April 29, 2004

On the Road

Limited to no blogging through Monday.

UPDATE: At an airport lounge in Heathrow (with a delayed flight) so a few quick thoughts on the Damascus attacks that I hadn't previously had time to blog before I get on a flight.

Here's today's NYT story on the attacks in Syria:

"Western and Arab analysts said they were puzzled over what could have been a motive for a terrorist attack on Syria, which fiercely opposed the American-led war in Iraq and has praised the violent insurgency there as legitimate resistance to an occupying force.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood clashed violently with the government in the past, but it has been quiescent since the early 1980's. The shooting appeared ill prepared, the analysts said, compared to recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

Quiescent since the early 1980's?

That's a good one.

Might the Times, in passing, have mentioned that wee bit little event back in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood was ruthlessly quashed in Syria with around 20,000 fatalities in Hama? (Indeed a phrase, "Hama Rules"--courtesy of Tom Friedman--entered the Middle East watchers' lexicon as a result of the crackdown--code for, basically, taking a, er, harsh line vis-a-vis domestic troublemakers).

Hafez Asad had then made the strategic decision to, once and for all, ensure secularism reigned in Syria rather than Sunni-led Islamism a la Muslim Brotherhood (Asad is from a minority religious sect, the Alawites, who aren't held in particularly high regard by many Sunnis in Syria--religious ones because they view Alawites as belonging to a somewhat unorthodox sect; more prosperous and/or secular Sunnis simply resentful Alawites run the country rather than Sunni elites).

So what happened in Damascus will be very worrisome to Bashar Asad.

Nothing ever happened in Syria, since 1982, without the secret police (the much feared mukhabarat) knowing about it.

Until a couple days ago, that is.

Now it could be an al-Qaeda operation, of course (good to know they might target former U.N. and Canadian installations these days too, huh? Guess said entities weren't part of the European peace proffer or such...)

But I think smart money is on restless Muslim Brotherhood types, smelling weakness in the Bashar fils regime, having mounted the operation.

He's got 135,000 U.S. soldiers to his east (with Rummy periodically making noises about Syrian troublemaking in Iraq). He's got Arik Sharon probably near assassinating Hamas figures in downtown Damascus. Needless to say, the Turkish-Syrian bilateral relationship isn't all roses.

Put differently, and with all the U.S. congressional Syrian sanctions bluster and such, it's not an easy time for boxed-in young Bashar.

And, when domestic malcontents (angered too by U.S. forces next door and probably wanting Asad to take a harder pro-Iraqi insurgent stance) smell weakness--they tend to start causing trouble.

Which makes it likely the final description in this time line of Muslim Brotherhood activity in Syria is now no longer accurate.

This is not the time either, btw, to hope for violent Kurdish rebellion in the north of Syria.

It's not currently in the U.S. national interest for Syria to start teetering out of control.

For avoidance of doubt--let's be more clear.

An emboldened Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is, very obviously, not in America's national interest.

Nor is Kurdish irredentism with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds moving towards a united Kurdistan across that border.

That will make the (already) edgy Turks--much, much edgier.

And the last thing we want right now is trouble in the third Iraq sector, right?

All this to say--perhaps it's time to tone down some of the Bashar-bashing a bit here and there.

Condoleeza Rice should make sure the Secretary of Defense is, er, on board.

Posted by Gregory at April 29, 2004 09:32 AM
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