Monday, December 18, 2006

The Flipping Moment!

Indeed, the Assads of Syria are currently being wooed by one and all, American Senators, European officials, and Arab leaders, but soon, I'd wager, everybody will be wowed by how little the Assads actually have to offer and by how bent they are on overplaying their hand, just as they have done on so many occasions over the last few years.

The Assads don’t have it in themselves to “flip” really. Flipping requires a certain family consensus that in light of existing family dynamics is very hard to reach. The interests of different family members still diverge along personality lines, individual ambitions and business interests. A suitable new arrangement or accommodation has not been reached yet, and will not likely be reached anytime soon, if ever.

Meanwhile, the current consensus on the necessity and usefulness of the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah was reached by default – the alliance has been a hallmark of Syrian foreign policy for decades now. Different family members simply lapsed on established positions and policies and stuck to their guns. The fact that events seemed to have justified this choice of theirs will argue in their individual minds that sticking to these policies is the best thing to do at this stage. So, they will do nothing but grandstand and will continue to do nothing but grandstand as the flipping moment fades away over the horizon.

This is why President Bashar told his Italian interviewer recently that, although Syria can do a lot to help the US in Iraq, considering that the Assads have such “excellent relations” with so many of the actors involved in the Iraqi scene, the US should also “talk to Iran.”

Meanwhile, those who think that they can talk some sense into the Assads should learn from the experience of Senator Bill Nelson, who was vilified in official Syrian press for claiming after the end of his visit to Syria that he had had a sharp exchange of views over Lebanon with the Syrian President, an assertion that has nothing to do with the rules of "politics, diplomacy and morality," according to the Syrian daily, Tishreen, that went on to list Nelson among those "two-faced" US officials who pay visits to Syria for purposes related to partisan politics in the US. Well, perhaps they got that last point right. Baathists are not all and always as dumb as we think. So, unless one is willing to grovel at the feet of the mighty Assads of the Middle Eastern jungle, perhaps there is no point in talking to them at all.

Indeed, the Assads will overplay their hand. We can always count on them doing just that when things seem to be going their way, even with Iranian coaching. It's a habit. It's well-nigh genetic.