Monday, October 31, 2005

Of Mehlis & Cialis!

Another nail has been hammered into the Syrian regime’s coffin. But, and while the regime seems poised to receive more doses of the Mehlis treatment, the opposition appears more desperately in need of a Cialis treatment if it is to rise up to the challenges ahead.

Unfortunately for the Syrian people, neither they nor their leaders are truly virile where it counts. Still, they both have plenty of fodder to spare for the looming battle of the impotents.

But let's make a noteable exception here for the heroic stand of our 70-something communist dissident, Riad al-Turk, who showed no lack of balls yesterday when he called on the Syrian President to resign from office. Despite his age, Mr. al-Turk seems to be the only one out there with the right kind of virility

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Claustrophobe Burning!

The walls are not simply growing taller and taller, they are growing closer and closer. They are about to crush our brittle bones and collapse over our worn-out heads. The end is coming.

The whole thing seemed so unbelievable not too long ago, albeit all the “right” signs have always been there, so much so that foresight did not seem to be a major requirement. But, I guess, it was. Reading the obvious has always been the most difficult thing in the world. Some people have always been too clever for that somehow, too clever for their own good. Too clever by half. For instead of the self-appointed demigods they thought themselves to be, they somehow proved demi-men.

And the walls are closing in, and all things deemed unthinkable not too long ago, now seem so insufficient. There must be more unthinkable things out there that need to be thought out and done so that the whole yarn does not come so completely and devastatingly un-spun.

But the yarn is in fact burning.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Age of the Hyenas!

Now that I am on the outside, I can spend more time trying to figure out what the external opposition is like. There is definitely a lot of action behind the scenes. Indeed, many in the external opposition seem convinced now that the regime’s days are numbered. So, what are they doing about it?

Well, they are doing what comes naturally in these circumstances, I guess, they are trying to speed the process along, and each group and individual is trying to carve itself a little niche, in preparations for the eventual take-over and the long-awaited settling of old scores.

Didn’t we tell you that this day will come, o so and so, just before you did this and that bad thing to us and drove us out of our homes? I am quite sure that there are a lot of people rehearsing this scene in the their minds on an almost daily basis now.

That is to be expected, of course. But it is also mundane. This is not what Syria needs. This is only what certain individuals need. Syria needs to be governed not just taken-over. It has not been governed in such a long time, it has almost forgotten how to let it happen, and people seem to have forgotten how to do it. They seem even to have forgotten how necessary governing is in the whole scheme of things, and that governing is indeed the whole point behind overthrowing the regime.

Yet, not only are opposition members not preparing themselves to govern, most are intellectually and psychologically ill-suited for that. No one is attempting to manage the transition itself, no one is thinking about managing the post-transitional trauma that usually takes place in such circumstances, and no one has so far presented himself as a credible leader, capable of galvanizing popular support, at a time when many such leaders are needed, and on all levels. Very much like the regime, the opposition remains leaderless. Mediocrity. Mediocrity, all over the place.

And what if the regime turns out to be as brittle and fragile as I think it to be, what if it collapses on us overnight? Who’s going to be there to lead? To inspire? To fill the vacuum? I know of a thousand. But they are all charlatans, and mediocre ones at that. That is the problem in times like these: there are no honest leaders to be found, but a thousand scoundrels do run about the place wringing their hands in anticipation.

The Age of the Lions sems to have effectively paved the way for the Age of the Hyenas.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Heretical Tongue!

I have no real reason to worry about my own well-being anymore. After all, I am in the United States now. I am safe here, safe to worry about those who are not, such as my Mom, Khawla’s mom and brothers, and my colleagues and friends. Even though doing anything to them to get back at me will be the stupidest thing in the world and can only make me more determined, we are talking about an essentially stupid regime here.

The reason for the sentiment, of course, is the increasing visibility I am having these days as a result of my many interviews and public appearances. My talk at Brookings earlier today comes particularly to mind. I can’t help it if I have a sharp tongue. I can’t stop that sense of disgust from welling up inside of me whenever I have to speak about the regime and what it has done and is still doing to the country.

But sharp tongues beget sharp responses and the people I care about are bound to be my fiercest critics. We love the old country differently, I guess. Their way to hide their heads in the sand and hope that God will protect their protruding asses (I am paraphrasing Khawla here, she has a sharp tongue too), while mine is all about not hiding, not hiding my head, not hiding my ass, not hiding my anything. I am sick and tired of hiding. The problem with hiding is that you never know when it is safe to come out. I don’t how I came out, or even when, but I do know that I never want to be back in again.

But at the risk of what? I am not the only one involved here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Heretical Scenarios for the Future of a Rogue Regime!

In a strict legal sense, the Mehlis Report raised more questions than it answered and ultimately proved nothing. Nonetheless, it amply demonstrated that the Syrian regime did not fully cooperate with the investigation and that some officials might have in fact tried to mislead it.

But this is not of the essence. For the Report is one on preliminary findings only and Mehlis himself does state that he has more evidence in his possession which he chose not to reveal at this stage as the investigation is still underway.

Moreover, the UN is not exactly a court of law. The evidence presented to the Security Council does not need to be conclusive. It simply needs to establish enough political credibility to allow for a specific course of action to be adopted. This is what many in the Syrian regime fail to understand. The Report itself is not political, but the whole context in which it is being presented and evaluated is. As such, their legalistic and semantic argumentations are beside the point. Theirs is an existential political dilemma par excellence, and they should learn how to deal with it as such, and they should do fast.

for their part, observers of the situation need to learn one important thing about Arab regimes, namely that their strength cannot be purely assessed on the basis of the usual objective criteria that might come to mind in this regard, such as their military capacity and their ability to stage massive popular demonstrations of support.

Rather, the strength of such regimes should be assessed on the basis of the intellectual capacity of the leaders involved and their ability to rise above their petty squabbles and turf wars to form viable policy alternatives that can help them face the international community and address regional and internal challenges.

Seen in this light, the chances of the Syrian regime to survive the current crisis must be next to none. This regime has constantly overplayed its hand and has continuously deprived itself of all important cards. At many occasions it has even tried to play a fresh new game with a very old deck, and was absolutely stunned and flabbergasted at the inability and unwillingness of the world to be deceived by such a mediocre move on its part. This is the essence of the regime’s current incredulity:
the world seems simply unwilling to be deceived by their mediocre tactics.

This leaves the Syrian regime with very few scenarios, including:

  • The Syrian people led by opposition figures could take to the street and force the regime leaders to resign in an unexpected velvet revolution.

  • Bashar could abdicate forcing an internal showdown between various contenders. The eventual winner, whoever he may be, will have to present a reform agenda to the Syrian people and a few scapegoats to the international community to help legitimize his position. The country, according to this scenario, could witness a brief or not so brief civil war.

  • Bashar could be assassinated leading to a scenario similar to the one mentioned above.

  • Bashar could turn against his very family and try to appeal to the Syrian people for support as he undertakes to launch a new “corrective movement.” Failure in this move would result in the enactment of the previous scenario.

  • Bashar could be deposed in a coup and accused of plotting the act of assassinting Hariri himself in cooperation with others. The names involved will depend on the identity of those leading the coup, of course, but they will most likely include that of Rustum Ghazale in all cases. The chief of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, who was so obviously involved in every aspect of Lebanese politics, cannot claim ignorance here. Nor can ignorance be claimed on his behalf by a regime that is serious about being legitimated by the international community.

  • Bashar could choose to hold on to power to the bitter end, thus paving the way for international isolation and sanctions. This could set the ground for a future enactment of any of the scenarios above down the road. For isolation and sanctions, despite the fact that they might initially strengthen the regime, are bound to take a drastic toll on it, and not only the Syrian people, in due course of time, on account of Syria’s obvious lack of resources. Its oil is too scarce to allow it to buy friends who would help it break through the sanctions. Turkey, which many people may point to as a potential candidate in this regard simply because it could take advantage of the sanctions to flood Syrian markets with its products, is not likely to be so cooperative in this, lest it hurts its chances for European accession. The Turks have done it with Iraq yes, but these were different times.
Where do I stand in all these scenarios? Well, my dreams are on the first, my hopes are on the second, but my money is on the last.

A Cold Civil War!

(A recent intervention in an electronic debate)

I cannot pretend to know as much about US politics as many of my esteemed colleagues these days, but the whole debate over using the Syrian Crisis for a potential wagging of dogs, lions and lion-cubs seem quite problematic to me for the following reasons:


Under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad the Syrian regime became even more overtly corrupt and inept. Moreover it has studiously adopted certain confrontational policies with the US that cannot be explained on the basis of a conflict of interest, but on the basis of the amateurishness and downright stupidity of the Syrian President and his advisors.

As such, this regime is going to pose serious challenges to the intellectual and administrative abilities of any US administration, regardless of whether it is made up of neo-cons, “cons,” “ex-cons,” liberals, neo-liberals, card-carrying members of the ACLU, libertarians, and/or Ku Klux Klan members.

The regime is simply irreformable, the civil society cannot pose any serious threats to it, there are no capable leaders involved on any level, there are no capable technocrats worthy of name that occupy important positions that actually influence the decision-making process in the hierarchy of the regime, there are no visions or visionaries. Should the regime collapse, Syria, barring a miracle, has the potential of turning into an ethnic and sectarian quagmire that will make Iraq and Lebanon in the heyday of its civil war look like a stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon with black-eyed maidens and eternal youths strutting and prancing all over the place.

Isolate the regime and the Syrian people will suffer all too publicly. How inconvenient!

This brings us to the second point:

While neocons and liberals, or however one categorizes one at this stage, argue over wagging dogs and other fine assortments of beasts and monsters, and while the debate over the merits of real politick vs. salvation politics rages on, there are parts of the world that are going to hell in a hand-basket, reflecting the new cold war climate created by this internal debate. It looks as if America is having a nice cold civil war by proxy over its own identity and future.

The ideological components of this war might be taking place in the halls of academia and the congress and through US and international media, but the physical aspect is taking place in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc. Each camp here is producing, wittingly and unwittingly, its own allies there, both ideological and tactical. And like in all proxy wars, these allies are quite capable of furthering their own particularistic agendas by stoking the debate here.

The point:

Well, despite the seemingly irresolvable challenge that a presence like the Syrian regime seems to pose, in truth, solutions can actually be found. But first, this new American civil war, no matter how cold it happens to be at this stage, has to come to an end. Otherwise the war on terror can never be won and Iraq will be followed by Syria, then Lebanon then Sudan, then Saudi Arabia, then… You get the point.

A word to the wise from someone who has his own agenda to further and pursue, one that is likely to inspire some debate at one point or another, I reckon.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Striped Heretic!

The Here-and-Now has never meant anything to me. My peace of mind and soul is forever to be sought and found elsewhere and at some future date that I can never reach. The people who love me, and whom I dearly love, have always been able to sense this about me, and they’d love to hate me for it, I guess. But, so far, they have not.

I have proven to be a difficult person to hate somehow, at least, once that initial barrier of love has been crossed. Indeed, I have always been the striped sheep of the family. I do as much good as I do harm, I inspire as much excitement and hope as I do frustration and disappointment. My selfsame acts seem to have that dual effect somehow. This is to be my legacy I guess, and, one way or another, it will have to do. It will have to do.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Cow!

We have an old saying in Syria – when a cow collapses, its wannabe butchers increase in number.

Well, the Syrian regime has been on the verge of implosion for quite a while now, and it appears that many people are now taking notice of that. For despite the fact that by all objective standards, one would still expect the Syrian regime to be strong and in control, at teh very least for the lack of any serious internal contenders, the reality is the survivability of the regime, as the events of the last few years have amply demonstrated, needs to be measured on the basis of the intellectual capacity of the regime leaders, rather than any other “objective” factor. But on this basis we can safely conclude that the Syrian regime’s days are indeed numbered, even if there is no clear alternative to it but chaos.

Chaos! Oh that dreaded word. That all-too-justifiably dreaded word that is about to become a reality.

Mr. Hercules Mehlis did as he was told. He issued his report and met with journalists, and now he is back on the trail of those dastardly assassins. And by Jove, he will get them or his name is not Hercules Poirot…, I mean Mehlis, even if the outcome is chaos.

Chaos! Bittersweet chaos! Have any people ever matured into freedom without it? Damn it, if only they could. If only they could, so that freedom and blood can be equally precious and sanctified and so that neither should be sacrificed for the sake of the other.

One thing has been really bothering me of late: with all these dire predictions of mine, I am beginning to sound more and more like a doomsday prophet shouting “the end is nigh. The end is nigh.” But then, the end is nigh, and a sense of doom does fill the air. Am I supposed to ignore that and sing the praises of the Lord, be it a lion-cub or a fatherland?

Fatherland! There is no fatherland. Syria is but an empty husk, its leaders are maggots and its people flies. Flies! Flies forever attracted to their doom.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The General & the Heretic!

Reading the name of my chief interrogator, AKA General Dashing, all over the “deleted” sections in the Mehlis Report, I find it hard to believe that such a figure found time to interrogate someone like me in the midst of all these developments. Was I really considered such a major threat? Or was he in the habit of interrogating everybody?

Whatever the case maybe, the decision to leave the country, as hard as it has proven to be on some deeper level, seems to have been amply justified.

My last meeting with General Dashing took place a little over four months ago. In stark contrast to our earlier encounter in March, this one had a sense of urgency to it, extreme urgency.

Due to some “construction work,” the meeting took place in an office in the old Officer’s Club. The General’s desk was cluttered with black-and-yellow files. There were also several law books with little colored bookmarks sticking from them. The General, it seems, had been busy marking those sections in our law books which I (and others, I am sure) were guilty of violating. I can easily get 15-to-life for my crimes, he noted.

And what crimes they were: fomenting civil discord and spreading false news (in my Daily Star articles and Tharwa editorials), accepting foreign funding (with regard to the Tharwa Project), and making contacts with enemy operatives in times of war (in reference to my stint at the Saban Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Brookings Institution, and seeing that the main sponsor of the Center is an Israeli-American).

So, “do you want to be a hero, Ammar?” He asked. Why, “do you want to make me into one, General?”

Yes, such defiance was probably as smart as my calling the President “Fredo Corleone” I guess. But then, tact has never been my strong suit with people who were unjustifiably self-asserting, not to mention self-possessed.

Oh well. My tactlessness could be quite useful as well, and I reckon this is so because it is equally unjustifiable. So, I shouted when the General shouted, flared my nostrils just as he did, and guffawed at his threats. Yes, it was a silly game by all measures, except that one of the players was a murderer and the other an aimless adventurer.

At one point, the tone turned more suave as the General hinted at the possibility of a ministerial or an ambassadorial appointment. "Indeed," I said, “I do think we need to create a ministry for youth in the country, but it should be more affiliated with culture rather than sports, as is the case with other Arabic countries.” The General flashed a wide smile and asked me to write him a proposal on the topic. I promised to do so (and I did a few days later, a promise is a promise).

On the other hand, “how about I stop writing those disturbing little pieces of mine and focus more on traveling for the next few months? Will that serve to reassure you as to my lack of political pretension, General?” Yeah, I often speak like that. After all, I am a natural snob.

The General’s smile grew instantly bigger, and then it faded. He just realized that the two offers were, in effect, mutually exclusive, and that the real offer I was making was to let me slip into exile.

Hmm. The General took a moment to consider my offer. In exile, he must have thought to himself, I would have even more latitude to say and do what I want. But, his brain must have gone on hyper-drive at this stage, I could easily be discredited as well, like all opposition figures who were forced, or “chose,” to leave the country. Teehee.

The General smiled again. The offer was accepted. He even hugged me on the way out and kissed me on the cheeks. Was it the kiss of a death deferred? A few days later I faxed the General my proposal for a Ministry of Youth and Intellectual Development. Yes, I am a natural tease too.

But so was the General really. After all, his was a kiss of a killing averted. A killing averted. Son of a bitch!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hope & Folly!

The Awaited Report is finally out. I shall not attempt to analyze or dissect it. Many, with much larger analytical skills and expertise than me, will be doing that on their blogs and in their articles. Suffice it to say, however, that all the necessary ingredients for a UNSC Resolution against Syria are there. It remains to be seen, however, whether the US and France have managed to gather enough support in the Council to pass such a resolution. Will China and Russia cooperate? Or will they push to give their not-so-precious lion-cub another chance at trying to make things right?

It does not really matter. Regardless of his recent assertions on CNN, Bashar is bound to squander any chance he is given. He is simply too riddled with incompetence and guilt to take advantage of anything.

I am not the only one who can see this now. Finally. Opposition groups in Syria can now see this too. Indeed, and in this regard, the Damascus Declaration, for all its imperfections, does come as a serious step forward, and does offer some reason for optimism, provided, of course, that its authors have some vision and plans for proceeding forward, and that they are not going to see in the Declaration the final summation of their contributions to this critical moment.

For this, opposition groups should learn how to play the media game more effectively. They need to select a few young spokesmen that can explain their point of view on the various satellite channels out there in hope of urging people to take to the street and take this whole process to a whole other level.

A scenario for a velvet revolution in Syria has always been discounted. I tend to discount it myself. Yet, and knowing what the future might indeed bring to the old country, I cannot but hope.

Still, caught between Islamists, nationalists, wishful thinkers and murderers, can a heretic truly be hopeful?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Heretical Pundit!

It finally happened. I finally had my first interview with an Arab Satellite channel, namely Al Arabiya News Channel.

It was bound to happen sooner or later, I guess. My co-nationals were bound to take notice of me, eventually. Not that I was in a hurry for that really. One’s own lynching is not something one can look forward to. For reactions to what I have to say are bound to be ugly. Very ugly.

And how can they not be when the usual definition of a true patriot is one that wears a blindfold on his eyes in times of national crises, one that would all too readily offer his life and soul for the “leader of the nation,” no matter how corrupt and incompetent he happens to be?

Pointing out the incompetence of our leaders, on the other hand, is something that can only be done in the privacy of our homes in those little edgy jokes that we tell each other with our voices lowered below whispering levels, just in case those surrounding walls did indeed prove to have ears.

I am glad I am not a true patriot. I enjoy too much speaking at a normal tone, and I wouldn’t mind freeing an occasional shout.

But there was no shouting at the interview today. I spoke as I usually do, in my normal steady voice, and I gestured with my hands when I had to, and I waxed indignant, and I waned hopeful, at the appropriate moments, all while I span my decaying yarn describing the ongoing suicide of my country.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Heretical Patriot!

What spin can I really put on the "suicide" of Ghazi Kanaan? Here are my considered two bits, emotions and disgust aside:

Regardless of whether Kanaan committed suicide, was made to commit suicide or was killed, his death in this manner comes at this time, simply serves to deepen the crisis of the Syrian regime.

There is no way out now. No way. The putrification of our souls continues, as indeed it must. The air is simply too rancid. We breathe in poison, we breathe out death. Syria has long become a country of the walking dead. A serialized horror show waiting for syndication.

Did I say emotions and disgust aside? Is such a thing really possible? Can I ever speak of anything Syrian without emotions and disgust protruding into my every word? Have I really been afforded that luxury at anytime in my life?

Patriotism! What a meaningless word this is! What a foul concept! In the name of patriotism we will soon be asked to rally behind a dead regime that can only lead us to the slaughterhouse. And in the name of patriotism we will. Yes, we will all begin to slaughter each other soon, so that a dead regime can "live on." But the bloodlust of that vampire motherland of ours can never be satisfied. Once the slaughter begins it will not stop.

But the regime is already dead. The people are already dead. Zombies will be slaughtering each other soon for the sake of a Vampire Queen, why should I care? Why should I care? I must be a fucking patriot to care. Who would have thought? Who would have thought?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Schools and Suicidal Tendencies!

The early bird might indeed catch that worm, but I have always been more partial to caviar myself. This is why I have been what you call an early riser. Waking up around the noon would be the ideal thing to do for me. But, and ever since that curse of dissidence befell me, I was forced to make a certain compromise and waking around 9-10 am became a necessity.

The last few days, therefore, should have been quite insufferable seeing that I had to wake up around 5:30 am everyday to take Mouhanad to his new high school and help them with the initial registration procedures. But the fatherly pleasure of seeing Mouhanad’s wonderment at how beautiful and welcoming the school appeared was too gratifying to allow for any negative feelings really. Damn. I have been rubbed of the pleasure of moaning.

But what a school it is! Located in the heart of Silver Spring, or more to its north really, the Montgomery Blair High School is simply the grandest most colorful high school I have ever seen as well. What a leap from Mouhannad’s old school in Damascus, which is my old school as well.

Indeed, the Fraternity High School, like all Syrian public and private schools, except for the handful of diplomatic institutes and the recently opened private schools catering to the super rich, looked more like a security headquarters, or an army barracks than a place of fun and learning. And I should know. Even the appearance, mannerism and dialect of most administrators and teachers closely resemble those of my erstwhile interrogators.

But at Blair High, it’s courtesy galore. Moreover, the student population is so diverse it feels more like a junior UN. Though the equivalent Kofi Anan, I am told, is a former football player. Indeed, Montgomery County itself is a cosmopolitan liberal enclave that lies at the outskirts of Washington DC. It’s so liberal, in fact, I have joined the PTSA (the Parents Teachers Students Association) rather than the good old PTA.

The equivalent of such institution in Syria would have been called the Baath Steering Committee for the Advancement of National Consciousness among Teachers, Parents and Students, I guess. But, despite the absence of such formal institutions, parents were occasionally invited to be lectured at the Baathist Director of their children's schools. A more pleasurable demonstration of the stupidity of Baath members there could never be, except when you watch the President in action of course.

He would win the Emmy, the Oscar, the Golden Globe and whatever other award you can think of for the best portrayal of a Moron Baath Leader in Action. Ever. Not even Saddam could rival him in this category.

Just consider his recent performance on CNN. And the nicely timed “suicide” of our Minister of Interior. Now, who else would have thought of that?

Jolly Good Show cubby. There is a Lifetime Achievement Award waiting for you at The Hague. Don’t be late now.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

End of the End!

Should I be glad that my predictions regarding eminent regimefall seem about to come true?

Should my ego be gratified when analysts of the caliber of Volker Perthes seem to have reached the same conclusions?

Well, all I can say is that things have never been squarely and solely about my ego. Nor should I be expected to be gald with the potential mayhem that we seem poised to face soon.

Still, The Mehlis Report is not out yet, and though it is increasingly likely to be quite damning, contrary to what our wishful thinkers in the region are asserting, it is not clear yet whether it will implicate specific figures within the Syrian security establishment.

As such, the Syrian President, our perennial lion cub who simply refuses to grow up, might be given one final shot at debaathification from the top. Knowing him, however, he is more likely to waste this opportunity by falling into a new self-congratulatory coma, as has been his want over the preceding years.

Indeed, what I fear more than the Mehlis Report, much more, is for our leaders to try to outsmart the world again. It is this addiction of theirs that got us into hot water to begin with. It is this very addiction that is likely to cause our country’s collapse in the not-so-distant morrow.

Oh, for joy for joy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A New Beginning!

My first few days back at the Brookings Institution brought back familiar sensations of accomplishment.

Yes, I am slowly reemerging from that necessary transitional cocoon. Things are slowly but surely settling down on the home front. I can now afford to tackle work-related items. New proposals need to be drafted, new reports beg to be made, new conferences yearn to be attended, and I long to be left in peace. But Satan has better chances for entering Paradise, as the old saying goes.

How can a married with children heretical dissident from a place like Syria at times like these ever find peace anyway?

War it is then. Invade my soul, why don’t you? I shan’t lift a finger, and will plod on guided not by this illusion known as ideals, but by my basic impulses whose contradictory nature will serve as the only checking mechanism in this ongoing battle for supremacy over my shredded soul.

Caught in that infernal zone of desperation and longing that lies in between my continuing search for genial accomplishment, and the mediocre reality of my actual achievements is punishment enough for this seeming amorality. Believe me. Believe me.