Monday, November 13, 2006

Assad's Syria: Time for a Change of Course? (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1, last post)

Here, a strategy change with regards to Syria may be in order. The Bush administration, at the behest of its war hawks, has continued to isolate the Syrian administration under Assad, and prosecuted them as an ally in terrorism. However, recent calls from Israel, Britain, and important Middle Eastern allies have brought the possibility for cooperation back to the forefront. A recent New York Sun article explicates this new potential relationship. Assad, backed by American allies, has called for American cooperation and negotiations. Now, more than ever, is the time to establish a working relationship with Syria, not only to reduce Iran's geopolitical influence, but also as an opportunity to smooth over religious, sectarian tensions.

Such a strategy of engagement is a crucial part of any successful strategy in the Middle East, especially one which seeks to prevent Iranian ascension in the region. According to Jim Lobe, Syria remains the lynchpin of the Middle Eastern geopolitical equation (while this article was posted on antiwar.com, Lobe is legitimate, as a senior editor for the Inter Press Service). Cooperation with Syria would have several benefits:

  1. Hezbollah and other Shia' Extremism: Iranian influence in Syria's day to day operations, and close ties with the Assad administration have allowed it to continue to successfully support the Hezbollah terrorist organization, the primary agitator in the this summer's war. Cooperation from Syria would both reduce cooperation between Syria and Iran, allowing a more effective crackdown on Hezbollah. It would also reduce Iranian influence in the western portion of the Middle East, likewise undermining radical Shi'ism.

  2. Iraqi Stabilization: Syrian cooperation with the United States would help to foster cooperation over Iraq, especially with regard to their mutual border. Cracking down on this gateway for terrorist transportation would have the duel effect of undermining a terrorist logistical boon, as well as reducing the mobility of the insurgency. The second effect, (one which is not lost on the current Iraq Study Group) is the effect such cooperation would have on the Sunni militant insurgency in Iraq. By working with Syria, and the relatively Moderate Assad administration, the United States would have a better shot at cooperating with the insurgency groups, allowing for the formation of a legitimate coalition government.

  3. Israeli Peace Process: Syria and Israel remain two of the major players in the Middle Eastern Peace Process, especially with regards to the terrorist attacks coming from Hamas's Palestine. Syrian-Israeli-American cooperation (or at least diplomacy) would ease tensions over the Golan Heights, reduce terrorism (see Hezbollah), and isolate the Hamas movement. These factors would help to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace, and at very least to isolate Hamas diplomatically and logistically.

These benefits help both to smooth over sectarian troubles in the Middle East, but also to reduce Iranian geopolitical clout, helping to maintain the stability of the region.


Critics claim that engagement with the Syrian regime will only help to support/legitimize the current Assad regime which has been a supporter of terrorism, and has suppressed local democracy movements, and that a hard line which isolates Syria would be preferable, leading to regime change. This relies however, on a false premise. Namely, that the Syrian administration is on unstable political footing. However, this is simply not the case. American attempts to isolate Syria have resulted in strengthening Syrian dictatorship, as Syrian leadership no longer relied on western aid, but was able to support itself through the help of others such as Iran, allowing for continued despotic control. Additionally, this connection to Iran, not the administration itself, is more to blame for Hezbollah terrorism, thus cooperation would be preferable to competition.


On both sides of the spectrum, left and right, the goals remain the same. Stabilize Iraq, prevent Iranian control of the region, prevent the spread of radical terrorism, and secure peace for Israel and Palestine. And as far as Syria policy is regarded, the only real opportunity for positive change lies with engagement with Assad's regime. In all truth, only one option remains tenable.


The possibility for change always remains on the table. Unfortunately, it is our administration, rather than Assad's which the barrier to change remains. American military, economic, and political power makes us a more attractive ally, one which can satisfy their needs more effectively. Moreover, Syria fears Iran's radical Shi'ism just as much as all of the other Sunni regimes in the region, and their alliance with the Iranians has been a convenient one rather than a tactical one.


Is it time for a change in the course? Absolutely!

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