Friday, August 04, 2006

"To Help Israel, Help Syria," by Andrew Tabler

Andrew Tabler has lived in Damascus for more than four years. He is a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and the editor in chief of Syria Today magazine. He frequently writes on economic matters in Syria.

To Help Israel, Help Syria
New York Times
Published: August 5, 2006
Damascus, Syria

IT is hardly surprising that when discussing the Lebanon crisis, President Bush tends to couple Syria’s role with Iran’s. After all, Damascus and Tehran have spent the better part of the last year deepening their ties, culminating in a June military cooperation agreement. But the United States may well have leverage in Syria that it lacks in Iran. If it is true, as it is reported to be, that Washington seeks to drive a wedge between Hezbollah’s two backers, the Bush administration would do well to modify its democracy agenda to include support for Syrian reform.

Syria has long used its influence to make or break political deals in Lebanon, and the proposed international cease-fire plan will be no exception. In all likelihood, the Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon will not disarm Hezbollah, which, even under the noses of vulnerable peacekeepers and a weak and untested Lebanese army, could easily redeploy its long-range rockets north and into the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border. From there the missiles could still reach Israel, and Hezbollah could be re-supplied through the smuggler’s den that is the 233-mile-long Lebanese-Syrian frontier.

Only an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights would entice Damascus to help seal off Hezbollah-controlled areas and ensure that the fighters are eventually disarmed. But negotiations for that could take years. Meanwhile, hard-liners, buoyed by Syria’s recent alliance with nuclear-hungry Iran, are now in favor in Damascus, while reformers scramble for cover and hope that the assistance their programs receive from the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank won’t cast doubt on their loyalty.

If Washington wants to break President Bashar al-Assad from Tehran, it should promote economic liberalism as the thin end of the wedge. It should support efforts to combat corruption, cut red tape, and promote transparency and the activities of nongovernmental organizations. Germany has already adopted a similar approach. And here is why an American version might work.

Syria’s economic future — and that of the Assad regime — is in jeopardy. The country is weighed down by old-style state socialism and plagued by issues that breed Islamic extremism, including high birth rates, growing unemployment and one of the lowest productivity rates in the world.

State expenditures — most notably military spending — are financed by oil production, which is in rapid decline. High oil prices have given the regime a temporary lease on life, but the reprieve won’t last: Syria will be a net importer of oil within four years. That is likely to change the state’s relationship with its growing private sector.

At the moment, tax rates are high, but the private sector seldom pays them, and in return accepts not having a say in how it is governed. When oil revenues dry up, the state will need to spread its tentacles into the private sector in search of cash, at which point it will undoubtedly face a trade-off that will force it to cede some political rights to its citizens.

Unlike in Iran, with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations, there is an American Embassy in Damascus that can coordinate assistance to Syria’s reformers. Given the mistrust between the two governments, however, America’s vibrant private sector should lead the way. It can do this by sharing its expertise in building a strong and transparent market economy.

This would increase American credibility in Syria without violating American sanctions, which ban American exports, certain banking transactions and direct flights to Syria, but not the exchange of knowledge. If Damascus demonstrates its ability to rein in and disarm Hezbollah, American economic aid could follow.

Yes, American support for Syrian reform might perpetuate President Assad’s grip on power in the short term, but over time it would erode Syria’s reasons for backing Iran and Hezbollah. It would undermine the widespread and increasingly corrosive suspicion in the region that Washington’s democracy agenda is a cover for an Israeli-inspired plan to spread chaos in the Arab world, so as to break up Arab states and neuter their threat to Israel. And it would finally demonstrate that the United States is committed to spreading liberty, even in the face of great adversity.


At 8/05/2006 12:33:00 AM, Blogger True Facts said...

Latest Gallup Polls

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president?
August 2-3 June 14-15 May 16-17 May 5-7 April 21-23
Approve 40% 37% 36% 34% 32%
Disapprove 59% 53% 57% 58% 60%
No opinion 2% 10% 7% 8% 8%

The conflict between Israel and
Hezbollah in the Middle East
Approve 43%
Disapprove 46%
No opinion 10%

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Condoleezza Rice is handling her job as
Secretary of State? (ASKED OF HALF SAMPLE)
August 2-3
Approve 62%
Disapprove 27%
No opinion 10%

Would you favor or oppose the presence of U.S. ground troops, along with troops from
other countries, in an international peacekeeping force on the border between Israel and
August 2-3
Favor 51%
Oppose 45%
No opinion 4%

It looks like the administration of Mr. Bush is winning the battle of the polls once again. Mr. Bush's approval rating has climbed substantially since April. Mrs. Rice seems to be a superstar. The American people seem to have become less intimated by the empty rhetoric of failed despots. A good majority would like to see US troops deployed in Lebanon. It looks like Bashar has very hard choices to make in order to get out of the corner he put himself in. Wasn't Mr. Bolton right after all?!

At 8/05/2006 03:48:00 AM, Blogger 10452 said...

Landis, for the past 3 weeks, all you've been doing is scouring the internet and your friends to find some sort of article to tell the world that the US should make a deal with Syria.

Desperately looking for any dead soul that tries to justify that the "US should answer the phone", is another example of your rise (or fall) into ....

It is again intellectually dishonest to not talk about the role of Syria in the current conflict in Lebanon. You love to say that Syria may have the solutions to the problems in Lebanon, but why do you always refrain mentioning that Syria is part of ALL the problems in Lebanon.

For God Sakes Josh, it is not because your wife is Syrian that you have to find every excuse to defend them. Hell, my wife is American, that doesn't mean I'll start playing apologist for all the wrong doing of Bush, whether it be in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, or what not.

At 8/05/2006 04:09:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia....herself said...

THE FAT LADY HAS NOT SUNG calm down......

At 8/05/2006 04:23:00 AM, Blogger Zenobia of the East and West said...


what is the purpose of mentioning Joshua's wife...or anything about her. It is sooo rude.
Frankly, if you can assert that your own wife's nationality does not dictate your political opinions or reasonings, then why would you make accusations of this sort about Joshua.
it is absurd. and every time some commentors mention it as a pathetic personal attack, i feel embarrassed for them because of the lameness of the insinuation.
People should give it a rest.

At 8/05/2006 08:01:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

It’s sooo rude.
Frankly, to install yourself as Josh’s layer without his consent... By the Way my wife is SYRIAN too “” 
Yella have a nice weekend

At 8/05/2006 09:19:00 AM, Blogger bxl said...

Seems that I have to get married soon to build myself an opinion.

In the mean time I have to read you guys, hoping an oppinion will pop up sometime.

nice blog

At 8/05/2006 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

That guy is right on;

My wife is American, but she is so much influenced by the writings of Dr. Joshua Landis, and in turn she was able to influence me in his direction.

At 8/05/2006 10:30:00 AM, Blogger sandroloewe said...

Taking into consideration that this war was begun by Hezballah in theory to free Shabaa Farms then we have to conclude that Hezballah will win if they force Israel to return this little piece of land. And Hezballah will lose this war if they do not get back the Shabaa Farms. Arab media are reporting the victory of Hezballah while the chia milicia is losing control of lands they controlled until 12 July. It seems to me that Hezballah is not getting what they promised. So in military terms they are losing.

If we want to analize who is getting the political victory it maybe possible that both military parts (lebanese Iran-supported militia and israeli army) maybe get it altogether. Military sapiens use to play war games with the main intention of remaining powerfull in front of their people, specially under dictatorships.

So, it that case Hezbollah would lose the land but would declare itself the victorious of the Islamic World arguing that the lose of land is a new reason to keep on fighting and martirysing themselves and the rest of the lebanese (like it or not) forever until de Final Judgement Day. They will have won the hearts of the chiites of Lebanon who have lost their homes thanks to Nasrallah "good calculations". They will complete the chiite equation that says "the more disgrace you have around you the more militant and ready for martyrdom you will be".

Israel on the eyes of the israelis will have won also politically since they will have forced what they consider the best of lebanese-palestinian-iranian-syrian guerrillas to be back some klms, and they will have reached it without having direct war with Syria.

At 8/05/2006 10:41:00 AM, Blogger sandroloewe said...

Note to my previous post:

When I said that this war was begun by Hezballah I mean that this war was begun 6 years ago when after Israeli pull back from South Lebanon the militia kept on firing rockets depending on the regional interests of its decission making apparatus. But always arguing that they want the Shabaa Farms.

At 8/05/2006 10:50:00 AM, Blogger 10452 said...


Rude? I guess you took english as a second language in university. What does rude have to do with the issue. Did I insult him? Did I insult his wife? No I didn't.

Another thing, is your name Josh Landis? Do you dream of being Landis or seomthing? Is that why you reply in his place? So why don't you relax and go play with kids your own age.

At 8/05/2006 01:00:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...

From Philip I [}

Andrew Tabler makes a fascinating proposition; US experts advise Syria on economic reforms in order to revive the private sector, and as the oil revenue dries up, Assad is forced to make political concessions in order to be able to tax the private sector.

Good luck!

At 8/05/2006 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Philip I said...

For reference:

Lebanon crisis maps

At 8/05/2006 02:42:00 PM, Blogger President Bush said...

After reading all the comments to this post, I am content with not having to take history classes from Mr. Landis. I would rather listen to my wife instead! She may improve on my D grade in this subject. Josh, Where is Karakuz by the way?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home