Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Sep 10 14:16:13 PDT 2004

This item is available on the Benador Associates website, at


by Amir Taheri
New York Post 
September 10, 2004

 September 10, 2004 -- ONE of the charges leveled against President Bush on
Iraq is that he circum vented the United Nations, ignored allies and acted
unilaterally. The theory is that an OK from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan and French President Jacques Chirac is the surest guarantee of success
for U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.

 That theory was put to the test earlier this month ‹ and proved to be not
only false but counter-productive, at least for the time being.

 Here is the story: French diplomats, anxious to offer an alternative to
Bushian "regime change," spent a good part of the summer in secret talks
with their U.S. counterparts in search of a common policy on Syria, one of
the oldest members of the club of "states sponsoring terrorism." By the end
of August, the talks had produced agreement on joint action to end Syria's
military presence in Lebanon.

 On Sept. 2 came something that had not happened in a while: France and the
United States jointly sponsored a Security Council resolution calling on
Syria to take its army out of Lebanon and allow the disarming of Lebanese
militias, including the Iranian-controlled Hezbollah.

 The resolution passed 9-0, with six abstentions, indicating unusual U.N.
consensus. French diplomats were in seventh heaven: They had proved they
could do through diplomacy what the "Cowboy" Bush insists on doing through

 But what happened next was less idyllic: Far from bowing to the "collective
will of the international community," Syria decided to ignore the
Bush-Chirac alliance and reacted by, in effect, abolishing the Lebanese

 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad summoned Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafiq
Hariri to Damascus, the Syrian capital. Hariri was left to cool his heels
for two hours before being admitted into Assad's presence for 15 minutes to
receive "instructions," including an order to have the Lebanese Constitution
amended to allow the six-year term of President Emil Lahoud, a Syrian
appointee, to be extended for three years.

Assad also summoned Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, and
instructed him to amend the Constitution and extend Lahoud's term in a
single session. The Syrian leader insisted that his orders be carried out
within 24 hours after the Chirac-Bush "triumph" at the Security Council.

 The point that the Lebanese state has effectively ceased to exist was
driven home when the so-called parliament in Beirut did as Assad had
ordered, by a vote of 96 to 29.

 To emphasize his disdain for the United Nations, Assad also ordered a
strengthening of Syria's military presence in Lebanon from 28,000 men to
almost 40,000 men before year's end.

 Syria's various secret services, some of which operate their own courts and
prisons in both Syria and Lebanon, have also been ordered to adopt a higher
profile in Beirut. And Iran has stepped up its arms shipments to the
Lebanese branch of Hezbollah, via Syria.

 All this is accompanied by a campaign in the state-owned media in Damascus
and the Syrian-controlled newspapers in Beirut against Franco-U.S.
"imperialist" intervention "to undermine Arab unity" by driving Assad's army
out of Lebanon. 

 Although Syria has been the de facto power in Lebanon for almost three
decades, no one had expected Assad to advertise it so dramatically and in
open defiance of the Chirac-Bush alliance. Assad's stance was more
surprising because he had failed to persuade such long-time allies as Russia
and China to veto the Franco-U.S. resolution.

 Why has Assad behaved as he has?

 The main reason is that Assad's Ba'athist dictatorship is one of those
regimes that respond only to the threat or the actual use of force. Their
strategy is based on the assumption that while sticks and stones can break
their bones, words shall harm them never!

 Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist dictatorship in Baghdad was another such regime.
It had learned from the experience of 13 years, in which it ignored 12
mandatory U.N. resolutions, that diplomacy could never threaten the only
thing that mattered to Saddam: his hold on power.

 If Saddam violated 12 resolutions over 13 years before he faced the threat
of war, Assad has 11 resolutions and 12 more years to go. Why pay any
attention to the Franco-American huffing and puffing this early in the game?

 A despotic regime can't afford to heed U.N. resolutions: It would end up
being asked to stop imprisoning, torturing and murdering its opponents, to
accept free elections ‹ in short, to commit political suicide. It would also
lose part of its aura of invincibility and its capacity to terrorize its

 Assad is banking on "the great good news" that his media promise: A Bush
loss in November. The Syrian media hope that "the Bush storm" will soon blow
over and that America will revert to its traditional policy of coddling the
despot of Damascus. After all, Bush is the only U.S. president since 1969
who has refused to meet the Syrian ruler. (Bill Clinton met Hafez al-Assad,
Bashar's father, twice and endorsed his occupation of Lebanon.)

 Another reason for Assad's defiance: The mullahs of Tehran, who prop up his
regime with money, arms and cheap oil, are determined not to allow
international diplomacy any meaningful role in the region. The mullahs fear
that the Franco-U.S. resolution on Lebanon could set a precedent and lead to
a resolution against Iran's nuclear-weapons program. The mullahs are also
determined to maintain the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah as their surrogate
army in what they see as a war against America and Israel.

 The Syrian riposte to the Franco-U.S. move has not been limited to
political maneuvers and propaganda. In close cooperation with Tehran, Syria
has called on its agents and allies in Iraq to step up their campaign of
terror in hopes of weakening Bush's position in the forthcoming U.S.

 "The fire in Iraq will spread," promises the newspaper Tishrin, an organ of
the Syrian Ba'ath. The Iranian media similarly make no secret of their hope
that a Bush defeat would lead to a quick U.S. retreat from the region.

 Well, here we have a textbook case of multilateral diplomacy as opposed to
Bushian "extremism."

 Syria has been courted for more than two years by France and other members
of the European Union and offered the widest range of goodies that "soft
power" can provide. President Assad has been feted half a dozen European
capitals and flattered as "a great leader."

 We also have a very nice resolution, number 1559, written in the politest
possible language. It is not demanding the moon. All it asks is for Syria to
take its army out of Lebanon, a U.N. founding member, and let the Lebanese
run their own lives, just as the people of East Timor have since the end of
the Indonesian occupation. The resolution does not call for any
investigation of the numerous alleged crimes committed by the Syrians in
Lebanon over the past 30 years, including the murder of two elected
presidents and the looting of the Lebanese treasury.

 In other words, "soft power" cannot get softer than this. Yet it is a safe
bet that Syria will not evacuate Lebanon unless it is either kicked out by
force or sees its own regime threatened with destruction as a result of
military action. 

 Almost a year ago, the European Union tried "soft power" to persuade Iran
not to build a nuclear arsenal, and failed. The "soft power" move towards
Syria is also heading for failure.

 Those who still believe that Saddam would have been persuaded to mend his
ways through an endless series of U.N. resolutions would do well to ponder
the Iranian and Syrian experiments. We have a beautiful resolution; we have
Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac in the driving seat; we are doing
multilateralism, and yet we are getting nowhere.

 Should we not wonder why?

 E-mail: amirtaheri at benadorassociates.com

This item is available on the Benador Associates website, at

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