Thursday, March 03, 2005

Interests & Friends

Nations have interests and people have friends.

Basheer Assad of Syria found out just how true that is today.

The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, coming on the heels of the rise of nascent democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Ukraine, and the Palestinian elections, has sparked Lebanese citizens to demand the end of Syrian occupation of their country.

Assad has been under steadily mounting pressure for years because of Syria's ongoing role as host to terrorist groups targeting Israel and others, and since 9/11 has been an unnamed member of the Axis of Evil. In the wake of the Hariri incident, even france has joined the chorus calling for Syria to withdraw. Assad is desperate to save face, even if only to delay removing his military, intelligence, and economic leeches. He appealed to the Saudis for support in generating some sort of pan Arab PR statement and came away worse than empty handed:

Assad said he would study the possibility of a partial withdrawal before an Arab summit scheduled March 23 in Algeria and said he is doing all he can to resolve the problem but that not everything is up to him, the official said.

The Saudis replied that the situation was his problem and warned that if Damascus refuses to comply, it would lead to tensions in Saudi-Syrian ties, the official told The Associated Press, speaking by phone from Riyadh.

Hariri was not only a scion of Lebanese politics and widely respected as being instrumental in the reconstruction of Beirut, he was also a Saudi citizen and enjoyed close relationships with the highest levels of Saudi government and society.

Here is where interests come in:

1. The people of Lebanon are tired of being exploited by Syria politically and economically. They have declared that the time has come for Syria to leave. They have not acted in the traditional manner of the region - armed factions executing assassinations, bombings, and civil war in search of power. The Muslim, the Orthodox, the Druse, the Christians - they have filled the streets of Beirut in peaceful but determined protest. The puppet government has fallen, and the popularly elected parliament is in process (with the United States, Russia, and france, among others, standing ready to support them) to conduct national elections within months.

The street demonstrations in Lebanon would have been impossible just four short years ago. In the old world where the stability of dictatorships trumped free nations' responsibility to support and foster democracy we would have heard nothing more than vague reports of "unrest" or "tension". We wouldn't have had to see bodies in the streets on our television screens to understand what the stories meant; rest assured, we wouldn't see them via CNN anyway. Back then that was how those countries did business and nobody from our world thought twice about it. Those days are gone.

In a further sign of impatience, the Saudis rejected a Syrian request that the upcoming summit officially ask Damascus to withdraw its forces, which would give any pullback an Arab endorsement, the official said.

Saudi Arabia gains nothing by continuing to prop up Assad. As dictators go, he's actually pretty low-rent. By that I mean he's more figurehead than godhead. His ascension was a dynastic convenience predicated on the common interests of the thugs his father had organized to control Syria. He doesn't so much control Syria as much as he maintains the fiction that somebody is actually in charge. That's an essential component of dictatorships. A public acknowledgement that power was there for the taking if one only knew who to get behind would just make the process of despotism complicated for all the thugs involved. The Saudis want to remain at the top of whatever political structure arises in the wake of the Bush Doctrine. They are actually numerous and well-connected enough within their own country to survive and even benefit from a gradual process of liberalization. Propping up Syria in the face of the tide of democracy sweeping the mideast makes no sense. The Sauds know full well that jihadis infiltrating Iraq could just as well be ordered to Saudi.

Yes, I do think the Sauds recognize that liberalization and democracy are unavoidable. No, I don't think anyone has a clue what form or cost the actual process will take.

None of this would be happening without the vision of this administration, or the burden we as a nation, and our coalition allies, have paid so far in blood and treasure to see it begin.

We cannot locate and put to the sword every terrorist in every shithole on the planet. That has always been a given. But we can work hard at directly confronting the worst of them AND apply pressure against the regimes that breed them, and provide support and hope to the peoples of the region that would live free. Hopefully somewhere down the road these complimentary efforts will merge to the point we can put away the sword completely.

I believe it is possible for the nations of the Muslim arc (and beyond) to embrace democracy. For historical context I point to the experiences of Germany and Japan, and the former Soviet republics and satellites. But even more apropos is the American Experience itself; we are the example that stands as the irrefutable proof that democracy can bring order out of chaos, and beyond mere order, wealth, security, and individual happiness on such a scale that we here tend to take our blessings for granted. Regardless of race, creed, or color, the system of constitutional democracy works.

E pluribus unum, indeed.

(Update: I've been playing with carriage return to see if I can reduce some of the voids associated with using the blogger posting window.)

No comments: