Syria — spoiler or saviour?

My view of the Annapolis talks has been that they will turn into something of a gang bang, with Israel, led by the inept Olmert, as the victim. I just know that Israel is going to concede and concede and concede, with nothing to show for the experience except a ruined reputation and some serious problems down the line. However, it turns out that Syria, of all countries, has stated that its purpose is to make sure that Israel leaves Annapolis with her national virtue intact.  Okay — I admit it.  Syria doesn’t actually use that language, nor does Syria intend for anything good to happen to Israel.  Nevertheless, Israel might benefit from Syria’s stated goal going in, which is to make sure that nothing whatsoever comes out of Annapolis:

It really would be something if the Syrian delegation could find their own road to Damascus on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. But that would require something approximating good faith. The Syrians’ decision to be represented at Annapolis by their deputy foreign minister–his bosses evidently having more important things to do–is one indication of the lack of it. So is the Assad regime’s declaration (via an editorial in state newspaper Teshreen) that their goal at Annapolis is “to foil [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert’s plan to force Arab countries to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” And lest the point hadn’t been driven home forcefully enough, the Syrian information minister told Al Jazeera that Syria’s attendance would have no effect on its relations with Iran or its role as host to the leadership of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.

Of course, things are never quite so simple. Because Syria seems more adept at this Machiavellian game than either America or Israel, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s not simply going to ensure that Annapolis doesn’t change the status quo (because I’m sure Olmert, unfettered, will make things worse), but instead it will actually use subtlety and nuance to drive both the US and Israel into positions that are untenable and even dangerous over the long term.  Thus, as Bret Stephens says in the article from which I quoted above:

At best, then, Syria will attend Annapolis as a kind of non-malignant observer, lending a gloss of pan-Arab seriousness to the proceedings. At worst, it will be there as a spoiler and unofficial spokesman of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. If it’s clever, it will adopt a policy of studied ambivalence, with just enough positive chemistry to induce the administration into believing it might yet be prepared for a real Volte face, provided the U.S. is also prepared to rewrite its Syria policy. Recent attestations by Gen. David Petraeus, that Damascus is finally policing its border with Iraq to slow the infiltration of jihadis, suggest that’s just the game they mean to play.

What price will the U.S. be asked to pay? Contrary to popular belief, recovering the Golan is neither Syria’s single nor primary goal; if anything, the regime derives much of its domestic legitimacy by keeping this grievance alive. What’s urgently important to Damascus is that the U.N. tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri be derailed, before the extensive evidence implicating Mr. Assad and his cronies becomes a binding legal verdict. No less important to Mr. Assad is that his grip on Lebanese politics be maintained by the selection of a pliant president to replace his former puppet, Emile Lahoud. Syria would also like to resume normal diplomatic relations with the U.S. (which withdrew its ambassador from Damascus after Hariri’s killing), not least by the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by the 2003 Syria Accountability Act.

More on WMDs

As Saddam Hussein’s miles of documents are slowly being translated, more is being revealed about the WMDs:

The gist of the new evidence is this: roughly one quarter of Saddam’s WMD was destroyed under UN pressure during the early to mid 1990’s. Saddam sold approximately another quarter of his weapons stockpile to his Arab neighbors during the mid to late 1990’s. The Russians insisted on removing another quarter in the last few months before the war. The last remaining WMD, the contents of Saddam’s nuclear weapons labs, were still inside Iraq on the day when the coalition forces arrived in 2003, but were stolen from under the Americans’ noses and sent to Syria. Syria is one of eight countries in the world that never signed a treaty banning WMD, and now is the storehouse for much of what remains of Saddam’s WMD Empire. This was the target of the recent Israeli air strike.

That’s just a teeny snippet, though, of a much longer article that goes into great details about Hussein’s tortuous machinations with his WMDs, as well as pointing out the many hidden hands and hidden storerooms still manipulating these instruments of destruction.  It all makes for fascinating, and quite scary, reading.

Maybe Condi has a plan

I respect Condi Rice for the most part, but have thought her naive for believing (or, at least, appearing to believe) that the Palestinians want peace with Israel, as opposed to Israel in pieces.  David Brooks, however, thinks that there is a method to her madness, and that Iran’s follies may result in a back door route to some stability in the Middle East:

It’s not really about Israel and the Palestinians; it’s about Iran. Rice is constructing a coalition of the losing. There is a feeling among Arab and Israeli leaders that an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas alliance is on the march. The nations that resist that alliance are in retreat. The peace process is an occasion to gather the “moderate” states and to construct what Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center calls an anti-Iran counter-alliance.

It’s slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. It’s like having a wedding without a couple because you want to get the guests together for some other purpose. But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organize the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region.

Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done — brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together. You can go to Jerusalem or to some Arab capitals and the diagnosis of the situation is the same: Iran is gaining hegemonic strength over the region and is spreading tentacles of instability all around.

Though this article originated in the NY Times, I take its conclusions with a grain of salt, simply because I’ve come to distrust the Times.  Nevertheless, this is certainly not a wacky idea, and it does reflect an impulse to bring some central stability to a region that will become entirely unbalanced if the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis does in fact ascend to real power, rather than stopping at the noises of power, along with the violence of terrorism.

Syria is up to its neck in dirt

I have increasingly less doubt that Israel’s raid into Syria was intended to knock out some sort of three way nuclear transaction involving Syria, North Korea and Iran.  This is especially true given the absence of huffing and puffing from anyone, including Syria, about what Israel did.  Syria wants to keep the event low profile, because it was violating every international law known to man.  And heads of state around the world are once again breathing a sigh of relief that Israel stepped in and did the world’s dirty work for them (just as Israel did in 1981 in Iraq).

But if you had any doubt about Syria’s complicity in the worst type of WMDs, get a load of this story about a little industrial accident in Syria during the summer:

Additional proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction was revealed Monday in a Jane’s Magazine report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas and VX gas.

The factory was created for the purpose of adapting ballistic missiles to carry chemical payloads, Jane’s claimed.

Although reports of the accident were circulated at the time, no details were released by the Syrian government, nor was the Iranian connection revealed.

SANA – Syrian news agency — at the time cited an official information source which stated that “an explosion ripped through an explosives depot in Aleppo, northern Syria, due to the high temperature that … set off the high explosives materials. 15 soldiers were martyred and 50 were wounded. Most of the wounded were treated from their minor wounds caused by the shattered glass and left the hospital.” The source The source added that ” the explosion was not the result of sabotage.”

In a startling non-sequitur, the very next paragraph in the above quoted story, which comes from IsraelInsider, reveals that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is insane:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had only praise Monday for Syrian President Bashar Assad Monday. “I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and for Syrian policy. They have internal problems, but we have no reason to rule out dialogue with Syria.”

What’s Hebrew for “impeachment”?

New situations call for new tactics

In theory, the one good thing about the Hamas takeover in Gaza is that it has entirely changed the game board. This ain’t your grandmother’s Middle Eastern situation any more. That should mean that, at long last, Israel can break away from stale, failed tactics, and try out new approaches that may better serve her security needs over both the short and long runs.

Sadly, Israel is doing the same old, same old, which means financing the thugs who are currently in the underdog position — never mind that, if Fatah ever regains power, it will work just as zealously as Hamas to destroy Israel. It also means proposing land for peace exchanges, this time promising the Golan Heights to Syria, a rogue regime that has never met a promise that it wouldn’t break, especially if that means damaging or destroying Israel. How stupid can Israelis get? They used to win because they fought smart; they’re failing now because they’re playing stupid.

Anyway, that’s my loosey-goosey rundown. If you want an erudite, detailed, eminently readable article that actually relies on facts and not just conclusions, hustle yourself over to Richard Baehr’s American Thinker analysis of the current situation facing Israel. It’s depressing, but it’s also rewarding reading simply because you feel infinitely more informed after you read it than you did before.

Incidentally, one of the most depressing parts of the article is the political stagnation that’s feeding Israel’s current downward trend, a stagnation created by a coalition system, rather than a “winner take all” government:

During a short stay in Israel last week, one question I had for those I met was how the current Israeli government, with approval ratings hovering below the 5% level and a track record in governance that would make the hapless Jimmy Carter’s 4 years as President seem successful and accomplished by comparison, manages to stay in power.
The answer is with a broad coalition totaling 78 of 120 Knesset members, patched together with five parties contributing their members. There is a certain stability inherent in a first mover disadvantage in this particular coalition. No party wants to be the first to leave, since it would not bring down the government, but would instead result the end of the financial goodies that come to the party for being part of the governing coalition. For the current government to fall, parties with at least 19 seats in the Knesset among them would have to leave the government for a vote of no confidence to pass, assuming the members of the three Arab parties with ten Knesset members among them would support the no confidence vote. If the Arabs elected to support the government though not a part of it (fearing a right wing coalition would replace it), then parties with 29 seats combined would have to leave for the no confidence motion to pass and new elections be called.
That seems very unlikely. At this point, to each minor party in the Kadima-led coalition, the status quo for participation in the coalition, even with a ruddlerless leader in charge of the country, seems better then the uncertainty of new elections with a new governing coalition formed that may not need that party’s votes to patch together a majority of Knesset seats.

Such is the weakness of Israel’s parliamentary system, filled with many self-interested weak parties.

I think the point about a paralyzed government, which sees government members busily scrabbling for deck chairs on a sinking ship, hit me really hard because of a bumper sticker I saw today. It’s one that was very common in 2000/2001 and again in 2004/2005, but has sort of faded out: “George Bush is not my President.” The fact is, if you live in a winner take all Democracy, as we do, he is very much your President, whether you like him or not. And as the coalition process in Israel shows, we have every reason to be grateful that a winner takes all system at least allows forward movement in times of crisis.

I should note that Daniel Pipes does not believe that the new situation, Fatahland in the West Bank, and Hamastan in Gaza, really create any new options at all for Israel:

As for Israel, it faces the same existential threat as before. It gains from Hamas’s near isolation from the West, from the fractured Palestinian movement, and from its having a single address in Gaza. Also, it benefits from having an enemy, Hamas, overt in its intention to eliminate the Jewish state, rather than dissimulating, like Fatah. (Fatah talks to Jerusalem while killing Israelis, Hamas kills Israelis without negotiations; Fatah is not moderate, but crafty; Hamas is quite purely ideological.) But Israel loses when the fervor, discipline, and stern consistency of totalitarian Islam replace Fatah’s incoherent, Arafatian mish-mash.

The Fatah-Hamas differences concern personnel, approaches, and tactics. They share allies and goals. Tehran arms both Hamas and Fatah. The “moderate” terrorists of Fatah and the bad terrorists of Hamas equally inculcate children with a barbaric creed of “martyrdom.” Both agree on eliminating the Jewish state. Neither shows a map with Israel present, or even Tel Aviv.

Fatah’s willingness to play a fraudulent diplomatic game has lured woolly-minded and gullible Westerners, including Israelis, to invest in it. The most recent folly was Washington’s decision to listen to its security coordinator in the region, Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, and send Fatah $59 million in military aid to fight Hamas – a policy that proved even more bone-headed when Hamas promptly seized those shipments for its own use.

I always hope that someone, thinking outside of the box, will be able to effect a dramatic change that turns a situation around entirely, in a way no one could previously imagine.  Both Pipes and Baehr make it very clear that this is a hard box to escape, and Baehr explains that Israel is making no effort to do so.

Pelosi Doublethink

Here’s the Newspeak Orwell envisioned:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

For a primer on this language, check out this Wikipedia article. As you read it, pay particular attention to “Blackwhite.” Indeed, I’ll help you by quoting from Orwell right now:

…this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

Have you got this firmly fixed in your mind? Do you recognize the socialist habit of putting a bass ackward spin on readily understood concepts, and embracing this manifest falsity for the Party benefit, embracing it so strongly that, for as long as the party needs it, it wipes out objective reality?

Good. Now read what Nancy Pelosi said about her trip to a terrible dictatorship, one that is one of the world’s major terror exporters, and one that is on the United States list of forbidden regimes — a keep in mind that this was a trip that the White House strongly advised against:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, deflecting White House criticism of her trip to Syria, said Friday she thinks the mission helped President Bush because it showed the United States is unified against terrorism despite being divided over the Iraq war. Pelosi, D-Calif., met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus earlier this week, against the president’s wishes.

“Our message was President Bush’s message,” Pelosi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press from Portugal, where she stopped briefly en route back to the United States.

“The funny thing is, I think we may have even had a more powerful impact with our message because of the attention that was called to our trip,” the California Democrat said. “It became clear to President Assad that even though we have our differences in the United States, there is no division between the president and the Congress and the Democrats on the message we wanted him to receive.”

Bush earlier in the week assailed Pelosi for making the trip to Damascus, saying it sent mixed messages to the Syrian government, which his administration considers to be a state supporter of terrorism.

Back is white. Evil is good. Treason is patriotic.

You go, Nancy girl! While those already in your camp may be incapable of restoring colors (i.e., black and white) to their true values, my hope is that the vast number of reasonable Americans, reading your doublespeak nonsense, will begin to appreciate that the current crop of Congressional Democrats is not, collectively, practicing good citizenship.

UPDATE:  It occurred to me that Pelosi’s approach to facts probably saw her function very well in Saudi Arabia.  This month’s Atlantic has a long article (only a part of which you can see online if you’re not a subscriber), discussing the prevalence of homosexuality in Saudi Arabia (something scarcely surprising when you consider the complete gender segregation in that country).  It turns out that, although homosexuality is technical subject to the death penalty, the way around the deathly proscription is to define yourself out of homosexuality altogether.  That is, you’re not homosexual if (a) you say you’re not and (b) you’re not the half of the couple on the receiving end of the act.  Within these finely drawn lines, the fact that two men are engaging in a sexual act becomes irrelevant.

Frankly, since I have no truck with criminalizing homosexuality, I’m glad that gays in Saudi Arabia have figured out a way to live their lives without fear of death.  Nevertheless, I find it telling the lengths to which repressive regimes and their citizens have to go to avoid the truth and effect of their own rules and reality.

del.icio.us | digg it

Maybe this explains what Nancy’s been doing

Every time I see this picture of Nancy in Syria, my first impression is that she’s smoking a joint:

I’m pretty sure it’s a cookie or fig in her hand, but the relationship between fingers and mouth is just so, well, like someone holding onto that very last little bit of weed. (And no, I don’t smoke the stuff myself, but you’d have to have spent life in a cave not to have seen others do so.)

Maybe Nancy would do well to deny that it’s a cookie and go with the drug theory. It may help explain the lunacy of what she’s doing.