Saturday, April 19, 2003

This is from an e-mail I sent out today...for what it's worth, a Syrian friend said he found it all logical.

I keep getting asked if I think the United States will invade Syria in the near future. My answer: I see no chance whatsoever that that will happen. The main reason is that no one involved with the administration is advancing that as a policy. The war in Iraq came about because an alliance of factions within American politics which had long wanted to put an end to Saddam's regime found enough of a casus belli in September 11 to finally have their way. The same factions argue that they can achieve their goals in Syria via diplomatic and economic means. The biggest hawks on Syria appear to be among Congressional Republicans who are mostly grandstanding and some anti-war Democratic Presidential candidates who advocate missile strikes mainly, I suspect, for political reasons.

Unfortunately, one option being talked about with Syria is, in my judgement, worse than war, and that is imposing sanctions similar to those used against Iraq. Why people would want to use a policy that has chronically proven to be a failure in totalitarian societies is beyond me, but that is what is being discussed. The reason Iraq is in such awful shape is not because of the Anglo-American military campaign, but rather the fact that Iraq had been economically crushed prior to that military campaign. Even when they say they exempt food and medicine from sanctions, the reality is you can't crush the life out of someone's economy and not expect all sectors to suffer from it. Thousands of people died in Iraq every year as a result of the sanctions regime there, and given the choice between that and a random cruise missile every now and then, I'd take the cruise missile.

To be honest, I think the real story to watch right now is still Iraq. CNN's "The New Iraq" banner is unduly catering to the U.S.'s current triumphalist euphoria while ignoring the fact that the end of Ba'athist Iraq has not automatically led to anything new. Iraq currently has no national leadership whatsoever. It is highly unclear to me whether the recent meeting of Iraqi leader sponsored by the Anglo-American administration in Iraq actually mattered much to the country as a whole. The most important power struggle may be in the Shi'ite community, as chronicled recently in my blog. Most recently, the Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim has called for anti-American protests, and is planning to return to Iraq on Tuesday. Alliances and interests are being fought and negotiated among him, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Sadriyun, and others, and these will have a huge impact on what happens next in Iraq. In addition, the U.S. must find a way of working with the large number of leaders who have sprung up to fill the power vacuum on a local level. This is not as simple as simply "letting the Iraqis run their own country," because there is presently no Iraqi in a position to do so. But this is the challenge and responsibility we accepted in toppling Saddam Hussein.

In addition, there could soon be important developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (I didn't say a breakthrough, I said important developments.) It looks like Mahmud Abbas/Abu Mazen will soon be installed as Prime Minister of the PA, and Sharon has agreed to meet with him soon after. Sharon has also suggested removing a few settlements, but this should be seen as largely symbolic as the Israelis are likely to keep building new ones at the same time. However, the Bush administration has recently begun putting pressure on Sharon to make real concessions, pressure which is real because it is being delivered in part by strongly pro-Israeli elements of the administration. What will happen in all this remains to be seen, but it will be crucial to the aftermath of the Iraq war and the continuing situation involving Syria.


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