Monday, October 17, 2005

Readers' Comments: Coup Likely, Iraq Border

My Syrian dissident friend responds to my argument that a coup in Syria is unlikely. He says, "Not so."

Dear Mr. Landis,
Logically, and from the first look, you seem right that a coup is unlikely, but still, I think, not so deep because:

1 – Yes there is not a Syrian Musharaf until now. In addition, under Syrian conditions it cannot be proclaimed if there is. At least not now because,

2 – Although the regime is not Alawite, but based on the fact that the Army and the Mukhabarat are controlled by Alawites, they are, we want it or not more involved than the others in any potential change. Yes did they want it or not because it is a question of survival. And also,

3 - Although the Syrian corps is not like the Turkish one under Ataturk, any internal change in Syria (Unless a Bremer come) cannot be done nor continue without the Army. Something similar is happening now in Algeria. And, it is not I think a quite negative situation.

You are right also about the Syrian and specially the Damascene bourgeoisie. However, I think they are wise enough not to allow extremism and to accept an historical compromise with the Army whoever is controlling this Army. As they have done in the eighties, when at the very critical moment, they support Hafez Assad instead of supporting its enemies. So let us think more deeply about the Army Joshua because

4 – We all know that there is not a single officer in it, Alawit or not, that is not Baathist. But, where not they all communist in Russia when the change occur? Therefore, any change if it will be will come from inside the army where the Alawites and the Bathists are very predominant. I cannot say more than that.

However, think it well all of you that are interested in Syrian changes, think it very well and based only on your own interests. Because, Syria is going toward a “revolutionary situation” that in my opinion can be defined by three main conditions:

- A status of internal and external, economical, social and political crisis that is growing up in Syria each day. A situation that everybody knows. And which is becoming every day closer to its breaking point.

- The ruling group is becoming more and more unable to rule like before. Yes, it seems now that there is not an immediate internal danger facing them. But, they are feeling this potential danger and they are afraid, very afraid from all what is surrounding them. Afraid even from such a small club like the Atassi circle. Or from just some inoffensive dissidents like Aref Dalila and/or Riad Seif, much more than they are afraid from the Israelis and/or the Americans.

- The organization or the group that should lead this “coup d’etat” or “revolution” and this is the third condition, although it seems not existing yet, is becoming a must for every Syrian real patriot. However, here, everybody who wants the change should be very careful and very imaginative because…

Those who govern us, our rulers are not only barbarians. Sometimes, oh God you cannot imagine Joshua how much I wish they were just so. Unfortunately, they are much worse. Like the Empire on the time of Rome, like the German people on the time of Hitler and the Nazis, like the Russian people on the time of communism, and/or the Chinese or Korean people until now, they are generally a “fully corrupted clique” that succeeds to take the control of a civilized city. And, by means of repression, corruption, fear and demagogy they succeed neutralize it if not say to corrupt it. Accordingly, to destroy or stop for a long period, it is material and spiritual faculties to react, to resist and even to think.

No, we are not just a nation or a people facing barbarians or invaders my friend. We are in a much more difficult situation. We are a people and a nation facing disintegration as you say. And this is why we cannot face such a dangerous situation if we do not create our own new methods and use all our imagination. Here at the end, I agree with your conclusion: " Only Syrians can do that. "

A Syrian Dissident [end]

Here is note from a Republican Party member in the US who travelled to Iraq through Syria two years ago.
The US government has cited the failure to control the Iraq border as a major qualm with the Syrian government. Looking at the data, however, it seems to me that this issue has been magnified by a certain group of US policymakers seeking some sort of bizarre amusement watching Bashar al-Assad sweat like a mouse on a laboratory wheel. In reality, the US faces far more substantial challenges in Iraq than the problem of foreign fighters infiltrating through Syria.

First, some anecdotal evidence. I traveled to Iraq 2 years ago, in summer 2003, and entered the country through the Syria border. (see attached photo) I joined 5 Iraqi exiles in a GMC van that left from Saydeh Zainab in Damascus for a midnight voyage to Baghdad. When we reached the al-Walid border crossing at about 4 am, the border personnel became extremely agitated on account of me, and an Iraqi with a European passport that they suspected was fraudulent. Each of us was questioned at length. They were ready to send me back to Damascus, and tell me to go through Amman to reach Iraq. They told me that the border was officially closed and only allowed Iraqi nationals returning to their home country to pass through. The station commander was awoken for a decision. Only after a passionate appeal by our chauffeur, protecting the travelers under his care like an old-school desert caravan leader, were we permitted to exit the country (the bakhsheesh didn’t hurt either). All of that to LEAVE Syria. In my experience, even the Allenby bridge experience proved less troublesome.

After driving the several hundred feet of “No Man’s Land”, we reached the Iraqi side, which was a complete free-for-all. Iraqi personnel seemed to stamp every passport in sight (and this is to ENTER the country!) A few American soldiers cheerfully smiled and waved us through as they chewed bubblegum. No searching of bags, nothing. Granted, that was 2 years ago, I would hope that they’ve gotten more serious.

Now, let’s fast forward to today’s political climate, and look beyond the words spoken about the Syria-Iraq border. Let’s talk hard numbers.

American generals have testified before Congress that approximately 150 foreign fighters enter Iraq through Syria each month. There are now almost 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Do the math. At the rate of 150 per month, it would take 1,000 months, or 83 years, to reach parity of manpower. The NY Times front page article of today (Saturday the 15th) featured quotes from US military/intelligence personnel offering a similarly less dramatic vision of the foreign fighter problem than exists in the mainstream perception. It cited that only a single digit percentage of the insurgency is due to the foreign fighters, etc. To his credit, Dakhlallah (in the October 9 al-Jazeera interview posted on seems to have caught on and begun to make this point.

However that is not to say that the Syrians could not seal the border if they wished to. Bashar al-Assad was clever to have offered his cooperation and invited outsiders to inspect the Syrian action in the Amanpour interview. But the Mexico analogy is beginning to wear thin. The reality is that he’s silly to suggest that the border cannot be sealed. The Bush Administration is right to call his bluff on that. Why?

Again, let’s do the math. Syria just withdrew 15,000 troops from Lebanon. Spread them out across the Iraq border in 2 12 hour shifts. That’s 7,500 FTE (as we MBA consultant types would say) dispersed on the 380 mile border. 380 miles * 5,280 feet per mile = 2,000,000 feet. Divide that by 7,500 soldiers and you get one Syrian soldier every 268 feet, around the clock. That is essentially a human net.

Think about it: if you were standing on the 50 yard line at OU’s football stadium, and someone jumped off the players’ bench and tried to charge onto the field, would you be able to see him?

The next obvious question: why then, cannot we not spare 15,000 American troops to seal the same border? That’s 10% of our manpower stationed in Iraq. Is the foreign fighter problem more or less than 10% of the insurgency?

Better yet, what about the Iraqis? Without a sarcastic mention of how many Iraqi troops Rumsfeld claims have been recruited, suffice it to say that there are more than enough to protect their own country from infiltrators if that’s really the issue.

Obviously, I am oversimplifying things from a tactical military point of view. But you get the point.

In an ideal world, a three-way Iraq-Syria-US force would be deployed to seal the border. But I don’t see it happening because a certain American policy-making segment does not seem to want an improvement in the Syrian relationship. And their stooges in Iraq (Hoshyar ZUB-ari, as the most prominent example) play along every step of the way.

At this point I can reach no other conclusion, especially after hearing from well-informed sources about the manner in which the proposed night-vision goggles exchange was nixed by the Brits.

For their part, the Syrians are so impossibly bad at PR that they will probably not succeed in avoiding more of the stick on this issue, despite their proclaimed willingness to cooperate, coinciding with the mainstream media’s exploration of the real facts behind the foreign fighters’ significance.


Just for kicks, run the same calculation on the US-Mexico border. You will find that redeploying the 150,000 US troops in Iraq along the 2,000 mile Mexican frontier would yield one US soldier every 141 feet. So without the Iraq War, we’d essentially put an end to illegal immigration in America. It will be interesting to see how many of my fellow Republicans figure that out in time for the 2006 election…


At 10/17/2005 02:26:00 AM, Blogger yaman said...

Mr Landis:

Who is the lawmaker who authored that note? Or is it anonymous?

Please clarify...


At 10/17/2005 03:15:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

sorry to stir off the subject but the coup discussion has already been discussed a few times and its unlikely to happen in my opinion.

The Second article is the more interesting of the two. If Rice is
going through all this trouble of crisscrossing Europe to discuss
Syria and Iran then Syrian officials will surely be named (so much for
an independent and confidential report). And if it's true that Russia will back the US response (whatever that maybe) then it's unlikely to be military but instead in the form of sanctions/furthur isolation.
So i guess there is no deal after all?

This is a brutal reminder on how times have changed, in the form of
American dominance over Russia and in Syria's decreasing strategic
importance to Moscow or anybody else for that matter.




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