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.

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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.

The Watcher’s results are in, and they are good

I have to say that, this week, when I was casting my votes for the Watcher’s Council, I had a really hard time.  The caliber of articles that the council members submitted this week — both their own and someone else’s — was incredibly high.  I kept going back and forth between articles, practically parsing sentences in an effort to rank the top two in each category (Council and non-Council).  For that reason, I am incredibly honored that, with the votes counted, my post called “The MSM’s Rush Limbaugh Horror Story,” ranked first.  First is always nice, of course, but first in such an august field is something that really gets my day jump started.

(Let me say here that I know that two Weasel members couldn’t vote at all, and one only voted a little, so there was some serious vote discounting going on under the Council rules.  Nevertheless, since I’m not a math person, and don’t fully understand the complexities behind the vote count, I’m going to bask in my victory however it comes my way.)

To make things even nicer for me, the non-council submission that I nominated won too, as it should have.  That was Michael Yon’s Resistance is Futile, a truly important post about the difference between America’s Iraq coverage and the situation on the ground in Iraq — and the way in which the former has the potential to destroy everything good that’s happening regarding the latter.   (As you can see, my Weasel theme for the week was media manipulation and malfeasance, something that clearly struck a chord with other Council members.)

The second place (and third and fourth and fifth, etc) winners in each category were equally good, I thought.  On the Council side there was a tie for second.  One of the second place positions went to Big Lizard, with whose writing I’m becoming ever more enamored, for An Inconvenient Demographic Truth.  In this post, he took apart Obama’s idiotic cry of racism when it came to a DoJ official’s statistically accurate statement that, because minorities tend to die younger, systemic inequities that affect the elderly actually have less of an effect on minority elderly — because there are fewer of them.  It was a garbled and inelegant statement, but as Dafydd explains, it does not reflect racism but, in fact, its opposite, which is an almost overly strong sensibility about the situation of minorities.

The other second place went to Soccer Dad for Walking Back the Cat x 2, a lucid and fascinating analysis of the Israeli strike into Syria.  The title comes from the fact that intelligence analysts can check for internal dissension in another country by examining what was said in that country before an event and comparing it to revealed facts.  Often, this type of analysis exposes who is disaffected, who is out of the loop, who is close to power, etc.  Soccer Dad used this type of before and after comparison to expose a lot of interesting information about the Israel incursion.

On the non-council side, there was also a tie for second place.  One second place went to Daled Amos for The Niggers of Palestine, a really strong entry that shows the fallacy of equating Palestinians to African-Americans during the slave era — a fallacy that Condi Rice, herself a victim of Jim Crow segregation, seems prone to make.  The other second place went to The Pakistan Policy Blog for The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast (Part 2), the title of which is self-explanatory.
The above are the top six winners, but let me say again that this was an unusually strong week of submissions.  If you’re at all looking for something to read, this is definitely the place to start.

News out of the Middle East

A few stories caught my eye regarding the Middle East:

The Palestinians say that they won’t negotiate with Israel until Israel agrees in advance to their demands.  (That’s an interesting negotiating tactic and definitely one to try during my next Court-ordered settlement conference.)

Egypt has discovered a smuggling tunnel into Gaza, a squiblet that tells lots about how neighboring Arab states feel about the Palestinians (useful tools, but dangerous), the risks Israel took when she left Gaza and stopped being able to police it, and the reason why Gaza should be viewed and treated as an enemy nation.

Syria is celebrating the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War — which it lost.  Again, you can read into that fact a whole lot about the Arab and Muslim psyche.  Local papers in Syria are issuing a call to war saying that this time they’ll be victorious (so last time should be celebrated as a trial run).  Sadly, one of these days, they’re going to be right.