Politics & Policy

Take Syria At Its Word

Bashar al-Assad means what his state-run press says.

The [Bush] Administration has succeeded only in beefing up the military build-up in the Gulf and in demonstrating itself as the only flagrant and tyrant master superpower whose main pre-occupation is to dominate the world and tailor it according to America’s new strategic interests based on imposing total hegemony on the entire globe.

It goes without saying that the flagrant American military drive against Iraq has nothing to do with the UN Resolution [1441] nor with the results of the operations of the inspection teams as the war is premeditated irrespective of anything else. In case the war is launched, the US will certainly pay a heavy price and the grave repercussions will have no mercy on any party, including the Americans who will be among the first losers.

A seasoned Middle East insider might guess that the above statement came from one of Saddam Hussein’s mouthpieces, a bin Laden sycophant, or perhaps from the ever-erratic dictator of Libya, Muammar Khaddafi. But it came from the February 4th edition of the state-run Syria Times under the headline “Insane Officials and War Decision.” Under the last Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, this kind of thing would have been old hat, but his son and successor was supposed to be cultivating a different relationship with Washington and the West.

Indeed, when Bashar al-Assad was officially installed in power by his father’s cronies in July 2000 (following a spate internal bloodletting), he was hailed as the new face of Syria, a British-trained ophthalmologist who had an interest in the Internet and a desire to create a modern Syrian economy. It was generally believed that he would promulgate more moderate Syrian policies vis-à-vis Israel, at least reduce Syrian support for terrorist groups and would not trample on human rights at home. And, as an early reward for demonstrating his supposed good intentions Dr. Bashar received U.S. acquiescence when Syria assumed a rotating position on the U.N. Security Council in October 2001. (Nevertheless, even Bashar’s pledge to halt the illegal flow of Iraqi oil through its pipelines has not been fulfilled.)

A sideline member of the anti-Saddam coalition in 1991, Syria has an ugly habit of not living up to its promises. Syria maintains its state of war with Israel and calls for its destruction in word and deed. Ten terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have offices in Damascus and Syrian sponsorship of the Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah, has not wavered. Syria remains on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Freedom House has rated Syria as “not free” for over 20 years and Amnesty International’s 2002 report on Syria states in part: “Hundreds of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to be held, most following unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) and Field Military Courts. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be used against political prisoners, especially during incommunicado detention.”

On February 4th, the Jordan Times reported that “a member of the al Qaeda terror network identified by the Jordanian authorities as a suspect in the murder of a U.S. diplomat…is currently in Syria.” Jordanian national Muammar Ahmed Yousef is the deputy to the mastermind behind the murder of Laurence Foley in Amman last October. Yousef was determined to be in Damascus, the article reveals, based on an intercepted phone call that he made to an associate from that city. This report is consistent with earlier reports that al Qaeda terrorists who had fled Afghanistan were being ferried into Syrian-controlled Lebanon via Tehran and Damascus.

Too often dismissed as mere rhetoric, statements like those at the top of this article actually demonstrate the true nature of the Syrian regime. The fact that these views mirror those made by other state sponsors of terrorism such as Iraq, Iran, and Sudan should come as no surprise. Rogue regimes all borrow from the same playbook — they all support terrorism, suppress human rights, and aggress against other states. As America continues the war on terrorism, and girds itself for war in Iraq and a change of the Middle East’s political landscape, we should pay close attention to such statements and how they reflect on what else Syria, Iraq, and others have in common.

David Silverstein is the deputy director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


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