Saturday, July 29, 2006
A country for rent
Syria is not used to being its own master. Before independence in 1946, it had been a part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries and a French protectorate between the first and second World Wars. Soon after independence, and until 1991, it was a client of the Soviet Union. Earlier this year, it has turned itself into a client of Iran.
Syria's support for the Palestinians since well before the creation of the State of Israel has always resonated well with the emotional Arab masses. Most of the time, this support has been blind, insincere or selfish, rather than constructive. Strategically, it is the kind of support that the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian populations could have done without. It has resulted in three wars with Israel (1948, 1967 and 1973) which led to the expansion of Israeli settlements over much of Palestine, the pillaging and destruction of Lebanon, the loss of the Golan Heights and the stifling of Syria's own political, cultural and economic development. It is the kind of destructive support that Iran and Al Qaeda have also been dishing out, which the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has publicly stated that the Palestinians did not need or want.
One of Syria's answers to its own security and economic concerns has been to maintain control of a clandestine network of intelligence and militia groups in the region. The purposes of this network are to protect the country and the regime, gather information, intimidate opponents and serve, or otherwise, sabotage the interests of other powers. This Mafia-like network has allowed the regime to punch well above its weight in the last three decades. Hizbullah, which is armed and financed principally by Iran, remains one of the strongest elements in this network. The regime's alliance with Iran is pragmatic but strategically misguided and dangerous. It allows Iran to use Syria as a regional hub for supporting Hizbullah and other clandestine groups, but Syria cannot be described as an ideological extension of Iran. The alliance affords the Syrian regime a measure of protection against Western powers which have been trying to impose their own democratic and liberal ideologies on the region. The regime opposes these ideologies because they threaten its very existence and harm the economic interests of its own supporters. Moreover, such ideologies, rather conveniently for the regime, arouse deep suspicions among the Arab masses, which believe that regime change can only serve the interests of Israel and Western powers. Few bother to draw a distinction between imposed regime change and gradual, genuine democratic transformation from within.
Syria's foreign policy is shrewd and pragmatic but its currency is extortion and sabotage. It is immensely harmful to the cultural and economic development of the people of Syria and their relations with their neighbours and other civilised nations.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Syria has had an opportunity to re-shape its policies and carve out a niche for itself in the new world of productivity and creativity. Its rulers have, instead, remained entrapped in their own laberinth of clandestine networks and enslaved by their own extortionist policies. As the civilised world has begun to shun them, and their tiresome tactics, they have turned themselves, in their desperation, into rent boys for the CIA and Iranian Mullahs. How proud a Syrian can you be?