Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Events in Damascus

The attempted bombing of the United States embassy in Damascus yesterday morning, is a reminder, if one was needed, that the process of political change in the Near and Middle East, is and will be a much much more difficult and dangerous process than is commonly believed by our Neo-conservative ideologues. According to the, the operation was conducted by four young men, who attempted, in a rather amateurish fashion to ‘car bomb’ the walls surrounding the embassy, but were foiled by Syrian guards in the immediate vicinity of the embassy. As the characterized it, the attack was singularly “poorly executed”. Which in essence means that the attack was the work, not of well-trained ‘Jihadist’, but enthusiast, whose volunteerism fatally outran, their skills. Thankfully…

What makes the events that occurred yesterday of importance, is that this is not the first time that such events have occurred in the past few years, but have by now, become to a small degree commonplace. Obviously, the regime in Damascus is not facing the same type of problem as say the Iraq currently does. It would appear that at present, that Syria is facing a very low level of discontent, which at times now appears to Take an armed character. Quite similar to what has occurred in say Egypt, in the past few years. And, of course in the case of Egypt, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria, all of such activities are the handiwork of Islamist, oppositional groups. Groups, which it would appear, are much, much more popular than, the weak and mostly discredited, Liberal, Western aligned groups. Dr. Rice and her Neo-conservative opponents notwithstanding, there does not appear to be much evidence that in the ‘new’ Middle and Near East, that democratization will be either easy or straightforward. Quite the reverse in fact. If one wants to see a possible future, for a Near East, which escapes the seemingly dead hand of its current autocratic or semi-autocratic government, all one need do is remember the events that occurred in Algeria in the five years after the first (and only) ‘free election’ in 1989: hundreds of thousands dead in a civil war between secular and Islamist forces. Or look at what has happened in Iraq, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Any type of unmanaged, ‘democratic’, transition in this region, will have a similar outcome I am afraid. At least that seems to be the case, in the absence of changes to the diplomatic foreground of the region. Meaning of course a needed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and, the stabilization of Iraq.

In the case of Syria, due to the nature of the current regime, still predominately secular, dominated by the marginal, Alawite sect, any ‘alternative’ regime will most likely be Sunni (the majority of the population), and Islamist. Whether or not they will be more moderate, Muslim Brotherhood organization (perhaps the largest oppositional tendency in the country), or an Al-Qaeda-type, grouping, is difficult to say at present. My colleague (in the ‘blogosphere’) and sometime epistolary correspondent, Professor Joshua Landis, of Oklahoma University, perhaps the leading American observer of the Syrian political scene, seems to indicate that at present, there is no pre-determined path, that a post-Assad Syria will take (see his brilliant site: What this fact means, is that the current American policy of trying to isolate Syria, in the futile hopes of overthrowing the current regime in Damascus, is absolutely wrongheaded and mistaken. What is needed in Syria, is a diplomatic, bridge building exercise, to bring the regime out of the cold, both for purposes of regime stability and to try to manage a stable transition, if need be, from the current regime to something, more pluralistic and transparent. Make no mistake, Democracy `a la Americaine, is not on the cards in Syria, anytime soon. Any more than it is on the cards in Egypt, Saudia Arabia or the other Sunni Arab regimes in the region. What this fact should not obscure is that a transition to more legitimate and transparent regimes in the region, will take years, nay perhaps decades, and will not be managed in one or two Presidential terms. This may not be the optimum solution, but it is the best perhaps that we can expect under the circumstances. For a worse alternative, one needs only look at the current situation in Iraq…


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