Thursday, October 20, 2005

Waiting for Mehlis

The media Tsunami has hit. Journalists of every color have been flooding into Damascus these last few days to study the grimaces of the regime as it must submit to the delicate tortures of the Mehlis report, international condemnation, and very likely, UN resolutions.

A journalist just called to ask me if I could be standing by at 12:00 midnight when the first inklings of the Mehlis report begin to filter out. The main office suggests it will be bad for Syria and it wants immediate reactions. The political class has been bracing itself in Damascus and trying to manage the reporters as best they can, but everything is done in a ham fisted way here. At such times of crisis, one realizes just how much of a third world country Syria is. Like a dear in the headlights, it has little clue what sort of terrifying machine is bearing down on it.

Ironically, the ordinary people are largely oblivious that their fate is being decided in the halls of distant capitals. Many don’t even know that a major clash is brewing between the US and Damascus. One taxi driver I spoke to yesterday had never heard of the Mehlis report and seemed surprised to be told that America and Syria were at loggerheads. He asked, “Is America going to invade?” When I reassured him that was not in the cards, he waved his hand in relief and said, “Oh, well, then it isn’t important.”

But even those who have some idea of what is transpiring believe it is a tempest in a tea pot. They have no influence over events anyway and seem oddly detached from “high politics,” as they call it. The streets are packed with Ramadan revelers looking for amusement and walking off their iftar.

We heard today that a nephew of Saddam’s had been captured in Iraq. Some are rumoring that the Syrian government had scooped him off the streets of Damascus and deposited him in Iraq, where local security was alerted they could find him. If this is true, which it very possibly may not be, it is part of the media war. Syria is desperately trying to signal to the world that they are happy to oblige the West and can deliver or make a deal if the West is willing to cooperate with Damascus. It is a bit like John Bolton’s leak last week that “a deal” was being offered Syria. It turned out not to be a deal, but an ultimatum. Quite possibly, Washington was making a last effort to show the world that it is not opposed to cooperation and has tried to reason with Syria, but gotten no positive answer. A last gesture of mercy before the guillotine drops. But these gestures by both sides are a bit like sign language between the blind. It is meant to ompress everyone else but the main interlocutors.

America does not want the deal Syria is willing to offer. Syria says it wants “dialog.” What this means is that Syria is willing to work with Washington on its four main demands: the Mehlis report, Hizbullah, Palestinian groups, and the Iraq border. But it wants to do it discretely and through diplomatic and security channels. This is what Syria used to do under Hafiz al-Asad. Washington wants a public and total Syrian climb down. In essence, it wants Syria to renounce its core ideology of Arabism. It wants Syria to concede that its regional policies and anti-American stand are wrong. In a sense it wants a public apology and mea culpa from Bashar. It wants him to take Syria on a 180 degree about-face, ideologically and strategically.

The Syrian government will probably refuse to do this. The Syrian opposition says the government will refuse because the government is too weak. Others claim the government is strong enough to weather sanctions. Still others suggest it is because the President’s and regime’s legitimacy is founded on Arab nationalist principles, thus it cannot abandon them without facing internal collapse. And there are other explanations. Perhaps the Syrian leaders really believe in their principles? Perhaps it is the Arab desire not to lose face and be publicly humiliated? Everyone has their pet theory, but most agree that it comes down to a clash of ideologies. Most insist things will have to get worse before they get better.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed al-Mualem said France and the United States would use the report to implement a phased plan to isolate Syria and impose economic sanctions against it.

``The first stage consists in influencing Arab countries so that we cut our relations with Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. We are now at the second stage, which aims to isolate us,'' Mualem told France's Le Figaro in an interview published on Thursday.

``The next one will be to impose economic sanctions via a U.N. resolution. But we think that the Russians and the Chinese will oppose these sanctions.''

The United States and France have led a diplomatic campaign that helped force Syria to end its 29-year troop presence in Lebanon in April. They were also instrumental in setting up the U.N. inquiry into Hariri's death.

Annan is expected to circulate the report on Friday to the 15-member Security Council, Lebanon and possibly, if Syrian officials are named, Syria, Lebanese political sources said.

The Security Council will discuss the report next week and consider its response, which could include sanctions if Syria fails to cooperate, the sources said.


At 10/20/2005 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Lebanon Divided said...

May God punish the Assad regime as hard as possible.

At 10/20/2005 02:51:00 PM, Blogger Abhinav Aima said...

I wonder if the Syrian government officials are aware of Bush's weakening power base due to recent domestic developments, and if this is inspiring them to wait out the U.S. pressure.

I don't think the public here will be tolerant of an attack on Syria, given how the mood is shifting on Iraq, and Bush's own staff problems with the Plame investigation, which will become a huge distraction ofr the White House if indictments are handed down to Cheney, Libby or Rove.

At 10/20/2005 03:13:00 PM, Blogger Abu Kais said...

"In essence, it wants Syria to renounce its core ideology of Arabism"

The Syrian regime does not need the US's help in destroying whatever is left of "Arabism", whatever that means (I am assuming you meant Arab nationalism). They are fully capable of shooting themselves in the foot and destroying any remaining loyalty to pan-Arab causes.

At 10/20/2005 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I read on naharnet that Anwar el Bunni was beaten by 'unknown' stranger.

At 10/20/2005 03:38:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

And I agree with Kais. Nobody believes in the regime's so-called Arabism anymore.

At 10/20/2005 05:15:00 PM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Arabism? Are you kidding? How many people did Syria kill in Lebanon who are more Arabist than them? The Asad regime is a mafia, oppressive one! Don't even mention Arabism please!

I am sure that Asad is willing to kill every Hizbullah if it was given the right price.

The end of the regime is near and everyone who was involved in killing Hariri will get his just punishment!

At 10/20/2005 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Hadad said...

Ba'athist Syria 1963-2005

At 10/20/2005 06:53:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Picking this up from Reuters (and notice the careful language)

There is "convergent evidence" of Syrian involvement in the assassinatio of former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri, said Detlev Mehlis in the UN report published Thursday evening.

Translation of "convergent evidence": multiple lines of evidence that point in the same direction.

But I have to say, how overblown this Hariri thing is! For example, the Italian region of Reggio Calabria is in the midst of an insurrection fomented by the 'ndrangheta crime syndicate, which has corrupted everything and everybody.

Just look at the credentials of the fellow the crime syndicate bumped off last Sunday in broad daylight just outside the voting booth!!!

"The body Francesco Fortugno will lie in state all day tomorrow in the chambers of the Regional Council of Calabria where he served as Deputy Chairman. In addition to his service to the public, Francesco Fortugno was the father of two, a physician, a forensic scientist, a professor of medicine at the Medical Faculty of the Università di Catanzaro and Secretary of the Academy of Medicine of Reggio Calabria."

No fat cat but an honest man who served the sick and the state. Assassination right under the nose of of a NATO country. So what did PM Berlusconi do? He send a letter of condolence.

Anyway, removing Bashir? Condi will have more luck removing Gates from Microsoft, demanding that he terminate his Windows projects.

At 10/20/2005 07:16:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/20/2005 07:19:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Back again. Yo gang, it's about ~crime~ as in "mafia", not mere destabilization.

I just don't know who was doing what to whom--i.e. was Hariri in or out of the mafia?

The first Reuters dispatch had an incomplete statement. It should read:

"There is "convergent evidence" of both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act. The motive for the assassination is likely political. However, because the crime is not the work of a single individual but of a group with access to efficient means, it is very probable that fraud, corruption and money laundering were also among the justifications for certain persons to have participated in the operation. It is a well-known fact that Syrian military intelligence had an invasive presence in Lebanon at least until the evacuation of Syrian forces in compliance with Resolution 1559. The former high-ranking Lebanese officials in charge of security were appointed by [Syrian military intelligence]. Given the infiltation of Lebanese institutions by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence working in tandem, it would be difficult to imagine such a complex scenario could have transpired without their knowledge."

At 10/20/2005 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

Melis compared himself to Blix prior to the Iraq war. He added that now he understood the tremendous pressures that Blix was feeling back then.

This tells you that Melis has been under pressure from the powers that want war to include some condemnation against Syria.

I still do believe that killing Hariri was committed by those who have the bigger plan on the ME. His killing was a pawn to achieve their purpose.


At 10/20/2005 08:15:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Report is out. Bashar is down. You can read it here :

At 10/20/2005 09:23:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

Vox, I don't know if Bashar himself is really k-o'ed.

His security establishment was obviously running a rather large crime syndicate in Lebanon and not averse to murder and corruption. The report concludes that it is incumbent upon Syria to provide the answers to the unanswered questions.

While it certainly justifies the UN's insistence on a rapid withdrawal from Lebanon, it's hardly a casus belli.

At 10/21/2005 01:43:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/21/2005 01:44:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

Please read here, you also can download the report at Washington Post.

At 10/21/2005 04:00:00 AM, Blogger DavidP said...

Michel Aoun on France Inter, not saying very much, but asked whether President Emile Lahoud should be singled out for blame: 'il y avait beaucoup de méchants'.

(08:20 (CET) Question Directe, 08:41 Radio-Com, c'est vous)


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