Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On Labwani and Mehlis!

In the arrest of Syrian dissident, Mr. Kamal Labwani, of Damascus Spring credentials, and in the events leading up to it, including denunciation by opposition groups of Mr. Labwani’s meeting with the US Deputy National Security Advisor, Mr. J. D. Crouch, the Syrian regime and opposition are revealing their true face, again. In this, the former is reaffirming the fact that it is brutal but idiotic, the latter that they are weak and idiotic.

Even if Mr. Labwani was not actually officially empowered to speak on behalf of the Damascus Declaration Group, this is not an excuse for hanging him up to dry. If he is doing what he is doing for his own personal ambitions, so what? This culture of ours that criminalizes ambition needs a thorough overhaul. Ambition in itself is not immoral and Mr. Labwani was acting in full light of day, so there are no hidden deals being done here.

But even if there is, this is not how one handles the situation. By turning against Mr. Labwani the opposition showed that it is still as fractious and amateurish as ever. It simply hurt its own battered image and offset all the advantages it had accumulated over the last few weeks in the wake of the Declaration.

Moreover, balking at American support for ideological reasons, or what might seem at first like “strategic considerations,” is simply foolish. America is the main mover and shaker in the region these days and any group seeking to present itself as a viable alternative to the regime needs to show that it is capable of dealing with it constructively.

The fear of being denounced as agents of the West or as relying on the support of external powers might seem justified at first, but this is only because the opposition seems incapable of making right use of the media, or because they are still ideologically inimical to US involvement in the region.

If the opposition can just let go of its ideological predilections for a while, they can see that there is absolutely no way they can present themselves to the Syrian people as a credible alternative to the regime without showing themselves capable of gaining international recognition first. Even Bashar needed French approval to be internally accepted. Gaining international legitimacy and credibility will be translated into internal legitimacy and credibility as well.

Meanwhile, the opposition in Syria should begin to realize that if they are indeed serious about “saving” the country as they said in the Declaration, then the first step that they need to learn is the Art of Compromise. In our situation, this means that they need to bite their leftist tongues and talk to the Americans.

On a different note, there is a lot of talk these days on the possibility of having Bashar turn against Assef in order to save himself and his brother. As evidence of this many note that Mehlis does not seem to be pushing hard for a meeting with the President and that he seems to have dropped Maher’s name from his list of people to interview.

But, there could very well be a different interpretation here, one that might make much more sense considering how committed the international community seems to isolating the Syrian President. Indeed, Mehlis could be actually trying to gather more evidence at this stage against the two brothers. In the final analysis, the great majority of people who believe that the Syrian regime is indeed behind the Hariri assassination does not seem to believe that the buck stopped with Assef in this case, so why should Mehlis, the UN Chief Investigator, be any different?

If I were an investigator and if I had strong evidence to implicate the Syrian regime, then I’d naturally want to know how high up the ladder this thing goes. And if I had only one shot at a meeting the President, then I’d want to make sure that I have enough evidence to make it into a rather decisive one.


My interview with Fareed Zakaria on Foreign Exchange has recently been broadcast on PBS. Inquiring minds can finally know what I look like.