democracy in the region, there was hope of imminent sea change. But the arduous task of creating a constitutional Iraqi government from scratch has been slow and not fully embraced by an American democracy which itself has become impatient with long-term goals and has grown more divisive under the uncompromising partisanship of current US politics.

The third pre-war justification - more related to 9/11 and Al-Qaeda than Iraq and eliminating Saddam - was to take the fight to the enemy. This now has risen to the top of Bush's list of reasons to be in Iraq. Today, Iraq has become the place where, Bush on June 28 said to mark the first anniversary of the US hand-over of power in Iraq to the Iraqis, terrorists "are making their stand".

Indeed, as the Monitor said, an odd mix of militants - from anti-Shiite Sunni Arabs to Al Qaeda-tied fighters to other Islamic fighters - has arisen in Iraq "like flies to honey". Not by design, the paper said, the US-led invasion of Iraq has "mixed a civil war with an international war on terrorism".

The US military presence in Iraq itself, as a recent CIA report found, has also helped recruit many new terrorists from Syria and other lands, perhaps leading to problems elsewhere in the future struggle. And Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld now says the US will probably withdraw before the terrorists in Iraq are fully defeated, leaving Iraqi forces to finish the task.

The Bush administration's bungling during the immediate post-war occupation of Iraq did make things worse. It helped breed resentment among Sunni Arabs, who then began supporting foreign jihadis. The Monitor said, "Bush would gain more US support by admitting that".

Instead, however, Bush paints all such fighters as a seamless enemy who will only grow stronger if the US retreats prematurely. He is right that the US cannot retreat, but the enemy is hardly seamless. Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents - and not the Salafi volunteers from Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries - are likely to be slowly beaten or won over by a more inclusive Iraqi government.

Bush, the Monitor said, needed to "push Muslim leaders to stick their necks out more and condemn the beheadings and suicide-bombings by jihadists". Killing terrorists is one thing, but the best course is to isolate them politically or morally.

President Bush's argument that the US is fighting for its own security and for freedom is not enough. Nor is it enough to call for the US to show tenacity. What is needed, according to the Monitor, "is an America united against the immoral tactic of using the mass murder of civilians in the name of Islam or to restore a dictatorship".

That, the paper said, can sustain the US in Iraq. "Iraqis themselves, by steadily uniting behind their young democracy and by eagerly signing up to fight terrorists, are proving to Americans that they want to take a moral stand. (More Iraqi security forces have been killed than American soldiers since Saddam was toppled). Bush set those actions in motion. But he has been lax in persuading Americans to sustain that high moral ground. One or two speeches a year doesn't cut it".

The Course Of Punishing Syria: Bush's course in punishing Syria by installments seems to be effective enough to keep Assad's regime under pressure to change for the better, from the US perspective, but not strong enough to speed up its extinction. A collapse of the Baathist regime could be followed by a Salafi Islamist insurgency as dangerous - if not more threatening to US interests in the Middle East - as the one now in Iraq.

The latest installment came on June 29, when President Bush issued an executive order freezing all US assets of eight organisations in Iran, North Korea and Syria deemed to be involved in weapons proliferation - including, among others, the assets of Interior Minister and former intelligence chief in Lebanon Gen. Ghazi Kan'aan, and of the latest Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon Rustom Ghazali. While most of the targeted organisations were already under US sanctions, the order provided a powerful tool to force other countries to stop all dealings with these and other entities designated as "proliferators". The US is helping the American-based Syrian opposition figure, Farid Ghadry, set up an office in Baghdad from which to destabilise the Assad regime.

Apart from the Syrian and the North Korean cases, the June 29 move could open new rifts among the US, Russia and the European Union over how to deal with the nuclear threat posed by Iran. The provision, modelled after those used to curb financial support for terrorist groups, gives the US treasury secretary new powers to freeze assets and block all US transactions of foreign companies deemed to have provided any support for the sanctioned organisations. A US treasury official was on June 30 quoted as saying: "The point is to isolate and cut these organisations off from the US financial system".

Patrick Clawson, senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the executive order as an "assertive policy stance" aimed at restricting Iran's entire nuclear industry. This further pressure on Tehran could eventually lead to a deal of sorts between Iran and the US.

A deal between the US and Iran over the future of Iraq and Lebanon would worsen the isolation of Syria's Baathist regime. The possibility of such a deal became apparent following a visit to Baghdad on May 15 by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The main purpose of Rice's visit was to persuade Baghdad to greatly increase the involvement of Sunni Arabs in the drafting of a permanent constitution for the country. But the occasion was used by prominent Iraqi Shiites to persuade her that the chances of a deal with Iran would be strong if Rafsanjani were to win the presidential election.

Rafsanjani lost the June 24 election. But APS sources in Baghdad say he would not have suggested a deal with the US without having had a prior understanding on this with Supreme Leader Khamenei, who controls decision making on Iran's external relations. The sources say the chances of a US-Iran deal over the future of Iraq was still relatively strong, although they are not certain about the fate of Hizbollah in Lebanon which still has strong support among the conservative quarters the Shiite theocracy (see fap6bSyriaIranJun6-05).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 4, 2005
Previous Article:SYRIA - Baathists Fear Extinction.
Next Article:SYRIA - The Lebanon Factor.

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