Saturday, December 31, 2005

Managing Transition!

The VP bombshell will definitely overshadow what I was planning to do by way of ending this year. Still, I will end this year by sticking to my plan. The following link is to a little effort of mine meant to help the opposition inside Syria get their act together over the next few months. It is not something that would not have occurred on the minds of many of them, but I think that framing things in this manner might help stir a necessary and more focused debate. This is the link to the English text, and this one is to the Arabic.

Happy New Year everyone! There is hope for freedom yet.

Heretically yours,

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Vice-Predator!

The Arabic Satellite News Channel Al-Arabiyah has just aired an interview with the former Syrian Vice-President, Abdul Haleem Khaddam, currently living in Paris ostensibly to work on his memoirs in the quiet peace of the Parisian suburbs (the BBC also covered this in English).

In truth, of course, Mr. Khaddam, who resigned his post back in May 2005, is actually living in exile in Paris, his growing disenchantment with the current regime and its President having reaching a certain climax with the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafic al-Hariri, his longtime friend and business partner.

But, the story of Mr. Khaddam’s disenchantment with the ruling clique dates back to the time before Bashar’s ascension to power. He was never in complete agreement with this move. Indeed, it seems clear considering that he was the VP at the time of Hafiz al-Assad as well, that he thought himself the more qualified person for the job. The rise of Bashar and the New Guard was problematic for him. The lot simply lacked the necessary experience and qualifications, and he obviously looked at them with much disdain.

Mr. Khaddam did not make say this in a direct manner though. In fact, when he spoke in a direct manner about the President, he said that he was nice and polite and that their relations was cordial, and that the President had bid his farewell before his departure to Paris knowing that Khaddam will be there for a long time. But later, he also said that he was rash and easily influenced by the very narrow circle of people around him, and that he took matters his own hands. Indeed, he made him appear extremely foolish, rash, amateurish, dictatorial, and all but accused him of ordering the assassination of Hariri in some fit of anger.

Well, he put it this way:

The assassination took place within climax of distrust and animosity towards Hariri, including threats by Rustom Ghazale and tough talk by the President himself on August 18, 2004.Hariri was still PM at the time, and reportedly had a nose bleed after that talk on account of rising blood pressure. The talk is said to have included, Ghazi Kanaan, Rustom Ghazale, and Muhammad Khallouf. The President himself told Khaddam about this incident later, so did Ghazale, and Kanaan. Khaddam was deputized to smooth things with Hariri, and he ended up advising him to leave the country for a while because his situation was too complex in Syria. But, Khaddam said he never expected the assassination to take place, and he denied taking apart in any meeting in which this was discussed, and in which he was supposed to have opposed the idea.

The assassination itself required the involvement of a whole apparatus, and could not have been committed by the likes of Ahmad Abu Addas, only an idiot would believe that, he said. He also said that such an apparatus cannot act on its own. The President himself in his Der Spiegel interview had said that the buck stopped with him. If so, and should the UN investigative Team reach the conclusion that a Syrian apparatus was involved, then the apparatus could not have acted on its own. Moreover, Mr. Khaddam, being a lawyer himself, praised the work of Mehlis and said that his reports were professionally done, and said that Mr. Mehlis mean to stress the technical aspects in his reports in order to avoid the politicization of the issue. The people who politicized the issue were the chief suspects, he said.

This is how Mr. Khaddam chose to implicate the President. Mr. Khaddam also implicated President Emile Lahoud as being one of the key instigators of the Syrian regime against Hariri.

The picture he draws is one of a country currently ruled by a crime syndicate headed by an impulsive buffoon.

The fact that Mr. Khaddam himself and his family had been part of the syndicate up until recently and that he benefited much from various corruption schemes in the country was brushed aside.

Mr. Khaddam also said that he knows much more than he would say at this stage. He will keep silent at this stage for the sake of Syria. He said that when he had to choose between the regime and homeland he chose the homeland.

When asked about Assef Chawkat and Maher al-Assad, he said he has no dealing with people in military positions in the country. As for the alleged suicide of Ghazi Kanaan, he said that he cannot deliver a final judgment on the matter, but that he wouldn’t rule suicide, for the man had been going through some very tough psychological conditions.

Mr. Khaddam also said that he was the extension for Lahoud and that he had cautioned the President against that, and the President had assured him that this won’t happen, only to hear a few days later while in Paris, that the decision to extend for Lahoud was made. He then called al-Hariri and advised him to accept the extension but resign his post. He said that he told al-Hariri that he could not handle opposing the decision directly.

Why Mr. Khaddam come out into the open at this point in time and not earlier? It seems that MR. Khaddam was leaning more towards spending the last years of his life quietly. But, this was made difficult for him on account of reports that his life in danger even as he lived in Paris, and indeed, it was said that French authorities had warned him against making too many public appearances. Also, there were reports in the Syrian press recently that reflected negatively on him, and reports that the remaining property that his family have in Syria was about to be confiscated. Indeed, the family of Mr. Khaddam had been busy liquidating their assets in the country for years now, so the family was for long preparing for such an eventuality. Their liquidation activities increased in the last few months.

My friend and colleague and head of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Martin Indyck, was mentioned a number of times in the interview as well, in reference to his meeting in 2004 with the Syrian President. Mr. Khaddam said that the President had briefed him on the content of this meeting among other such meetings with American officials. It seems that the President read too much into the American emphasis on Iraq and thought that this gives him a free hand in Lebanon. Khaddam warned the President against such thinking, to no avail.

Indeed, to his credit, Martin soon realized the tendency of the Syrian President to misread messages. In fact, his talk with the President centered more on the possibility of a track 2 exercise involving Syrian, American and Israeli officials by way of paving the way for an eventual, resumption of the Syrian-Israeli peace talks. I know this, because I was at Brookings at the time, and I was involved this effort. We were hoping that by reaching a peace agreement between the Syrians and the Israelis will pave the way for some internal reforms inside Syria. I was never really convinced of this line, but I also believed that we should try everything to get some movement on the internal front. Our efforts did not work, of course.

I will have to reveal more about my former behind the scene activities in due course of time, I guess. But for now, let’s see how the Syrian regime deals with this little bombshell.

Meanwhile, and while some has begun calling for the UN team to talk to Mr. Khaddam as a witness, I think that it is quite probable that the new witness referred to in Mehlis 2 is indeed Khaddam.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Lion Cub in Winter!

Our President still can’t make up his mind as to how he wants the world to see him. He tries his best to come off looking smart and reasonable, only to look foolish and dumb. He bends over backwards to get a deal with the US, only to get none. What’s a dumb petty dictator to do in this world to get the powers-that -be to buy into his most obvious and ludicrous lies? Oh why, oh why, oh why, has life changed so much from the time when his father was still alive, at least in theory, and when the world seemed so willing to buy any shit that the regime had to peddle?

I think the lion cub will never know. He may not live long enough for that.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Heresies!

I never believed in the homeland. I never liked the people. I never really had a cause. I don’t think I ever will. If I seem principled to some, it is because I was born this way. If I seem dedicated, it is because I am compulsive. I never really had a choice in these matters. My opposition to the Syrian regime, among others, is born out of the intrinsic “assholeness” of its members, not out of any hypothetical patriotic sentiment on my part. I prefer practical working arrangements to principled stands. But I also realize that no such arrangements can be made with idiots, not to mention bloodthirsty idiots.

Sovereignty issues and the independence of the homeland mean absolutely nothing to me. If the devil can provide high living standards, good education and healthcare systems, and adequate safeguards for basic liberties, let the devil rule. The problem with our ruling devils is that they cannot provide any of these things.

By transmogrifying into vampires, they forced the people to become leeches, then, they dealt with them as such. Since I don’t like being treated as a leech, I cannot stomach having vampires for leaders. I also cannot stomach the idea of becoming a vampire myself. I never developed a taste for human blood. Hell, I even don’t like the way my own blood tastes. I prefer tee, or orange juice. An occasional beer or a glass of wine will do nicely as well.

Some dignity wouldn’t hurt either, and the ability to be my own master will always be appreciated. The occasional tyranny of nature suffices for me. I really don’t want to see it augmented by input from my “peers.”

This is where all my opposition comes from, and my heresies. Things could have been much more simple had I been born an American or a Japanese. But I had to be born a Syrian. This complicated things for me. This is simply not a good time to be a Syrian. Ever since I had to struggle to make things simpler, perhaps even less Syrian.

The struggle goes on. It’s a very personal struggle.

As we celebrate Christmas this far from the Holy Land (and of course we do celebrate Christmas, what’s a point of being a heretic if you cannot celebrate Christmas?), things appear to be as murky as ever. But the kind of holiness that I like, the holiness of family and friends, and momentary contentment, is all around us today. This suffices.

Merry Christmas, and merry heresies, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2005

From Zorro to Voltaire!

“When the people are ready, the maser will come!” So says Anthony Hopkins in the Mask of Zorro. I wonder though when will people be ready for the absence of masters? When will they be their own masters?

Some will argue that the peoples of the Middle East are simply not ready for that. I agree. Giving the freedom to do what they want, most people in the Middle East might seek to simply create an alternative form of servitude, e.g. Iraq. Still, I see no other way for people to learn anything about self-governance but to muddle though, e.g. Iraq.

This is a very expensive learning process of course. But, shall I say that freedom is worth it?

If so, would I then opt to live, à la Voltaire, in a place like Iraq while it undergoes such baptismal rituals?

Are you crazy? I am a heretic. My life wouldn’t be worth two pennies there.

Yet heresy is really in the eyes of the beholder, and there are currently thousands of heretics living in Iraq today, for all, the dangers they have to face every day?

Well, then, I guess that I have to admit that I am a coward. Or, I am just a man who saw an opportunity to take himself and his family out harm’s way, before things got ugly.

And things are bound to get ugly sooner or later in the old country. Things always take a nasty turn whenever people end up having fools for masters, and whenever they themselves tend to behave like fools.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Myriad Faces of Heresy!

“…it is highly unlikely that the Syrian regime will voluntarily effect any major changes in its general structure or its modus operandi. Half-hearted pressures on it to do so will probably not be enough. Still, a full-scale invasion with the goal of effecting a regime change, even with a good casus belli in hand, will most likely prove too problematic at this stage. Syria has a relatively new president who has been received with all due honors by many world leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Prime Minister Gerhardt Schroeder, and French President Jacques Chirac. Syria's relations with the world community are much more intricate and ambivalent than those of the Taliban or the Saddam regime, as we have noted earlier. The case against Syria will never be as clear-cut as that against Afghanistan or Iraq. A full-scale invasion of Syria would seem to require a U.S. administration that is even more oblivious to the rest of the world than the current Bush administration seems to be.

Moreover, even the plausible casus belli envisioned above, that is, the failure of the Syrian government to hand over certain wanted officials, might still not be enough to garner sufficient internal, not to mention international, support to invade Syria. This leaves only one potential avenue for future intervention: a series of diplomatic, rather than military, surgical strikes—that is, a series of seemingly minor diplomatic crises resulting in specific compromises that could produce the desired change over time and have the aggregate effect of a major, internal shakedown. A small stick and big carrot approach might indeed prove the more efficient way to deal with the Syrian regime, and might save us all from the clutches of both roughshod clean break advocates and diehard status quo beneficiaries.

Another consideration that might help in avoiding conflict is the strong potential for Israeli involvement. Israel might want the Syrian regime weakened and humiliated, and to see the end of its support of Hezbollah, but it is highly unlikely that Israel would willingly participate in an all-out confrontation with Syria. Such a development might prove too costly, materially and humanly, for the Jewish state, especially since the possibility of WMD use might be more real here than it was in the war against the Iraqi regime.

Just as Israel might have its apprehensions vis-à-vis an all-out conflict with Syria, so might Turkey, with its endemic Kurdish problem and continuing inability to explore any realistic solutions for it.

Regardless of the dismissive attitude of the Bush administration with regard to international opinion and the anxieties of certain EU countries, it is highly unlikely (and quite unadvisable), that the United States ignore the wishes of its long-time, vital, regional allies. Smart diplomacy needs to prevail over smart bombs in the Syrian case.”

Believe it or not, the above quote comes from a policy brief I have given at an international conference in Europe in May 2003, and later at various think tanks in the US as well. Ever since I posted this article on my personal website Amarji, it has received more hits than any other item on site, followed closely by a policy brief on Iraq called “The Aftermath of Conquest.”

As a novelist and a poet, nothing could more insulting. As an amateur political analyst, nothing could be more gratifying.

Reading the two articles on Syria and Iraq these days also show that my predicative abilities are that bad either. I mean, come on, predicating that a crisis concerning the handover of certain wanted officials could take place two years before any sign of something along these lines developing is really good. And predicting how the Syrian regime would behave was right on the money too. My predictions concerning Iraq were also quite accurate.

But what does really say about me? I mean, haven’t I been contradicting myself by calling for regime change in Syria, claiming that the regime is nonviable?

I don’t think so. For I am an activist as well as an analyst, the future of Syria matters immensely to me and I have a clear stake in the outcome as a citizen. I want to be able to influence the outcome.

My strategy is take advantage of the Syrian regime knack to create crises for itself and to play on that in the hope of exacting some concessions that can afford the opposition more time to reinvent itself and push for a change from the inside. For, ultimately, a peaceful change can only take place when there is enough pressure from the inside and when an internal alternative is allowed to impose itself on the scene. I want to help in the creation of a space for that alternative to emerge.

We now have a Damascus Declaration in hand. We have a call on the President to resign made from Syria by Syrians, and we have created more space for the reform elements in the regime to push for greater economic and administrative reforms. Let’s see what can be done with that over the next few months.

But no. It’s not time for the big carrot yet. In the final analysis, it is not clear yet to whom we are supposed to offer it. The campaign of diplomatic surgical strikes must continue for a while longer. We are on the right track though. Something Gotta give.

A special thanks to my “avid reader” for reminding me of these articles not too long ago, for pointing out the alleged contradictions in my stands, and for finally “de-masking” me. Wow, I feel strangely refreshed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

From Mehlis II to Phase II!

The procedural nature of the Mehlis’s Second Report is encouraging some Arab analysts to conclude that a deal has been struck with the Syrian regime or that the crisis is over.

Indeed, it is quite likely that Bashar & Co. themselves might be tempted to think along these lines in due course of time, believing that their scare tactics in Lebanon have had the desired effect.

This is of course a complete misreading of the situation. The investigation is ongoing, and Mehlis has made it quite clear both in the text of the new report and throughout his pronouncements afterwards, including his latest interview with Asharq al-Awsat, that the Syrian regime is to blame for the murder of Hariri and that the next phase of the investigation will focus on Syria more than before.

The sensationalism that surrounded the release of the First Report and this whole episode with the visibly deleted names might have hindered the investigation in many ways by creating an untoward political climate and alerting the chief suspects. Mehlis seems intent on avoiding a repeat of this situation in the future, as best as possible. In his words: “I think we should not give any suspect party involved the hint, or hints, of where this investigation is going, what we know, and what we will do. Because this is the only thing that could really harm the investigation.”

The next phase, therefore, might witness a more conservative approach to its relations with both the Syrian regime and the media. Still, investigators will have to talk to Syrians suspects of varying levels and the Syrian authorities will find themselves once again hard-pressed to deliver on what is likely to be undeliverable for them. The next six months, therefore may not necessarily be as quiet as might hope, be they members of the investigating team or the Syrian regime.

Still, and since the Syrian regime is not going to cooperate in indicting itself, the real focus of the investigation is going to be the analysis of the available physical evidence, that is the over 400,000 telephone records, the tens of thousands of available documents, the money trail, and the hundreds of testimonies on record. This is where the real evidence for the case is located. This is the stuff that convictions are made of.

Mehlis has just thrown us a curve ball, the regime is free to be fooled by it. In fact, let’s hope it will, no matter how partially so. The regime is at its worst when it is confident. Meanwhile, the opposition should focus on getting its act together and trying to communicate more effectively with the people, focusing its campaign on the ongoing corruption of the Syrian regime and the impact this is having on the country’s economy and standing in the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Six Months!

Can one bring about the collapse of a dictatorial regime that is still quite capable of all sorts of heinous crackdowns and activities within 6 months? I cannot be sure, but the new UN Security Council resolution gives us the necessary context to try something along these lines, a final chance at staving off disaster and working out the necessary miracle. When miracles are necessary, miracles are possible, but they are never inevitable. After so many years of episodic half-hearted uncoordinated and not followed-through attempts, the Syrian opposition has to work exceptionally hard in order to produce the desired/required/needed miracle within the coming six months.

So Syria, it’s one more bet for old times’ sake. Will you give?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Heretical Sentiments & Long Overdue Confessions!

Under the existing regime, the basic developmental challenges of the country will never be met. The educational system will never be substantively reformed. Health care will never be universal. Enough jobs can never be created. Corruption cannot be effectively checked. Respect for basic rights will forever remain a pipedream. If one step in the right direction is ever taken a giant leap backwards soon follows. And if the world is indeed so full of conspiracies against this poor country, this regime is capable only of playing right into the eager hands of the dastardly conspirators.

This is why I became a believer in regime change. It happened long before Hariri’s assassination.

So, does this mean that my analysis of the current predicament is somehow tainted by own unflattering views of the Syria regime? Of course, they are. Does that mean that I am wrong? Well, I am not sure whether being subjective is necessarily synonymous to being wrong. Otherwise, there can be no right in this world.

Still, and what matters to me at this stage, and seeing that I continue to stumble into things against my better judgment (but not necessarily my inner pre-disposition), things like giving a damn, like becoming an activist, then an oppositionist, and before that a husband and a father, is to see myself being able to live without fear in the very country that I am supposed to call home, and to live free and under no one’s patronage.

I obviously cannot do that with this regime on board. Hell, I may not be able to do with this regime gone even, but that’s a different story, a story of continued cultural alienation and rejection, one that is too chronic to be cured. But with this regime gone, I’ll have a choice, I guess, no matter how theoretical. Or at the very least some visitation rights.

Still, my friends from the good old days of Bohemian quietism and frenetic almost obsessive intellectual and cultural pursuits must be angry with me now. Indeed, I have long been cast out from their heaven, it seems. Somehow, intellectual and cultural pursuits when taken place in a political and social vacuum prove not to be as fulfilling, as they ought to have been, I guess, for someone like me. So much so that someone like me simply grows out of being someone like me, as he slowly drifts away and becomes “other.”

Observing events from the cold margins of things proved no less of a heartache than actual dabbling, and the observer was no less filled with guilt and tumult that those clumsy dabblers out there trying to remake the world in their disfigured and wanting image. The serenity of observation was a mere chimera, an illusion, a self-told lie. Serenity has no real place in this world. This world is forever mad. This is its ultimate nature.

But in Khawla’s arms and the children’s eyes, I do have an occasional respite and shelter, not matter how momentary. Perhaps that should suffice. Indeed, it often does. But being the pathetic fool and greedy bastard that I am I cannot help but yearn for an even greater sense of fulfillment. Yet such fulfillment might just be synonymous with death. Well, I guess I am bound to find out, eventually, just as we all are.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Real Polidick!

Once again I have to disagree with Joshua Landis’s analysis of things Lebanese and Syrians. His take on Tueni assassination is ludicrous. The suggestion that Tueni was the victim of continued pressures on Syria disregards the recent history of assassination and attempted assassinations that have been taken place all along. In fact, it confuses cause and effect. The problem with the current regime in Syria is that it has gotten out of control long before any pressures were put on it. Through its adventurist policies and miscalculations, through its insistence on ruling Lebanon according to the same old formula first introduced by Assad Sr. and without taking any note of the regional developments and changes, it courted disaster and created the context for the current crisis. Resort to tough policies in Lebanon predated the attempt on Hariri with the attempt on Marwan Hammadi.

As for the timing of the event, it is indeed quite curious, but it could be quite coincidental. It could indeed just be related to the fact that with the return of Tueni’s from Paris, an opportunity presented itself to Syria’s operatives who already have a list of names that need to be dealt with. The idea that there is a blacklist of sorts has been around for quite a while now and seems to have some credibility. Moreover, and as it is often said, stupidity is not a defense.

As for all those European ambassadors saying that the Bush Administration should begin talking to the Syrian regime, well, and putting aside the ludicrousness of confusing real politick with a readiness for embracing thugs in the age of democratization and reform, there is one little thing that this nice piece of advice seems to ignore, namely that there is an ongoing UN probe that has already implicated this regime and at the highest levels of political assassination. It is also obvious that bringing the guilty party to task is something that is bind to undermine the regime, so what are we talking about? This is not about what the Bush Administration is or is not doing, regardless of what one might think of if. Rather, this is more about the Syrian regime and the way it drove itself into the corner and declared itself defunct.

This regime does not behave in any kind of a rational manner that can allow for any kind of constructive dialogue to take place. Just ask the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the French about their experiences with negotiating with Bashar, just listen to what our Foreign Minister al-Sharaa has to say. And oh pray do get yourself investigated by Assef Chawkat for a change and see what this thug has to say about the nature of the contemporary world. These are Syria’s leaders. These are the people with whom the US should be making its deal, according to all those rational coolheaded observers out there. I say if one is seeking a deal to reopen Auschwitz under a new and improved management, well then this regime might indeed qualify.

But if that’s real politick for you, I strongly beg to differ. It sounds more like real polidick to me, and I am just tired of being screwed.

Mehlis & Tweini!

The Second Report by Detlev Mehlis is out and it is damning enough in its insistence that its erstwhile conclusions and lines of enquiry are correct and that they have been corroborated by new evidence and testimonies (item 46: “…the Commission has not found any significant evidence that alters the conclusion of probable cause which is set out in the previous report concerning the involvement of top-ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials”. The operation is simply too complex and Lebanon too controlled by its security apparatuses acting in cahoots with their Syrian counterparts to allow for that, as item 47 explains).

[Or as Conan Doyle has put it: “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth!" In this case, of course, what remains is too already too probable.]

The failure to name names, however, might give some room for many people to claim that Mehlis has no case, or that some deal has been worked out. This, however, constitutes a definite misreading of the Report.

It is obvious that Mehlis has plenty of corroborating evidence hundreds of thousands of telephone records, and tens of thousands of documents to analyze. Still, all preliminary analysis, he insists, bolsters his earlier conclusions.

Still, Mehlis argues that the investigation cannot go any further without the Syrian regime’s full cooperation. Indeed, the next phase will be focused on technical matters (the explosives, the Mitsubishi truck, the phone records, recovering some deleted security files, etc.), and on investigating Syrian officials, and examining existing records and, more importantly, the circumstances surrounding the reported burning of many of these records (26).

The assassination, Mehlis insists, took place within the context of increasing tensions between Hariri and Assad (Item 56: “As noted in the previous report, UNIIIC’s investigation confirmed that, during the period prior to the assassination, there was growing tension between Mr. Hariri and senior Syrian officials, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”).

The tensions, the reports hints, were focused on Hariri’s unwillingness to adhere to what was referred to as the Damascus Protocol between Hariri and Syria’s top officials. This Protocol sets out “what the latter was allowed to do or not to do with relation to Syria.” The report then quotes a grilling of Hariri administered by Ghazale in accordance with the said Protocol (57).

Nineteen suspects have been identified so far, both Lebanese and Syrian.

More witnesses are now referred to, but not directly quoted in order to protect their identity and avoids a repeat of what took place with Hussam Taher Hussam, whose family members seem to have been threatened (item 30).

The new witnesses include a new “credible” witness (Item 32-34) who seems to have presented a coherent and “reliable” story implicating the Lebanese officers already in custody, as well as high-ranked Syrian officers” (34). More importantly, the new testimony “cross-corroborates other independent information gathered by the Commission” (32).

The only high-ranking Syrian officials mentioned by name in this report are those of Rustom Ghazale and Bashar al-Assad. As such, for any person to suggest that the failure to name Assef and Maher in this report points to the existence of some kind of a deal is idiotic, it is clear here, that he President himself is a suspect.

The investigation into the Al-Madina Bank and the involvement of over 120 Syrian and Lebanese officials in this scandal as well as Hariri’s growing willingness to push further with the investigation into this matter should he resume office again, seem to have encourage many people to take part in the assassination plot against him.

The assassination of Jubran Tweini at this stage, and immediately in the aftermath of threats issued by Syria’s President on Russian TV, will serve as the backdrop against which the UN Security Council will decide on its next move against the regime.

The case against the Syrian regime is still pretty circumstantial, but it is nonetheless overwhelming. Finding heard facts will require the cooperation of the Syrian authorities, something that will never take place. Not only that, but the Syrian regime and its henchmen in Lebanon will continue to try to undermine that country’s stability and to take revenge against their opponents their, such as Jubran Tweini, the impact of whose assassination is comparable to that of al-Hariri, because, in many ways, he was the best representative out there for the new leadership emerging in Lebanon.

For these reasons, therefore, the Security Council will have to base its decision on the available evidence to date. It is clear enough, and there is nothing to be gained by any delay at this stage than to give more opportunities for this regime to cause more mayhem, that is, to make the Syrian President own predictions come true regarding instability in the region.

But to make the case even more strongly, let’s take a look at the emerging picture:

The investigation into the Al Madina Bank scandal
The investigation with regard to the proliferating mass graves
The investigation into the assassination of Samir Kassir
The investigation into the assassination of George Hawi
The investigation into the assassinations of Jubran Tweini
The investigation into the attempted assassination of May Chidiac

Isn’t this enough to make us all realize that this regime has become nonviable? It is corrupt, murderous, untrustworthy, incapable of honoring any commitment, vindictive, and is seeking actively to destabilize Lebanon. Moreover, it has played a key role in supporting the insurgency in Iraq, and in supporting radical Palestinian groups.

And the more that it remains in power the more time it will have to destroy the civil society in the country making sure that no real secular alternative to its reign can emerge. Time is on its side, not ours.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Amazing Adventures of Bashar & Bashir!

According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, President of the Sudan, Omar El Bashir, and his top advisors “should be investigated for crimes against humanity in Darfur and placed on a U.N. sanctions list.”

In this regard, I would like to make two points:

First. It is really about time that something along these lines took place. The involvement of the Sudanese central authorities headed by Omar El Bashir has been well-documented in various human rights and studies, including one conducted by the Tharwa Project Team itself in 2004. Indeed, the Tharwa Project has been following the situation in Darfur from the very beginning and our correspondents have written extensively on it (see 1, 2, 3, and 4).

But the silence or, at least, the recalcitrance of the international community in this regard was always troubling and incomprehensible. It still is. I know there are no easy fixes for such complex situations, and I know that sending troops and imposing sanctions may not be the best thing to do these cases. But allowing for crimes like these to continue and for the criminals to go unpunished is clearly not the right policy either.

There is a growing need in the world today for the formulation of alternative policy plans that are meant to address the basic challenges posed by the dissolution of certain states and their transformation from ideological autocracies of one kind or another to pure thugocracies based on particularistic interests and schemes. Sudan is a glaring example in this regard, but Syria is quickly following suite.

Indeed, the Sudan clearly demonstrates the point that I have been trying to make for a while now, wherein a state can still be ruled by corrupt central authorities that are too weak to prevent the actual dissolution of the state, but still strong enough to play one side in a regional conflict against another causing even more mayhem. A state can fail even when a central regime that is capable of cracking down still exists. For states need to be governed to be viable and not only held in check.

If the Syrian regime should survive the current crisis no matter how weakened, the likelihood of state failure will increase many folds. We need a viable regime in Syria. This is exactly why I advocate a regime change there. This regime has had ample chances to show a sign of life and viability and has repeatedly failed. Now, and with the blood of Hariri on the hands of Syria’s leaders, the regime has become too toxic to be touch or approached. This is why neither the Americans nor the French could contemplate the possibility of striking a deal with it at this stage, even if they wanted to.

Second. At one point not too long ago, the Sudan was actually trying to play a role in alleviating the growing UN pressures on Syria. What exactly was involved here the reports did not say. But the whole thing reminded me of the old Arab saying: “The desperate is joining forces with the hopeless.”

The wonders of our current predicament will never end.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Desperate Moves!

What’s happening these days in Syria?

According to the local media and such nationalist outlets as al- Jazeerah, which continues to undermine itself as a source of credible news coverage, the Mehlis investigation is in shambles and Syria’s economy is stronger than ever, with more signs of openness and more business deals getting signed on a daily basis and more luxury restaurants and hotels getting established.

And the government, well, despite the million corrupt officials out there, it remains, somehow, as one of the most patriotic governments around fighting resiliently against the machinations of the neo-cons and the Zionists, not to mention the internal enemy that is the Islamists.

Indeed. Things are that bleak. People are in denial. Or at least, the official press is, and certain investors and wishful thinkers.

But at home, the mood is quite gloomy. People know. They just know that things are not right and that, ultimately, they have to pay the price for all that has gone wrong, as usual.

Hopefully, the upcoming sanctions will target only the individuals that will be named in Mehlis’s new report. The list of people will likely include, among others, all those who were mentioned in the previous report, bar none. So, the likely extension of the investigation and Mehlis’s decision not to stay on board will not serve to alleviate the pressures on the regime as some are want to believe.

Good. Six more months of pressures and isolation are good. They will give Syria’s hesitant opposition a last chance to do something honorable, rather than just talk about it something as equally desperate as the regime’s current maneuvers, but more positively so. For, while the regime’s is simply desperate to save itself, the opposition should be desperate to save the country.

Indeed, may the least hopeless side win!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Necessity of Leadership!

What is it that moves a people to action? What is that inspires them? That rejuvenates them? That gives them hope? That motivates them? That gets them off their asses and into the streets, regardless of the dangers they are about to face?

It can’t be desperation, for how can desperation ever inspire hope? Albeit you can despair of something/someone and decide to simply latch your hopes on something/someone else.

And it can’t be greed, though a desire for improve one’s lot in life might play some role.

Could it be anger? But anger over what exactly? And how can one prevent or counter attempts at re-channeling anger in all the wrong directions?

Leadership. It must be leadership. People need to be led. Not tyrannized. Led. Led.

True, exceptionally charismatic leaders might be the product of some chance. But leaders can also be made, especially in this age of audiovisual media and image makers.

One way or another, the Syrian opposition groups need to begin manufacturing leaders. They need to consult image makers and public relations firms. Leadership is a science these days. We cannot go anywhere without it.

Meanwhile, the Pale Leader we currently have in Syria is leading us all the way to the abyss and beyond. Yet, and for the lack of alternative leaders, the people might still follow. No, not because they are dumb, but because they are desperate, and there is no one else out there they can latch their hopes on.


Thanks to comments by Yaman and Vox Populi, I have just revised the definition of democracy, it now reads as follows:

Democracy is a system of governance that is meant to facilitate continuous interplay and negotiations, both direct and indirect, between various interest groups, regardless of how they are defined, be it on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political ideology, tribe, gender, profession, sexual orientation and/or age, within the framework of a specific entity, state and/or a region, with the aim of achieving: 1) a greater respect for the basic human rights and freedoms of all, 2) a periodic, peaceful and transparent transfer of power, 3) rule of law, 4) public accountability, and 5) public prosperity.

Heretical Democracy!

I was recently asked, both as “an activist and a thinker,” how I would choose to define certain basic terms such as democracy and civil society. Well, below is my attempt at defining democracy, comments and corrections are appreciated:

Democracy is a system of governance that is meant to facilitate continuous interplay and negotiations, both direct and indirect, between various interest groups, regardless of how they are defined, be it on the basis of ethnicity, religion, tribe, gender, profession, sexual orientation and/or age, within the framework of a specific entity, state and/or a region, with the aim of achieving: 1) a greater respect for the basic human rights and freedoms of all, 2) a periodic, peaceful and transparent transfer of power, 3) rule of law, and 4) public accountability.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Euphoria Turns to Panic!

For all the blows that the Mehlis investigation has supposedly received and for all those commentators so willing to declare that the French and Americans have backed off for now, leaving the door open for a potential deal with the regime, the popular mood in Syria has grown grim once again.

The stories propagated by the “recantant witness” seem like distant memories now. Their chief protagonist seems to have already sunk back into oblivion. The euphoria he inspired seems to have dissipated all too quickly, somehow. But then, it was never really a genuine expression of anything other than despair.

For, people seem to have reserved a place in the back of their minds and in the depths of their soul for the “truth” that they don’t have to face at this stage, but which they cannot just ignore, namely that their regime is indeed implicated in the Hariri assassination and that it is indeed driving them into another serious confrontation with the international community, one whose real price they will ultimately have to pay.

What is there to be euphoric about then? Mehlis’s resignation? How will this end the crisis? The gist is in his report, and his report will likely contain enough to ensure the application of greater pressures against the regime, including targeted sanctions and a reduction in the level of diplomatic representation. More will follow of course especially should the investigation be extended, be it under Mehlis’s leadership or some new investigator.

The reality is the crisis will last as long as the regime will last. And now the regime is out Lebanon, the old file of its corruption is being opened. The recent discovery of a mass grave near an old site controlled by the Syrian intelligence in Anjar is only a case in point. The phantom of accountability is looming, and people are already asking “what about Tadmor and Hama?”

Indeed, what about Tadmor and Hama? What about the fate of 30,000 Syrian dead?

Since the regime is not willing to reform, we have no reason to forgive, not to mention forget.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A Heretical Eschatology!

As the clock ticks away and we slowly but surely approach the date of December 15, on which Detlev Mehlis is scheduled to give his final report, final for him as the chief investigator, or final in the sense of the investigation itself, or both, ideological and sentimental interpretations of what it is likely to happen, of what it is actually involved, and of what could the potential outcome of it will likely be, will predominate, nullifying any attempt at making sense of anything really, at this stage.

But what’s really at stake here?

For some, it is the fight against imperialism and Zionist conspiracies. For others, it is the necessity of fighting for what “we” have, no matter how little it is, or even because it is so little. For this, the regime might indeed appear as the lesser of all evils, since t remains as the sole evident guarantor of stability. The fact that this regime might be responsible for bringing about the current crisis may not matter in the least at this stage. Stability is the only thing that matters here, regardless of how this situation came about to begin with and no matter who stays in power and who leaves.

My sympathy goes to this lot. But, no matter how deep I dig into my soul, I cannot find anything that can make me be willing to invest any amount of hope neither in the House of Assad nor in the benevolence of time. For, time can only bring salvation to those who actively seek it, while those who wait for it will continue to harvest damnation.

Does this sound too much like eschatological gibberish? Well, perhaps it is. But, sometimes, when your soul is on the line, the best you can do, even when you are a self-professed heretic, is to resort to just such gibberish. The road ahead is still too long, even should the regime fall tomorrow (which it still might), and every little bit of moral support does help.