Saturday, August 05, 2006
Alienating the Beating Heart of Middle East
By Nicola Nasser*
The United States is seeking a “new Middle East” by alienating the Syrian beating heart of the strategic region. Washington wants Syria to cooperate as near as in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon and as far as in Iran but is sending her messages and messengers all around the region except to Damascus.
This Wednesday the U.S. sponsored in Rome an international conference on Syria’s next door war-ravaged Lebanese neighbour to which were invited regional countries that have no common borders with Lebanon and nations as far as Russia, but not Syria the most burnt and threatened by the Lebanese raging fire.
While confirming this week that the “time has come for the new Middle East,” the United States seemed to shoot herself in the legs when it bypassed Damascus as the right address to any credible approach to the Syrian heartland of the region, leaving observers with the conclusion that Syria is not cooperating and accordingly it has to be forced into cooperation.
And while carrying this mission herself in the eastern Iraqi front, the U.S. delegated the job in the western front to her Israeli regional proxy, which occupies a strategic part of Syria. True the war decision-making is made in Israel, but Syria holds the key to the regional peace-making as well as to any sustainable regional re-mapping in the immediate vicinity of major U.S. strategic concerns, namely the security of oil and Israel.
The relative stability the region enjoyed during the past three decades and the twin Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties with Israel were only made possible thanks to the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian troika of which Syria constituted a cornerstone.
Several factors, mostly U.S.-linked, have placed this Syrian cornerstone in jeopardy. The most decisive factor was and is the U.S. determined campaign to change the regional political regimes, starting from the immediate neighbours of Syria in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, explicitly indicating that the end target is changing the Syrian regime itself, as a prerequisite for heralding the “New Middle East.’
President George W. Bush has sent his invading troops into Iraq, gave a green light for the Israeli war machine to bombard the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, spearheaded a regional propaganda campaign to adopt the Iraqi-model of the U.S.-sponsored democracy towards Syria, and put his Secretary of State on a shuttle plane to send a message to Damascus: Make the choice and subscribe to our “New Middle East.”
But why didn’t Bush send his message and messengers direct to the Syrian capital? Is Bush naïve not to? Absolutely he is not.
Bush is very well aware that Syria had received the U.S. message early and long enough to loose trust in it and to conclude from a bitter experience that Washington was not serious to be even-handed and remained biased in the Arab – Israeli conflict, that its promises to bring about peace were phoney and hollow, and that it was only interested in reinforcing the U.S. – Israeli hegemony in the region.
The U.S. message was sent to Damascus thirty-six years ago, received positively, led to a lengthy honey moon in the bilateral ties, and could have lasted longer had not Washington had second thoughts when it led the invasion of Iraq early in March 2002, sowing deeper doubts in the U.S. real intentions and complicating further an already complicated regional situation.
Unleashing the regional Israeli war machine against democratically elected grassroots anti-occupation movements in Palestine and Lebanon, the geopolitical allies of Syria, confirmed the Syrian doubts about the U.S. regional plans. The US-led invasion of Iraq, the Israeli US-backed periodical invasions of Lebanon and the Israeli 39-year old occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights have all focused Syria in the eye of the Middle East storm and are stretching Syrian strict adherence to the peace option, international law, United Nations legitimacy and diplomatic norms to a breaking point.
However the United States and Israel are unmercifully and persistently mounting pressure on the country in a deliberate effort to break it down and up, unless Damascus completely and unconditionally subscribes to their re-mapping of the Middle East, following the “good example” of Libya.
“We are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one (and) the Syrians have to make a choice … Are they going to be a part of what is clearly a consensus of the major Arab states in the region?” Secretary Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.
Syria did make the “choice” when late President Hafez Assad assumed power in 1970-71, joined the “Arab consensus,” subscribed to peace as a strategic option and officially adopted the U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, risking internal rift in the ruling Baath party.
Assad’s strategic choice led Syria into Lebanon backed by the Arab consensus, the U.S. backing and a grudgingly Israeli green light, which positioned him into a bloody collision course with the Lebanese pan-Arab and leftist allies of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then condemned by the U.S. and Israel as “the” international “terrorist” organization, at a time when Osama bin Laden was a U.S. ally and Hizbollah and Hamas were not yet born.
Assad’s choice also indulged Syria into a diplomatic honey moon with the U.S. at a time of a bipolar world system, when the former Soviet Union (USSR) was at the helm of the other side of the cold war divide, paved the way for Syrian – Israeli peace talks, and even led Syria to join the U.S.-led military coalition that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait in 1991, where Syrian and U.S. soldiers fought shoulder-to-shoulder.
However it was a one way U.S. ticket that brought Syria neither closer to peace nor security. More than thirty years were lost for nothing on betting on the U.S. “good will” and “good offices” that were not forthcoming. The Syrian Golan Heights remained occupied by Israel. The Syrian regime remained targeted for change by U.S. ruling neoconservatives. Syria remained sanctioned as a state sponsoring “terrorism.” U.S. remained weighing in heavily on Syria to succumb to the dictates of the Israeli occupying power for peace as well as the U.S.-Israeli re-mapping plans for the Middle East.
That is the “status quo ante” that Secretary Condoleezza Rice failed to grasp when she refused to “freeze” the status quo ante on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Syria also has repeatedly warned against preserving the status quo ante. How could any Syrian leadership sit idle watching the geo-military and geo-political bases of its national security undermined to bring the Israeli hostile occupying power to the doorsteps of its metropolitan? How could any country tolerate such an existential threat!
The United States and Israel are contemplating a NATO-led international force at Syria’s doorsteps, and to bring about a pro-U.S. or a puppet regime in Beirut. Israeli bombardment of Lebanon is driving hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee the atrocities of the Israeli midwife of the “new” sovereign and democratic Lebanon from the west into Syria, which is hardly coping with the ongoing flow of thousands of Iraqi refugees fleeing the birth horrors of another democratic regime that was midwifed by the US-led invasion of its eastern neighbour, in addition to slightly less than half a million Palestinian refugees the country is hosting since the creation of the state of Israel forced them out in 1948.
Syria, however, is strongly holding on to its strategic option of peace and negotiations. The Syrian – Israeli front has for decades remained the only “silent” front, more silent than even both fronts of Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab countries to sign peace treaties with Israel.
On Sunday Syria said it was willing to engage in direct talks with the U.S. to help end the fighting in Lebanon within the framework of a broader peace initiative that would include a return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, swiftly dismissed any talks with Syria, which “doesn't need dialogue to know what they need to do,” he told Fox News Sunday, adding: “Syria, along with Iran, is really part of the problem.”
“American officials are very good at vernacular descriptions, but lousy at history and political reality in the Middle East,” Lebanese journalist Rami G. Khouri wrote in The Daily Star on Monday.
The Bush administration's approach to the “New Middle East” is doomed to failure because it rules out addressing Syrian national strategic concerns and Syria as a regional key player, irrespective of who rules in Damascus.
*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Ramallah, West Bank. He is the editor of the English language Web site of the Palestine Media Centre (PMC).