Saturday, May 20, 2006

Landis Responds to Michael Young

My dear sparing partner, Michael Young, has taken on my article grading the Syrian state and its neighboring counterparts on their ability to protect their subjects from death. He doesn't like it. His most apt criticism is that I use what I call "the dead body count" as a basis for comparison. This method leads to Syria being ranked much higher than Lebanon, which annoys Michael. The Lebanese government allowed 1 in 27 of its citizens to be killed, not to mention all the displaced since 1970. Syria's numbers are somewhere in the vicinity of 1 in 500 and it has become a haven for refugees, Lebanon's traditional role.

Michael is right to suggest that the dead body count is a crude measure that cannot include the general economic welfare of the population or freedom quotient. He is, of course, right about this. But the dead body count is part of the picture. For the purposes of a short opinion piece, it must stand on its own. Readers can factor in the rest, as they have done in the comment section. Let Michael argue that Lebanon has done better than Syria, given its higher per capita GDP and greater level of political freedom. Perhaps he would like to make such an argument; he insinuates it, but doesn't seem to be comfortable in coming right out to say it. His life is no doubt better as a citizen of Lebanon than it would be if he were Syrian, but that is because he is one of the lucky 26 out of 27 Lebanese who was not killed in the war. Maybe he feels that the improved life-style of the 26 was worth the sacrifice of the 27th? He might be right. It is a legitimate debate. How many Americans would come out and say they would like to go back in time to undo the American civil war, leaving blacks in slavery and allowing Confederacy to become an independent country, in order to prevent the sacrifice of 1 in every 64 Americans, who gave their lives during the war. But what did Lebanon accomplish in its war? I guess it switched from 6 to 5 Christian deputies to equality that is something.

But, where Michael and I really differ is on the policy implications of the article. He writes:

This broader message here is important for the United States as it tries to figure out how to address despots in the Middle East, including many who are its allies. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got it when she observed in Cairo in June 2005, "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East--and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

Bashar Assad is no paragon of stability, no matter what Landis thinks. Giving him an "A" on security at a time when the regime is arresting prominent opposition figures because they signed onto a petition the regime didn't like, because they seek to express their views freely in a Lebanese press that is not controlled, is incredible, particularly when Landis' subtext is that, comparatively speaking, Syria has been a better place than elsewhere.
We all agree that the US should support democracy, defend civil liberties, and pressure the Syrian regime to respect civil society and the rule of law. To suggest that I do not support such a policy is just peevishness and irresponsible journalism on Michael's part

The question is how the US should pursue this goal. Michael was a cheerleader for regime-change in Iraq and continues to be an advocate of teh "creative instability" school of US foreign policy, advanced by the neo-conservative school. Unchastened by the human catastrophe of Washington’s misbegotten democracy experiment in Iraq, Michael called for regime-change in Damascus in his articles this past fall. He believes that the US must tighten the screws on Damascus to the point that the regime collapses or internal rebellion is sparked.

In my opinion, such a policy is lunacy and motivated by irrational impulse and anger. We have learned that using violence as a policy tool can backfire. We have also learned that the democracy deficit in the Middle East is not simply a question of bad government or evil tyrants, its goes much deeper into political culture, national institutions, and the nature of education. Simply ripping off dictatorial regimes or smashing states will not solve the democracy deficit, it will only engender whole-scale slaughter, civil war, and national collapse. The problems of the Middle East do not stop at the authoritarian regimes. When Michael suggests that Hama was not a Syrian problem, but the problem of a regime trying to hold power for its own narrow interests, he simplifies the problem. If American policy makers listen to his advice, they will mess up Syria as they did Iraq. The promotion of democracy in Syria must be a long-term project. It cannot be accomplished through the present policy of trying to nail the Syrian regime, destroy Hizbullah, and bring them to their knees. This confrontational policy will only lead to exacerbating the cycle of violence and producing ever more extremism on both sides. This is my dispute with Michael.

If I remind readers that the Syrian regime has not completely failed in comparison to other regional states, it is to make the point that much worse things could happen to Syria, if present policy makers are pursuaded that only confrontation and victory should be tollerated in relations with Syria.


At 5/20/2006 02:24:00 PM, Blogger Michael said...


I have never suggested that the United States repeat in Syria what it did in Iraq, and no one takes that option seriously anyway. A military invasion is not something I support. That said, when I visited Damascus on the eve of the Iraq war, some opposition figures were not so sure it was a bad idea. As for me being in favor of the "'creative instability' school of U.S. foreign policy, advanced by the neo-conservative school," please find a quote where I ever said this. I am no neocon; I am a libertarian, someone in favor of liberty, who believes the Bush administration had the merit (perhaps the sole merit) of raising the democracy debate in the Arab world that realists and even those on the liberal left have long avoided raising. My problem is that liberals in the Middle East never bothered to pick up the ball they were given and run with it, to ensure that change would not be run principally by the U.S., but would become indigenous--albeit using the democratic West as backup, because piecemeal, entirely domestic Arab reform is a sham.

My real problem with your post has nothing to do with regime change or your perennial dismissal of Lebanon, and my post makes that clear; it has to do with the fact that your "culturalist" argument for the democratic deficit in the Middle East, and Syria in particular, is both contradictory and circular: contradictory, because in one sense you argue that doing nothing about Syria's dictatorship will somehow bring more democracy down the road, though quite when you don't care to clarify; and circular, because in arguing that we must stick with Assad because Syrians are not really prepared for democracy yet because their leaders and institutions are not ready, you are making a perfect case for why we must stick with Assad, who has ensured that the political culture and institutions not become more democratic.

But you are also doing something more pernicious: you're effectively declaring that Syrian democrats are premature in their efforts, given your belief that Syrian political culture is behind when it comes to democracy. If that's the case, it's no wonder that you have not regarded the recent arrests with a particularly noticeable sense of outrage. Indeed, we were afforded two posts on Syrian films and television instead.

But if that's not what you're arguing; if in fact you're arguing that the opposition-regime confrontation is somehow moving Syria toward greater democracy one day, that it's all part of a "long-term" democracy project, please offer more specifics. Isn't your implicit backing for the Assad regime, your absurd notion that what we have in Syria is worth saving, just another way of saying "let's not bother with democracy in Syria today, since the society is not ready? It will come one day, but let's not try to specify when just yet." Meanwhile, those in jail, and Syrian society, pay a very high price, and they don’t have a return ticket to Oklahoma where they can reflect on such matters. Please answer how Syria will prepare for democracy under a regime like the Assads', which punishes people for signing petitions.

You have no answer to all these queries. You've fallen back on an a priori argument for stalemate, because for reasons of your own you fear change in Syria. The Syrians might tear each other apart on sectarian grounds, you say, but then you give an "A" grade to a sectarian dictatorship because it didn't massacre quite as many people as its neighbors did. I'm really not sure what to make of all this, but if there is any "irrational impulse" to be found, it's in this farrago of ill-formed ideas of yours.

At 5/20/2006 02:54:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

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At 5/20/2006 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

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At 5/20/2006 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

From the above post:

"When Michael suggests that Hama was not a Syrian problem, but the problem of a regime trying to hold power for its own narrow interests, he simplifies the problem."

Dr Landis can you explain what you mean? What was the reason, in your opinion, for killing 10-20 thousand civilians?

At 5/20/2006 03:45:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I was still thinking what is wrong with Dr Landis use of body count as a measure of the good a government does. While I agree that it is an important metric, I disagree with the conclusion that it is “something that Syrians can be very proud of. It is something worth protecting.”

I will not go into this the reasons for that here but I propose an alternative metric that will shed some light into how much the Syrians value this security that our state in its infinite generosity has provided us.

The metric I propose is net migration into Syria.

I do not have the numbers but looking at broad trends we see

a) Incoming:

- Persecuted Iraqis (running away from Saddam, Americans or fellow Iraqis)
- Persecuted Turks (Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds)
- Lebanese during the civil war (most went back to Lebanon)
- Persecuted Palestinian refugees
- Virtually no Jordanians, Saudis or Egyptians

This confirms Dr Landis suggestion that Syria is a secure haven. It is also consistent with the praise Syria received recently from refugee assistance organizations. Noting that this role was played by Syria before the Assad regime. I agree that the Assads have maintained and even improved how we deal with people in need.

b) Outgoing:

- Daily workers in Lebanon and Jordan
- Long term workers in Saudi Arabia
- Permanent immigration to Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- Jews gone to the land their God decided to give them

Again this trend was there before the Assads, but we can not say that things improved during their reign. The general pattern is that people will come to Syria as a last resort, but many Syrians decide willfully to move to neighboring countries.

Of course I am very interested in finding the real numbers but will be very surprised to find our embassies filled with long waiting lines in spite of the “A” grade security.

At 5/20/2006 04:35:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

At 5/20/2006 05:03:00 PM, Blogger said...

These so-called Syrian oppositions have no right to meddle in Syrian National Foreign Policy issues. One that is very crucial to the Syrian National Interests and it is the business of the Syrian Leadership, those who run the State and Foreign Policy to ascertain its workings.

If they are true Syrian Oppositions, then they should direct the effort toward issues that should be of paramount importance to Syrians. Those regarding the Economy, Education and other Civic Rights. Not get bribed by Western and Jewish Intelligence Agencies to sign petitions that advance the agenda of evil Jews, the French (corrupt to the bone Chirac) and American oil smuggling interests.

Neither the United States nor that criminal organization the U.N. is interested in Human Rights or the well being of the Lebanese people. They never did for the past 5 decades and all the sudden, now, that they need to disarm Hizbullah, remove Syrian influence, install their own puppets in power in Beirut, one that can disarm the Hizzbullah resistance fighters, make peace with the Jews occupying Palestine and most importantly for the U.S. / U.N and France is not really the Israeli-Lebanon Peace Treaty but turning Lebanon into a "SAFE OFFSHORE BANKING COUNTRY" one, unlike the Cayman's, have more secure banks and laws that the elite and corrupt can hide all those Billions of Dollars of profit generated, all those bribes the Harriri and likes hands out.. Where do you expect the monthly 110 Billions spent by the U.S. in Iraq and earned by someone (?????) as a revenue and profit is going to go? back to the U.S. and France!! So that these someone’s have to worry about disclosing, washing it and pay most of it as taxes. Where are they going to deposit it, now that they themselves instituted the global Monetary Tracking Regime and laws that made it impossible to transfer, deposit, open a bank account or make any transaction that is automatically reported in real time.

What business these Syrian traitors has, signing a petition demanding the establishment of an Embassies between countries that from the beginning of times been one country and one people, divided only recently by the Colonialists French Crusaders, worshiper of the deceiving devil Christ/Amen and working on behest of his evil deceptive plot.

Freedom for Lebanon, my ass. More like a freedom for a tax free banking empire.

President Bashar Assad made the right decision in bringing these illiterate. bribed criminals, colonial and Jewish agents posing as Syrian oppositions into justice.

At 5/20/2006 05:06:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...


Your argument is ridiculous in that you claim that Lebanon's imperfect democracy is responsible for killing one Lebanese on 27. Lebanon's sectarianism is home-made, but the Lebanese war was not. The truth is that Syria is responsible for these atrocities since it is the direct cause of the Lebanese civil war. Through the closure of the borders, Syria has pressured Lebanon to sign the infamous 1969 Cairo diktat, which allowed the Palestinian thugs to move freely in the country. Syria has sent Palestinian fighters to Lebanon in massive amounts and armed the Palestinian guerilla. For years, it has deliberately torpedoed any peace effort, fueling the war and intimidating those who tried to oppose its murderous policies (Lebanese and foreigners alike). Lebanon’s dead should be put on the Syrian government’s balance sheet, and not on Lebanon’s.

Syria successfully destabilized the Lebanon of the 1960’s and is using the same outdated techniques to destabilize today’s Lebanon. Fortunately, the success of the past is proving hard to replicate. Syria’s Iranian masters cannot match the defunct soviet mentor and with Islamism being the new standard of backwardness, Syria pseudo-Arabist rhetoric look increasingly prehistoric. Syria’s capital of sympathy in today’s Lebanon has all but vanished and the only significant pro-Syrian political force in Lebanon care less about the Syrian people than about the fate of the Syrian government.

Furthermore you ignore the fact that the Asads’ legacy has yet to be revealed. The economy is shattered, hatred among the sects is higher than ever and the Syrian elite has fled the country. Syria is like a pressure cooker: the longer the pressure build-up, the stronger the explosion will be. The thousands of Syrians that will die because of decades of bad management have yet to “show up” – unless you believe (or you hope) that the Asad dynasty will be eternal.

You have lived in both Lebanon and Syria and therefore you don’t have the excuse of ignorance. Let me just add that whatever your reasons for being an Asad apologist, justifying the Baath second-class totalitarianism is a fascistic approach in nature.

Very sincerely,
Vox P.

At 5/20/2006 05:09:00 PM, Blogger souria el hora said...

how can you even defend the syrian regime? Haven't you seen what they have done, haven't you heard about hama and tadmur. Do you think it's ok to take political prisoners and beat them up just because they said what they thought is right, and because they are trying to help they syrian people get out of their mysery. This is by no means what so ever acceptable, the syrian regime is not better in any way than the saddam regime. You argue about how they bring security to syria, well saddam did the same, iraq was secure when saddam was in power so do u think saddam was good. I am not sure about you Dr. Landis but all syrians I know want a change, and not a change in the way the government is handling problems, but we all want to see assad out of power. How can one live in a country he calls home where he can't express himself freely. There is no freedom nor peace with the assad family in power, and this sense of security is just fake since one can not be secure even in his own house if he said one thing that would question the presidential or royal assad family.

At 5/20/2006 05:52:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


Very interesting. I totally agree with your balanced opinion.

If we look at "numbers", for all the countries in the region, I have the following to add:

1) every life saved from neighboring countries is a plus
2) every life wasted by "optional" and avoidable violence counts against
3) every life saved by avoiding wars (like Syria's avoiding going to war with Israel, Turkey ..etc) is a plus.... just imagine if Saddam was teh Syrian president taking the decision to deal with Turkish or Israeli threats.

On the other hand, Joshua:

Michael Young has a valid point where he says that Syria is responsible for some of the violence in Lebanon, especially since you stated elsewhere that Israel is responsible for the Arabs killed in the West Bank because it is under Israeli control.


At 5/21/2006 01:04:00 AM, Blogger qunfuz said...

Josh's negative praise for Syria is valid. It doesn't excuse the poor economic and atrocious human rights performance, but it is valid. And, sadly, I must agree that Hama reflected a profound problem in Syrian society rather than just the barbarity of the regime, - although the regime was barbaric, and I'm not suggesting the regime dealt with the problem in the best way. The fact remains that Syria like its neighbours is sick with sectarianism. This may or may not have worsened under the Baath, but it certainly was the caser before the Baath. In this respect, no, the society is not ready for democracy. Again, I don't mean we shouldn't move towards democracy using this as an excuse. The best way to deal with sectarianism is to give people more rights, to educate them better, to give them more economic opportunity, and to talk openly about sect. But the problem exists, is huge, and cannot be put down to regime politics.

At 5/21/2006 01:41:00 AM, Blogger Joe M said...

I don’t think there is anyone who supports oppression outright. In general, those who do oppress do so because they see it as a lesser injustice than the reason they are conducting that oppression, then whatever they are afraid of. I know that what I just said is obvious on its face, but it seems fairly necessary to state outright considering the content of this discussion. I get very tried of the likes of Michael Young and other anti-Syrians who are so dogmatic in their views that they cease to recognize that there is any depth in this world. It is pathetic how blandly black and white they see things.

The case of Syria is tough. Only the blind and deaf could really argue that Dr. Landis is a supporter of the Syrian regime. We all suffer when we hear about the kidnapping of people like Kilo or Bunni or others. No one supports these acts. I am sure that even the members of the Syrian regime itself are conflicted about doing them. Maybe some of you Lebanese think otherwise, but the Syrians are human and the repression happening in their country is not simply for the sake of their health or for sick fun. They do it because they believe that there are other important issues that need to be defended. The irony is that those like Young who advocate instant regime change have a very similar outlook on life as those kidnappers or thugs in the Syria regime. Those like Young or Farid Ghadry see the Syrian government as a bigger problem then they do the possible chaos that could result, or the associated loss of life involved with any attempt to overthrow the gov. They have decided that life is expendable when they chose and that their justifications and means are superior to those in who’s direction they chose to fire their bullets. Really, it is simply the same thuggary as committed by Israel or the USA or Saddam or Syrian officials…

Truthfully, it is foolish. And for the same reason that Assad is not a legitimate ruler of his country, those like Young who will call the State Department to solve their problems are equally illegitimate. Though I don’t personally know Young or the others like him, my assumption is that they live a life dominated by the same greed and hunger for power that affects even the most corrupt Syrian official.

It is with this in mind that I introduce an anecdote that the American political dissident Harry Belafonte repeats consistently. Belafonte talks about a meeting between black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and President Franklin Roosevelt. The story goes something like this:
Philip Randolph was a powerful black labor leader in his time, and they were fighting for equality and justice in their own way. So Randolph managed to get a meeting with President Roosevelt to discuss the issues. During this meeting, Randolph spoke for 20 or 30 minutes about the plight of his people, about the injustice they face and the inequality they suffer. After hearing this speech, Roosevelt turned to Randolph and said something to the effect of, “You know Mr. Randolph, there is not one thing you have said tonight that I disagree with. Not one. In fact, I am inspired by it. And you are absolutely right, I am the president of the United States, and I have a platform that carries a lot of possibilities, including making a contribution to the liberation of peoples who are suffering. And I should apply that, rigorously. But, in this respect, I have a request for you. I will apply the strength that I hold in defense of your people when you can make me do it. So please, make me do it.”

The point I make in recounting this story is not that I think Assad is just waiting for the people to rise up in order to change his regime. I do not think that the situation of the USA in the Roosevelt era is similar to the situation under Bashar. But I think that this anecdote expresses purely the only true way for people to gain their liberation. They are not going to achieve freedom or equality or justice by calling on outside powers to come and save them. They are not going to see their countries become free by fiat or coup or some type of overthrow or dramatic collapse of the status quo. There are going to have to be grassroots movements for change that come from within their respective countries, fighting for their respective. They are going to have to create their own momentum, their own strength, their own pressures that will remake their countries and force things to change internally.

It will only be in this context that any change is meaningful and honest, that any change has a chance to succeed and grow. I am so utterly tired with the stupidity, cowardice and laziness of those who want some miraculous change to happen over night. It will just never work. On a practical level, it just ends up in chaos like the Iraq situation. On a philosophical level, it is equally as undemocratic (maybe more undemocratic) as the rule of the thugs who currently rule the Middle East. It is pathetic. Actually, the real disgrace of the Middle East is that we have allowed our honest voices for justice to be drowned out by the likes of the lazy and arrogant who just want power.

Everyone knows the criticisms that can be leveled against the Syrian regime, or the Egyptian Pharaoh or any other idiotic leader in the region. It takes absolutely no imagination to go on complaining over and over again about how bad life is in Syria. Fine, we all know, you get a cookie, good for you. The fact remains that it takes some real courage and dignity to stand up for beliefs and convince others and to build a program for change, grow in size and mature in beliefs, put pressure on those powers that be, and to become popular and effect change in a real, concrete way. People who do that deserve our deepest respect. I want to see a free and united Middle East that has come to its own on its own. Absent of such conditions, it is just another problem waiting to happen (or, it is Iraq).

I am just sick and tired of hearing those like Michael Young or EHASNI2 who have big mouths, but don’t seem to be putting their money on the table. If anything, I agree with what Alex says and what Dr. Landis implies, that your voices are ones that are primarily out for revenge and not much more. And that is not going to do the Syrian people much good when it comes down to it. If you hate Syria so much Michael, and you think you have a solution, let’s hear it. And I will respect you when I see you create (from the ground up) some institutions that have an effect in Syria. And if you get arrested for your beliefs, for fighting for your rights, then you follow in the noble footsteps of freedom fighters like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

At 5/21/2006 04:30:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Michael’s claim that " the Bush administration had the merit (perhaps the sole merit) of raising the democracy debate in the Arab world that realists and even those on the liberal left have long avoided raising." is complete and utter hallucination. The Bush administration’s goal in the Middle East had nothing to do with democracy or promoting freedom. The best example for that is the lack of UN Security Council resolutions against Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Michael, you and your miniature pet Tony and his pet Vox are completely blinded by your hate for everything Syrian. You claim to be libertarian but I say BS. Your articles for the last 2 years have suggested the complete opposite. The Bush administrations goals and actions have suggested only one thing; remodeling the Middle East though the neo-con’s strategic interests and to control it not better it.


You uttured this gem “The truth is that Syria is responsible for these atrocities since it is the direct cause of the Lebanese civil war” rrriiiiigggghhhttttt what a typical comment. I’ve come to expect and tolerate your closed-minded and often racist comments but this one is almost as funny as your lingerie brand nickname. It’s everybody’s fault but ours; Islam’s and Syria’s not us pure and clean Lebanese Christians. But hey, whatever makes you sleep the night.

At 5/21/2006 07:04:00 AM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

I would really like to see a valid analysis of sectarian trends in Syria. Everyone has their own feeling of how much sectarianism has increased under the Baath Party or not, but with little data.

I suspect sectarian loyalties have definitely consolidated over time. For example, 80 or 90 years ago, when a large Aleppian community emigrated to Paterson, NJ during Ottoman times, they were split into 3 major groups: Melkite Catholics, Syriac Catholics, and Armenian Catholics, with smaller populations of Maronites, Chaldeans, Greek Orthodox, etc. (Catholic operatives spread around lots of "goodwill" in the form of bags of flour and thus had lots of success converting Orthodox in Aleppo, hence the term "latin al-tahin") Only the Melkites and Armenians sent priests, so the Syriac community split between those 2 groups.

When the Melkites finally built a church, major arguments broke out between them and the Syriacs as to whether there should be Greek lettering on the outside of the building. The point is, even Catholic Christians were divided amongst themselves, let alone rivalry with the Orthodox, perhaps thanks to the Ottoman millet system which treated each of these rites separately.

Compare that to modern times. When the Pope came to Syria 6 years ago, even the Orthodox Churches in Damascus shut their doors and sent people to the Papal mass. That would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that Syrians are wiser now and can see beyond minor differences within the same faith? Or does it mean that the replacement of a sectarian Ottoman system ultimately with a secular Baath system (granted I am skipping a few decades in between) has fomented distrust between different religions and forced people to cling to others "less dissimilar" for fear of harm? Or would it have happened anyway?

By the way, yes, there are plenty of Maronites in the Syrian Arab Republic, and despite this fact, the Maronite Patriarch did not travel to Damascus when the Pope visited in 2000.

At 5/21/2006 12:15:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Joe M,

You are sick and tired hearing those like EHSANI2 who have big months, but don’t seem to be putting their money on the table?

You agree with Alex that my voice is primarily out for revenge and not much more?

You implicitly accuse me of wanting revenge? What a foolish comment. If anything, this regime has been extremely beneficial to my extended family and me. Were this regime to be removed from power, there is every reason to believe that my extended family and I will be personally worse off. Accusing me of wanting revenge, therefore, is truly idiotic. You have no idea who I am so shooting off you mouth the way you did is a sign of intellectual inferiority. You have tried to convince us otherwise by citing a seemingly intelligent anecdote about Philip Randolph, but you came way short.

Your masterpiece can be summarized as follows:

1-We all know that the Syrian regime is oppressive. No need to explain this to us again.
2- But the oppression is there because the oppressors see it as a lesser injustice than the reason they are they conducting that oppression (your words).
3- anyone who calls for regime change thinks that life is expendable and could not care less about the possible chaos that could result. These individuals are stupid, cowards and lazy (again your words).
4- if anyone wants to change the regime, they cannot rely on outside powers. They need to have grassroots movements that are born within and who can create their own momentum and strength, which will then allow them to force things to change internally.
5- It takes real courage and dignity to stand up for beliefs and convince others to build a program for change, grow in size and mature in beliefs put pressure on those powers that be, and to become popular and effect change in a real and concrete way. People who do that deserve our deepest respect.

How rich in idealism and how lacking in realism can one be?


What you describe above is extremely conventional and vastly repetitive. There is no doubt that you have convinced yourself that you sit on a higher morale ground here. After all, you care about human life and the possible ensuing chaos that may come with a regime change whereas people like me are simply stupid, lazy and coward. If you ask for external help, you must be a big mouth evil traitor with a careless and heartless soul. The use of “TAKHWEEN” to label people who see things differently than you is what makes you sleep better at night am sure. Your conscience must be clear when you go to sleep thinking that you are the true patriot who loves his country and care about the well being of its people when others like me are evil traitors.

Perhaps unwittingly, you almost got it right when you wrote the following:

The oppression of the Syrian regime “is not simply for the sake of their health or for sick fun. They do it because they believe that there are other important issues that need to be defended”.

I wish that you had bothered to elaborate on what these “other” important issues are.

I will try to help you out.

The “only” other important issue is hold on to power. Don’t bother yourself looking for so-called others issues.

The other unwittingly intelligent thing you said was: “The case for Syria is tough”.

The case of Syria is tough because the Syrian regime has been one of the cleverest brain manipulators in modern history. Even its most ardent supporters agree that it has failed to deliver on a long list of promises that it has made over the past 43 years. Yet, these very same people are equally convinced that there is no alternative. Yes, they failed in their economic policies. Yes, they failed in creating a civil society. Yes, they failed in promoting democracy. Yes, they have been slow in reforming or changing. Yes, they changed the country’s constitution to install a new President in one week. But, we cannot see who else can take over? Syrians are going to kill each in the streets should anyone else take over. Chaos will ensue and the country will disintegrate into mayhem should the regime be removed. Those who can live with a regime change want it to be from within and be driven by grassroots movements. What does this mean? Which grassroots movements? How can you have such movements if a draconian emergency law is in full effect? How can you have a grassroots movement if the regime can knock on any door and arrest anyone that it deems dangerous or threatening to its survival? How can you have a grassroots movement when you cannot organize a domestic opposition party that has its own TV station and newspaper that can appeal to the vast majority of the populace? How can you have grassroots movement if you cannot even dare use your actual name on a blog from afar? How can you have a grassroots movement if you cannot go around the country and explain to 20 million people how their standards of living are sinking in front of their eyes and that they deserve a lot better? How can you grassroots movement when the Baath party apparatus is in full control of the education curriculums, and mass media? Please stop fooling yourselves. Syria is a tough case because the regime has blocked every single avenue that allows for a grassroots movement to take hold in the first place. They have perfected this art better than any other in modern history. The country’s internal security is so awesome that they have left 20 million people with this thought:

“Domestic opposition movements will never have the capability to remove this regime from power. The only one who can do is foreign military force. If we can convince our populace that inviting foreign forces is tantamount to treason and if we can convince them that chaos, mayhem and another Iraq awaits them, we can go on to break the world record when it comes to holding to power. What can possibly stop Hafez Assad junior from becoming the next president? Who can possibly remove this family from power if they keep promising reforms and threatening killing fields should they be removed? Which other country in the world offers its citizens this choice? We are led to believe that Syria is different than all the other countries in the civilized world. We are led to believe that our society is so intricate and complicated that those of us who refuse to believe that only two options face our future are nothing but lazy, stupid, big mouths evils. As I write, I cannot help but congratulate the Syrian regime on conducting one of the most brilliant mind and soul manipulation tactics in history.

At 5/21/2006 01:01:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Professor Landis views about the Syria’s performance contra the neighbours were very refreshing, in the normal USA's rather one sided Middle East “bad dictators” blaming discussion. I must say that I am somewhat confused with some Americans and American Arabs views that democracy, peace and growing economy are so closely linked and how these conversationalists almost totally erase Israel from the equation of Middle East’s present situation and future development. I also wonder their view that the bad ones are only Syria and Iran (+ Libya and Iraq before), not the others with equal or even worse track record. At least from a west European view point the Iranian democratic discussion seems to be a light year in front of the democratic discussion they have in Saudi Arabia.

Americans hugely overestimate the power of their “democracy” message in Middle East and other parts of the world. Some Americans may even today swallow the democracy exporting rhetoric, but the bad thing that most of the world’s citizens do not swallow it. Certainly the Middle East’s people want and need more democracy, but do they really need it with the terms and timetable the US financed propaganda machine tells them and when US military machine finalizing the transform?

The world sees the USA's double standards. USA has difficult attitude problems with the religious influence in Iran, but no real problems with Saudi Arabia’s equal situation. So is it for religion and style of regime or more for the “obedience” towards USA? Syria’s presence in Lebanon was a “bad thing” for USA. But not the far more serious and violent four decades long Palestine occupation by Israel, which seems to have no effect in USA’s newly found “democratic conscience”. So is it for occupation in it self or more who occupies whom? USA has difficulties with the Assad family dynasty, but no problems with Saudi, Jordan etc family dynasties. Did Saudis or Kuwaitis vote for their kings and emirs? So is it in reality for leaders who got their position through public voting and democracy?

Does democracy inexorably mean peace with other countries? Well, Israel has been a democracy for Jews, but not fore those millions under its military rule. Israeli democracy was no block for the wars in 1956 and 1968 when Israel was the aggressor. Democracy did not also block Israel from developing a massive oversized nuclear weapon capability and most probably also other WMD capacity. USA and its democratic allies have after WW2 invaded far more countries and changed more regimes (even from nationalistic democracy to dictatorship), than the Communist blocks and all the worlds other dictatorships combined managed to accomplish in the same time frame. Most of these “democratic interferences” can only with vivid imagination be described as defensive acts against communism. So it is fair to say that democracy as a ruling style doesn’t mean that democracies have been less aggressive and expansive than dictatorships during the past 50 years. Or more peaceful against others.

Naturally the American policy supporters say that Israel did what it did and does only for security reasons. Well, there is no US Middle East “expert” or pro-US Arab who can give a rational explanation how building huge settlements and land grabbing on occupied land in reality increased Israel’s security. Israel’s “area” yes but not security.

The people supporting present US policy say if we have democracy Syria and Iran everything will be good. Could a democratic regime of Syria make any “easier” than a less democratic regime a peace with Israel (with the price of loosing Golan Heights or at least most of it), which in the end is more relevant to Syria’s economical future than a regime change? How Syria’s military and defence needs would change if there would be a different regime but no peace? They stay the same if Israel doesn't want a peace.

In the discussion of Syria’s and the regions democratic future the Israel question should not be avoided. Also questions like:
* Will there be a government in Israel which will give up the water resources of Golan Heights and West Bank?
* What would happen to Israeli economy without that water?
* Could Israel’s economically important military industry keep their wheels rolling without the occupation, US financial aid and loans and the war like situation with the neighbours?
Also these questions and many others like those related to Israel and its binding with the neighbours need an answer when the regions future is discussed. Democracy in Syria, disarming militias in Lebanon and Palestine do not solve the equation if Israel doesn’t announce its “final” wishes and exact borders. The Israeli American style of avoiding direct negotiations, by saying we do not have partners for peace, is a miserable time buying strategy. Unlike Israel and USA believe the facts on the ground do not change by repeating the word democracy and suicide bomber / terrorist one million times.

Michael Young remembers to mention in his answer to Professor Landis analysis that Landis’ Lebanon body count doesn’t mention Syria’s influence to the amount of the dead. Well Young has no problems in forgetting the much more serious Israeli influence to Lebanon’s body count and economy during Sharon’s “democratic liberation” of South Lebanon and the long financing and arming local militias.

Michael Young even says in his comment for his defence: “A military invasion is not something I support. That said, when I visited Damascus on the eve of the Iraq war, some opposition figures were not so sure it was a bad idea.” Well how good treatment would those US politicians get who support a military invasion by a foreign power? Are these opposition figures real patriots and “libertarians” or agents of an enemy?

At 5/21/2006 01:26:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


I am glad to see that the Israel CD is playing loud and clear in lovely Finland.

Can we discuss Syria once without brining up Israel and the U.S.?

The genius of the Syrian regime has made it close to impossible to do so. Any time a criticism is made of our own regime’s failures, the blame Israel and the U.S. CD gets to be played. Implicitly, of course, there is the message that the present regime is our only savior when it comes to protecting the Syrian and Arab people against the Israeli and American evil dreams. No doubt this has been another brilliant and sure winner tactic.
How can an Arab support Israel and America’s interests over those of his own?

I just received an email telling me that I must be a Damascene Sunni elite.

It is interesting how people assume that if you don’t support the regime, and then you must be a Sunni. If you also happen to voice your criticism in the English language, then you must also be from the elite.

How sad!

At 5/21/2006 02:04:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This is getting difficult. I woke up late today and I have 5 other people who wrote 2-page comments!

I thought I was the only one abusing the space here for my detailed thoughts.

Ehsani, please let me recap:

1) First, I thank JoeM for agreeing with me on many things including my conclusion about those how are out for revenge, but I want to explain that I did not include Ehsani in that group. I know who I included and that does not include every one who disagrees with me, not my friend Atassi for sure. (wher are you?)

2) Ehsani, why do you insist on introducing friction in our debates? you are a busy man and you would not always have the time to read all comments I leave here and at Ammar's, but I want to tell you that I already complained elsewhere that it is getting really difficult to argue anything on these forums ... you are either considered "a traitor" or you are "pro regime". And now you have described a new one: "brain washed by the regime" ... or I will simplify it to "idiots".

I happen to be very confident in my opinions. Not certain, but confident. I am happy to listen to your points of view. Please make this process more pleasant by not always replying through name calling (absurd, brain wasged ...)

Last time you made me write 2 pages to explain the details, but you did not read them and you did not tell me what is wrong with them.

Do you mind taking it from there? maybe I will discover why my win/win proposal is absurd. If you notice, again, you are only contributing in two ways:

1) explaining how bad the regime was/is
2) considering only one option ... a very risky and violent option.

PLEASE try to convince me why my other option is "absurd".

Last point: we have a common email friend (you know who) who explains to me that you are a very impressive economist ... so at least you don't have to doubt my respect for your opinions and skills, even if I disagree with some of them here.

At 5/21/2006 02:16:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

FYI, in Ehsani's defense, I went back and found what he posted back when syriapol was launched, and here is what he said:
19% method of change
39% Form of Government
32% Economy
4% democratic elections
7% peace process

...It turns out that the survey concluded that I am strongly against an Islamic government and that just behind this issue is my desire for economic growth in Syria."

So, Ehsani's gripes with the regime placed a distant third.

At 5/21/2006 02:29:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

What Dr Landis and the score of supporters have done with their "A" for Security doctrine is to put a rational facade on the argument that all regime supporters have adopted.

The argument goes as follows: Arabic countries need a dictator.

BelArabi AlFasih: Shaeb Bajam.

While it might be true that without dictatorship there will be a civil war, or a much less secular government, we should remember simple facts:

1) Most dictatorships are ultra sectarian (today’s Syria and Saddam’s Iraq being extreme examples)
2) After decades of dictatorship we are no less sectarian, religious or lacking in democracy readiness. See Iraq.

When we blame Iraq's situation on the Americans we forget that the reason this country is unable to come a reasonable compromise between its citizens is not American rule but years of fostering of sectarian divide by Saddam & co.

Syria is the same. What are we going to do with the riches accumulated by the few? What do we do with the murderers who killed our brothers, fathers and cousins? What do we do with an army that has a structure totally dominated by regime loyalists?

How are we going to deal with this when those profiteers, murderers and strongmen belong to a large extent to one sect? What do we do when we know that our tribal mentality will mean that to their defense their extended families will rise? Basically avoiding civil war is very hard.

The more we delay the regime change the more bloody and divisive this war is going to be. The extent of the war is not a function of the method of regime change but of the length to which we allow the regime to keep corrupting our society.

Please do not take my comments as an anti-Allawi comment as the Sunnis of Iraq were in exactly the same situation. It simply an accident of history and all of Syria is responsible for where we are today.

But like a cancer fostering in our body the more we delay surgery the more limbs we might lose when we do it. Those who are advocating herbal treatments are either confused or charlatans.

Finally I am not using the term regime change as an aphorism for American intervention but as a fashionable substitute for revolution.

At 5/21/2006 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Joe M said...

I am glad you responded EHSANI2, I did intend to be provocative and I guess I got your attention. I do apologize because this is long and I don't intend to specifically attack you. My argument is with a mentality I see all too often, and you consistently express it.

Some of your criticisms are fair, but most are not. And I think that the best counter-example to your argument is Egypt. The people of Egypt have an equally bad situation as that in Syria. The people have been languishing under pathetic leaders since Nasser died. They have had emergency law for 50 years. Their reformers get swooped up at night just as in Syria (only more often and in larger numbers), and their police have skillfully perfected the ability to beat someone with a club. But unlike in Syria, the body of people who want change in Egypt is becoming more organized by the day and it is spreading their message further and further into the fabric of society. It is a testament to their will, endurance and dedication that they believe it is their country’s responsibility to free itself from the monster they have suffered with for too long. You don’t see Kifaya or the Akhwan calling on Washington to come solve their problems. And as a result, they will be far more successful then those in Syria will be, or those like Chalabi in Iraq have been. Success, measured by the health of their country, not who is in power. Maybe, my friend, you can tell me why the Egyptian people have finally begun to stand up to their Pharaoh, but it is impossible to stand up to Dr. Bashar? If anything, they should serve as an example to you that it is possible, it just takes guts.

The point I was trying to make in the first post is that I don’t necessarily criticize your analysis; I criticize your means. Of course, I am on the left and you are on the right so we differ on some economic things, but for the most part there is not much that separates you and I on how we see they Syrian Gov. The disagreement is based on means. And I don’t see how you can claim democracy when you are unwilling to allow for the development of popular opposition. As I said in the other post, it is the same mentality of those in power. They believe they have the unique right to do as they wish, and they do not have to convince the people or prove anything. If you are so correct, if your views are so right, your people will understand and believe you and will join the struggle. And if you dismiss them as brainwashed or useless or uneducated, then you are again showing remarkable similarities to the Syrian government. Why should anyone have the right to govern a society they do not respect?

And I disagree with what you said to SimoHurtta; I think a major reason Syria is a tough case is because the forces putting pressure on the country are particularly troublesome. The internal situation is basically cut and dry. The problem is that Syria is not living in a vacuum. It is not like Egypt that has better relations with Israel then with any Arab country, or with the USA breathing down its neck and threatening war. I, for one, am still a believer in pan-Arabism and respect the Syrian Baath for providing a place for Palestinians (and others) to organize. There are other things too, that they have done well (for example, Landis says security). The problem is that the Syrian people can look around the region and see first hand what the other options are, what happens when you put your fate in the hands of 19 year old Americans or break into factions and attack each other like the Lebanese. If those are the options that are on the table, then yes, I would prefer Bashar. And yes, I believe that Israel and the USA are key factors in the equation, they don’t change the nature of the Syrian government, but they do change the way to deal with issues. It is ignorant to act as though they are not. Actually, it is hypocritical. It is hypocritical because you want us to ignore the Americans and the Israelis, but in the next breath you call for them to come save you from your dictator… Who is dumb enough to accept that?

And yes, I absolutely accuse those who call for outside intervention of cowardice and weakness. Weakness is obvious on its face. I do think it is fair to call for International solidarity and even some limited material support. But I have disdain for those who claim to take the lead in solving hard problems, but do not put themselves in the line of fire. Those who come in on American planes (like Chalabi), claiming success, victory and liberation, all the while watching Rome burn. Good for him, he now sits in Saddam’s castles, a true democrat! Anyway, whether you specifically want revenge as a motive, I am not sure. Maybe not as much in your particular case. But either way, it is a theme that is all too common and not the least helpful. It will blind you to reality. If the goal is a peaceful and prosperous country, then you have to look deeper then that.

When you say, “The genius of the Syrian regime has made it close to impossible to do so…” you are beginning to sound like those in my family who have long since stopped believing in the existence of God, but replaced it with a deep belief in the power of the CIA. No longer is there any complexity in the world, like I said in my first post, it is black and white. When something bad happens it is the CIA, when something good happens it is because the CIA wants you to believe that something good is happening… For you it is the all-powerful Syrian government. They control ever breath of air and every way people think and act.

And when you say that you think the people believe, “Domestic opposition movements will never have the capability to remove this regime from power…”, it just begs the question: if this is what you think of the people, why should you be trusted to lead the country? What right do you have to talk about them like that? Why are you any better then the Syrian Gov. who expresses its great respect for the people by continuing to brutalize them? Why should we trust you to do anything for their benefit?

What is the realism you want? Kill your enemies and grab power yourself? You write me off as being an idealist because you can’t achieve any significant popularity. Yet you expect American tanks to build you a utopia. Seriously, it is ridiculous. You might be a good person with honest motivations, but your views are shallow and full of contempt. It is too bad because Syria needs more people who are serious. It needs people who are willing to fight and stand up to the pressure (and even go to jail if it comes to that). There are enough Michael Youngs out there for everyone, it is a deeper belief and courage that is lacking in this world.

At 5/21/2006 03:51:00 PM, Blogger Ehud Yehwe Hetzel Shitting in my pants over Iran said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/21/2006 04:03:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Eshani2 can there be adequate discussion of Syria’s future without Israel’s and USA’s role in it? It is like analyzing Finland’s political future and economy and leaving Russia and its development completely out of the analysis.

Eshani2 you seem to have an over simplified view of politics and economy. Politics and economics are not a one dimensional game, where you make on move and the watch what follows. Breaking a multiethnic country is rather “easy” as we have seen in Yugoslavia and Iraq. Rebuilding a country and its structures is far more complex as Americans have now learned in Iraq. When some American Syrian “Chalabi’s” are shouting in chorus REGIME CHANGE, without any clue what will follow, it is not very intellectual. It would be much wiser to try influence a change of the system from within and with peaceful means. That was what made Mihail Sergejevitš Gorbatšov a really great man, a man who saved hundreds of millions of a long period of wars and chaos.

Eshani2 your old record player’s LP of regime change and free trade really needs updating.

At 5/21/2006 04:37:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Joe M,

Who gave you the impression that I am somehow running for office? You ask me why I should be trusted to lead the country and benefit the people? I am upset because I can’t achieve significant popularity?

Syria needs people with deep beliefs and courage? You are right about that.

I will repeat again that there is no conceivable scenario where the country’s domestic opposition can unilaterally remove this regime. Egypt’s opposition will not have better luck either. You seem to think that Egypt’s opposition enjoys more “will, endurance and dedication”. I wish them good luck in their endeavor.

With all due respect to Michael Young, he can argue for regime change without having to fear the consequences of this step like us Syrians do. In spite of all my stated views, let me admit to one fact:

Were Syria to be led by an Islamic Fundamentalist government, I think that the country will be significantly worse off than if this regime stays in power. The risks of such an outcome are not insignificant. I, for one, cannot be oblivious to such a probability. But, this cannot blind me to the country’s current massive shortcomings.

Performance in life has to be measured against potential and not against others. How would you accept your bright son/daughter to come home one day from school with an “F” and to explain it by saying that all his/her best friends also got an “F”. Should that make you feel any better? The potential of this lovely country of ours is immense. Seeing it perform so much below this potential is a travesty that cannot be condoned under any circumstances. A true leader must make raising the standards of living of his people his top priority. I wonder if Bashar can go to sleep at night thinking that he has fulfilled this basic and measurable test of leadership.

At 5/21/2006 05:11:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


why is it that you find Bahsar's list of pririties illogical?

This is basic knowledge, that security needs when not fulfilled, make all other human needs irrelevant or less relevant

Bashar said he thinks "Syrian" TODY have these priorities:

other things

Maslow's hierarchy of needs says the same things should apply to any human being

So, who is wrong, Maslow and Bashar? and who is right? Michael Young?

You can write as much as you want about howe much you love Syria, but the fact is: your security needs are guaranteed ... you are way beyond that in your safe home town in the U.S. so obvisouly you are into a different mental situation than many. many Syrians who relly worry about the Iraq scenario and realize they are a candidate for a similar outcome.

I am not judging you .. I just hope you can visualize the following scenario next time you look lightly on the war scenario: imagine you are in there when it happens, your children are in there... do you honestly think you would still be equally adventurous?

At 5/21/2006 05:13:00 PM, Blogger Joe M said...

Over and over again, you present a political program for Syria as though you are running for office, even if you are not technically. But more importantly, I am trying to address the issues of "regime change" and such that I hear consistently, yours being just one voice in that direction. There are people in that camp who do hope to take office, even if not your specifically. I have no personal beef with you and I admire your desire and ability to consistently defend yourself and your views in this forum. I am just presenting ideas, if in a harsh tone at times. I thank you for your willingness to engage.


At 5/21/2006 05:31:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


Of course, I worry. My entire extended family lives in the country. I personally visit at least twice a year. Do I worry about another Iraq? You bet I do.

Bashar did indeed telegraph his priorities as you cited. I wish he were a bit clearer though.

How? He should have elaborated this way:


The definition of security is that my regime needs to stay in power. When I can be assured of that, and when the risks of regime removal are close to nil, then I will consider addressing the next priority of:


I will offer you zero guidance as to how I intend to improve it with my socialist system in place. Just trust me. My economic guru Dardari has promised you 7% GDP growth “soon”. Let us just leave it at that. When you give me an open-ended time frame to address this priority, we can go on to:

Other things

Please do not bother me with silly calls for civil society and democracy. Such trivial issues can only be considered when my regime is assured of survival and when Dardari’s plan is allowed the time it needs to start showing its magic.

At 5/21/2006 05:51:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...


(we're keeping you busy today, sorry)

I like what you wrote. Since I am this positive dreamer, I will proceed as if we really agree at this stage that at least:

1) we should really worry that "regime change" by force is something to really worry about. Therefore we would love to find other options.

2) It is quite likely, and probable, that a majority of Syrians today (with Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine in mind) do agree with Bashar's list of priorities, althought they don't define it the same way you stated (reading Bashar's mind)

So, we are now already at a better stage ... what should we do to meet those priorities in the same order (security, then economy, and last but not least political and human rights reforms)?

What I have been trying really really hard the past few weeks is to get all of you to stop criticizing the regime (you covered everything a thousand times already) and move forward to proposing solutions.

So since we both agree that the regime does not accept to be removed in a hurry today, and we disagree on the probability that somehow "the regime" might be motivated (through positive incentives) to gradually give up significant parts of its power in 5 to 10 years... can we work with what we agree about and start to brainstorm to see if we can come up with "incentives" and safer plans?

Or do we go back to our endless back and forth "discussion"?

I am ready to leave all these discussions if none of you wants to move to more constructive things.

At 5/21/2006 06:05:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Bashar can hold a press conference tomorrow and do the following:

1- Articulate his economic plan for the country with specific timetable and action plan. Tell us how he intends to position the country to compete both regionally and globally. Explain to the nation how the country’s losing public sector intends to create close to the 200,000 jobs that it needs to stop the alarmingly high unemployment rate from rising further.
2- Once he concludes this press conference, he needs to hold another one the following day to explain when the country can expect to remove the draconian emergency laws. He can also explain when we can realistically expect a reduction in corruption and the start of a civil society to take place.

Is this too much to ask for?

At 5/21/2006 06:40:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

I agree with Alex, let's be constructive here.

Ehsani said Bashar should hold a press conference to outline his economic plan.

I propose that Ehsani and SimoHurtta each write this speech for Bashar and post it on the blog itself. Include specific economic plans with quantitative indicators and metrics.

This blog's comments section has come a long way and we have collectively managed to chase away the name-calling jerks. The content in the comments section is becoming more and more substantial, relevant, and useful.

Josh has built here the premier Syrian blog on the internet. It has the potential to be extremely influential. Policy makers in at least 2 capitals read these comments regularly. So let's do this forum justice.

At 5/21/2006 06:45:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Very reasonable.

Since Bashar is not here, I will again reply to you on his behalf (again, please play along and assume or accept that he really wants to try his best, without taking "too much" risks)

1) Those economic challenges are real. I know I will not be able to escape them if I intend to remain the president for the next few years. The European experts already raised all the alarms they could raise. I am totally convinced that we do not have too much time before we have to do something!

The problems I have now are the following:

1) Without outside help (Europe and the US) I have no resources. The problem is, I can not convince enough Syrians (human resources and capital) to come back because they have been telling Buthaina shabaan in her trips to the US and canada that they do not want to come back until basically everything has been resolved and fixed. They do not want to invest (their time and money) in such a high risk environment.

We will not agree on the reasons behind our difficulties with the Europeans, but hte fact is, Chirac is not being helpful anymore, Blair is not being helpful anymore. I am trying hard to rely on Iran, China, and Russia to replace them .. becaue we really need help.

However, what I just told you stays between us please. Syria is in a long term political game in the middle east. My father worked hard to establish Syria's position in the area, and I will not be the one who will accept to go back to becoming a "Jordan".

They used to say that Syria's asking price for a comprehensive peace settlement is too high. The past 4 or 5 of years they made it much more difficult for us to accept the deal ... Sharon was offering: "peace for peace" ... Syria's asking price, we were told, should be heavily reduced. Regardless of what I personally value, the Syrian people would have despised me if I accepted the new terms for settlements offered to us by the new Israeli and American leaderships.

I tried few times to offer our willingness to go back to peace negotiations with Israel ... I even accpted a significant compsomise: I will not insist on going to where we left last time (Rabin's offer to return the Golan)

All I got was ... he is so weak, and he cares about nothing other than staying in power ... he will do anything to stay in power, including begging.

So today, we are still playing this Poker game where we amke sure give the impression that our hidden cards are very effective. We can not go on national TV and make a news conference where we say: HELP! ... our economy is falling apart!

But rest assured, in private discussions with European experts we go through things in detail.

We need to get the politics settled in a satisfactory way for Syria before we can tackle the economy ... I am not raising any public alarms for now. You want me to make the public panic?

2) as for the emergency law ... maybe. But my moukhabarat reports (from all 5000 divisions of moukhabarat) are all telling me that the following groups are waiting to challenge us as soon as I lift those emergency laws:

1) the Kurds
2) fundamentalists
3) opportunists working with the outside to overthrow the regime at any cost.

So, if you want to accelerat the reform process, I want your help in:

1) stop outside support to the kurds, the ikhwan, the others who want to overthrow the regime this year.

2) stop the media campaign that is keeping us busy every day to prepare our replies and our defenses.

3)let the hariri investigation take its course without annahar claiming every day a new story tha tHariri had a pen that recorded my threats, or that the Lebanese security officers already confessed everything ... these stories last year were so popular that we were actually busy formulating busy with them on a daily basis. If the investigation finds us guilty, then well deal with it. For now let it for the UN team and away from the press adn speculations.

4) put all your weight behind our calls for better relations with the west while respecting Syria's pride... most Syrians are to proud to accept insults and humiliation.

As for trusting me ... help me with the above and we can talk about ways I can reciprocate and show you that if you really work with me, I might do much better ... but still no miracles, I hope you understand.

At 5/21/2006 07:33:00 PM, Blogger VIVA LIBAN said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/21/2006 08:09:00 PM, Blogger VIVA LIBAN said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/22/2006 01:48:00 AM, Blogger Ausamaa said...

Dear Josh,
This is Great.The posts on this site are becoming more serious and sensible by the day. I guess many have realised that the Syrian "regiem" is not going anywhere soon, and that the US Administration is not fully capable of crack the Syrian nut while it is facing the other "facts of life" in the Middle East and the world which include a growing realisation of the limits of its Military Power especially when it is facing stiff NO's in the area and elsewhere.

This brings me to the important note that I wish all readers keep in mind being: Syria and the Syrian Regime, do not move in a vacume. Admit it or not, there are many important factors that bear on both the "decision making process" and on the "outcome" of any such process.It is not only the decisions of the regiem that matter, be it at the political, social or economic level. It is why those decision have been taken, under what pressures and in the presence of what precieved dangers. I am reffering primarily to US and Israeli intersts and actions that are of prime -I would not say ultimate- importance in arriving at any correct assesment or conclusion of what has happened, is happening, and going to happen in Syria. After all, Syria remains Israel's number One threat and target. So is the case with the US Administration that views Syria as an impediment to its designs in the area.
No matter which way you look at it, those two forces and (the smaller others attached to them) Do wish Syria HARM. They wish to live only with a "subdeued" and prefereably a "defeated" Syria that constitutes no threat to their interests as they are outlined today.
For those with the simplistic view that Syria is to be blamed for everything, please remember that Israel; the mightiest military power in the area (as it like calling itself) is a mere forty miles from Damascuse. And it is an aggressive, dangerous foe, especially when it is as strategically cornered as it finds itself today.
Another factor that needs to be seriously taken into consideration, is the Syrian Psyche which is trully a Pan-arab, nationalistic and defint one in the face of pressures, and adamant in clinging to its own view of itself as the bearer of the Arab burden.The importance of this factor is important in considering what Syria and Syrians truly want (and willing to acept to sacrifice for), and how Syria and Syrians react to the various evolving issues, threats, opportunities and situations.

At 5/22/2006 02:20:00 AM, Blogger EngineeringChange said...

I have much respect for all of the comments that have been recently voiced. Bravo.

I think Israel is always part of the equation whether you like or not Ehsani. Its unfortunate but true with such a powerful, antagonistic and aggressive neighbor. I think there is an Irael CD that the regime uses from time to time, and it is infuriating, but I think this excuse of the existence of the CD cannot be used to supress any mere mention of the role Israel plays in Syrian decision-making. Because sometimes that role is very real.

Joe's comments particularily resonated with me (although I do not believe Ehsani has a big mouth) I am against regime change imposed upon by the west in general and would like to see the couragous syrians themselves force change. And couragous Syrians I hope first and foremost includes one Bashar Al-Assad.

Alex, in your last comment you made several shaky assumptions that I will comment on:

1. Bashar does not need to solve economic issues to remain President--he can remain President no matter what economic challenges are solved or worsened. That is precisely the problem--there is no accountability whatsoever. Bashar can stay in power however long he things it is best for the nation (I hope) or for himself (what I fear).

2. Syria's oil is doing wonders for the economy right with the prices as they are, so Syria does have that resource for another 10 years or so at least.

3. I fear Bashar is not going into details about the economy--that he doesn't realize the full extent of how bad it is. I think it may a bit gullible to believe/think he is...

4. So we are operating under the assumption that Bashar really wants to try his best. Then surely he must realize that eventually giving the Syrian people freedom of choice to select their leaders is an admirable long term goal? Accountability also is something good. And surely he realizes that these types of institutions do not miraclously appear out of thin air. Then my question for Bashar is why not get rid of the emergency law now?? You still have ultimate control--so if the kurds or fundementalists try anything violent you can suppress and imprison as usual. But even when this law is lifted, it will take several years for the grass-roots orginizations to emerge and for our people to realize what democracy is all about. So there is NO EXCUSE for any emergency law and NO EXCUSE for imprisoning people like Anwar Al-Bunni.

5. Outside pressure can be good in that it does force relectant change. As Anwar Al-Bunni once said:
“I won’t rely on America but I am going to exploit American pressure to realize my goals. Don’t be part of the American project, but you should still position yourself to benefit from it. Allow America to put pressure on the regime and reap the benefits. Don’t participate in America’s project, but don’t fight it. They don’t understand this equation.”

So no, keep on the pressure/media campaign and lets use it to our advantage. Many of our fellow Syrians do not understand any language other than pressure and threats of immediate consequences--that is the unfortunate reality of modern-day Syria. Find me one person in Syria who would always wear a seatbelt without an immediate consequence of a fine.

[I know I don't offer much constructive solutions myself but I just wanted to say something so that I can hopefully get back into the habit of commenting....i have not been able to comment or even read the blog for several months now....but my first solution i offered above is the most obvious and simple one: the emergency laws must go.]

At 5/22/2006 02:26:00 AM, Blogger 10452 said...

Completely agree with Michael's argument here. I won't go into a diatribe like most posters here. I'll just say that it is unfortunately quite intellectually dishonest to say that Lebanon gets an F on security because one out of 27 people died during the civil war, and for several reasons :
1. Syria is directly and indirectly responsible for the majority of those deaths. And please don't bring up the pathetic face saving argument that "as usual, you blame it on others, it is never your fault". The whole world recognizes Syria's role in the civil war in Lebanon, so noone really cares if you think otherwise.
2. How far back shall we go to grade each country? You want to go back to Phoenician times? At least compare apples to apples. How about comparing the number of deaths since the withdrawal of the Syrian occupation army?
3. The defense of a ruthless regime because it gets an A in security is at best a laughable argument. In that case, North Korea would get a A++. I would love to see you defend the North Korean regime in one of your next posts.

At 5/22/2006 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Engineering Change,

I (Alex) was trying to talk on his behalf, imagining what he would say, I did not imply that I support everything there. Of course I support the lifting of emergency laws and accountability...

However, one of the more important points I do believe in is: Gradually.
1) Many things which took 40 years to establish and solidify would be more safely undone in 5 to 10 years. I know many are eager to go much faster.
2) The situation in the Middle East today is explosive, none of the issues is getting closer to a solution, instead new previously dormant issues were brought up to the surface in a big way (sunni Shia conflict ...) if Syria joins the uncertainty club (Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine) today, then there is a high chance that would be the spark that sets things on fire.

As I said, Bashar WAS paying attention to the details when they were not putting a daily outside media and other pressure on him. He was frequently meeting with the European analysts. You know, his wife happens to be an expert in that field as well, one would expect that she surely has some role to play there.

so what I (he) was suggesting that one of the benefits of lifting the endless pressure is tat he can theoretically have much more time to put attention on these issues. You know how he receives delegations? instead of talking about Syria's role in the hariri murder, they can talk about how they can help Syria in its economic development.

of course it will still be a very difficult task, and there will always be corruption ... but less distractions can only help accelerate things.

I understand your logic in "no pressure, nothing done", but it is much more complicated than that. Pressure (sticks) should be mixed with rewards "carrots" ... and pressure should not be in the insulting confrontational threatening tone that we had the past few years ... that goes not where, and it generally slows things down instead. Those applying the pressure from outside should learn a bit more about Syrian pride ... Syrian presidnet's pride or Syria people's pride. Do you really think that Jumblat's pressure (calls for overthrowing the syrian regime) are helpful? as if he is this popular leaer that Syrians listen to ... terrible!

At 5/22/2006 12:28:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

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