When President Obama announced the return of a US Ambassador to Syria, reports surfaced that the US State Department was caught off guard by the announcement, having had no say in the decision. This indicates that the White House is racing towards normalizing its relations with the Assad regime, fully unaware of the landmines planted in its path.
Assad's violent actions in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel are well documented. The sanctions hammered by President Bush against Damascus were starting to yield the expected results as witnessed by a frantic Assad begging the Europeans in 2006 and 2007 to visit Syria (unlike Iraq's oil economy, Syria's agrarian economy could not withstand persistent sanctions). Then, in April of 2007, Representative Nancy Pelosi sealed Assad's fate by paying him a controversial visit just when Assad's killing machine in Iraq was in full swing. Long after Pelosi left Damascus, it remained lethal.
Today, President Obama not only continues on the path of better relations with Assad but also of more oppression against the Syrian people. It appears to be a selfless act, but will have the most sinister unintended consequences for our people.
Slowly, the Syrian regime, with its newly found energy, is compromising an inattentive Obama administration. Under the virtuous banner of peace, Assad has launched a campaign of deception guaranteed to expand, beyond the survival of the regime, the Syrian-Iranian hegemony at the expense of US interests in the region. While everyone is obsessed with Iran, Assad, with Iranian duplicity, is cementing its power base there.
First and foremost, Assad will never give up on Lebanon, in the slave/master sense of the word. His father left him the country on a silver platter. This is his legacy. Anyone who trusts that Assad has only an interest in simply influencing Lebanese politics has the wrong assumption, which inevitably leads to the wrong analysis and the wrong conclusions. Very few people know that his tribal religious chiefs, called the Mullah Council of the Alawite Sect (Al-Majlis al-Mulli lil-Taefah al-Alwayieh), are watching Bashar closely. His boots in Lebanon where his father was, and whether or not the US lifts sanctions, are their Litmus tests.
The temporary reprieve, coming in the form of a loss in Lebanese elections -- an act that Syria, with an eager Hezbollah, can destroy in days, -- has given the US and Saudi Arabia hope that Assad is a changed man. In return, both countries have been working hard to welcome him back into their circles. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is paying for a gas deal that Assad recently struck with Azerbaijan.
Second, Assad wants the Golan Heights from Israel for two reasons -- none of them for the peace so touted by his regime and supported by the Obama administration.
- With the Golan, Assad can point a gun at Israel anytime he feels threatened about the way he helped drop rockets at Sderot, with the help of Hamas. This is no longer about survival but about guarantees that US sanctions against Syria will not be repeated. With a foot in the Golan, Assad perpetuates his rule of oppression against the Syrian people for generations to come.
- Gaining back the Golan, while still resisting Israel, will turn him into a modern day Salah Eddine al-Ayoubi: a clear victory against Israel, handed to him by Israel. For Assad, the road to Lebanon, and beyond to all Arabs, goes through the Golan Heights the way Saladin went through Jerusalem.
Finality vs. Flexibility
In law, the strike of a gavel provides an indisputable finality -- unlike words uttered by politicians that could conveniently change. So, if the Hariri Tribunal decides, hypothetically and based on political expediency, that Assad is not responsible for killing Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, the tribunal cannot afterwards reverse that decision.
Similarly, if sanctions are lifted against Syria, they cannot easily be reinstated. The public will question the wisdom of the act in the first place and ask: Why did you trust Assad?
Faith in the Obama administration will dissipate -- something Assad is relying upon to insure that no sanctions are ever again slapped against Syria. Nonetheless, the Obama administration is recklessly heading towards thawing of relations with Assad’s ruthless regime, based totally on trust and irreversible acts. When proven wrong, the administration will be helpless to pressure him, having assisted in the gavel's finality.
Additionally, if Bashar al-Assad of Syria makes promises early on, even supported by real action, it will be easy for him to recalibrate and recoil as the need arises:
- Re-enter Lebanon? For certain. After the US exits Iraq, who will stop him? Not another UN Resolution, that’s for sure.
- Threaten Iraq and Israel? Hezbollah, Hamas, and many of the terrorist organizations still in Damascus would like nothing better.
- Get his hand on a nuclear bomb? He already may have done, courtesy of Saudi money (unbeknownst to them) and a parting gift to the West by another ailing dictator.
Even if Assad deceives the world into thinking that he has distanced himself from all past activities, restarting relations are a phone call away. Mashaal can easily be invited back to Damascus.
So how does one trust a violent dictator whose actions can be reversed -- even from the US and Saudi Arabia, including the billions paid by King Abdullah to the Syrian regime?
This is where a one-sided failure can have the deepest impact on the region. Syria and Iran will emerge twice as strong, and possibly armed with a nuclear arsenal, courtesy of North Korea. Assad's nuclear bomb can easily be shipped in a North Korean crate the size of a dog cage. So much for inspections at this time.
How can the US and France trust a man who considers himself above the law? The price the region will pay for today's political expediency will only foment more Islamic extremism.
Collective fascism is already emerging in the Arab world in the form of Arab absolutism (e.g. Abu Ghraib's condemnation by Arab media -- when the whole Arab region is one big Abu Ghraib). Even signing an agreement with Assad, complete with laws, is hazardous, given his total disregard for Syrian law, International law, and the many UN Resolutions to curb his violent tendencies and illegal activities in support of terrorism.
Expediency or Investment
Assad will always sit on the fence, able and ready to jump either way to extort as much as he can from as many as he can. Trusting an unprincipled man may be politically convenient for the moment but is highly risky in the long run. Assuming he will abandon Hezbollah or Hamas just because Western policy makers would like it is absurd. For the West, diplomacy is a tool, a crown jewel of its own civilization. For Assad, diplomacy is a convenience to be abused at will. Ask the Israelis who live in the neighborhood.
What is most telling about the new openness to Assad is the lack of reaction by Iran. Has Ahmadinajead given up on Hezbollah or is this, as we strongly suspect, part of a well- organized deception?
If Assad were really serious about peeling away from Iran's camp of terror, why is Iran not setting off bombs in Damascus by now as a warning sign?
If Assad were really serious about abandoning Hezbollah, Iran would now be planning a regime change in Syria.
In our opinion, this is going to be a huge diplomatic blunder for the Obama administration: How Syria and Iran managed to attain a wider hegemony in the region because the West believed Assad could be trusted.
The Obama administration should be spending its political credit not in support of a minority oppressing the majority of Syrians. How is this different from supporting apartheid in South Africa? Ironically, an African-American president, born during the height of apartheid in South Africa, is today facilitating a Syrian apartheid against the Syrian people. If the President is serious about extending a hand of friendship to Muslims, US interests are not well-served if he turns a blind eye to an oppression similar to the one his own people faced in South Africa.
Investing in the Syrian street by demanding that the Assad regime relinquish power, the way the world demanded from white South Africans to relinquish it, is the right moral and political policy.
If this administration really wants to reach out to Muslims, it will not support their oppressors.