August 28, 2007

Syria Hysteria

Joe Lieberman recently wrote in the pages of the (pre-Murdoch!) WSJ:

...the Damascus airport is the point of entry into Iraq for most of the suicide bombers who are killing innocent Iraqi citizens and American soldiers, and trying to break America's will in this war. It is therefore time to demand that the Syrian regime stop playing travel agent for al Qaeda in Iraq. When Congress reconvenes next month, we should set aside whatever differences divide us on Iraq and send a clear and unambiguous message to the Syrian regime, as we did last month to the Iranian regime, that the transit of al Qaeda suicide bombers through Syria on their way to Iraq is completely unacceptable, and it must stop.

We in the U.S. government should also begin developing a range of options to consider taking against Damascus International, unless the Syrian government takes appropriate action, and soon. Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International, as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror. Despite its use by al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways. Interrupting the flow of foreign fighters would mean countless fewer suicide bombings in Iraq, and countless fewer innocent people murdered by the barbaric enemy we are fighting there.

At a time when the al Qaeda network in Iraq is already under heavy stress thanks to American and Iraqi military operations, closing off the supply line through which al Qaeda in Iraq is armed with its most deadly weapons--suicide bombers--would be devastating to the terrorists' cause. Simply put, for the U.S. and our Iraqi allies, defeating al Qaeda in Iraq means locking shut Syria's "Open Door" policy to terrorists. It is past time for Syria to do so.

Where to begin? Perhaps the recently published NIE, which states:

Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-AQI groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.

Well of course the Syrians, like the Saudis, Jordanians, Turks, Iranians, and indeed all of Iraq's neighbors, are going to provide support to Iraqi factions they deem friendly to them. But note the NIE, the most authoritative judgment on national security issues produced by the Government, states explicitly that Syria has "cracked down" on Sunni extremists, and is providing support to non-al Qaeda groups.

But what is most fascinating about Lieberman's zealotry is its sheer ignorance, how devoid of any historical context it is. Does he remember Tom Friedman's "Hama Rules", born of the Hama Massacre? Hafez Assad brutally put down a domestic rebellion of the Muslim Brotherhood back in 1982, as the Alawite ruling elite feared the growth of Sunni extremism in their midst. Indeed, the Alawites in Damascus are not fans of Islamic extremists, because said extremists view the Alawites as heretics. So the notion that Bashar Assad plays "travel agent" to al-Qaeda is just laughable. And regardless, if Damascus International were really the Grand Central Station of al-Qaeda for the entire Middle East, per Lieberman's hysterical accounting, the 'blowback' would likely ultimately prove severe, and Assad's regime could well be toppled (in this Lieberman and al-Qaeda may have common cause).

Now, Lieberman is not alone in making these wild claims. We have Michael Gerson waxing rhapsodic about "Syria's Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorists" and "lower-hanging fruit" (to which George Will recently quipped: "In the other faction, there still are those so impervious to experience that they continue to refer to Syria as "lower-hanging fruit." Such metaphors bewitch minds. Low-hanging fruit is plucked, then eaten. What does one nation do when it plucks another? In Iraq, America is in its fifth year of learning the answer.")

And how can one forget our favorite Rudyard Kipling-lite, Max Boot, who writes in Commentary's blog (deliciously named "Contentions") a post entitled (you guessed it!): "Low-Hanging Fruit", riffing on Gerson's piece in très excité fashion: "One possible idea: Hold Damascus International Airport—the entry point into Iraq for countless Arab radicals from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria—hostage. We could announce that we will use our airpower to shut down the entire facility, Syria’s only international airport, until Bashar Assad cuts off the influx of terrorists into Iraq. This would be a relatively low-risk option from the American viewpoint, but it would impose considerable pain on Syria."

A peachy idea! Save that using airpower against a sovereign nation's airport is an act of war, you know. But, little matter. Gerson, Boot and Lieberman are very, very serious individuals. Much more serious, say, than the members of the Iraq Study Group, people like Larry Eagleburger, Vern Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon Panetta, Bill Perry, Chuck Robb, Alan Simpson, and of course, co-chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton--all of whom counseled high-level dialogue with Damascus. Why? Because people who've been around the block and understand how the real world works know that when you're bogged down in a massive mess (read: Iraq), you seek to dialogue rationally with neighbors to help put the fire out, not scream for more adventures like shrill hysterics.

Ultimately, this is why it's much more alarming to see a sitting Senator displaying such a dangerous combination of ignorance and adventurism--as compared with assorted think-tankers screeching from the side-lines, to which we've become drearily accustomed. What happened to the Senator from Connecticut, one wonders, who in decades past seemed a reasonable man? Increasingly, one has little choice but to see Joe Lieberman, as Joe Klein put it so well, simply as an "American embarrassment".

Posted by Gregory at August 28, 2007 03:49 AM
Comments

What is this massive influx of foreign terrorists that these idiots are screaming about?
From the NY Times article "With Troop Rise, Iraqi Detainees Soar in Number"
on August 24, 2007:

"According to statistics supplied by the headquarters of Task Force 134, the American military unit in charge of detention operations in Iraq, there are about 280 detainees from countries other than Iraq. Of those, 55 are identified as Egyptian, 53 as Syrian, 37 as Saudi, 28 as Jordanian and 24 as Sudanese."

out of 24,500 detainees in US custody in Iraq, 280 are foreigners, that's 1.1 percent. There are 800 juvenile detainees in custody as well. So if we're going to bomb an international airport in another country to stop all of those foreign fighters, what are we going to blow up to stop the much more serious threat of teenagers.

Posted by: chris at August 28, 2007 02:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The older I get the more I believe the old adage "the more things change the more they stay the same."
Clowns like Lieberman back in the day wanted us to invade N. Vietnam, attack China, Laos and Cambodia all as a way of getting out of the mess we called Vietnam.
It takes a certain kind of individual to just stand up and state "we were wrong". Lieberman lacks the character to do so.

Posted by: gregdn at August 28, 2007 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whoa...so Dad was well received by the Boy President in Damascus then?

Bashar wants to play "Let's make a Deal?" Well, okay. He was all gussied up to start up a missile campaign against the Israelis again, but now he's pushed that back to November, much to the chagrin of his Iranian patrons. This sort of screws things up for Nasrallah and the Iranians, who are fully resupplied with missiles that were used up after last year. At least, that's what DEBKA says, but then, they were reporting that there were over 700,000 Chicoms in the Sudan back in the late nineties, and they've gone missing.

Who said there wasn't a crisis in Darfur?

Sadly, Ehud Olmert is still in power, so the lack of leadership in Damascus is matched by the yawning leadership vacuum in Jerusalem.

Methinks Bashar wants to have cake and eat it, too. All the Iranian weapons that the Ayatollahs and their Revolutionary Guards outriders will give them can be leveraged into a bid to extract concessions from Condi and Negroponte. Nicely done for an opthamologist, imho. All the Young Lad has to do is stall the Iranians and keep gulling them into giving the Syrian Army military assistance.

Problem, of course, is that Persians aren't stupid, and have spies everywhere. There are lots of ambitious Syrian General Staff officers who think that a Firm Hand is what Syria needs to confront the Zionist Threat and return the Golan to the Fatherland.

JoeMentum is the least of Bashar's worries. Jesus tap-dancing Christ, Greg! JoeMentum couldn't even beat Ned Lamont in a Connecticut Democratic primary. JoeMentum is just concerned about the Threat to Israel, is all.

Nobody's going to start a campaign against the Young Lad, not when he can be flipped for the Golan and a steady diet of American military assistance.

Greg, you spend entirely too much time bashing JoeMentum and Condi and not enough time looking after those wily Persians. What, with even Rice coming to the conclusion that the Iranians never intended to abandon their hunt for atomic weapons (you'll notice that despite the ongoing negotiations in Baghdad, the "no enrichment" stance remains...)? Sarkozy's jumping of the shark, pulling the entire French beauracracy over the side with him, sort of tells you something, doesn't it?

As in, it's not just Madman Cheney and his Cabal of Addingtons anymore who are concerned about Ahmadi-Nejad's imperial project. There is a general, abiding concern both in Europe and at State about Iran's ambitions. You have discounted this because of your anger at Bush, Cheney, and the Rumster.

God knows I can't quite blame you. It took this long for Petraeus to show up, and even now, we'll end up as an overwatch force, refereeing a low grade civil war while making sure that the Persians don't come in and steal everything.

However, there comes a time when even you must admit that Iran, acting in what it perceives to be its interests, becomes too damned ambitious for its own good, and they get to the point where they believe that negotiations are a front for advancing with the bayonet.

And so, not preemptive war, but good old Containment. Keep the Nutters in their Box. We're bad at counterinsurgency. But we're very good at strategic containment.

You've taken your eye off the ball. The Persians haven't. Therein lies the rub.

Posted by: section9 at August 28, 2007 03:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Antisemitic conspiracy theorists will claim that Lieberman's wish for war with Syria has something to do with his loyalty to Israel, but serious people know better.

Posted by: Laney at August 28, 2007 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are you purposefully dense, he didn't say the terrorists were
Syrian, but that they had free passage through Damascus
international Airport on the way to the battlefield. I see an assertion in the NIE; but no actual proof. Who did they arrest,
or kill. Since Jund al Shams has been tied to the hit on Hariri,
Fatah al Islam, they really were an enemy of the Lebanese
government, who knew that Hersh, Crook & Fisk were mistaken.
Interestingly a major player in the Fatah honcho Sheik Yakan, was recently released from Syrian detention. Do we forget that Darkanzali and Musab Setmarian were living in Hamburg ,Madrid
and Islamabad; yet their focus hasn't been planning against Syria for some time now.

Posted by: narciso at August 28, 2007 04:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I still don't understand this dynamic...where do these people get the traction? 70% of the jewish american population dont agree with these rants...over 50% of israelis dont like this type of policy either. A solid majority of americans are fed up with the adventure as well I know there is a small group of born again christian fundies who love this "ramp up to end-times" type policies. I' m sure the military industial complex offers a constituency...but still it is MADNESS(the neocon project/failures) but it just will not go away! These people always have a huge megaphone and serious, sane and moderate people like the ISG meet the sound of crickets chrirping.

When will this bad dream end?

Posted by: centrist at August 28, 2007 04:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Your statement "[b]ut what is most fascinating about Lieberman's zealotry is its sheer ignorance, how devoid of any historical context it is" appears to be based on your conclusion that "Indeed, the Alawites in Damascus are not fans of Islamic extremists, because said extremists view the Alawites as heretics. So the notion that Bashar Assad plays "travel agent" to al-Qaeda is just laughable."

It is unassailable that the Assad regime does not want the rise of Islamic extremists in Syria, but does that really mean that they do not support Islamic extremists elsewhere? Assad's unmistakable and crucial material support for Hezbollah certainly puts that assumption to rest.

"Sheer ignorance," indeed.

Posted by: Marc at August 28, 2007 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One possible idea: Hold Damascus International Airport—the entry point into Iraq for countless Arab radicals from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria—hostage.

Isn't holding something or someone hostage something that, you know, terrorists do?

Posted by: josephdietrich at August 28, 2007 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lieberman '08: "Two Wars Make a Right!"

Posted by: norbizness at August 28, 2007 05:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Isn't holding something or someone hostage something that, you know, terrorists do?

Only when the hostage-holders are brown, Communist, or Muslim.

Posted by: Anderson at August 28, 2007 05:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Isn't holding something or someone hostage something that, you know, terrorists do?

Only when the hostage-holders are brown, Communist, or Muslim.

Posted by: Anderson at August 28, 2007 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Section 9 wrote: "Sarkozy's jumping of the shark, pulling the entire French beauracracy over the side with him, sort of tells you something, doesn't it?" Yes, it does. It tells me he is an even bigger showboating fool than I initially took him to be.

Marc wrote: "It is unassailable that the Assad regime does not want the rise of Islamic extremists in Syria, but does that really mean that they do not support Islamic extremists elsewhere? Assad's unmistakable and crucial material support for Hezbollah certainly puts that assumption to rest."

Could it possibly be that the fact that Hezbollah is comprised of Shia, as opposed to Sunni, have something to do with Assad's calculations? Or do we over look that fact. I mean if I were a member of the Alawites, it sure as hell would me something to me.

Posted by: jonst at August 28, 2007 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think we should just take the middle man (Joe) out of it...and go right to Bibi and see what he wants the US to do to help him.

Posted by: jonst at August 28, 2007 07:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is great. That Lieberman-Peretz supplicant man-whore Kirchick who's guest blogging with GD at Sullivan's site is actually taking him to task on ME foreign policy. This is akin Greg Norman telling oh, just about anybody on the Tour, how to win a major. What a dumb fuck. Or maybe he's just been smurfing here as neill all these years.

Posted by: Jamie's Crying at August 29, 2007 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jonst nails it. It's time for Lieberman to declare his allegiance, America or Likud. The strategic interests of Israel and America are not the same, but Joe is trying his best to conflate the two.

Joe Klein has a great description of the neocon fantasies: http://www.time.com/time/columnist/klein/article/0,9565,419688,00.html

Posted by: JohnH at August 29, 2007 12:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bashar wants to play "Let's make a Deal?" Well, okay. He was all gussied up to start up a missile campaign against the Israelis again, but now he's pushed that back to November, much to the chagrin of his Iranian patrons.

LOL

Are you really sitting there quaking over Syria launching a war on Israel? I mean grow up for God's sakes.

Posted by: Some dude at August 29, 2007 12:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's time for Lieberman to declare his allegiance, America or Likud.

I'm pretty sure he'll split the difference and say, "Lieberman".

Posted by: sglover at August 29, 2007 06:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's return to that first comment, shall we? Exactly 1.1% of the US's POWs in Iraq have ANY foreign origin. Certainly not all of those are coming through Syria. And to stop this trickle, Max Boot (and Jamie Kirchick, who is currently throwing some of his barely-contained hysterics over at Sullivan's site where the two of you are guest-blogging simultaneously) want the US to expend a huge wad of both its airpower and its international prestige officially blockading Syria's airport?

As for "Section 9's" comments, let's keep our eye on the ball. The one big danger from Iran is its development of the Bomb. We are going to have to focus all our spare military force -- or at least maintain a believable threat of focusing all our spare military force -- on preventing that. We really do not have the strength to also fuck around threatening to bomb the bejeezus out of Iran and Syria just to stop them from sending in a trickle of additional fighters (and, presumably, a comparably small trickle of additional weapons, in an Iraq which has an estimated 500 million TONS of weaponry still sitting around on its own turf just watiting to be picked up and used). Unless, that is, you're a believer in using hand grenades to exterminate cockroaches.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at August 29, 2007 08:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Although the details continue to escape Americans, perhaps a small note:

It is unassailable that the Assad regime does not want the rise of Islamic extremists in Syria, but does that really mean that they do not support Islamic extremists elsewhere? Assad's unmistakable and crucial material support for Hezbollah certainly puts that assumption to rest.

Hezbullah is Shia, not Sunni/i>, and hardly in the same camp or league as the takfiri Sunni extremists who are rather nihilistic. Indeed as Twelver Shia, Hezbullah's constituency are considered by the Takfiri Sunni of al-Qaeda and its "franchisees" to be kufaar, unbelievers as worthy of being blown up as say Americans. Oddly, they [the Takfiri sorts] hold the same view with respect to the Alaoui of Syria, themselves at least theoretically an off-shoot of the Twelver Shia.... Hand waving about Islamic extremists while not being able to distinguish between Shia and Sunni and different interest groups.... Well, one should keep one's mouth shut, as an ill-informed provincial.

"Sheer ignorance," indeed.
Indeed, sheer ignorance, evidently yours as well.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 29, 2007 01:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Alawi are not exactly twelver Shia; it is not clear where the sect derives from exactly though there is plenty of evidence that they are closer to Christianity than Islam. Shia as well as the Sunni detested the Alawi for years though Sunni hostility was more public largely because Sunni are the majority sect in the region. It wasn't until the Iranian-born Lebanese cleric Moussa al-Sadr declared that the Alawi were "officially" Shia that they had any Islamic cover at all. With Sadr winning a powerful patron in Damascus, it was a strategic move - as are Syria's relations with Hezbollah and Sunni Islamists.

Posted by: Lee at September 1, 2007 06:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Primo mate, I did not say they are Twelvers, they claim theoretically to be offshoot of Twelvers.

Secundo: The Alawi are not exactly twelver Shia; it is not clear where the sect derives from exactly though there is plenty of evidence that they are closer to Christianity than Islam.

Really, eh? Plenty? Whatever.

Everybody detested the Alaoui regardless.

It wasn't until the Iranian-born Lebanese cleric Moussa al-Sadr declared that the Alawi were "officially" Shia that they had any Islamic cover at all. With Sadr winning a powerful patron in Damascus, it was a strategic move - as are Syria's relations with Hezbollah and Sunni Islamists.

That's bollocks, they've certainly had a highly off-and-on (like many bizarro Lebano-Syrian sects) history with Orthodoxy, but to claim old Sadr is their first cover is pure ahistorical bollocks.

Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 5, 2007 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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