Sunday, August 07, 2005

What is Behind Recent US Threats Against Syria?

Recent headlines describe how US officials hope to keep the pressure on Syria. Both John Bolton, the controversial new US ambassador to the UN, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld continue to warn Syria that it better revamp its security system to arrest and prosecute militants passing through the country. They implicitly threaten that Washington will place further economic sanctions on Syria or, perhaps even, strike out militarily against it with a cross border or bombing raid of some kind. Any sort of one-off punitive action would be counter-productive. It would only bolster Bashar’s popularity, much as the Ras al-Shaykh bombing in Egypt boosted Mubarak’s popularity in Egypt. The State Department, however, is suggesting a softer line and cooperation with Europe rather than unilateral American action.

Bolton Says Iran, Syria Failing to Stop Militants
Los Angeles Times - CA,USA
John R. Bolton, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, accused Syria and Iran of not doing enough to stop foreigners from joining the insurgency in Iraq.

Rumsfeld says Syria 'not behaving in wise manner' - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "The United States and the world obviously has to create a better clarity in the minds of leaders of Syria that what they are doing is harmful ultimately to themselves," Rumsfeld said after a speech in Beverly Hills at which he was twice heckled.

Rumsfeld said he was referring to Syria's refusal to return Iraqi funds, housing of Baathists from Saddam Hussein's fallen regime and the flow of insurgents across the border. He said Syria was also "undoubtedly financing" some of the Iraqi insurgency.

Several means of upping the pressure on Syria have found backers in Washington. One most often hears of sanctioning the Commercial Bank of Syria, which is accused of laundering Saddam's money, and sanctioning oil. This article below by Peter Schweizer in USA Today recommends crushing Syria's oil industry. Syria's economy has already been staggered by America's invasion of Iraq. The government recently announced that the estimate of Syria's 2004 GNP growth rate had fallen to 2%. 2003 has been estimated at around 2.5%, which was down from 2002's rate of almost 4% due to the war. Thus the real growth rate in Syria is actually negative because population growth is around 2.7%.

The US can ensure that the Asad regime fails by enacting such draconian measures and that Syrians are impoverished as have been their Iraqi neighbors.

Will America gain anything from this squeeze play other than to spread chaos, anger, and poverty throughout the Arab world? I suppose it will have the satisfaction of revenge. It won't stop terrorism, though - that seems fairly certain. The whole rational for Washington's invasion of Iraq was to jumpstart good governance and economic growth in the region in order to dry up the swamp of Arab frustration that provides a breeding ground for terrorist groups.

The present and proposed sanctions on Syria are working in the exact opposite direction. Their most likely outcome will not be to reduce terrorism, but to produce a second failed state in the region - or third, if we count Palestine.

Time to tighten the noose on Syria
By Peter Schweizer

As the ground war continues in Iraq, there has been plenty of discussion about the training of the Iraqi army, a timetable for U.S. troops leaving and the domestic security situation in the country. But what happens next door in Syria could determine Iraq's future.

Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, has already gone on record declaring that insurgents are "operating out of Syria with impunity," providing both financial support and guidance. More recently, the U.S. Treasury Department linked four of Saddam Hussein's nephews, who are operating out of Syria, to the insurgency.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has urged the Bush administration to increase pressure on Syria. In recent months, U.S. troops have been operating near the Iraq-Syria border in an effort to hit terrorist bases of operation.

Importance of bases

It is impossible to know at this point how important Syria is to the health and welfare of the terrorists operating in Iraq. History teaches us that external bases from which to operate have always been vital. Material from the Soviet archives shows that sanctuaries in "neutral" Cambodia and Laos were vital for the North Vietnamese. During the 1980s, Pakistan provided a key base of operations for Afghans fighting the Soviet occupation. At a minimum, Syria provides a convenient place for terrorist cells to form, get funding and supplies, and rest after conducting their attacks.

The Bush administration has taken some steps to turn up the pressure on Damascus. It has frozen the overseas assets of senior military and intelligence officials and imposed economic sanctions. But these measures don't go far enough. Consider the vital Syrian oil and gas sector. Energy production represents 50% of the country's total budget income and 70% of total exports. Plenty of American oil companies help keep the Syrian energy sector working: ConocoPhillips, Chevron Texaco and U.S. Occidental all provide critical expertise and parts to the Syrians.

President Bush's sanctions, while helpful, are not effective. All of these companies can still invest in the Syrian energy sector; they just need to contract with non-American suppliers for replacement parts and personnel.

Also, there are plenty of European and Asian countries that help prop up Syria's energy sector. Syrian energy production is already down, even with this external support. Without it, the Syrian energy sector would probably collapse.

But how do we tighten the noose? President Reagan faced a similar problem in 1982. Determined to prevent the construction of a natural gas pipeline from the communist-controlled East into Western Europe, he imposed sanctions against any U.S. oil companies participating in the project. Almost overnight, he was undermined by European allies who circumvented the sanctions and allowed their own energy companies to replace U.S. contractors.

Reagan didn't budge

Reagan's response? He applied portions of the Export Control Act and announced that he was extending the sanctions to include any foreign companies that were using U.S.-licensed technology. If, for example, a French company used U.S.-licensed technologies on the pipeline, that company could not sell in the U.S. market.

European leaders were outraged, and a compromise followed. In exchange for backing down, Reagan got the Europeans to commit to tightening loans, dramatically reducing the size of the natural gas projects and tightening controls on technology exports.

If our European allies fail to support a tighter squeeze on Syria, President Bush should consider a similar move. Syria needs international technological and management support to keep its energy sector going. And no international energy company is going to risk exclusion from the U.S. market in exchange for a contract with the Syrian government.

There are other levers that we should also be prepared to pull. The so-called Arab Gas Pipeline will bring huge quantities of natural gas to Syria when it is completed in the next few years. There are also large petrochemical projects, such as one just completed south of Damascus. These projects rely on funding from international banking institutions, as well as the International Finance Corporation (an offshoot of the World Bank). They are critical for the economic health of Syria. The Bush administration should lean heavily on international financial bodies that are doing business with Syria (and are funded in part with U.S. taxpayer dollars).

Syria has the capability to seriously weaken terrorist groups operating in Iraq. The question is, does it have the will to do so?

Damascus has no interest in seeing a stable, democratic Iraq next door. Success would mean the end of dictatorial rule in Damascus. Only by facing the prospect of economic collapse, brought on by massive American pressure, will Syria be motivated to do the right thing.

So long as groups finding refuge in Syria are killing U.S. soldiers, that country should not receive any economic support from the West.

Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of the forthcoming book Do as I Say (Not as I Do).

Condoleezza Rice seems to disagree with Rumsfeld and Bolton. She is trying to fight back the idea of further immediate moves against Syria. In a recent interview with Robin Wright of the Washington Post, the Secretary of State was very measured and non-committal about what might be done to Syria. She argued that pushing Syria out of Lebanon was enough Syria bashing for the time being and should satisfy Syria's enemies. She did not suggest taking further measures against Asad in the immediate future. Here is how an-Nahar wrote up her interview:

U.S. Proclaims Itself Guarantor of Lebanon's Sovereignty
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has effectively proclaimed the United States a guarantor of Lebanon's sovereignty, charging that Syria was still 'trying to influence events in unseemly ways.'
"The first thing that we've done is to, together with France, mobilize international opinion so that the Syrians had to get out of Lebanon," Rice said in an interview carried by The Washington Post On Sunday, The interview was reproduced by An Nahar on Tuesday.

"There is no doubt that the Syrians continue to try to influence events in Lebanon in ways that are unseemly, including, I think, the pressure that they're putting on the Lebanese on the border," Rice said well before Syria had ended its trade blockade in the wake of Premier Seniora's talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus.

"We are going to continue to work with the international community to convince the Syrians that this is not an acceptable course," she said, asserting that the Syrian behavior "is hurting the Palestinians, hurting the Iraqis and hurting the Lebanese, and that they're out of step with what's going on in the international system."

'But is there a moment in which you say, "Enough" if the Syrians fail to comply?' Interviewer Robin Wright, a veteran Middle East specialist, asked.

"Well, I think it's not a small accomplishment that Syrian forces are out of Lebanon," Rice responded. "Let's remember that, again, a lot has happened in the period of time since the Hariri assassination. And Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and there is a new government in Lebanon.

"And now, the next step is to make certain that the Syrians respect Lebanese sovereignty, and so we'll work on that step. But when you say, 'Are you going to do something,' well, I think Syrian forces out of Lebanon is a good thing," Rice said.

An Nahar splashed that quote under a page-one headline that hollered: "Rice, We shall guarantee Lebanon's sovereignty."

"You now believe that all intelligence and military forces are out?" Wright asked. "No, I don't. But I do believe that Syrian military forces are out of Lebanon. There's a verification team that will tell us what other elements that might be there. We still await the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. So there are a number of steps."

"Which will probably be out soon, isn't it?" Rice was asked. "Fairly soon, but I don't have a date in mind. We don't have a date that we've been given yet," she responded.
If we read the tea leaves in Rice's interview, she is taking a softer line that Rumsfeld. She wants to work with the European Community to put pressure on Syria to make sure Syria withdraws its intelligence from Lebanon. She said nothing about unilateral American sanctions, which the Europeans will frown on. It seems quite clear, at least to this observer, that whatever intelligence agents Syria may have kept behind in Lebanon, they are not and will not be able to change the policies of the new Lebanese government. Syria used its economic might to pressure Siniora and Hariri, not its intelligence agents. It had to close the border to get action from Lebanon. I think the left-behind-intelligence-agents argument is a Red Haring.

Syria rejects US blame for Iraq's unrestXinhua, China - 7 hours agoDAMASCUS, Aug. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- Syria on Saturday rejected the US charges that it was responsible for the unrest in the war-torn Iraq. ...

Meanwhile, Syria is trying to keep itself from being islolated economically. One move to foster better economic relations with its neighbors is the ratification of the trade agreement with Jordan.

The Syrian government has ratified a free trade agreement signed with Jordan.

The deal is meant to develop economic cooperation and increase bilateral trade between the two countries. More then 1,500 companies operate in Syria's free trade zone and - trade, import and export included - in the first six months of 2005 it reached 350 million euro, while in 2004 investments attracted one billion 700 million euro.

Syria Muslim Brotherhood for all-out change
Science Daily (press release) - USA... June 15, 2005) -- An exiled Syrian opposition leader is visiting Iraq to discuss cooperation with the Iraqi government in combating the Baath regime in Syria. ...

Syria, Lebanon discuss supplying Lebanon with electricity
Arabic News - Syria and Lebanon are to discuss supplying Lebanon with electricity according to a singed accord between the two states, Secretary General of the Syrian ...

Seniora Speaks Out as U.N. Coerces Beirut to Begin Hizbullah's Disarmament Dialogue
Premier Seniora says his recent talks with President Assad have rebased relations between Lebanon and Syria on a foundation of 'equality and mutual respect,' emphatically denying that they tackled the idea of a face-to-face meeting between the Syrian President and Saad Hariri, the majority leader of Lebanon's first Syria-free parliament....

Syria Seemingly Reactivates Trade War Against Lebanon
Annahar, Beirut, Updated 07 Aug 05,
Syria seems to have resumed its trade war against Lebanon, re-shutting the central border crossing for Lebanese cargo trucks anew amid reports that the Assad regime contends that Premier Seniora was procrastinating on commitments he had given during his visit to Damascus a week ago.

The Masnaa-Jdeidet Yabous crossing on the eastern border was re-closed by Syrian authorities at midday Saturday, hardly a week after it was reopened to normal traffic following Seniora's talks with President Assad and Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Naji Otari in Damascus last Sunday, An Nahar reported on Sunday.Long queues of stranded trucks formed up anew at the Masnaa border checkpoint in east Lebanon's Bekaa Valley while the Abboudieh-Dabboussieh passageway in northern-most Lebanon remained completely shuttered for a fifth straight week Sunday.

Some 700 transit trade trucks are stranded in the north."Back to square one," commented the F-TV Beirut network. But its newspaper sister Al Mustaqbal said Seniora was convinced that the re-closure of the Bekaa crossing was a temporary result of 'administrative bureaucracy bereft from any political backdrop."Seniora has dispatched Lebanese military officers for talks with Syrian authorities on the border to "arrange for a quick termination of the renewed crisis," Al Mustaqbal said.

Syria to modernize jails
Arabic News - Syria is serious in her efforts to modernize jails and make them vocational and educational centers, Minister of Justice said Thursday. ...


At 8/07/2005 06:37:00 AM, Blogger raf* said...


EASY THERE with terms like "failed state". i know that the poli-"scientists" call all sorts o'states "failed", but i'd be a little more careful. iraq, at this point, is not a failed state. YET. it's a territory under occupation and in transition. if it's still looking like right now, say, 3-5 years after the withdrawal of the foreign troops, then i'd be willing to call it a "failed state". ditto for palestine.

putting economic pressure on syria would only harm the population, not the "bad guys" (whoever they are), and galvanize local & regional opinion even more against the u.s. (if that, indeed, is even possible).

if the u.s. has proof that syria is supporting the iraqi insurgents - show the proof, show to the world that it is, indeed so. if that is done, then there'll be plenty of other countries (like france, or even germany - do they have a foreign policy? does germany function politically these days? is anyone in charge or DOING anything there?) in the UN-SC or the E.U. who would call for pressure & join in.

in the end - nothing short of a complete regime change in syria will do.

glad to have gotten this comment in before the crazy people wake up & turn on their computers.



At 8/07/2005 10:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very important to the USA if they want to hit two birds in one stone is to bind the pressure for controlling insurgent flowing to Iraq with the demands for internal reform as freeing prisoners and free press and free expression.

At 8/07/2005 11:40:00 AM, Anonymous ausama said...

raf, josh,

As far as I can see, there will be no regiem change anywhere. The US was wrong in tis assumptions in the area, it multiplied those mistakes by taking the wrong actions in Iraq and elsewhere, and finally magninficintly succeeded in carrying the damage to newer hifghts. Let us forget the stuff about regiem change in Syria, anyone who wants to change the regiem there got to bomb the country to ground. That will never happen. and if it happens, then helleuja... you will really have a "new middle east order" where no westerner would be able to set a foot in for years to come. I wish some one in real power in DC realizes this and listen to the changing tone of the Think Tanks. Forget it man, the US has overplayed it's card, and no one is really scared. A lot of people are dead because of US actions, but again not many are impressed or scared to the degree of "turning tail and runing". More defiance is on the way I believe, and more "not-so-well-considered-actions" can be expected from Dubbya as well (but more muted this time as we are seeing). But all of this to no vain, what a waste. Was there no other way? or is everthing really fine when "Israel's Supporters" think that such actions "might" benifit Israel? and the big joke is: they are even benifiting Israel. Did we, you guys, any one? read General Anthony Zainy comments and advice published a year or so ago. That is a man who knows the region, that is a man WHO understands and cares about both US interests and the area's interest as well. Curious ones can check his remarks at the sight of Center for Sttategic & Internatonal Studies , what you will find there beats all the "polite and informative stuff some fellows post at this site. For the sake of respectability and self-respect (ours of course) Josh, please start sensoring the postings on this site. After all, thanks to the "WAR oN TERROR" and the stupid response by those who first created "Terror" then "Went After it", such policies are now the norm everywhere.

At 8/07/2005 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

The sanctions on Syria might or might not work. Peter Shweize article reminds of me the Helms-Burton (against Cuba) and d'Amato acts. These acts were intented to prevent US and non-US corporations to work with Iran, and they proved to be a total failure after the Europeans strongly protested them.

It might be different this time. Contrarily to his father, Assad make both EU and US angry at him. If sanctions were implemented by Europe and America, it might be devastating for Syria.

At 8/07/2005 12:14:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

The government recently announced that the estimate of Syria's 2004 GNP growth rate had fallen to 2%. 2003 has been estimated at around 2.5%, which was down from 2002's rate of almost 4% due to the war. Thus the real growth rate in Syria is actually negative because population growth is around 2.7%.

Even with oil prices, the growth is only 2.5%. That gives you an idea of the state of the non-energy sector.

At 8/07/2005 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I tend to agree with ausama the US is wont succeed or attempt a regime change in the same manner they did in Iraq. But I also don't think that this is their plan. They might want people to believe that every once by flexing its muscles. But I think what we are witnessing is the beginning of a long siege. The EU is using the economic card for the moment by delaying the signing of EU-MED treaty with Damascus while the US is using its political clout. I feel this siege will tighten further with time and only regular Syrian citizens and businessmen will feel the brunt (of course the US wont care).

The Syrian government might have very few cards to ease the external pressure. But it has a full deck to play with to ease any internal discontent (some good and some bad). I think we are in for a long waiting game where Syria will need to fewer mistakes and hope for a democratic win in 2008 (as long as it’s not Hilary Clinton)


At 8/07/2005 08:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, so called "ausama" is back! How much are they paying you? I can never believe the Assad people work for free out of their love for the thug!

At 8/07/2005 09:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the US and EU impose sanction on syria or if the US bombs Syria do you think syria will defend itself by blocking all iraqi and lebanese transit through syria and will have the right to support openly the resistenc in Iraq, i think the US gov moving into queck sand area and it is endangering our kids in Iraq more and more.

At 8/08/2005 04:23:00 PM, Anonymous ausama said...

I tend to agree with Tariq and other views expressed to a degree by Vox, however, I really do not think sanctions will force Syria to drastically do anything that it has not done allready. Even if heavy sanctions are imposed by the EU and the US, the Arab governments will not be able to stand silent for long. After all Syria is not Iraq and Assad is not Saddam after all. And Syria does have many cards to use if badcomes to "serious" worse. I truly believe that Syrian reactions especially those that Syria might take against Israel despite Israel's might remain a viable option for the Syrian leadership and a do constitute a worry to nieghbouring Israel if not so much to its neocon supporters in the US Admin. And after all have been said and done, Syria's people will stand by the leadership, sanctions or bombings! Heck, they have been living unders sanctions and threats for the last God knows how many years and they are surviving and flourishing - to a degree. (Never mind per capita income statistics and stuff like household income is lower than Lebanon or Jordan; what matters is that in Syria you can live and survive on fewer dollars than in any other nieghbouring country). Further more, what really matters is the set of mind; the Leadership and the People know that destruction of Syria's will is the target, not it's so-termed dictatorial regiem nor it's undemocratic institutions. And people do act in surprisingly -or expectedly to outsiders- patriotic manner when they feel unjustly cornered. And they will resigndely accept to pay the price.
On another aspect, my thinking is that the only card the US and the anti-Assad groups can play now -apart from the ineffective sanctions- would be to try to link Hariri's death to Syria. And you know what, no body here is really buying that nowadays. Even my Lebanese friends now are backing off a little to the position that maybe a small off-shoot apparatus was involved difinitly but not the Leadership. Even if such claim was reached and formulated by detective Mallis, I believe Syria will not be much affected by such a development. And after nerves have cooled down now, a lot of people are coming to the view that if the Syrian Leadership "really" wanted Harriri out of the game, all it would have taken them is to send him a simple nmessage ; go and take a long vaccation in Riyadh or Paris",and he would have followed that advice thankingly. They did not need to blow him up, especially when they are under so much international scrutiny. Common sense if nothing else.
And to be frank, I see Syria playing its cards right during those last months; getting out of Lebanon before the US figured what the hell was hapening, trying to make ammends with the Palestinian Authority, making attempts at controlling its boarder with Iraq (this is a particullary funny enough issue, as if the Jordanian, Iranian, Saudi, and Turkish boarders are not more "pourous" than Syria..? but....!).
Anyway, I think the party is drawing down to a close with no clear winner and loser as usual. Only a few hundred thousands of Arabs, Americans and others are dead, the Oil companies are happy, a rift has been created between the Lebanese and Syrian people that will prove more degrading to the Lebanese than the day when wrongs and blame could be laid at Syria's doorstep. Islamic extremisem is on the rise, Al Qaeda is stronger and extending it's bloody tentacles further and further into new places. And we can all guess who to thank for all this????
As they say " every cloud has a silver lining",hence, maybe one good thing will come out of this at the end; Israel is bieng forced by the US and the cost of the Intifada to retreat. And make no mistake, it's retreat under fire; enemy and friendly fire at the same time. Not a small issue for an entity that bets its survival on its expanisionist nature and on its ability to "appear" to serve the West's interests in the region (now many people are finally seeing it as the true root cause for a lot of the harm that is engulfing all of us). I really hope it would down on some one on DC to get this issue out of the way,resolve the goddamened Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair way to the Arabs and Palestinians. Which means telling Israel Enough is Enough. And once that volcano is restrained, then with economic aid, open cooperation between the US and the Arab countries, with a a true attempt at psychologically "readying" as opposed to "forcing" the Arab people for a true process of democratisation and reform, then things can move forward. But that may sound like whistling in the wind, when one notes that the campagain planners of peace-loving Benjamin Netanyaho for re-election in Israel back in the 90's are the ones who are controlling the helm in DC and whispering wisdom into Dubbya's ear.
Well, at least one can hope... assisted by the unfolding facts on the ground day in and day out, which is spelling out -shyly but consistentantly- a new realisation in America that we have fucked-up big time and that Power has it's limits, especially when it's oppononts are willing to stand up to it.And especially when the whole approach was evil, loopsided, expensive and totally misguided.... and more imortantaly: FAILING.

At 8/08/2005 08:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ausama , i hope what you say will come true,naim

At 8/09/2005 01:08:00 AM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

the US has overplayed it's card, and no one is really scared.

Confirming the reality of the statement above, Sudanese security has "taken out" John Garang a week after it frog marched Andrea Mitchell, wife of Fed Chairman Greenspan, out of a press conference with Condoleeza Rice and the Sudanese President.


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