Next Year in Damascus: Syrian democracy is thriving–in exile. (Jeffrey Gedmin, 10/24/2005, Weekly Standard)

I ATTENDED A MEETING OF about 40 Syrian exile oppositionists in Paris last week. […]

Farid Ghadry, the convener of the conference, was not kidding when he told me, “We’re not playing anymore.” Mind you, everyone I met was warm and welcoming. There were Kurds and Sunni (they make up three quarters of the Syrian population) as well as members of the Alawite minority that runs the country. There were pacifists, hawks, and self-described “liberals,” whatever that means in this context. There was a lighthearted gentleman from Los Angeles, a Christian Syrian who runs a nail and hair salon. A dual patriot, he joked over dinner that the group ought to FedEx the American Constitution to the people of the Middle East. The European Syrians at our table rolled their eyes. There was a very articulate fellow from the Muslim Brotherhood and at least two important representatives from Syria who had traveled to Paris for the meeting.

Discussions were lively, disagreements sometimes sharp. I listened like a fly on the wall with a kind Syrian colleague translating from the Arabic. The group may have been diverse, but everyone seemed united on one thing: These folks all seem to believe that after 42 years in power, the Baathist order in Damascus is ready for meltdown. You do not have to be a wishful-thinking Syrian to follow the logic of the last couple of years: municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, women now free to vote in Kuwait, opposition candidates for the first time in Egypt, elections and a constitution in Iraq, a revolution in Lebanon. Did anyone really think Syria could stay immune from the trend?

You kidding? The Realists deny anything has changed anywhere in the Middle East, nevermind that things are rapidly going our way.

The squeeze on Syria (Japan Times, 10/20/05)

No matter what the cause, Mr. Kanaan’s death will not end the pressure on Syria. The United States has long been suspicious of Syria because of Damascus’ hostility to Israel and its support for groups like Hezbollah. The Assad regime is considered to be a source of regional instability and an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. In addition, the U.S. now believes that Syria is not doing enough to stop the flow of insurgents into Iraq and is promoting unrest there. Mr. Assad has said that his country is unable to patrol its long border with Iraq, but Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, said last month that “patience is running out with Syria.” Syria has offered to cooperate with the U.S. — and has done so in the past — but neither government has been happy with the resulting arrangement.

Difficult relations with the U.S. are a staple of Syrian foreign policy. Unfortunately for Damascus, the killing of Mr. Hariri has swayed opinion in other countries, including France, which have been more tolerant of Damascus’ policies. Other Arab governments are increasingly frustrated with Syria’s hard line and have had enough. They are reportedly pressing Mr. Assad to hand over anyone who may be involved in the assassination.

Mr. Assad may have no choice. And that image — of a Syrian leader bowing to the U.N. — could do irreparable damage to his regime. Syria has long been insulated from foreign pressure, but it is no longer invulnerable. In many respects, Damascus seems outside the mainstream in the Middle East, clinging to policies that no longer respond to circumstances. There are increasing doubts about Mr. Assad’s ability to navigate the currents in the region. Those strains will only increase as the U.N. investigation continues and U.S. frustrations mount over events in Iraq.

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