Friday, December 08, 2006

"There will come a person after Bush, who will try to put this [Iraq] investment to profitable use"

Syrian vice-president Farouk al-Sharaa made remarks in an interview with the Syrian electronic newspaper that are worth noting for a number of reasons, and this is a case where the commenters at (apparently mostly themselves Syrians except for the owner of the site, Josh Landis, who posted translations of parts of this) have been able to actually make their discussions meaningful enough so that even I could understand the relevance to the bigger world.

Sharaa was foreign minister until late 2005, when he was either demoted or promoted to vice-president, but in any event he is the first senior Syrian official to comment on the post-Baker situation. So that is one point.

Landis describes Sharaa as a hard-liner. His predecessor as vice-president, Khaddam, defected and is now leader of an exile opposition group. His successor as foreign minister, Muallem, is the relatively friendly face of Syrian foreign policy, a role Landis calls that of the "good cop". So the emergence of the hard-liner Sharaa as spokesman now, suggests "the regime leaders are taking him out of mothballs in order to initiate a 'bad-cop' phase," suggesting increased self-confidence across the board, with respect not only to Lebanon, but with respect to Palestsine and Iraq too.

Much of his interview is taken up with an explanation and defence of Syria's regional policy since Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. Syria sided with Saudia Arabia and Kuwait in that case, even though it wasn't a popular position at home, but it was a consistent one: Countries shouldn't be occupied by other countries. The principle is exactly the same with respect to Iraq. Syria has told all of the successive Iraqi leaders that it won't support any government in Iraq that doesn't oppose the occupation: It told Allawi that, then it told Jaafari that, and it has told Maliki that too.

With respect to the idea of an international conference on Iraq, Sharaa said that has been suggested by a number of European representatives that have visited Damascus recently, and the Syrian position is the following: "A lot of the proponents of this idea haven't spelled out what would be the actual purpose. Syria would like to know that the proposed aim of the discussions would be, so that the conference isn't just for the sake of having a conference, but would have specific aims that have a chance of being realized".

Turning to Palestine, Sharaa said the West has blockaded and is starving an entire people, and is preventing the Arabs from helping them, all because of the capture of one Israeli soldier. This is something unheard of even in the days of slavery. (With respect to Palestine, and also Iraq and Lebanon, Sharaa asks: What is "extremist" about supporting the idea of a government of national unity).

As for the United States, Sharaa says the American people are coming to realize there has been fraud with respect to the Iraq policy, and the best evidence of that fraud to date is the Baker-Hamilton report. The US has failed in its occupation project in a sweeping way, and this is an opportunity to correct the policy, even though it is very late. But Sharaa says any actual changes will probably be insignificant.

Asked about the Baker recommentation about involving Iran and Syria in the Iraqi process, Sharaa said: "We don't support just any political process [with respect to Iran] no matter what the aim. We support a process based on the unity of Iraq both with respect to its people and its geography, based on national reconciliation involving all Iraqi groups, and based on a timetable for withdrawal [of the occupation forces]".

In the treatment of this, there is a lot of detailed allusion to the ins and outs of the Syria-Lebanon-Hizbullah relationship. But there is also something else in these remarks of Sharaa of a more general nature, more easily graspable by people who aren't from the region. Champress concludes its summary of the interview this way:
Sharaa said, "We hope there will be fundamental change in the American policy with the advent of the Democrats, but if one wants to be realistic--and we are--any change will be very small, and in the worst case superficial, and in the worst of the worst cases [merely] tactical. And he added, "This whole approach of dealing with pressure by pretending it isn't really pressure, suggests that American policy is likely going to remain just as it is.

And Sharaa warned that although the majority of the American people are against the occupation project, still there is a sector "that is influential and that thinks that having spent $450 billion it isn't possible to leave with empty hands. There will come someone after Bush that will undertake to put that investment to profitable use...For our part, we are against having Iraq dragged into a situation where it has to pay the bill for the forces that invaded it."
I have highlighted the overall political message for Americans that is implicit in these Sharaa remarks, because something struck me while I was preparing the prior post (yesterday) on the Samaha article. It is that this kind of broad analysis of American policy is something that, in recent memory, you would have expected to hear developed and propounded by the American left. Where has it gone? I thought the brothers and sisters might be interested in reflecting on that point.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very nice, insightful report. I enjoy your analyses. It's very frustrating when our country refuses to listen to other countries in the middle east; as if they know better than the people living there what is best for them.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not American, but all the good leftists read him...

America's left is busy on the streets selling I.S.O.(International Socialist Organization) newspapers. That's all they do these days. Whenever there is a demo, 200 of the participants are busy selling or giving away papers. You end up going home with more paper than you would a corporate meeting. Most people just stay home, expressing their solidarity by clicking their mouse buttons.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a side point, Khaddam doesn't really 'lead' an opposition group; as far as i know, he is a one-man opposition group with whom the Muslim Brotherhood have formed a marriage of convenience.

3:06 PM  
Blogger badger said...

thanks, I was wondering about that

6:25 PM  

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