Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Assad: The Opera, Now playing at a theatre near you

Barack Obama's enthusiasm for peace in the Middle East has lead him into repeating the same mistakes as many of his predecessors. In due course, he will reach the same conclusions for himself: the Assad regime cannot be co-opted with promises of normalised relations, nor pried away from its soul-mate Iran.

Syria has a regime with no principles or ideology other than self-perpetuation. It can only survive by propagating one conspiracy theory after another, and a culture of permanent distrust. Engagement is bound to yield no results because they need enemies to survive. Without enemies to blame for their failures, the regime will need to answer the demands of its own population for greater freedoms. They can't afford to have many friends. Anyone serious about understanding the prospects of engagement with the Assad regime should first look at the track record of this "young reformer." I recommend starting with an excellent recent survey of his years in office by Human Rights Watch - Syria: A Wasted Decade.

Saudi Arabia has hopped wholeheartedly on the Obama bandwagon. King Abdullah's consequent rapprochement with Assad has now led him into pushing Hariri into his own ill-timed and ill-conceived rapprochement with Syria, but this in turn led the Saudis into The Perfect Syrian Trap. Syria promised Saudi Arabia that it will respect Lebanese sovereignty. It started to pretend to be distancing itself from Hizbollah, by staging a shoot-out involving its own dispensable agents Al-Ahbash. Hizbollah increased their threats against the Lebanese state. Sunni-Shiite tensions are rising, and Saudi Arabia has started getting alarmed about what it perceives as a threat to its pet cause - the Sunnis.  Saudi Arabia is now itself dependent on Syria to ensure stability in Lebanon and the security of the Sunnis. What other choice do the Saudis have? There is nothing in recent statements from Hizbollah to suggest room for reconciliation over anything.

Meanwhile in Damascus, Assad serenades Lebanese politicians with Bizet's Habanera:

L'amour est enfant de Bohème,
il n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi;
si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime
si je t'aime, prends garde à toi!

Unfortunately for Lebanon's few scrambling democrats, the White House seems to be occupied by a Chamberlain, not a Kennedy.  As the Lebanese stare into the abyss, however, they should remember they have no one to blame other than themselves. We had free and fair elections. Yet, in a show of political immaturity eclipsing Argentina's, we chose not to hold our elected representatives accountable for anything at all. Nary a pipsqueak complains in Parliament, and MPs unhappy with the state of affairs simply pack-up and go to Paris.

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