Sunday, March 06, 2005

Comment on Asad Speech

Round up of President Bashar al-Asad’s speech (in Arabic)this evening.
(I had to repost because of a link problem and lost one commment. Sorry to the commenter.)

The atmosphere: The president’s motorcade drove up to the front of the parliament building right at 6:00 and the crowd parted and the president stepped out of his car surrounded by several body guards and security. He waived to the cheering well-wishers and strode into the elegant Ottoman style building, where the deputies were waiting for him.

The crowd outside the parliament was small in comparison to that demonstrating in Beirut, but they waved Syrian flags in a mirror image of the Lebanese effort in Martyrs square. The Syrian crowd was not a spontaneous gather one must presume. It was managed; as such crowds are for all presidential photo opportunities these days. There would have been no problem finding willing participants. Syria is anxious and nationalistic these days. Everyone has been praying that their president would speak to the world and somehow explain that Syria is not a bad country. As one Syrian woman journalist said to me, “Syria’s face has been blackened in front of the world. It is a false face and a wrong image that the world has. The president must explain that we are not like that. We just want what is right.”

The president began his speech by explaining that Syria’s foreign policy is directed toward two goals. “One is to protect our national interests, our nation, and its identity, and the other is to protect our stability and internal calm and social peace.” In short – Arabism and stability – those are the foundations of Syrian policy.

The first half of the speech dealt with the peace process and Iraq. The president explained that Syria was serious about beginning the peace process without conditions, but that it expected to resume from the point where previous discussion had left off. He accused Israel of dishonoring the agreements of previous governments and wanting to start from ground zero.

On the Iraq situation, he insisted that Syria had done what it could to limit the uncontrolled flow fighters across the border and cooperate with the US. He accused Washington of making false claims about WMD and Syrian fighters.

In the second half of the speech, the president dealt with Lebanon. He addressed both 1559 and Ta’if, saying that Syria would withdraw its troops first to the Bekaa and then to the border in compliance with both agreements. He did not give a timetable for the withdrawal, claiming that a higher council of Syrian and Lebanese government officials would decide the matter in the next week. Nor did he speak about the mukhabarat (secret police).

All Syrians I have spoken to from shop keepers to intellectuals say they were pleased with the speech. My mother-in-law, who likes Bashar, was enthusiastic and wanted me to know how everyone feels he is a good person and will deal with the situation and bring reform to the country. She reiterated that Syria must withdraw, but insited that the President was correct to refer to the Lebanese opposition as “merchants,” who sell their opinions and support. Of course, everyone understood that the president was referring to Jumblatt in particular. She also believes that the Syrian mukhabarat have been sucked into affairs in Lebanon by the demands of Lebanese politicians more than they have thrust themselves into local politics. She also believes that the Lebanese will turn their country into a mess without Syria. Many Syrians agree with the President on this. How much of this sentiment is a product of hurt national pride and how much stems from a knowledge of Lebanon or fear that Syria would itself be vulnerable to civil strife if the government collapsed, I don't know.

Many Syrians were divided over the wisdom of the President addressing the parliament rather than using the traditional format: addressing the Baath Party, youth groups and cadres in a larger forum. The more westernized one is, the more the parliamentary forum seemed appropriate, largely because it resembles the western tradition of addressing the people, even if the parliament is not elected.

Most Syrians appreciated the president’s rhetoric about Arabism and how Syria is protecting its identity and that of the Arabs more generally. They see the recent events as he does – a battle between the forces of imperialism and Zionism against those of the embattled Arabs and Syrians.

My own sensibilities led me to see the speech from a Western perspective and, in particular, to wonder how Washington hawks will interpret it. They will find much to criticize. The president gave no time table for withdrawal. He accepted none of the blame for Syria’s isolation and explained the sudden consolidation of the Lebanese opposition only in terms of foreign influence and manipulation. He continued to describe the world from a Baathist perspective, as a battle between the forces of good and evil, pitting himself and Syria against George Bush and his nefarious plans for the region. Rather than laying out a vision for Syria’s future by announcing an agenda for reforms, he dwelt on old battles and history. He is carving an ever clearer image of himself as the anti-Bush.

In doing this, he may rally some domestic support, but he will only drive Syria’s conflict with the West forward. He cannot win this battle, and Washington hawks will push forward their arguments for regime change, claiming that the Syrian regime is irremediable even if it is flexible. The more Bashar resists, the more the US will focus on him as the source of the region’s evil. They will say, “He doesn’t get it. The world has changed, but not Syria.” There will be no relief for Bashar al-Asad so long as he digs in his heals and proclaims George Bush’s plan for the Middle East a failure. Washington will come after him whether he is flexible or not. No amount of tactical retreat will relieve the pressure. To truly get Washington off his back, he must “flee by advancing,” as Napoleon would say, and that means reforms. Some analysts here, argue that if he truly reforms, the regime will be undermined. Perhaps it is a catch twenty two?

Have to add a link to Hassan Fattah's excellent article in the NY Times: Saudis Join Call for Syrian Force to Quit Lebanon He quotes me, but it isn't just a vanity plug.


At 3/06/2005 01:55:00 PM, Anonymous Kafka said...

I think that Bachar gave a realistic speech; it shows a serious shift in policy. But I tend to agree with Joshua that it left several questions open, which explains the swift comments from the USA and France saying that the speech did not go far enough in the shift of policy required.
Formally it is difficult to argue against the proposed meeting tomorrow between the two presidents, scheduled to organise in Damascus the elements of the withdrawal. In reality the meeting leaves the door open to the pro-Syrian Lebanese president and his caretaker government to play for more time and political gains via a continued presence of the Syrian intelligence and army units in the Bekaa until after the elections. The meeting takes place on Monday.
On Tuesday Hezbollah and other Shiites organise a mass meeting in Beirut to say loud and clear that they are against the UN resolution 1559, which stipulates disarming Hezbollah and the departure of the Syrian army and intelligence units from Lebanon before the end of April hence before the Lebanese parliamentary elections in May (since Kofi Annan has to present in April a report to the Security Council on the application of this resolution).
On Wednesday the Lebanese president goes into consultations prior to nominating a new Prime Minister and cabinet.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday constitute the line of defence of the pro-Syrian Lebanese current to conserve a certain political status quo, namely: a pro-Syrian Lebanese government which will supervise the elections, an armed Hezbollah, and the beginning of an era where Syria would continue to be a major Lebanese player yet pleading that it respects the Taef agreement and the UN resolution 1559.
By the way I believe that Israelis are very mistaken to think the Lebanese would sign a separate peace agreement before the Syrians do.

At 3/06/2005 02:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Syrian, I have a few comments to make regarding the gullibility of the Syrian people. unfortunately and after seeing the image of Syria getting shattered day in and day out on TV all over the world, and realizing how much we are being perceived as a menace to the rest of the world, we were feeling the extremely unjust verdict we are doomed to suffer. Needing a voice to defend our position, we had no loud voice to reach far except this speech given yesterday. Explaining to the world that we are not bad and are being victimized by the US made the Syrian people give appreciation and approval for his speech.
We were so desperate to be heard we overlooked the many wrongs imposed on us on daily basis by this same Bashar. We forgot that Bashar never cared to give a damp about us since he came to power and never cared to address the nation except when the shit hit the fan. Just like in 1967 when the Baath lost Golan, they declared victory claiming that the Israeli objective of overturning the Syrian system was not achieved, Bashar today tried to repair the national pride by emphasizing that we are not getting kicked out of Lebanon because but we are rather leaving for after stabilizing the country. How easily Syrians forgot the iron fist and incarceration of liberties we are forced to endure for the past 42 years. The same iron fist which has been spreading havoc across Lebanon. I just wish the people of Lebanon after the Syria pullout would start exposing the crimes committed by Syrian officials and taking them to International tribunals. Only then would the Syrian people understand the atrocities committed under their name knowing very well that these same people committed similar atrocities in Syria against Syrian. I wish the Lebanese people would start such a wave of change to sweep both countries.

At 3/06/2005 03:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was there with my friends by own will and with no request by anyone and I would imagine this applies to many others but I can't confirm the gathering to be totally spontaneous.

At 3/06/2005 04:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anon 2:49, I get your message loud and clear. You are NOT a fan of the president. That is fine and it is your personal opinion. I think Bashar did mention that Syria has made some mistakes when it comes to lebanon. Although he did not go into specific, it was a way of acknowldging that Syrian presence was not perfect. You claim that there is an "iron fist" running havoc through lebanon, What are you talking about? freedoms? or corruption. And if you are talking about both please do not attempt to equate it to what the syrians endured in the 70s and 80s! Since Bashar became president, I feel alot freeier in my daily life and do have the sence that it is the new era. I am with Joshua's mother in law in her liking of Bashar, I just hope we give him the benefit of the doubt to get rid of the corrupt element in the ruling circle.

At 3/06/2005 04:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Joshua that there was a focus on Syria's Arabic identity in Bashar's speech but it was in the context of national security and with relation to the regional interests: This was clear when he explained the objectives of the Saudi visit and Egyptian contacts as merely explaining Syria's decision to withdraw rather than seeking support or assistance (no comments came out from these countries).

Personally, I didn't expect him to elaborate on the withdrawal plan or to explain on a map where & how the Syrian troops will withdraw. It seemed fair enough to make the announced and vow to withdraw and implement Taif & 1559.

The only disappointment I had in his speech was the total dedication to foreign affairs, we were expecting him to address internal affairs. He only spoke in a few sentences and referred to the national conference that will be held soon and hinted on dramatic changes.

At 3/06/2005 05:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 4:17,
I hope you keep liking Bashar and his cousin Rami until they finish owning the country while you and I become their official slaves. Surely they will introduce some measures of democracy then while they sign peace with the Jews and then forget about the past without holding anyone responsible and accountable for all the "mistakes" committed in Syria and Lebanon during the rule of the Assad dynasty. Just remember how Bashar inherited power and hold him accountable for bringing justice to these people hurt by his butcher father and uncle (when they were still friends with the uncle). I personally think it is just disgusting when someone says they are OK with Bashar from their own heart of their naiveness (provided they are not part of his instruments of cheering crowds)

At 3/06/2005 05:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is astonishing that the Bush administration doesn't understand that they are actually providing Bashar's government with support by their attacks on Lebanon. These report merely confirm that inflaming Syrian nationalism is not likely to bring about spontaneous regime change very soon. The U.S. government has had a completely irrational belief for many decades that if America makes things uncomfortable enough for people in a country whose government Washington disapproves of, then the people will spontaneously rise up and throw over their leaders. This is one of the dumbest ideas in all of political history, and it is even dumber because it has never worked. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again with no change and always getting the same negative results.

At 3/06/2005 06:08:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

>>Explaining to the world that we are not bad and are being victimized by the US made the Syrian people give appreciation and approval for his speech.<<

Ah yes, the indelible toxin of victimhood. The most reliable, soothing, and effective, weapon/balm the ME has ever produced and milked for the last 100 years.

Victimhood of course then morphs into passsive-aggressiveness, and that, my friends, is the gripping conscience collective of the region.

That's why your chains will remain.

At 3/06/2005 07:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Toni,

I am the guy you quoted. I wish more people share my view of reality

At 3/06/2005 07:40:00 PM, Anonymous GK said...

I think that Asad must realize that Lebanese will not accept the Syrian occupation anymore! The Syrian mukhabart are interfering in almost every aspect of the Lebanese life. By admitting the mistakes in Lebanon, Asad must direct his mukhabart to get out of Lebanon!

At 3/06/2005 11:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monday's New York Times reports that Hezbollah, after a long period of wary silence, is siding four square with Syria and has called for a mass counter-demonstration on Tuesday near Martyrs Square in central Beirut. The Times notes that Hezbollah "maintains a well-armed, 25,000-man militia in Lebanon."

I will be very interested in Josh's thoughts on this development.

At 3/07/2005 12:09:00 AM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Latest effluent from "Tony the hypocrite":

Ah yes, the indelible toxin of victimhood. The most reliable, soothing, and effective, weapon/balm the ME has ever produced and milked for the last 100 years.

Victimhood of course then morphs into passsive-aggressiveness, and that, my friends, is the gripping conscience collective of the region.

That's why your chains will remain.
It's not a "ME" thing Tony, or an "Arab" thing, or an "Arabist" thing, and it's been going on for far more than 100 years, especially in your part of the world. It's a *human* thing, you bloodthirsty propagandizing yellow journalist, got it? "Arabs", "Arabists" and "Middle Easterners" don't do it, silly, *humans* do it, the world over, from the start of our species.
Victomhood and the resulting passive aggression are characteristics of *homo sapiens*, Tony, got it?

What is especially rich is one of the worst practitioners of this vicimhood -> passive aggression are the Christian fascists - death squads, Israeli fascists, and US neoconservative fascists that Tony swoons over so much. Not that Tony can see that. He builds his psychologcial defenses with care.

For rightwing Christian ultranationalist Tony Badran, whose heroes are the Chamounists who stole the election in 1958, then called in their boyfriends the US Marines to come rescue them, and later called in the Israeli scum when their Christian dictatorship started slipping, Tony, is a *hypocrite*. For who has not mined the ores of victimhood, and the passive-aggression it feeds, more than the ultranationalist radical rightwing Lebanese Christians Tony so loves.

Ohhhhh, waiiiiiil, Syria is hurrrrrting us, waaaaaa, waaaaaaa, waaaaaa, listen to the Christian Rightists scream and pound their chests. Listen to them holler: "We Christians ruled this land with a boot and iron and fist for decades like the fascists we are, and now they make us split up the loot and share a bit of power. How dare they. Waaaaaaa.

So what's up these days, Tony? Still singing the praises of ultranationalist psycho criminal death squad leader Awn, Tony? Who's your fave today? Is it Bashir Gemayal, the guy with the Hitler posters in his high school locker? Or the Chamounist ultrarightists, whose webpage you linked favorably to the other day in the name of "freedom and democracy"? I went to that page, Tony, you dishonest huckster. The Chamounists haven't changed one iota since 1958 or 1982.

They aren't sorry for one single thing, they still have the same enemies as ever, it's the same old fascist swill, no moderation, not one edit.

At 3/07/2005 09:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We certainly can't say "like father like son", God forbid.... for the syrian stake.
Mr Asad sounded torn between his duty to his people,obligation to his father legacy, his pride and his prejudices and his deep conviction and desire to undo the totalitarism of the late soviet regime. Definitely His is Human....the proof: Mistakes were acknowledged (nevertheless shyly) ....
Winds of changes are reaching Damascus...and there must be a way for Syria to fall into new era of freedom and democracy out of this actual totalitarian regime and Mr Asad should find a way to win back his people in a magician tour , if he would like to redeem himself and his father heritage, in front of the international community that is blackening Syria's face.

At 3/07/2005 12:20:00 PM, Blogger johnplikethepope said...

I read Assad's admission that "mistakes were made" to mean "heads will roll." Will it be real change or window dressing?

There may be a feeble attempt to prop up pro-Syrian politicians in Lebanon, but the masses will have nothing of it. The Hezbollah rally scheduled for tomorrow is likely to be dwarfed by opposition supporters. If Damascus thinks it can sell window dressing that falls far short of allowing the emergence of an independent Lebanon it is sorely mistaken.
This regime can do nothing right in Lebanon.

At 3/16/2005 04:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Bashar to detah, he's the best thing that happened to the middle east since his father. I love the way he runs my country we are free and leaving peacefully i speak for many Syrians when i say LONG LIVE BASHAR

At 3/22/2005 08:25:00 PM, Blogger Baher said...

am syrian and very proud to be syrian,love Dr.Bashar and hope that under his leadership we ll reach stability and freedom in our Souria..


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