04 June 2008

Syria, Friend or Foe?

One of the young men who guided me to this internet cafe asked me why my government hated Syria. I couldn't give him a good answer.

The U.S. lists Syria as a state sponsor of terror, because it supports Palestinian insurgency groups, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. That is, it has followed the U.S.'s Central American model. Of course Syria just might be pissed off that Israel has never returned the territory it captured in war. As an objective observer I say that's what they get for invading Israel, but as a pragmatist, those types of issues have to be dealt with. If we could broker an Israel-Syrian land deal, whereby Israel returns territory in exchange for Syrian recognition of Israel's right to exist, Syria might be less inclined to devote resources to Palestinian military groups.

It has also allowed weapons to flow into Iraq, to the detriment of U.S. forces. Of course given the U.S.'s belligerency to Syria, it may simply want to ensure that the U.S. doesn't get the idea that invasion for purposes of regime change in the Middle East is easy.

Finally, Syria is allegedly attempting to build nuclear weapons. Israel bombed an alleged nuclear facility last fall, with surprisingly little public criticism from Syria. Israel and the U.S.claim Syria is working on nuclear weapons, while Syria claims it is just trying to develop nuclear power. Syria is not one of the richer oil countries in the Middle East (it is not a member of OPEC), and nuclear power might be a good policy for them.

Still, let's take their claim skeptically. Why would Syria want nuclear weapons? Perhaps because Israel has them? Perhaps because, like the rest of the world, they've noticed that the U.S. doesn't fuck around as much with countries that have nukes? I think the liklihood of Syria nuking Israel is remote--they surely know how the U.S. would retaliate. But they want to be taken seriously as a sovereign country that doesn't need to kowtow to the U.S., and becoming nuclear capable seems to accomplish that.

The best solution? Better relations with them. We should lean on Israel to get them to make some concessions (while still continuing to support them, as a democratic country). It won't be all sweetness and light, and we're not all going to hold hands and sing Kumbayah, but it's the only way we can actually move forward toward more stability in the region.

The U.S. needs to stop shaking swords at Syria, and reach out for a handshake.


James K said...

I assume the cause of the mutual hostility is that Syria was on the wrong side of the Cold War, and current attitudes have just persisted from that.

This of course only supports your point about improving relations with them.

James Hanley said...

I think Israel is a more serious issue. And perhaps Lebanon (I think Syria may have provided support for the organization that bombed the U.S. military barracks there in the 1980s, causing Reagan to cut and run--oops, only Democrats do that, right?).

But, yes, the Cold War alignments played a role too--as is evident by the presence of Skodas and Ladas here, cars I had heard of, but never before seen in my life--and that is one more reason to let bygones be bygones and move forward.