Saturday, March 04, 2006

Robert Kaplan Recants

Last week, Fukiyama condemned the US's Iraq policy as a failure, and criticized many of his erstwhile neocon colleagues for making it so. This week Robert Kaplan follows suit in an extraordinary article in which he criticizes "neoconservatives yearning to topple Bashar al-Assad." He also argues that "the last thing we should do is actively precipitate" the demise of Syria's dictatorial regime. He believes it will happen in time because of globalization. Thus the best policy is to help Asad globalize. This means Kaplan, in theory, favors Europe signing the Madrid process and the US dropping economic sanctions against Syria in order to drag it more quickly into the world economy which will in turn cause Syrians to become better educated and richer and more able to demand their rights. Quite a turn around for Kaplan.

This makes good sense. It is the policy that the US has insisted on following with China for the last two decades. It has had good results. It makes sense for Syria. Anyway, America's experiment in bringing good government to Iraq, suggests that there are many things worse than dictatorship.

We can't force democracy
By Robert D. Kaplan, Washington Post, March 2, 2006

The decision to remove [Saddam Hussein from power] was defensible, while not providential. The portrait of Iraq that has emerged since his fall reveals him as the Hobbesian nemesis who may have kept in check an even greater anarchy than the kind that obtained under his rule.

The lesson to take away is that where it involves other despotic regimes in the region -- none of which is nearly as despotic as Hussein's -- the last thing we should do is actively precipitate their demise. The more organically they evolve and dissolve, the less likely it is that blood will flow. That goes especially for Syria and Pakistan, both of which could be Muslim Yugoslavias in the making, with regionally based ethnic groups that have a history of dislike for each other. The neoconservative yearning to topple Bashar al-Assad, and the liberal one to undermine Pervez Musharraf, are equally adventurous.

"[B]efore the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power," Thomas Hobbes wrote in "Leviathan." Without something or somebody to monopolize the use of force and decide right from wrong, no man is safe from another and there can be no freedom for anyone. Physical security remains the primary human freedom. And so the fact that a state is despotic does not necessarily make it immoral. That is the essential fact of the Middle East that those intent on enforcing democracy abroad forget.

Globalization and other dynamic forces will continue to rid the world of dictatorships. Political change is nothing we need to force upon people; it's something that will happen anyway. What we have to work toward -- for which peoples with historical experiences different from ours will be grateful -- is not democracy but normality. Stabilizing newly democratic regimes, and easing the development path of undemocratic ones, should be the goal for our military and diplomatic establishments. The more cautious we are in a world already in the throes of tumultuous upheaval, the more we'll achieve. [complete article]

The US Institute of Peace has published a summary of its latest seminar on Syria meeting here. "Syria and Political Change II " is written up by Scott Lasensky and Mona Yacoubian.

The Stimson Institute has posted their summary of the "Roundtable on Syria with David Ignatius and Joshua Landis."

Massoud Derhally has an very interesting interview with Hamadeh, Jumblatt's right hand man, which sums up Lebanon's dilemma well.

"Back from the dead"
Massoud A. Derhally
Arabian Business
Published: March 5, 2006

This presents a conundrum for Hamadeh and the present government. But they see a resolution to the current impasse. "We think things can be unblocked by two elements; one is the inquiry and the international court and this could get Lahoud and break the bottleneck.

"The second thing is the unnatural alliance between Aoun and Hezbollah, which with the final analysis and time, will appear to the Christian constituency as unacceptable.

"The Christians will not allow anyone, even Aoun, to drive them back to the Syrian orbit or Iranian hegemony. We should, in the next few months, probably see major changes," predicts Hamadeh.

Hamadeh emphasises the political system in the country is one of consensus and not one of majority. "Lebanon is an alliance of minorities. However big a community is, it is still a minority next to the other minorities united. But a consensus system does not mean you don't have a system of checks and balances made and implemented," says Hamadeh. "It doesn't mean that you can block a government decision simply because it doesn't please Washington, Tehran or Damascus. There should be a margin of independence expressed in a way the system is consecrated by the constitution."
Activists slam closure of human rights centre

DAMASCUS, 5 March (IRIN) - Activists have slammed a government decision to close the country's first human rights centre, which opened in mid-February with support from the European Union (EU).

"This is a sign to the EU and other countries that it's hopeless to form civil
society here and promote change," said centre director and prominent human
rights lawyer Anwar Bunni, who confirmed that the centre was shut down two days

According to the government, the Damascus-based centre, which
offered legal advice, counselling and training on human rights issues, was
closed because it had not received official permission to operate. No one was
available for comment on the issue on Sunday.

Bunni described the centre
as a "red line" that civil society was unable to cross. "I remain hopeful that
the decision will be reversed and we will continue our struggle," he said. "We
hope the EU will continue to support us."

The opening of the centre on
23 February had been considered a major breakthrough on the local human rights
front. At the time, the head of the EU delegation Frank Hesske to Syria said it
was aimed at building "a stronger Syria".

Hesske said the centre – a
"one-stop shop" instituted to train lawyers, journalists and others on human
rights issues – was intended "to ensure that internationally adopted human
rights laws are adhered to."

The centre was part of a two-year project
by the Belgium-based Institute for International Assistance and Solidarity, with
93,000 Euros (US $111,000) of funding provided by the EU.

Although many
observers say that rights activists are able to work more freely now than in
previous years, Damascus continues to come in for heavy criticism by
international human rights organisations.

In 2005, Amnesty International
reported that hundreds of people had been arrested in Syria for political
reasons, with many held incommunicado and allegedly tortured or mistreated.
Bunni said that some 1,500 political detainees were still languishing in Syrian

According to Bassam Ishak, a spokesman for the Syrian Human
Rights Organisation, the closure of the centre represented a "step back for the
civil society movement in Syria". "We hope the government and the EU will reach
an agreement and we hope the centre will reopen," Ishak said.


At 3/05/2006 09:43:00 PM, Blogger ugarit said...

Dr. Landis:

Thank you for such excellent content.

I do have a suggestion if I may. It may be more useful to break the content that's unrelated into separate postings.

Just a thought.


At 3/06/2006 12:43:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I hesitate between considering Muslims as human beings who have human righs or subhumans who should be ruled by theocracies or dictatorships.

Josh on the other hand seems to have made his mind.

At 3/06/2006 02:34:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


I might not know much, but i know this. you are a racist prick that deserves to be beaten on a regular basis along with your kind. you are a complete moron, and the sad fact is you think you know what you're talking about.

At 3/06/2006 03:43:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

" you are a racist prick that deserves to be beaten on a regular basis along"

How would you do it? Would you stone me? Behead me? Cut my hand? I am curious

At 3/06/2006 04:37:00 AM, Blogger shamee27 said...

Vox do you consider yourself human!!
You think I am sub-human just because there is one God out there who has neither son nor a wife.
You think I am sub human because I believe my father is Adam not a monkey.
You think I am sub human because my faith fight murders, infidelity and the abuse of one human to another.
If believing in all that make me sub human in your eyes, I prefer to be sub human rather being a human like you.

At 3/06/2006 04:39:00 AM, Blogger raf* said...

dear josh,

you wrote:

Anyway, America's experiment in bringing good government to Iraq, suggests that there are many things worse than dictatorship.

while technically correct (hell, for instance, is by definition worse than anything else) the vast majority of kurds & shi'ites would disagree when applied to iraq.

i sometimes am wondering if your personal circumstances do cloud your perception of life in syria these days. i am not arguing that the vast majority (or even a substantial minority) would chose military intervention over status quo, or even any sort of radical shift, that doesn't mean that the regime is legit. after all, the vast majority of germans supported the nazis ... and the vast majority of u.s. citizens institutionalized racism.

i don't think it's a question of WHETHER to end the asad/ba'th dictatorship, but HOW.


At 3/06/2006 06:56:00 AM, Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Bashar Al-Assad is now the only truly secular/modernist ruler left on the map between Istanbul and Delhi: toppling the Baathist regime of Damascus at this precise juncture would surely wreak havoc across the whole Middle-East…precisely what Paul David Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld have had in mind when they decided to invade Iraq 3 years ago…


1. Jail and try Hariri, Saniura and the bloodthirsty Wahhabi collaborators of Saydah and Dinnieh who rampaged their way through Achrafiyyeh last month, burning consulates and churches Saudi-style

2. Nullify the ill-acquired SOLIDERE shares held by « generous Saudi investors », and give back their full property right to the lawful Lebanese landowners who were illegally expropriated by Rafic Hariri and Ghazi Kanaan in 1994

3. (Re)send to jail notorious war criminals who have massacred tens of thousands of innocent Lebanese civilians from 1975 to 1990: top of the wanted list is a certain Walid J. « Beyck » who, after having supervising the ethnic cleansing of the Chouf area, was rewarded with the “ministry of refugees” by Hariri père so he could better siphon out all the money earmarked for the orphans of Damour and Souk el Gharb- it’s kind of as if Adolf Hitler had been nominated « minister of death camps survivors » back 1945 ! but I’m digressing…

4. Adopt a new Gerrymander-free electoral law based on the sound principle of the “mid-size district” that would allow for a free and fair parliamentary representation of the people of Lebanon i.e. the precise opposite of the illegal 2000 electoral law imposed at gunpoint by King Fahd Ibn Saud and General Hafiz el-Wahech

5. Proceed with the election of a new president only AFTER transparent parliamentary elections are held across the country, under the supervision of European Union and UN observers

At 3/06/2006 12:03:00 PM, Blogger zobahhan said...

No vox, you give me your address and i will physically bash you. Or if violence really isnt your thing, we can read the bible together and then have a game of intellect face-to-face without using screens and keyboards...

At 3/06/2006 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

I am not sure if the story below true or not, or the true meaning behind the an agreements.
Why the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem was being quoted if syria
Looking for a confidential agreement with the United Nations investigation team ?!!!

Syria reaches confidential agreement with UN investigators: report
403 words
6 March 2006
Xinhua News Agency
(c) Copyright 2006 Xinhua News Agency
DAMASCUS, March 6 (Xinhua) -- Syria has reached a confidential agreement with the United Nations investigation team over the probe into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al- Hariri, the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported on its website on Monday.
"We will cooperate with the probe team ... We have reached a confidential agreement and do not want to reveal any details at this time out of consideration for the investigation and its integrity," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem was quoted as saying in an exclusive statement to Asharq al Awsat.
Expressing satisfaction with the agreement, Muallem said that the deal "safeguards Syria's honor and sovereignty", according to the report.
The minister also refused to discuss the details of talks with UN chief investigator Serge Brammertz, who made a visit more than a week ago to Damascus and held a meeting with Muallem over " effective means" to make the UN commission accomplish their probe.
Syria's official SANA news agency has hailed the talks as reaching "positive results."
Meanwhile, a UN spokesperson in Beirut was quoted by SANA as saying that the meeting as "very good" and "it was a business one. "
In addition, an informed source told Xinhua in Damascus on condition of anonymity that investigation into Hariri's death was being carried on in accordance with the understandings reached by the two sides.
"They have reached an agreement that the investigation should be carried out behind closed doors and far away from the spotlight, " the source added.
Syria has been under intense international pressure following the killing of Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005 in a massive truck bomb attack. Many Lebanese believed Damascus was behind the scene.
Syria denied any role in the killing, but was forced to withdraw its troops from its smaller neighbor in late April, 2005, ending 29 years of military presence there.
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1636 last October, demanding full Syrian cooperation with the probe or it would face unspecified further action.
Former UN chief investigator Detlev Mehlis requested to question Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rejected by Damascus. But Syria gave a go-ahead to the UN team's demand to query security officials in Vienna.
Mehlis has implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese officials in Hariri's death in two interim reports. Currently, four Lebanese generals are under arrest in Lebanon.

At 3/06/2006 01:25:00 PM, Blogger Lira = 1500 said...

An Nahar correspondent arrested in Syria

Syrian security services have arrested An Nahar's correspondent and charged him in a military court with publishing "false information," rights organizations said Monday.

"Security services on Thursday arrested writer and journalist Shaban Abboud who was taken before a military court after publishing an article," the Syrian Human Rights Organization (SHRO) said in a statement.

Prominent rights lawyer Anwar Bunni said Abboud, a Syrian, was accused of publishing false information. A week ago, he published an article about nominations within the security and intelligence services.

Bunni and the SHRO also said that the son of rights activist Riad Darrar, Mohammed, had been arrested for distributing a statement calling for his father's release after he has been held for year.

The SHRO "expresses its concern at the brutal treatment of the relatives of political prisoners by the security services."

Bunni called for an end to repressive policies, the freedom of all political prisoners and for starting dialogue "instead of more arrests and repression."

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, said in its 2005 report that hundreds of people had been arrested in Syria for political reasons, many held incommunicado and allegedly tortured or ill-treated.

Despite reports of continued harassment, Amnesty said that human rights defenders could now work more openly than in previous years.(AFP)

At 3/06/2006 01:29:00 PM, Blogger Lira = 1500 said...


Rest assured that you speak only for yourself on that opinion, a very lowly one if I may add.

You just made a disgrace out of yourself.

At 3/06/2006 01:47:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


The agreement is basically to keep all discussions confidential and that it should not be leaked to the media. it does NOT mean that they have reached any sort of deal, thats all.

At 3/06/2006 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Dear Raf*

I certainly would approve democracy in the Middle East if it is arrived at through internal development or even fairly bloodless jostling.

But I do think there is a fairly serious debate going on within the foreign policy establishment about the limits of American power which Kaplan and others are addressing.

Richard Perle, et. al., advocated using the American military as a constructive force to do away with bad regimes throughout the Middle East. As he said, "when the door [to democracy] is locked shut by a totalitarian deadbolt, American power may be the only way to open it up”.

He, of course, advocated using American power to overturn not just the Iraqi state, but also that of Iran, Saudi, and others.

Kaplan writes:

"'[B]efore the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power,' Thomas Hobbes wrote in "Leviathan." Without something or somebody to monopolize the use of force and decide right from wrong, no man is safe from another and there can be no freedom for anyone. Physical security remains the primary human freedom. And so the fact that a state is despotic does not necessarily make it immoral. That is the essential fact of the Middle East that those intent on enforcing democracy abroad forget."

For those who recommend using American power to overturn the Syrian state, where does one end? Should one also overturn the Egyptian state because it holds many more political prisoners than does Syria? Should one bash the Saudi regime because it has kept women in a state of servitude?

I think the point Kaplan and Hobbes are making is that there are worse things than the Syria regime. If it were destabilized without some form of state to replace it, the Syrians could end up in a much worse state than they are now.

This in no way means that the US should cease advocating democracy and trying to shape its foreign policy to promote liberty or accountability and to punish thuggery. It does mean that it must weigh the consequences of its actions.

We know a lot more about the fragility of Middle East societies than we did before Saddam was overturned and Americans took responsibility for running Iraq.

Yes, there are people in Iraq happy for the changes, but America must weigh the larger condition of Iraq as well as its own interests.

It seems clear to me that the US made a mistake in invading Iraq when Saddam could have been contained.

This may sound heartless to the Kurds and Shiites who prefer the situation as it is today.

But when Eyad Allawi says that Iraq is worse today than it was under Saddam, he is not just using hyperbole. I imagine there are many who have begun to think like him. Maybe half the population of Iraq are not ready to join Allawi in his opinion, but what are we to think if they do?

At 3/07/2006 09:17:00 AM, Blogger raf* said...

dear josh,

iyad allawi isn't exactly the first person i'd listen to when asking how iraqis feel.

and my primary issue with saddam was never his threat to neighbors. i think that one of the cardinal mistakes of the last 30 years was that the allies did not go all the way to baghdad in '91. and YES, i do know the reasons for why they stopped ...

as for "[t]his may sound heartless to the Kurds and Shiites who prefer the situation as it is today" - let me be very crass & ask you:

so, josh, you prefer the oppression of 95% of the population by 5% to a situation where 80% of the poplulation are more or less happy, 15% are ok, and 5% are not ok?

as for syria, i do not say "let's kill the regime & damn the consequences". but i am completely uninterested in helping it at all. being a social constructivist, i don't see anything sacred in the current syrian (or any other) boundaries, so my accepted post-ba'th "options" are wider than those of most.

anyway ... point is, while technically there may be things worse than the current dictatorship, there are others that are infinitely better.

and i'm more interested in figuring out how to arrive at those.




Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home