Gleanings, 30.04.11

NB. Most of the postings (and the regularity of) the Gleanings comes from Fabian Pascal (oao), who blogs at The PostWest.

Eric Trager: The Throwback

Ten years later, however, Moussa is back in the public eye. Despite having represented the combined interests of the Arab world’s 22 autocracies for the last decade, he is now the frontrunner to succeed Mubarak in what could be Egypt’s first-ever truly democratic presidential election. And Moussa owes his startling political ascendance primarily to one thing: his shameless exploitation of anti-Israel demagoguery for political gain.

… He declared that U.S. support for Israel “poisoned” the peace process, and, after the U.S. presented evidence of a Libyan chemical weapons program to the Mubarak regime, Moussa publicly denied that such evidence existed. He backed Yasser Arafat’s refusal to compromise on Jerusalem during and after the failed Camp David summit in the summer of 2000; called on the Arab world to support the Palestinian Intifada in October of that same year; and declared the Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel a “sacred right,” over strong U.S. objections. According to Fawzi, who was Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during this time, Moussa tried to push Egyptian diplomacy even further against Israel, but Mubarak ultimately refused.

… While it is tempting to believe that Moussa’s long diplomatic career would make for a relatively smooth post-Mubarak transition, the source of his popularity should be deeply concerning to the U.S. and its allies. Though war between Israel and Egypt seems highly unlikely, Moussa recently told a group of Egyptian youths that the Camp David Accords had “expired,” apparently backtracking from earlier statements in which he supported the maintenance of Egyptian-Israeli peace. He has also called for a “no-fly zone” over Gaza, thereby equating Israel with the Qaddafi regime. Moreover, Egypt under Moussa is likely to be less friendly towards U.S. interests: WikiLeaks documents suggest that Moussa does not view Iran as a threat and would seek to strengthen Arab-Iranian ties.

… So while the fall of Mubarak raises hopes that Egypt will enjoy a post-authoritarian future, the prominence of Moussa threatens to revive Egypt’s anti-Western, Nasser-era past. And, most alarmingly, this is apparently what many Egyptians want.

Benny Ziffer: Before the smiles are wiped away

Tahrir Square still attracts curious crowds on weekends and holidays, including families there to gaze at the last remnants of the naive and romantic two-month-old popular uprising, which also photographed wonderfully in pictures broadcast around the world. However, now the backyards behind the smiling facades are being canvassed assiduously, and the seed of the political toughness is being sown that – though I do hope I am wrong – will bring about the second, real revolution, and will wipe the smiles off many faces.

… Just as the disappointing mediocrity was revealed behind the false charisma of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Yes we can,” the Tahrir revolution has succeeded in producing only T-shirts, pins and stickers with revolutionary slogans, sold to tourists at inflated prices. (The T-shirts and doodads are produced in a warren of hovels and dim alleys at the edge of the Muski market, where the slaves are working in the same conditions as before, and who most likely haven’t heard that there was a revolution or what it is they’re printing. )

… But his voice is swallowed up by the cries of the street vendors, who completely occupy the sidewalks of the main street. In the days before the fall of the regime, these vendors were persecuted by the police. They were beaten as everyone looked on, and their merchandise was confiscated. Now there isn’t anyone who will get rid of them. They, after all, are the persecuted of yesterday and therefore now, everything is permitted them. At least until the chaos increases so much that anyone who promises “Yes we can” in order to impose order is welcomed. Signed, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jonathan Spyer: Israel’s ‘Syria option’ was never one

These assumptions [of Israel’s Syria firsters] were noteworthy in that they were not only untrue, but in many ways represented the precise opposite of the truth. Syria’s alignment with Iran and its backing of local paramilitary and terrorist clients are not flimsy marriages of convenience. They were and are the core of a successful regional policy. Through it, Damascus has magnified its local and regional influence, and obtained an insurance policy against paying any price for its activities.

This insurance policy is now paying dividends. Syria’s alignment with the regional axis led by Iran represents Assad’s best hope of survival. Indeed, western fear of Iran is the crucial factor making possible the crackdown in Syria and hence the survival of the regime.

The pro-western Arab authoritarian rulers, Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, were forced aside by a combination of internal and subsequent western pressure. Non-aligned, isolated Muammar Gaddafi now finds himself fighting in Libya against a coalition of local rebels and western air power.

Assad, by contrast, who is aligned with the coalition of anti-western states and movements led by Iran, is currently facing only nominal and minimal western pressure. This is despite the fact that he appears to be engaged in the energetic slaughter of his own people.

… This is because if you mess around with Assad, you are issuing a challenge also to Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their various regional allies and interests in Iraq and further afield. The leaders of the west don’t want to do that.

… There are more crucial matters at stake here than the fate of a dead-end policy option in Israel. The Syrian dictator is currently getting away with slaughtering large numbers of his people because of western fear of Iran and its proxies. The question of whether the Arab spring stops at the borders of the Iran-led regional alliance will thus be decided in Syria.

The Iranians and their allies, who enthusiastically cheered the demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia, are keen to ensure that it does end there. Western policy, meanwhile, looks likely to be too confused and hesitant to ensure that it does not. This matter will be decided in the weeks and months ahead.

Elliott Abrams: Syria This Week

Amidst this week’s Middle East news one startling event has escaped the attention it deserves.  According to news reports such as this one in The Wall Street Journal, an American diplomat in Damascus was detained and then “hooded by Syrian security agents and ‘roughed up’ before being released.”

This is a remarkable development.  For one thing, it sums up as well as any anything could what the Obama Administration has gained from two years of buttering up the Assad regime, loosening sanctions, letting them into the World Trade Organization, sending an ambassador to Damascus, and making believe Assad is a reformer.  It has gained us Assad’s contempt.

How did the United States react to this unprecedented, illegal action against the diplomatic immunity of our Embassy personnel?   Why, we “formally protested.”  That means we called Syria’s despicable ambassador into the State Department and told him this was terrible and must not be repeated.

That is not a serious response.  If I were an American diplomat in a trouble spot, I would be hoping for a lot more than that—for example, in these circumstances, for throwing the Syrian ambassador out of this country.  Our own ambassador in Damascus should never have been sent, was sent over the objections of Congress as a recess appointment, and should be recalled immediately

JAMES TRAUB: Hope Dies Last in Damascus

You can’t help feeling that Western policy toward the Syrian regime has been guided by a kind of geopolitical wish-fulfillment, in which hard-headed “engagement” masked a dubious faith in Assad’s capacity and will. Or maybe it’s fairer to say that the upside of engagement was so great and the downside so small that everyone kept plugging away long after they should have given up. As Andrew Tabler says, “Policy involves a tremendous amount of reverse engineering” — figure out a policy, and then line up the facts to fit in.

… But there are also plenty of recalcitrant regimes that will pocket the respect without changing their behavior. Iran is the most obvious example; China may be another. And the Arab Spring has offered a stiff lesson in the limits of engagement. Private admonishments had no effect on Arab tyrants, and the administration has learned — again and again — that it must choose between siding with regimes and siding with citizens. And in fact there is a real cost to “engaging” with tyrants: Whether you intend to or not, you send a message of acceptance to the regime and of indifference to the plight of the citizen. That price is sometimes worth paying, or at least unavoidable (think: Saudi Arabia). But often it’s not. In this case, the Bush administration may have been right.

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