Thursday, August 6, 2009

Britain, France, Want to Reward Syria for Intransigence. So What Fool Would be Moderate Under Such Conditions?

By Barry Rubin

Perhaps you think I exaggerate when I talk about the follies of Western policies toward the Middle East, so consider this relatively obscure but instructive tale.

For many years, the EU has been holding up the signing of an association agreement with Syria. The immediate reason is that there is very good reason to believe that the highest levels of the Syrian government were behind the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Harari in 2005. The idea was that by withholding the arrangement, pressure would be put on Damascus to change its ways. And since the agreement was of great financial benefit to Syria while of little advantage to the EU, the Europeans seemed to have leverage.

Ah, but regimes that care nothing for their people’s interests (one can include the Palestinian Authority here in its own way) have a tremendous power: the power to say “No.” Yes, even when they reject deals which would be to their material advantage (peace with Israel, better relations with the West, and a more open economy) they refuse to agree.

Why? For two main reasons.

First, the deals may not be as advantageous as they seem. If you make peace with Israel, you lose the demagogic and scapegoating advantages of a continued conflict. Or if you open up your economy, the dictatorial regime loses control, meaning it has less money with which to enrich leaders and bribe supporters, while potential oppositionist businessmen get more loot in their hands.

Second, if you keep saying “No,” the West is so eager to make deals, have agreements, and keep you happy that it will surrender (or at least you have a reasonable hope that it will do so). Knowing victory is assured in any battle of wills with a Western adversary, it makes sense--whether you are Iranian, Syrian, Hamas, Hizballah, North Korea, or others who can be put on this list--never to give in.

Thus, year after year, the Syrians held out. They sponsored terrorism, kept their alliance with Iran, murdered Lebanese who wanted their country to be independent of control by Damascus, sabotaged Arab-Israel and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, suppressed freedom at home, and threw dissidents into prison.

And all the time the Europeans became more and more nervous. Sweat poured down their brows; their hands shook. How could they stand firm when there were goodies to be handed out in exchange for nothing or problems to be solved immediately and forever!

Finally, they partly broke down and initialed the agreement. But that wasn't enough because Syria became even more militant. So now, the British government—following France’s lead--says, in effect, “What the heck, the Syrians refused to change, our policy is ineffective, so let’s give them everything they want.”

Yes, says the deputy foreign minister, Ivan Lewis, Syria violated human rights and we’re really, really concerned about it. And we’re also concerned about their alliance with Iran and their backing for Hamas and Hizballah.

But on the other hand, we want to encourage Damascus to change its policy. Since it refused to do so when we withheld a huge present so let’s try giving it to them and see what happens!

Lewis told reporters—try not to laugh—that “We don't hide our concerns" about human rights. Get it? We’re concerned but we’re just not going to do anything about it. In fact, we’re so concerned we’re going to reward the repressive dictatorship that is trampling on human rights.

Oh, did I mention that Syria’s economy is facing a drought and a huge crisis? (Sarcasm alert) Everyone knows that when your enemy is really weak that’s the best time to make big concessions to it rather than use leverage to press it for concessions.

And did I mention that Syria’s human rights’ record is even worse than it was in 2005, with round-ups of almost all democratic dissidents? In other words, there is more reason than ever to block the agreement.

As of now, one country—the Netherlands—has its finger in the dike to hold back the agreement from being confirmed.

Can you imagine what the—please excuse my language—thugs and gangsters in Damascus running Syria as a socialist-sloganed but feudally structured fiefdom think of European leaders?

The above is indeed written in sarcastic fashion. Yet it is 100 percent accurate.

That’s Western diplomacy, 2009 style.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.