October 23, 2006

Former Syrian VP: ‘Assad regime is on brink of collapse’ (Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST, 10/22/06)

Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who is wanted in Syria on treason charges, said in an address to the Syrian people that Assad’s “oppressive” regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil government, but he did not elaborate.

His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Lebanon’s Future TV, an anti-Syrian station owned by the family of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation,” Khaddam said.

“I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice,” he added.

Khaddam’s address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.

An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria’s policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.



January 22, 2006

Syria decries Hariri probe ‘bias’ (BBC, 1/22/06)

The Syrian president has repeated criticism that the UN inquiry into the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri is biased against Syria.

In Liberty’s Century there is indeed bias against you if you’re a totalitarian–get over it.


January 21, 2006

Assad pledges reforms for Syria (BBC, 1/21/06)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he has decided to carry out political reform.

But he gave no details, other than to say he rejected any outside interference in the matter. […]

The speech was regularly interrupted with angry chants of support from the audience of Arab lawyers, but our correspondent says the Syrian leader himself was strangely downbeat.

Unless the reforms include closing the Ba’ath Party and standing for election it’s too little too late.


November 25, 2005

Syria caves in to UN over Beirut murder (Tim Butcher, 26/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Syrian defiance of the United Nations inquiry into the killing of a former Lebanese prime minister collapsed last night as Damascus agreed to give up five senior regime members to be interviewed in Vienna by UN investigators.

Damascus had earlier refused to obey UN demands for its senior figures to be interviewed outside Syria and on Thursday the foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, publicly criticised the chief UN investigator, Detlev Mehlis.

But faced with threats of UN sanctions unless it co-operated, Syria capitulated.

Thanks, Kofi.


November 22, 2005

Politics trumps diplomacy in UN reform dispute (Warren Hoge, 11/22/05, The New York Times)

At issue is how management-reform proposals that would broaden the power of the secretary general’s office are being pressed assertively by Bolton and aggravating tensions between the 191-member General Assembly, with its entrenched bureaucracy, and the office of the secretary general.

“It looks like it could be a real train wreck,” said Edward Luck, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York and a former president of the UN Association of the United States. “It’s a basic clash over who’s in charge: Is it the General Assembly or is it the secretary general?”

The clash is being seen in crisis terms in the offices of Secretary General Kofi Annan. “This is serious stuff,” said Mark Malloch Brown, Annan’s chief of staff. “I think in many ways it is setting the outcome of whether the United Nations matters or not in 10 years’ time.” […]

Distrust has deepened in the debate over change because many nations believe that the secretary general’s office has been tacking too close to the United States in its effort to repair relations with Washington that were damaged over the war in Iraq and the scandal-ridden oil-for-food program.

“One gets the impression that other countries are suspicious that the secretary general and his aides are really puppets being manipulated by Washington,” Luck said.

The only chance the UN has to matter in the future is by tacking to our line and joining the fight to make states conform to Anglo-American of democratic legitimacy.


November 18, 2005

Syria: The Long Road to Democracy?: Syria has come under great external pressure following the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister. But pressure to reform is growing inside Syria as well. A group of Syrian opposition parties has released “The Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change.” In this Globalist Document, we excerpt their recommendations for democracy and freedom in Syria. (The Globalist, November 15, 2005)

The recommendations

• Establishment of a democratic national regime is the basic approach to the plan for change and political reform. It must be peaceful, gradual, founded on accord and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.

• Shunning totalitarian thought and severing all plans for exclusion and custodianship under any pretext, be it historical or realistic. Shunning violence in exercising political action and seeking to prevent and avoid violence in any form and by any side.

• Islam — which is the religion and ideology of the majority, with its lofty intentions, higher values and tolerant canon law — is the more prominent cultural component in the life of the nation and the people.

Our Arab civilization has been formed within the framework of its ideas, values and ethics and in interaction with the other national historic cultures in our society, through moderation, tolerance and mutual interaction, free of fanaticism, violence and exclusion, while having great concern for the respect of the beliefs, culture and special characteristics of others, whatever their religious, confessional and intellectual affiliations, and openness to new and contemporary cultures.

• Adoption of democracy as a modern system that has universal values and basis, based on the principles of liberty, sovereignty of the people, a state of institutions and the transfer of power through free and periodic elections that enable the people to hold those in power accountable and change them.

• Guarantee the freedom of individuals, groups and national minorities to express themselves, and safeguard their role and cultural and linguistic rights, with the state respecting and caring for those rights, within the framework of the Constitution and under the law. …

The End comes for all men.


November 17, 2005

The Limits of Sovereignty; The Legitimacy of Collective Action (Carroll Andrew Morse, 11/17/05, Tech Central Station)

[G]iven reasonable certainty that the Bush administration is not making high-profile noises against Syria without preparing to follow through, what happens next? The answer will depend, in large part, on the usual critics of Bush administration foreign policy. Syria’s crude use of political violence provides an opportunity to unify a number of American foreign policy strains that have recently been estranged from one another. Syria’s assassination of a political leader is frowned upon not only by hawks of various stripes, but also by process-oriented liberal internationalists — who do not like one state interfering with another through the use of violence — and by realists who view the assassination of leaders as dangerously destabilizing. Add in the growing contingent who believes that the United States should more skillfully combine participation in international institutions with the pursuit of American interests, and there should be a wide constituency for meaningful action against Syria.

In the best case outcome, America bootstraps the world towards a meaningful act of collective security. The liberal internationalists take the lead on the political left. They help forge an agreement between America’s different foreign policy elites on a plan for dealing with Syria that has tangible goals, realistic deadlines, and an enforcement mechanism. Confronted with a united America, nations not always inclined to support US foreign policy decide that sacrificing one clumsy dictator is more prudent than spending — perhaps overspending — the political capital of the United Nations to protect assassins harbored by the Syrian government. Syria, lacking any meaningful international support, is forced to turn over its government officials and nationals involved in the al-Hariri assassination. The growing spectacle of weakness and incompetence undermines Syria’s government, setting Syria on a path to political modernization.

And in the worst case? The liberal internationalists succumb to their own worst tradition. Instead of leading, they follow the lead of the visceral anti-Bush partisans and join tortured arguments that at best ignore, and at worst justify, state-sponsored political assassination. Sensing a divided America, the UN is never compelled to move beyond approving resolutions that do nothing more than threaten other resolutions. The Bush administration — strongly committed to the idea that not acting once engaged shows dangerous weakness — assembles a coalition outside of the UN to act against Syria. A divided Congress either barely supports or barely rejects action outside of the UN and future political assassins are emboldened during a debate where many members of Congress declare that no one should act against political assassination without UN permission.

Not everyone believes that action outside of the UN following a UN non-response qualifies as a “worst case scenario”. A United Nations that refuses to act against cross-border assassination — an offensive act of war by any reasonable standard — serves no purpose and should be allowed to continue its slide into irrelevance. Will the liberal internationalists and the further leftward skeptics of George W. Bush’s foreign policy take this opportunity to demand that international institutions take a stand against anarchy? Or will they continue to undermine the legitimacy of those institutions by using them as justification for surrendering to anarchy?

Sadly, the reality is that there are only a handful of liberal interventionists around–Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, George Packer, Ed Koch, Joe Lieberman, and a very few others–and even several of them go wobbly any time the rest of the Left criticizes George Bush loudly enough. we do well to recall Mr. Walzer’s question after we toppled the Taliban, and his sad answer:

[C]an there be a decent left in a superpower? Or more accurately, in the only superpower? Maybe the guilt produced by living in such a country and enjoying its privileges makes it impossible to sustain a decent (intelligent, responsible, morally nuanced) politics. Maybe festering resentment, ingrown anger, and self-hate are the inevitable result of the long years spent in fruitless opposition to the global reach of American power.

Given that American power has been used over the last ninety years to defeat colonialism, Communism, Nazism, and now Islamicism, the opposition to that reach must be called indecent.


November 16, 2005

Sex, shopping and the death of a regime (Mark LeVine, 11/17/05, Asia Times)

In a recent edition of the semi-official Syria-Today, the following ad was placed right next to the text of an address by Assad:

Emaar Properties, a Dubai-based joint stock development company, unveiled plans for two major Damascus real estate development projects on October 17. The two developments, “Eighth Gate” and “Damascus Hills”, will be the city’s first fully planned communities and are together valued at US$3.9 billion. They will be constructed in the countryside near Damascus and will comprise residential, commercial and real estate compounds … The projects are a joint venture between Emaar and the Syrian-based Invest Group Overseas, an offshore investment and property development company owned by a group of Syrian expatriate investors. Emaar chairman Mohamed Ali al-Abbar said that Syria was an emerging market for Emaar. “Syria has great potential for future development and is a remarkable location for Emaar to develop high quality real estate projects,” Mr al-Abbar said.

And so begins the inexorable march towards another neo-liberal paradise in the Middle East. […]

Indeed, against Emaar’s drive to “build a global property-related brand”, the Ba’ath Party’s “Unity, Freedom, Socialism” doesn’t stand much of a chance. The best Assad can offer his people, as he explained in a March 5 speech, is “the protection of national and pan-Arab interests through adherence to our identity, independence, loyalty to our principles and beliefs … [while] dealing realistically with emergent challenges and developments”.

But while Assad offers to “protect our political and social stability”, Emaar offers luxury, service and profits. We don’t need to guess who will win here, especially when the price for Assad’s stability is an authoritarian regime, an economy that is in a shambles – near negative growth, key industries losing more than a quarter of their income in the past year alone – and increasing political and economic ostracization.

Thus does the fact of the End of History itself cause regime change.


November 3, 2005

Syria frees political prisoners (BBC, 11/03/05)

Syria has freed 190 political prisoners, including two prominent human rights activists.

Mohammed Raadoun and Ali Abdullah had been in prison since May. […]

Last June, opposition figures and prominent intellectuals signed a letter urging the president to free political prisoners.

They also called for the abolition of Syria’s 42-year-old emergency law, which activists say permits arbitrary arrests and trials.

President Assad issued the amnesty “in line with the comprehensive reform policy that aims at consolidating national cohesiveness, which is fundamental to the social fabric and national interests,” Sana reported.

The agency also said that further steps and measures would follow “on the basis that the homeland embraces all”.

Keep pummeling the body and eventually the arms drop–then you go for the head.


February 13, 2005

A Liberal in Damascus (LEE SMITH, 2/13/05, NY Times Magazine)

When I first met Ammar Abdulhamid in Washington in the fall, the 38-year-old Syrian novelist, poet and liberal dissident had Damascus on his mind. He had received word from his wife back in Syria that the political situation at home was becoming more precarious for rights activists like himself. As a fellow at the Brookings Institution, he’d been meeting with leading figures in the Bush administration and writing articles in the Arab and Western presses that were sharply critical of the Syrian government; he simply didn’t know what to expect on his return. Now, sitting here in a Damascus coffeehouse in late January a week after his return, he is telling me that he had found reason for optimism about the country’s future in the least likely of places.

”When I arrived at the airport,” Abdulhamid says, ”I was told I had to go to political security. It took me some time to find out exactly which security apparatus wanted to speak to me, but then I met with them for two days in a row. I was very up front about my activities and even talked about things they didn’t know yet, like an article I had co-written with an Israeli. One of my interrogators told me that what I was doing would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and he’s right. I got the sense from even some of the security police that they see there has to be a new way of doing things in Syria.”

For the last half-century, the Islamist movement and Arab regimes themselves have pushed Arab liberals to the sidelines. As a result, the Arab world’s democracy activists and intellectuals do not enjoy the same advantages their Central and Eastern European counterparts did back in the 80’s: whereas the generation of Havel and Walesa was backed by the Catholic Church and its Polish-born pope, Arab activists enjoy no such solidarity with any established Muslim institutions. Indeed, while militant Islamist leaders have called for elections in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, they typically see liberal, secular reformers like Abdulhamid as a threat to the traditional foundations of their authority.

Even so, the liberals seem to be gathering a little momentum. Recently, intellectuals from Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia petitioned the United Nations for a tribunal to prosecute both terrorists and the religious figures who incite violence. In Egypt, two new publications, Nahdet Misr and Al Masry Al Youm, fault the region’s leaders and clerics alike for keeping Arabs from joining the modern world. The Iraqi election posed a stark challenge to regional autocrats. While Abdulhamid harbors mixed feelings about the United States’ decision to invade Iraq, he says he believes that the American presence in the region is vital to the prospects for reform. ”We are an important part of the world,” he says, ”and our inability to produce change on our own terms invites people in. The world is not going to wait for us.”

But History does.