Friday, March 04, 2005

Saudi Arabia and Russia want Syria Out

The Russians and Germans have now called for a swift Syrian pull out from Lebanon. Washington is preparing the ground for European unity on the issue. As one European ambassador said to me recently, "the common denominator of the Bruxelles meeting was that we would all support 1559 and the UN. Even though top Baathists here continued to believe Europe would not climb on board an American led economic embargo, they may now be seeing that Washington has lined up its troops. Russia will not veto new UN resolutions that will be coming down the pike if Syria doesn't pull out completely.

The ambiguity in President Asad's interviews about whether Syria would pull out "completely" or leave troops on the Lebanese side of the border is driving the effort to make sure Syria has no escape hatch or wiggle room.

Bashar's trip to Saudi Arabia is an effort to find an Arab back door out of the closing European trap. Saudi can talk to the US and perhaps pave the way for a Syrian-Lebanese deal. But that looks unlikely now that Riyadh is taking a firm line of Syria’s withdrawal. Also the issue of the next Lebanese government is surely on the table in Riyadh. Saudi money helped build Hariri and keeps Lebanon solvent. The Royal family will surely play a roll in configuring the next government and the question of Lahoud's future. For all these reasons, Saudi Arabia is key to Syria's future in Lebanon and explains why Bashar has gone their first. With Egypt also calling for a quick and complete Syrian withdrawal, it looks like the Arab League will not be willing to come to Bashar's aid.

Kofi Annan will be issuing the UN’s report card on resolution 1559 in April. Washington and Paris want a complete Syrian withdrawal by then. If there isn’t one, they want Europe and the Arab states lined up behind them for further UN action. Bashar said he wasn’t feeling isolated in his recent interviews, but that may just be whistling past the graveyard.

Thu Mar 3, 2005 07:17 PM ET
By Dominic Evans

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia added a key Arab voice on Thursday to mounting demands that Syria withdraw its troops swiftly from Lebanon, with Washington raising the threat of punishment if it didn't.

For decades Syrian troops have helped Damascus secure influence over its small neighbour. The United States has long called for them to leave but the pressure has soared since a former Lebanese premier was assassinated last month.

"If you believe in democracy, why not let the democracy in Lebanon flourish and grow," said U.S. President George W. Bush, who backed a U.N. resolution in September that called on Syria's troops to withdraw. "It's time for Syria to get out."

U.S. officials said Washington and European allies wanted to be ready to act quickly, maybe with unspecified sanctions and a tougher U.N. resolution, if Syria failed to pull out.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia also told Damascus to leave Lebanon when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Riyadh for crisis talks with Crown Prince Abdullah.

A regional U.S. ally, Abdullah told Assad that "Syria must start withdrawing soon, otherwise Saudi-Syrian relations will go through difficulties", one Saudi official said.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency said the Saudi comments lacked credibility, adding: "The talks were...constructive and fruitful and were conducted in an extremely amicable fashion."

Another Arab heavyweight, Egypt, also wants Assad to pull out his 14,000 troops in compliance with the resolution and the Taif Accord that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

But Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo refrained from joining in the increasingly public pullout campaign, saying they were opting for quiet diplomacy by individual Arab states.

Syria's military presence dates from a 1976 intervention. Troop numbers have declined in recent years.

It has faced growing calls to end military and political dominance of its neighbour since former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated last month in a Beirut bombing.

Lebanon's opposition blamed Syria, which denies involvement, and organised protests which toppled Beirut's pro-Syrian government this week. Hariri was close to the Saudi royal family, took Saudi citizenship and spent two decades there forging construction deals that turned him into one of the world's richest men.

"They should withdraw immediately," another Saudi source said of the Syrians. "This is what we told them and this is what the whole world is telling them."

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who diplomats said attended the meeting in Riyadh, earlier told reporters in Egypt he had "no initiative" to resolve the Syria-Lebanon crisis.


Russia, long one of Syria's best friends, also said the troops should go.

"Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, but we all have to make sure that this withdrawal does not violate the very fragile balance which we still have in Lebanon, which is a very difficult country ethnically," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Moscow abstained when the Security Council adopted U.S.- and French- sponsored Resolution 1559 in September calling for foreign forces to leave Lebanon and militias to disarm. But Lavrov said the resolution, like any other Council measure, must be implemented.

Assad was quoted by Time magazine on Tuesday as saying he could pull out the remaining soldiers within months, but the United States has expressed scepticism.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said his special envoy on Syria and Lebanon would visit the region in the next few days.

"I will be sending back Terje Roed-Larsen to the region to discuss the issue of withdrawal with the two governments," he told reporters.

"My hope is that I will be able to report progress when I submit my
next report in April." He said everyone was aware of the need to avoid a situation that could destabilise Lebanon or cause tensions.


At 3/04/2005 03:52:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

“One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’

But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?’

Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’

But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’

But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?’

Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’

The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’”

Judges 9:8-15

At 3/04/2005 01:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Once upon a time a large tree was infested with a huge beehive. And the tree said to the farmer, 'If you come near, the bees will attack you and the rest of your fields'.

So the farmer stayed away.

Meanwhile, the fields were consumed in all directions, and the people and workers stayed away from the field because every time they went out, they were stung.

And the tree prospered. But the farmer and his workers went out of business. And the farmer and the people became angry. And a few of the angry people started killing themselves with Semtex.

And the farms next door also were also being affected. Although one farm built a security fence.

Until one day, the bees attacked the most powerful farm in town. And the owner of the that farm and his workers became very angry. And they started chopping down the tree with the huge beehive. And everyone said the tree and the beehive were too strong to be chopped down. But the farmer was very angry and he didn't listen to the naysayers. And the tree fell.

And the people started to work again, and they no longer were getting stung. And the tree died. And the people were free and life for them was peaceful.

And the tree with the beehive was used as firewood."

At 3/04/2005 01:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some serious censorship must by in progress for this massive dose of Aesopian fables to have appeared all of a sudden. Prof. Landis, are you ok?

At 3/04/2005 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Yes, OK. Got stung though. j

At 3/04/2005 02:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prof. Landis...I know my country well and wish you luck and grace as you deal with these dinosaurs!

At 3/04/2005 04:54:00 PM, Anonymous Firas said...

Let's see if President Assad has the courage to do what is necessary and what's right tomorrow. I am hoping (against hope) that he'll announce a COMPLETE and FINAL withdrawal of our troops from Lebanon. We need to close this chapter once and for all. Having said that, I have a feeling that he's going to announce a partial withdrawal, in which case, we'll remain the target of the US and the World, at a very high cost. Our image has suffered immeasurable as a result of the bad publicity over the past few weeks. It was bad enough as it was before this whole episode.

I would like to see our President take the initiative to make a bold statement that includes the following:

1. Respecting the wishes of the international community, the Lebanese and Syrian populations by withdrawing from Lebanon, AND, more importantly, withdrawing from Lebanese affairs. If that has negative repercussions on Lebanese affairs, let the burden be carried by the collective Arab and International communities.

2. A historic re-affirmation of Syrian recognition of Lebanese independence and sovereignty, to give paranoid Lebanese comfort in the finality of their state and to assuage them of their fears of Syrian “hegemonic” interests. It would be nice to also announce a normalization of relations between Syria and Lebanon, including formal diplomatic relations, to put that issue to bed.

3. An announcement of a strategic new direction in Syrian policy, which includes an abandonment of Syria's 'traditional' leading role in championing Arab causes - from Palestine to Iraq and including that most elusive one of all: Arab Unity. Instead, I would love to see a new focus on "Syria" in its present-day internationally-recognized borders with emphasis on human development, including education, healthcare, internal unity, civic society, economic development, etc.

4. A new approach and a new mindset governing Syria's approach to its Arab and international relations. Rather than the traditional "sisterly" and "historic" empty sentiments that characterized our relations with everyone from Mauritania to Lebanon, relations should be based on mutual interests and nothing else. As such, the relations with Lebanon should be based on interests (economic, security, social, whatever). There should be no preference of Egypt over Turkey, for example. We've had enough of this empty Arab sentiment; we're ready for a new approach. And, with all due respect, I care more about quality than quantity. I care more about good relations with Turkey and India than I do about Mauritania or Yemen!

5. As for the Golan, Syria should reiterate its desire and readiness to negotiate a peace treaty separate from any other in the region, and based simply on a return of the entire Golan for normalized peace. If Israel does not accept, this issue should be placed on the back burner, in terms of priority, until conditions ripen, with an "understanding" of recipriocal non-belligerence between Syria and Israel in the meantime.

6. An announcement of the launch of a major reform program that includes the following major initiatives:

A. Presidential elections in some years (5 or 7 years) that will be fair and up to international standards, with observers invited to monitor (and even certify) them. Meantime, a government of qualified experts should be formed to take care of business and take on the follwoing agenda.

B. A massive overhaul of the education system that should take the absolute highest national priority. This should be identified as the project of paramount importance. This should include preparing and certifying new generations of teachers, utilizing the latest learning techniques, building modern schools and developing new, modern curricula for Syrian schools, emphasizing analysis not regurgitation, a focus on foreign languages (English, French, Chinese), sciences, maths and computers, and excluding both political indoctrination and religious teaching from schools. This overhaul should include the entire educational system from pre-school to universities.

C. A serious reform of the justice and law-enforcement systems. This should be the second highest priority, as it will safeguard rights and obligations of Syrians and foreigners living and working in Syria.

D. A special commission should be established to propose and implement strict guidelines/laws for religious teaching in the country. This should be comprised of accomplished legal and religious scholars representing all major religions. The unofficial religious schools in homes and elsewhere should be banned, and non-licensed "mashayekh" and "ansaat" should be prosecuted. This issue of religious teaching should be tightly regulated to control what is being spewed into children's impressionable miinds! We don't let unlicensed doctors practice medicine...why should we allow unlicensed teachers to spew non-sense into our children? These are far more dangerous! Having said that, all religious freedoms should be carefully protected.

E. Analysis and recommendation for the implementation of a new tax system that serves the country’s goals of social and economic development. This should enable the government to collect taxes and abolish the numerous stupid taxes that, to many of us, feel more like extortion!

F. Revisiting or rewriting the constitution with emphasis on secularism, cultural pluralism and individual rights. Syria’s constitution must not allow pretexts for any Syrians to feel alienated and must safeguards the rights of all of its people – regardless of religion or ethnicity. As such, references to "Arab" or "Islam" should be eliminated. As such, a Kurd, an Armenian, an Alawi or a Druze should feel just as Syrian as a Sunni Arab. Let's embrace pluralism in the definition of our national identity and close that loop hole.

G. A serious overhaul of Syrian diplomacy, reflecting the above, and coupled with a massive public relations campaign to improve Syria's image abroad. This should be done with the support of and partnership with Syrian communities abroad.

H. An announcement of a Commission for Reconciliation whose objective would be to deal with issues of political arrests over the past 35 years, accounting for all political prisoners, including those killed or maimed and paying reparations to them or their families and possibly prosecuting those guilty of extra-judicial murder or torture.

I. An economic reform plan that adopts the principles of the market, with a slow and gradual plan toward a market economy. This must be based on a careful study and analysis of other experiments (e.g. China and others) and must accompany educational and legal reform (above). A study should be undertaken of successful examples in identifying several strategic industries and pouring resources into developing them. E.g. Japan’s identification of for Auto and Consumer Electronics industries in 50’s and India’s focus on IT industry more recently. Syria must not just seek to close the big gap, but should look to the future and plan for it today.

J. Related to the above, a serious program of population control must be implemented to control the high birth rate in Syria. Iran’s example can be studied, as well as others. With such a pathetic public sector and a practically non-existent private sector, Syria needs to control its population growth rate very quickly, if it’s to accomplish its development plans.

I don't call for Western-style democracy in Syria, because I don't think the social and religious climate is ready for it yet. Lebanon is a prime example. Technically, Lebanon has been a democracy since its independence in 1943. Yet, it has gone through civil unrest in 1958 and nasty civil war in 1975 because it’s a tribal, clannish, confessional, sectarian society – and still remains so. Our Middle Eastern societies are still clannish, patriarchal and male-dominated. If democracy is to succeed as a political system, it must be prevalent as a social value. This does not exist anywhere in the Middle East today. In our societies, at home, the father imposes his will (and wishes) on his wife and children. At the office, at each level, the manager imposes his/her will on the employees. At school, again, the teacher imposes his/her will on students. The culture of individuality and freedom does not exist. So, what's the solution? Well, in my opinion, by instituting the above agenda and establishing a new education system (and supported by a legal system) that emphasizes and respects individuals, individual rights, freedom of expression, acknowledges and respects dissent while safeguarding the right of society...we are laying the foundation for future "democracy" in a couple of generations. In the meantime, this system will encourage initiative, civic duty, responsibility and ownership in public affairs! When kids learn to vote for certain class activities or elect a student council, this forms a nucleus for a new way of thinking that can eventually support a democratic system of government.

That’s what I would advise the President to do, but then again, I’m not in that position and this is my only outlet – for now!


At 3/04/2005 05:34:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...


At 3/04/2005 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Tina said...


If Assad had advisors like you he would never find himself in the situation he's in today.

Those are excellent suggestions. Don't be so sure that you're not ready for democracy. It was not that long ago that the US was a patriarchal society, women were not allowed to vote, and you don't know what tribalism is until you've seen Irish, Germans, Scots, Italians, Poles, Chinese and various mixtures thereof all living within blocks of each other in dozens of cities all over the US. We learned to get along, so can you.

At 3/05/2005 02:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your comments so eloquently put hit the nail on the head.

I wish you started your words with:
"I have a dream....."

At 3/05/2005 08:25:00 AM, Anonymous Firas said...


Thanks for your vote :) As for your comment about democracy, I beg to disagree. Let me give you a more recent example to illustrate my point: When the Berlin Wall fell and the oppressive regimes of Eastern European countries disintegrated, Warsaw Pact countries were able to "prosper" and democracy could take hold. The reason is because the values of 'individual rights', 'freedom' and 'liberty' were already there – in their societies. Socially, they were a free people, but politically, they were not. People were used to thinking rationally and reasonably before making decisions, and were already accustomed to accepting dissenting, opposing opinions (again, socially). So, when you remove the tyrannical regimes, the societies can embrace a form of political democracy and have it function relatively well.

In our case in Syria, Lebanon and others, unless the way of thinking, the mindset, the approach to decision-making, change, opening it up to a "democracy" quickly will produce adverse effects. That is why I would advocate a phased approach that would introduce political freedoms in doses, coupled with a serious education program. Our people are by their very nature reactionary, impulsive, spiritual and emotional. At the same time, they are not used to dealing well with dissent. They can be moved from one position to another quickly with words. They can be moved to action with invocation of religious, sentimental or other emotional sentiments. They can be stirred into a frenzy pretty easily; we've seen that time and again. This is why I would focus on education; on analysis rather than regurgitation in the teaching approach. You want to slowly “reprogram” people to start analyzing facts to reach decisions, rather than just accept what is dictated. Analysis must be based on science, logic, reason and common sense, not just some reference to tradition, scripture or dictate that might not make any sense. Again, Lebanon is a great example: Lots of freedoms and little democracy - to tragic results. A pre-mature implementation of "democracy" without having laid the proper educational background can be detrimental to national cohesiveness and unity.

With all due respect, the notion of democracy being the magic solution to all societies everywhere is rather naive. France, Britain and other mature democracies have developed over 300 years, within a certain cultural, social, religious and educational context that is different from our region today. We don't need a quick-fix instant solution here. We've been in a mess for 1200 years now; we can wait a few generation and do it right!



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