Monday, November 20, 2006

As the world turns

Abdulbari Atwan offers his thoughts on the sudden, friendly Syrian involvement in Iraq, and where he thinks it fits in the evolving drama of American regional defeat.

In Al-Quds al-Arabi this morning, Atwan first reviews a couple of background points. The first is that the Syrian involvement is in response to a change in attitude in Washington, something that was brought about partly by the Baker commission leaks, but also partly by the recent Syria-Britain rapprochement, Britain being one of the access points "to the White House and its occupant". Atwan stresses this point, namely that the speed and timing of the Syrian move could well reflect its quick and opportunistic response to this US-British agreement on a new strategy.

The second point is that this change in attitude in Washington (and its decision to ask Syria for help) has an important corollary, and that is that Washington finally realized that it wasn't going to get anywhere with its first regional plan, which was to rely on the "moderate regime" Saudi-Egypt-Jordan trio, because this would be like herding cats. (Which doesn't mean the moderate trio won't be useful if other efforts fail and this ends up as a US-Israel confrontation with Iran, he adds). Washington has also realized that the Maliki government's many attempts to bring the internal security situation under any semblance of control have all failed, and that by contrast the resistance has grown in strength, and controls much of the country, pinning the government down in the Green Zone. All of which led to pinning hopes on Syria.

What does Syria expect in return? Atwan says the first installment would likely be an easing in the pressure on Syria and its allies in Lebanon, in a variety of areas: including dialing down the recent "impetuous support" for the Syrian-opposition alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and former vice president Khaddam (the so-called "Salvation Front", and likewise a toning down of US enthusiasm for the Lebanese government and its support for an international court to deal with the Hariri assassination. More in the future, Atwan says Syria will be hoping for a resumption of negotiations with Israel on the return of the Golan Heights, with a prearranged conclusion involving their complete return to Syria.

But Atwan's main point is that the US expectations for help from Syria, and Iran too for that matter, are likely excessive. Syria, says Atwan, can damage US efforts insofar as it opens its Iraq-border to inflows of fighters and weapons, but that isn't the same as being able to influence the situation in the other direction, via influence with the resistance, or control of the security situation, or any other actual help to the Green Zone government. Moreover, even if it could help in these positive ways, any Syrian efforts at helping the Americans control the situation could have negative reprecussions in Damascus (implying it is a little unlikely Syria would actually try to do that). And Atwan says he thinks US estimates of Iranian capacity to control the internal situation in Iraq are likewise exaggerated.

The US administration is confused and uncertain at the moment, Atwan writes, and this is reflected in the search for help first from the moderate-regime trio, and now from Syria and maybe later Iran, all of which represent looking for help in the wrong places. Far more promising, he writes, would be to actually negotiate with the domestic resistance directly. This would involve agreeing to most if not all of their prior conditions (including timetable for withdrawal). But in the tough situations, this is the approach that has actually worked, he says, citing the US experience in getting out of Viet Nam, and the British experience with the IRA.

The one constant in the recent US efforts is the idea of separating Syria from Iran in an effort to isolate the latter. But that has become almost impossible. The current Syrian flirtation with Washington is basically a question of playing for time, given the Syrian conviction that the countdown to the collapse of the American empire and its regional influence is picking up speed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its Khaddam, not Khalwan.

11:25 PM  
Blogger badger said...

thank you ! (fixed)

4:11 AM  

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