Interviews, Syria

Joshua Landis and Nadim Shehadi on Syria

Two very smart friends — Josh Landis and Nadim Shehadi — had interesting things to say in the comment section of the last post. I hope neither of them mind me bringing those comments up to the main page so that other readers can weigh in. The exchange was touched off by an interview that Josh recently gave on Charlie Rose, where he argued that Syria could be descending into civil war.

Nadim’s response:

Josh is right that Syria could turn into a Lebanon and Iraq but it can also be in the positive sense: in that it could develop a democratic system of power sharing – possibly with a senate but we have to wait till you finish your project before we say that.

It may also be that the logical conclusion of Josh’s argument is that both Lebanon and Iraq need Baath party rule to have stability and this is because of their sectarian divisions and diversity and this is a more worrying conclusion.

Josh was also right in saying from the very beginning back in January 2011 that the revolts would never happen in Syria because the army would stand by the regime and would not hesitate to shoot at the demonstrators, which is in fact what happened.

Violence has always been part of the argument and we have seen this in all the revolts be it Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen or Syria. The message there is that any alternative to the regime is much worse that the regime or even too horrible to even contemplate changing the regime. The regime’s power relies on maintaining that illusion and on us not being able to see beyond them.

This is the idea of power that I see Josh trying to maintain in many of his statements on Syria and this has become a genre echoed by others. Nick Noe’s piece is almost a prototype of that argument that many others also make. The aim is to maintain the idea of power, by showing that the regime is indispensable, irreplaceable and that whatever lies beyond it is too horrible to contemplate.

Below is my take on the maintenance of this ‘idea’:

Egypt Crisis: Re-evaluating Risk in the Middle East (Chatham House – Monday 31 January 2011)

Syria: Violence as a Communications Strategy (EUISS – 16 August 2011)

The Syrian ‘opposition’does not have to prove itself (The Guardian,1 October 2011)


Joshua’s response:

Dear Nadim,

You write: “This is the idea of power that I see Josh trying to maintain in many of his statements on Syria and this has become a genre echoed by others.”

You are correct that I have since the beginning believed that there is “no soft landing” for the Assad regime and that it would fight the kind of war that it is now fighting. This is what I wrote in the first article I published about the uprising, and, in fact, in a book review of Nikolaos van Dam’s second edition of his book in the 1990s for the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, when I first used the phrase, “there is no soft landing for the Assad regime.” This is what I understood van Dam essentially argued in his book, which I concurred with at the time. Here is how I concluded the review:

Van Dam is not optimistic about the prospects for meaningful economic reform in Syria or the possibility of a Velvet Revolution in the future. He points out the Asad’s anti-corruption campaigns have been ineffectual because the President refuses to discipline his security chiefs, many of whom are the worst offenders. He doubts that the country can make a peaceful transition to a post-Asad government, because Asad has allowed his regime to become ossified. No purges have been carried out and few top personnel have been changed in the last 25 years. Consequently, no new generation has been groomed for power or schooled in the art of government. Only the President’s son, Bashar, seems to be in line to inherit authority from his father. Other members of Asad’s inner circle have likewise been grooming their sons to succeed them. He notes that the Sunni majority has not given up its “negative attitude towards Alawi religion and Alawis in general,” and adds that he finds it “very difficult to imagine a scenario in which the present narrowly based, totalitarian regime… can be peacefully transformed into a more widely based democracy.

The key to Asad’s success has been his ability to rule through his metaphorical village. Whether the dynastic principle that Asad and his men have been pushing will catch on in Syria is an open question. Van Dam gives us little reason to believe that Syria is developing either the political institutions or broader national identity that may someday replace the parochial loyalties and narrow prejudices which now define politics in Syria.

My bleak view of the situation in Syria has guided my analysis from the beginning. I suspect the war that is now beginning to grip Syria will last some years before it is over. So far, I believe my pessimistic view has unfortunately been justified.

Many have suggested that my analysis is motivated by some “idea of power” that I am trying to promote or belief in the regime’s goodness. I would argue the opposite. It is because of my understanding of the regime’s use of patrimonial loyalties that I have been frightened of the outcome. Others have suggested that my marriage to an Alawi (which was well after I wrote the book review quoted above) changed or guided my views. I would suggest that my ideas were well established before falling in love with Manar and that my subsequent intimate knowledge of the Alawi community only confirmed by belief that Syria’s sectarian problems were deep and not easily finessed. Of course living in Lebanon for years during the civil war as Christian and Muslim killed each other laid the foundation for my understanding of identity politics in the Levant. I was living in Damascus during the Hama uprising and brutal suppression of the revolt, which also colored my views.

At this point, there is no going back for the opposition and I do not believe that the regime can right itself, as I explained in my – “The Regime is Doomed” — article.

I have tried to explain from the beginning how I believed events will unfold. If they are scary, it is because I think they are scary and will be scary and unhappy for some time to come. You are right to point out that I misjudged Syrians when I argued that I thought the Arab Spring would not blossom or take root in Syria. I can only hope that in the end things will work out for the best. Syria needs a new form of government. You note that my faith is weak, and in that, I confess, without pride or smugness, you are correct.
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146 thoughts on “Joshua Landis and Nadim Shehadi on Syria

  1. Regarding the comment that “the regime is indispensable, irreplaceable and that whatever lies beyond it is too horrible to contemplate”, the bottom line is that I’m willing to take my chances. I highly doubt that any new syrian regime will be as detrimental to Lebanon as Bashar and his clique of bandits.

    As for Joshua Landis, he comes from a twisted, convoluted and disguised background, not worth of an academic appointee whose aim is to analyze facts with an unbiased and objective outlook. He is primarily aimed at preserving via tribulations, speculations and all sorts of machinations, the syrian regime. In fact, the history of Joshua over the years supporting the despot syrian regime speaks more for itself than his success at predicting an outcome that is written on the wall.

    Posted by Fred | February 11, 2012, 2:28 am
  2. The argument that the region needs Baathist/tyrannical rule because of sectarian problems is beyond laughable, but unfortunately held by many in the area (academics and average shmoes).

    It needs to be destroyed once and for all and the intellectuals and academics have, once again, been nowhere in sight, if not on the wrong side.

    What is the logical conclusion of that argument: 50 years of Baath crap is apparently not enough to do the job, with all the human cost involved? What do we need? Another 300 years of that garbage? Who believes that? Still too many people.

    As to Landis, I am not sure and don’t care, where he is on these issues or what the hell he is saying. To my ears, he is is either saying stuff that is so hedged to be meaningless, or he’s making the “it’s so unfortunate but we need the Baath a while longer…” argument with all the veneer on top, which brings us back to the abject failure of the intellectual class at large….

    Yes and Noe’s last piece was another delusional, I could not believe it, “let’s give Assad another chance” crap.

    Posted by OldHand | February 11, 2012, 3:04 am
  3. Frankly, this discourse is becoming a bit stale and we need to move on. To say that there can be no “soft landing” in Syria is to say my name is Amal. And the notion that Syria might turn out well and very soon is a dash more than “positive thinking.”

    Still, civil wars in the region become protracted when a combination of powers, each for its reason, invests in the mayhem. Witness Iraq in 2003, Lebanon in 1976. The interesting thing about Syria is that there is every evidence that regional and international forces are not the least bit interested in a protracted struggle. Each power, for its own reason, wants to win Syria soon and intact.

    Risky, yes, but civil wars need a regional and/or International dynamic to spin out of control. I have yet to see a compelling argument on this critical point.

    Posted by Amal | February 11, 2012, 4:35 am
  4. It’s about time sane voices are heard and the “Landisian” brobaganda stops. All’s we need is a resurfacing of Alex. Landis keeps on repeating the same old tired crap we have been unfortunately have to put up with all our lives! The above commentators (1-3) in their own way articulate what I have been repeating constantly..That all the BS and twisted logic of a “quagmire” in Iraq or other convoluted crazy fictional disastrous scenario awaiting the ME (if the dictator is destroyed) is pure fiction…

    Change is here and in order to avoid the so called bloody scenarios put forward by a few; a strong and clear message has to be delivered by the rest of the world. It can only be done militarily and decisively. DESTROY the remnants of this terrorist regime at the same time working with SNC/Coordination committees to pry the minorities away from this butcher! I am certain that once the Syrian opposition coalesces around democratic principles as how they envision their country; all these delusional scenarios will be abating.

    Posted by danny | February 11, 2012, 7:56 am
  5. A digression; yet so similar to what an apologist with bloody hands with spew out…Sheer nonsense with a smile!

    Here’s a mofioso’s mentality. “People will make their own choices” (off course with a gun held to their heads and a bomb in their seats)….Now people know what it is like to live with terror in your daily lives.

    Raad says Syria “being punished” for supporting Resistance

    To read more:
    Only 25% of a given NOW Lebanon article can be republished. For information on republishing rights from NOW Lebanon:

    Posted by danny | February 11, 2012, 8:06 am
  6. What’s with the nasty tone? Such as Danny writing:

    It’s about time sane voices are heard and the “Landisian” brobaganda stops.

    You think the problem is that Joshua Landis has warned of sectarian violence? The problem is that there IS sectarian violence. I don’t necessarily share all of Landis’s positions, and I do think he’s been apologetic of the regime at times (mostly it’s regional policy though). But since March 2011 he’s basically been on the mark all the time, while mainstream reporting started off completely delusional (getting better, slowly).

    This has nothing to do with sucking up to the Syrian regime. I completely sympathize with the revolution’s aims, and would love nothing more than to see this gang of thugs go, but downplaying the extreme risks that Syria faces right now would be criminal.

    Amal’s point is very constructive, on the other hand. Being cynical about Syria’s chances is no excuse for not planning ahead, quite the contrary.
    But I have a problem with this paragraph:

    The interesting thing about Syria is that there is every evidence that regional and international forces are not the least bit interested in a protracted struggle. Each power, for its own reason, wants to win Syria soon and intact.

    There are a few powers, most prominently the regime itself, which are willing and capable to break Syria rather than surrender their core interests. It doesn’t necessarily matter if all the rest agree to keep the country functional, when the key player is determined to go all in.

    Also, there are dynamics in this conflict which aren’t controllable by anyone. What outside power really wanted a civil war, at least one of that magnitude, in Iraq? No one. And still it happened.

    That said, I still think it’s correct to focus on the stage beyond the upcoming violence. Civil war, yeah. But what kind, towards what outcome, and how to effectively do damage control?

    Posted by aron | February 11, 2012, 11:56 am
  7. Since March 2011 Landis’ tone has become objective. And in fact this has cost him the friendship of Imad Mustapha as Landis himself recounts.

    Looking back though, I wonder if Landis is rethinking a few assumptions he held prior to the uprising:

    1) Given enough time, Assad would have democratized Syria. Landis held this view but also reported how the elites in Syria are against democracy especially because of the issue of minority rights.

    2) Assad’s foreign policy was successful. The current state of Syria is a direct result of Assad’s foreign policy and his inability to understand that foreign relations and domestic economic development are strongly related. You cannot have both growth and “resistance”. Assad thought he could make enemies of the Gulf Arabs and the West while partnering with Iran AND achieve significant economic growth. Isn’t it obvious that if you alienate your major sources of capital and technology, and your potential export markets, you are not going to get growth?

    3) The Golan is an important issue and will influence how things turn out in Syria. Syria Comment dealt with the Golan as if it was one of the major issues before Syria. It turned out to be a mere distraction. Syrians care much more about jobs and dignity than they care about the Golan. The issue has been barely mentioned in the last year.

    4) The stability of the region is compromised because Syria is so weak relative to Israel. Again, this turns out to be a very minor issue. What is important is the relative strengths of sects and classes inside Syria. The standing relative to Israel has no influence on what is going on now.

    5) Assad was wise to use terror groups to achieve his goals. Landis used to argue that because of its weakness, Syria was smart in supporting terror against Iraqis and Americans in Iraq and supporting organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. These decisions will haunt Syrians for many years to come and they will pay a heavy price for Assad’s cynicism.

    6) The Arabs will always hate Israel more than they demand to be treated fairly by their leaders. The prevailing attitude at SC was that standing against Israel will make Assad immune to all unwanted change.

    Posted by AIG | February 11, 2012, 12:35 pm
  8. Lebanon, Iraq and Syria were created when the “Sick man of Europe” became fatally ill. In the case of both Lebanon and Iraq , each was left in the “custody” of a supremacist religious group that lacked the foresight of seeing that their actions were designed to lead to dissatisfaction and conflict. Syria has had the same problem for the past 40 years or so when the Assads took control of the country and decided to rule it as a fiefdom instead of cultivating a sense of democracy and social justice.
    Tensions and friction between two ideas/beliefs will always resolve themselves through a revolution of sorts.
    One thing is certain , the tension will evreytime create a synthesis that is nothing short of a radical transformation of what existed before it. This has always been the case and always will. Syria is not an exception. The only question is how painful the transformation process is going to be. Another certainty is that it is the oppressor who is more in control of how peaceful or bloody the transformation process is going to be since it is the exploiter and the tyrant that is being replaced. Unfortunately , in the case of Syria, the established oligarchy appears to be willing to fight to the death since it has no place to go.
    It was clear that the Lebanese Maronite will have to ultimately accept a smaller role in running the Lebanese affairs and so did the Iraqi Sunnis. Syria will also revert to being ruled, more democratically ,but essentially by a Sunni leadership.
    What is unfortunate in each of the above three cases is that the only totally fair and democratic solution is the one that all of them have avoided thus far: secularism. Would we ever learn to define our selves without an overarching religious dimension? I sure hope so.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 11, 2012, 1:10 pm
  9. @ AIG #7

    Spoken like a long-time observer and denizen of Syria Comment. 🙂

    If Josh were running for office, his opponents would pay you big bucks to be a source of opposition research on him.

    But I’m glad you accept that his record on Syria this year has been very straight. I believe that his positions in the press have been very sober and not at all regime friendly (without fawning on the SNC either)

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 11, 2012, 1:25 pm
  10. Since March 2011 Landis’ tone has become objective.


    You outline of the Landis Myths is spot on. However, you and the rest of the media are really being too nice to this so-called professor.

    If he had one iota of venom for the Assad mafia as did for Israel, I wouldn’t complain.

    He allows the worst thugs and anti-semites to plaster his website, yet you should know: you were one of the few SC actually banned because you had the “Chutzpah” to call a spade a spade without the usual SC personal attacks.

    He owes an apology to academia, Syrians, and Israelis.

    Charlie Rose can have this flunky.

    Syria Comment dealt with the Golan as if it was one of the major issues before Syria. It turned out to be a mere distraction.

    The whole arab awakening is presenting a boat-load of taboos and myths.

    All I kept hearing in the news for the past decade (the BBC, SC, etc) was that “Israel is the greatest threat to the region”.

    Yeah right. Assad has not only lost Syria, he just put the arabs back politically a full generation.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 11, 2012, 1:50 pm
  11. AP,

    Yes, some of the comments on SC are appalling, but since the uprising, there is at least a two sided Syrian dialog and not a one sided one.

    Landis is currently saying the Assad regime is doomed. He hasn’t opined about Israel or the “peace process” in a very long time. I take that as an “apology”.

    If there is anybody he needs to apologize to it is the Lebanese. He defended consistently the Syrian aggressive meddling in Lebanon.

    Posted by AIG | February 11, 2012, 3:42 pm
  12. Assad’s Professor Got it Wrong Again NewZ


    Here’s what the schmok said on May 14, 2010:

    “US-Syrian relations have been deteriorating for some months now, and Syria is losing hope in any peace deal, and that means that there’s gong to be conflict between Syria and Israel,” says Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma. “Syria’s strategy is going to be to try to isolate the US in the Middle East, and to hang Israel around America’s neck.”

    The liberal media should spend the time to investigate these supposed “know-it-alls”…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 11, 2012, 4:02 pm
  13. The record player is spinning and playing the same tunes, over and over again.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 11, 2012, 4:53 pm
  14. QN #9:

    I would’t cut Landis any slack. I know you think of him as a scholar, but my issue with him is that I wouldn’t trust him, especially by swaying his opinions back and forth. There is a certain parallel that I can’t shake between his toggling of positions and those political maneuvers held repeatedly by the current syrian regime.

    Posted by Fred | February 11, 2012, 8:56 pm
  15. The only way for Syria out of this crises is for the Syrian government to be forced into a reform that will protect the minorities , at the same time have a free and supervised elections, The American system is my Fave, at the same time, give the Syrian army what the American army had of free hand in Iraq to stop that civil war and what the Syrian army had to do in Lebanon to stop that civil war, The Syrian army can do it., It just need international cover.enough is enough, the opposition that want a new system in Syria has won, the question is can they see that, so far i do not believe so.

    Posted by Norman | February 11, 2012, 10:43 pm
  16. Ammo Norman “Are you coming back from the dark side”? I will do the dabke if you have! I will do a strip and put it on youtube when Alex does!

    Posted by Enlightened | February 12, 2012, 1:24 am
  17. The State Department Lies With Its Satellite Pictures Of Syria – No Artillery “Deployed”

    There is A note from Ambassador Ford on recent events in Syria which shows a satellite picture of Homs, Syria, titled “Security Operations Escalate in Homs” and “Bab Amr Neighborhood”. The picture was allegedly taken on February 6, 2012 though the copyright mark says “© 2011 Digital Globe”.

    A deeper look at the ambassador picture reveals that it does not show what its labels say. In fact the picture shows only ambiguous stuff from the very border edge of Bab Amr not from within the city.

    There are additionally satellite pictures at the State Department’s website allegedly showing “operational deployment” of Syrian artillery.

    Analysis of the State Departments satellite pictures clearly shows that these pictures of artillery guns “operational deployed against XYZ” were all taken of guns training within military barracks or well known training areas and not in active deployment.

    There is so far no proof that any artillery has been deployed at all though it is known that mortars have been used by the rebel side. The State Department obviously knows what the pictures really show but is trying to use the lie of artillery deployment against the rebels as a pressure argument for military intervention.


    Posted by b | February 12, 2012, 2:38 am
  18. 1) Foreign affairs are rarely driven by ethical positions and ANY external intervention in Syria will be construed as an intervention in internal affairs ( as both China and Russia have been arguing).

    2) Lebanese- centered positions will be tainted by a history of Syrian interventionism in Lebanese affairs and Saudi and Arab positions are geopolitically driven. U.S. interventionism would also be related to interests in economic and world- order theories, not just freedom and democracy ideology.
    3) the only solution is to allow for.Syrian events to unfold, and since military support of the opposition is undergoing covertly, wait and see the outcome of the current rebellion. Keep in mind that internal politics of the Hawthorne regime have always been populist and protective of minorities (except.for independentist Kurdish factions), thus the support for the.regime considering that the alternative is feared to be more ideologically Islamist, with minor pockets of liberals). The main discontent has been with limited economic growth and slow implementation of promised liberalizing and pluralistic politics, it seems.

    Syria is neither Lybia nor any country shaken by the Arab Spring. Its history and geopolitical position makes it unique and that is why the US won’t intervene and will allow for the illicit interventions of Turkey, KSA, Qatar, etc. To bear fruit, while hoping that Russia and China will eventually change their positions on the.regime– if internal affairs turn worse and the militaristic challenges to the regime become an inevitable force (which is not the case, yet).

    The civil strife currently brewing may well turn into a prolonged civil war if the religious or.sectarian differences start driving ALL interactions, but that is not the case yet. There is still a “legitimacy” accorded by many pockets of citizens to the Assad regime. Of that legitimacy starts waning, as it is, and reaches levels.of popular discontent across ALL societal divisions, then the regime will implode without any direct intervention. But until then, the US and the UN will not support direct intervention; Israel prefers dealing with the enemy it knows than with one that it does not.

    Academics and journalists can only report and analyze the material reality of a social fabric; Landowner is trying to be objective in studying the social fabric, and only punditry can ignore the various political interests at play and justify massive intervention in an internal struggle for power.

    We need to give it time and see what will happen, even though we may be inclined, due to our ethical stances or other predispositions to support change in government.

    Posted by Parrhesia | February 12, 2012, 5:29 am
  19. Correction.

    LANDIS and not Landowner.

    Not the Hawthorne but BAATH regime.

    Posted by Parrhesia | February 12, 2012, 5:34 am
  20. Enlightened…

    I sure hope that there are more 3ammo Normans than there are Alex’s in Syria.
    I just have a feeling that most of Damascus and Alleppo will fold as soon as they see the end of the Baath regime as a clear certainty. I think reaching this silent majority is key, Im not sure how the Syrian population would react to direct U.S. intervention hence my unabashed rejection of U.S/Western military involvement.
    The SNC/opposition need to make promises now…as if we have begun the post-Assad phase elections…delivering a realistic set of goals[ a quasi constitution] so the future looks more tangible and the silent majority have something to look forward to instead of harboring the fear of the unknown. Also, they must involve the minorities more. Reaching out to prominent minority figures.
    The revolution can be won without the Western powers’ intervention.

    Posted by maverick | February 12, 2012, 7:26 am
  21. B,

    That’s impressive work you’ve done. I posted the link on the US Embassy in Damascus’s Facebook page to see if anyone bothers responding.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 12, 2012, 12:54 pm
  22. @Qifa Nabki – thanks!

    If twittered the link to USembassaySyria – no response so far 🙂

    Posted by b | February 12, 2012, 1:27 pm
  23. Sent it to Angry Arab as well. Imagine he’ll post.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 12, 2012, 1:55 pm
  24. They took my note down off the Facebook page.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 12, 2012, 1:57 pm
  25. Dear Another Israeli Guy (AIG),

    Your discussion of my work is filled with falsehoods. Like most of my other critics, you seem unable to address what I actually wrote. So you invent a straw man version of my arguments — in some cases accusing me of believing the exact opposite of what I actually said — and proceed to lambaste it instead.

    Let’s take the first assertion. You write “Landis held the view… that given enough time, Assad would have democratized Syria.”

    Nowhere have I argued this. I have never believed that Assad would democratize Syria. In fact I argue the exact opposite. You refusal to believe what I actually write is evident by the fact that my quotes from my own writing in 1997 n this very post make it clear that there is no “velvet” transition to a post Assad regime or any preparation for democracy. I call Van Dam’s book one of the three most important on Syria because he so successfully describes the deeply sectarian nature of power in Syria under the Assads.

    See this article written in 2005, entitled: “Alawi-Ismaili Confrontation in Qadmous – What does it Mean?”

    In the article I describe the terrible sectarian fighting that broke out in the high Alawi Mountains in 2005 between two Shiite communities. I conclude by explaining how the regime has hollowed out all forms of civil society or alternative authority in Syria and actively destroying chances of a transformation to democracy. Here are my last two paragraphs but read the entire article.

    “Few people express open devotion to the Baath Party. Most no longer believe that it is helping them to modernize as it once did. On the contrary, they complain that the regime’s efforts to dismantle and wipe away all traditional forms of authority have deprived them of any shield against the darker passions of sectarian and ethnic hatred that still simmer below the surface of village life.

    As one local resident said to me, “What happened in Qadmous, could happen anywhere in Syria. If the state were lifted off this society, who knows what would happen to our country? Maybe we would become Iraq?” Ironically, the absence of civil society has created an ever greater need for state authority. Even as people criticize the corruption of local officials, they insist on ever more vigilant state intervention. The absence of alternative sources of authority and leadership in Syria means that the authoritarian state is needed more than ever. What would be the alternative? Qadmous? Iraq?”

    In the last lines, I paraphrase Syrians from the Qadmus region whom I had interviewed. When I asked what the solution to inter-communal violence was they threw up their hands and said the state had to supply more security. I point out the “ironic” vicious circle of authoritarianism that the Baath regime has established. Far from arguing that “Assad was leading democratization in Syria,” as AIG falsely asserts, I argue the exact opposite; he is leading Syria away from a democratic transition and into the sectarian nightmare that it is now experiencing. No where do I argue that “Assad would have democratized Syria,” because I was arguing the exact opposite.

    I was quick to explain that the Syrian Revolt broke out because o
    f the “deeply sectarian” nature of the regime , as I did in this Economist piece, entitled, appropriately – “Deeply Sectarian”

    I have been very consistent during 15 years of analysis in arguing that the Assad regime is incapable of transitioning to democracy.

    2. Another Israeli Guy argues that I have argued that “Assad’s foreign policy was successful.” This is just as untrue as my argument that Assad was leading Syria toward democracy. AIG constructs these straw men in order to fight against them, rather than what I actually argue.
    I have always believed that Assad will not get back the Golan. This is the first priority of Syrian foreign policy and the measure of its success. It is the one cause that most Syrians have agreed on. Most of my Syria friends believed that Syria would get back the Golan some day. I never did because I understood Syria to be too weak and economically backward and Israel too strong.

    In my article: “Will Syria Give up the Golan as it Gave up Alexandretta?” I write that “Syria’s attempts to change the balance of power in its favor have not been successful.” How much clearer can one be? And yet, AIG claims I have argued that Assad’s foreign policy has been a success. Here is a fuller quote from the article. It in no way suggests that Syrian foreign policy is successful or was likely to be.

    “I cannot say that I am optimistic about the immediate prospects of the Arabs sorting out their difficulties in time to retrieve the Golan. “

    “Syria has no immediate answer to this Israeli-American strategy. Syria’s attempts to change the military balance of power in its favor have not been successful. Israel and the US have thwarted them, i.e. Israel’s bombing of Syria’s “nuclear” facility, Western pressure on Russia, Iran, and N. Korea not to supplied advanced weapons to Syria while tricking out Israel with its most advanced weapons. One can also point to the West’s policy of maintaining Israel’s crushing military advantage over its Arab adversaries as proof that Western governments favor Israel’s permanent acquisition of occupied lands. Some of these politics are: protection of Israel’s nuclear advantage, proscription of anti-Israeli resistance as terror, support for Israel’s bombing of Lebanon and Gaza as an appropriate response to resistance from Arabs, Israel’s success in getting Egypt and Saudi to turn against Arab resistance, and pressure on Iran to abandon its anti-Israel stand. The terrible drought now devastating swaths of Syria’s Eastern provinces only underscores Syria’s weakness.”

    All the other claims that AIG tries to put in my mouth are as preposterous as the two I have already written about. The only one I am guilty of is that I have claimed that Syrians care about the Golan, at least most do. He is correct to argue that it has not been a major part of the opposition’s platform. But I suggest it will surface again.

    When Ghalioun suggested shortly before the Libya opposition summit in December that Syria would not pursue the Golan issue by military means, he was attacked viciously by leaders within his own party. He has not mentioned it since. The day that the Assad regime is overturned and a new government begins to be formed. Syrians will want to know what plans the government will have to regain the Golan and protect Syrian rights according to international law. I do, however, argue in my article that after 70 years or so from the capture of the Golan, Syrians will begin to give up the cause as they did with Alexandretta, although, many point out that the Golan is a thornier issue than Alexandretta was, and will be forgotten less quickly. This may be true.

    It has been common practice by detractors to impute all sorts of wild opinions and arguments to me that I have never espoused and which are often the direct opposite of my actual beliefs and arguments. I usually ignore them, assuming that most people who care will recognize them as smear tactics and outlandish. But occasionally, one must point out their silliness because that is what they are.

    Posted by joshlandis | February 12, 2012, 4:03 pm
  26. Prof. Landis,

    I wrote my impressions from years of reading SC. Perhaps I am mistaken and some of the views should be attributed to Otrakji or other people who wrote posts for you blog. The blog is yours so perhaps you should have been clearer that you do not support these views. I will search the archives and try to find corroboration for what I wrote.

    Let’s start with point 4: The stability of the region is compromised because Syria is so weak relative to Israel.
    I think you clearly endorse this point in the following post:
    In it you write:
    “If the US is serious about wanting peace between Israel and Syria, it will have to allow Syria to improve its military. The terrible imbalance in power that exists today between Syria and Israel is an impediment to peace.”

    I think it is clear that strengthening the Assad regime would have made it even more difficult to dislodge it, yet that is what you recommend.

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 4:30 pm
  27. Prof. Landis,

    Moving now to point 5:
    5) Assad was wise to use terror groups to achieve his goals.

    Do you not endorse this view in the following post:

    In it you write:
    “The Syrian effort to beef up Hizbullah and to broaden its alliances with Iran makes sense within the context of its pursuit of peace with Israel. Only by counterbalancing Israel can it to hope for peace.”

    “The main proof that Syria’s strategy is smart, if not a success, is Hillary Clinton’s speech at AIPAC.”

    You also write:
    “Syria cannot changes its posture toward Israel until Israel relinquishes the Golan. Assad has said this a number of times. He will only discuss altering his relations with Hizbullah and Hamas once the Golan is returned and not before. To do otherwise makes no sense.”

    Try as I might, I cannot interpret this post of yours in a way that contradicts the fact that you think Assad was wise to support terror groups.

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 4:46 pm
  28. Prof. Landis,

    Moving to point 2:
    Assad’s foreign policy was successful.

    It is true that regarding the Golan you do not view Assad’s foreign policy as successful and I stand corrected. However, you do find other aspects of Assad’s foreign policy as successful. For example take the following post of yours:

    In it you write:
    “4. Does Syria want to play an influential role in regional politics?

    Yes, Syria insists it is an important regional actor that cannot be isolated or ignored. In particular it has opposed US attempts to ignore its interests. Syria has largely won this argument over the last few decades. When the US invaded Iraq, ignoring Syrian interests, Damascus opened its border to mujahedin and foreign fighters, which cost America dearly.

    Syria is the most influential foreign actor in Lebanese affairs. It has kept Lebanon within its sphere of influence despite repeated Israeli and US attempts to wrest it away. When Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in 1982 in order to destroy the PLO and bring Beirut into its own sphere of influence, Syria helped build up Hizbullah and other militias, which eventually pushed out the Israelis. Today, Hizbullah is a major power in Lebanon and remains close to Syria, much to America’s displeasure.

    George W Bush tried to wrest Lebanon away from Syria and bring it into America’s camp in 2004, but largely failed. Syria has provided refuge for Hamas’ leader in Damascus despite repeated attempts by Israel and the US to force it to expel him. This past month, Turkey and Syria announced that they are forming a free trade zone, which will include Jordan and Lebanon.”

    Does the above not imply that you see some of Assad’s foreign policy as a success? I think you are just mistaken on this assumption. The whole direction that Assad took regarding foreign affairs is what led to his current predicament.

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 4:56 pm
  29. Prof. Landis,

    Continuing with point 2:
    Assad’s foreign policy was successful.

    Here is a post explicitly pronounces Assad’s policies as a success:

    You begin the post with the following:
    “Syria’s position in the Middle East continues to strengthen as Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the US seek to engage it in an effort to win Syrian support for their policies in Iraq and the region as a whole. Despite Assad’s recent summit with Ahmadinejad, during which he stated that Syria would not distance itself from Iran, Western leaders continue to believe that strengthening ties with Syria is a good thing. Saudi Arabia is discussing extending development loans to Syria. Europe’s top diplomat arrived in Damascus late Monday as part of a regional tour to win more clout on the world’s diplomatic stage and to encourage Syria to sign the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement. The US military remains keen on developing security agreements with Syria.”

    I think that this is one post where your analysis based on your assumptions was dead wrong. You kept seeing Assad’s foreign policy as partially successful when in fact it was a total disaster. Assad was trying to punch much above his weight and created two key resentful enemies: The US and KSA.

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 5:07 pm
  30. Prof. Landis,

    Moving to point 1:
    Given enough time, Assad would have democratized Syria.

    You probably changed your views on this, but in 2004 you did write:
    “Rather than treat Asad as a pariah, President Bush should help him carry out his liberal reform program, find an accommodation with Israel, and seek his support in a region that needs the stability and religious tolerance he has brought his people.”

    The full post:

    Isn’t a belief in the fact that Assad will liberalize Syria very similar to the notion that he will democratize Syria?

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 5:25 pm
  31. AIG – “Isn’t a belief in the fact that Assad will liberalize Syria very similar to the notion that he will democratize Syria?”

    No, that’s why they are two different words.

    Democratize: “Introduce a democratic system or democratic principles…”
    Liberalize: “Remove or loosen restrictions on (something, typically an economic or political system).”

    Bashar HAS liberalized Syria, both economically and politically, to an extent. For example, he has allowed greater economic freedoms, pursued market reforms, privatized banks etc, on the economic side. On the political side, he has allowed for the creation of private (but not independent) media, decreased censorship of books and foreign media, accepted a somewhat wider margin of tolerance for dissidence, ended some of the worst abuses, lowered the number of political prisoners from tens of thousands or thousands to hundreds or tens, stopped executing political prisoners (the odd extrajudicial murder aside), shut down Mezze and Tadmor, and softened the police state.

    Obviously this has been a lot less than required, but you can’t seriously argue that there wasn’t a noticeable difference between Syria in 2000 and Syria in 2010 (2011 is another ballgame). So yes, Bashar has liberalized the Syrian system, to a degree, even while remaining a dictator. I suspect he did so mostly because he saw a controlled process of liberalization and reform as the best way to preserve the regime, but nonetheless.

    At the same time, Bashar has not taken a single step towards democratizing Syria, in the sense of surrendering power or allowing majority rule, competitive elections, legal opposition and elected leaders. And I don’t think he ever intended to.

    Posted by aron | February 12, 2012, 6:18 pm
  32. Aron,

    The world liberalism holds several meanings:

    Notice this definition:
    c : a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class)

    This definition is quite close to “democratization”. So perhaps Landis can argue that he meant liberalism in the strict economic sense, but that is not how most people interpret the word in the context of his article. Anyone reading what he wrote would have believed that it applies to what is called the “Damascus Spring” which was sold as democratization.

    Posted by AIG | February 12, 2012, 6:35 pm
  33. Yeah, and I also think that particular post was inappropriately fawning and optimistic, not a realistic description of the regime. Perhaps closer to the mark than the scaremongering put out by the Bush White House which it reacted to, but still quite a bit below Landis’s normal output. It read like an op-ed, not analysis. Even so, the fact of the matter is I’ve never seen Landis claim that Assad is a democrat or has had any intention to make Syria a real democracy, so that simply seems like a strawman argument.

    My own belief is that Bashar was trying (rather optimistically) to transform Syria in the long term into something resembling Putin’s Russia – he wanted to make the system economically viable and decrease political tensions, while keeping his gang in power. So not a liberal at all, but certainly a liberalizer, at least before all this started and he went into survival mode.

    Posted by aron | February 12, 2012, 7:42 pm
  34. I have been very consistent during 15 years of analysis in arguing that the Assad regime is incapable of transitioning to democracy.

    Professor Josh,

    You should be ashamed of yourself. You have supported and excused this despot from “Time Immemorial”. The statement I quoted in post #12 above as well as the many quotes AIG found are just the tip of the iceberg.

    You could have made it clear that Syrians deserves basic human rights. You could have exhibited a little venom for Assad clan, but you saved it all for your arch enemy Israel.

    Go back to school and learn how to support democracies instead of thugs.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 12, 2012, 8:29 pm
  35. Greetings all from Tokyo, not sure which way the jetlag works but it does feel weird.

    • I don’t think anybody would survive unscathed if we were to bring out all their statements about Syria of 2011 and before. In fact Josh would probably come out scoring better than most.
    • Instead of picking at faults let’s identify the faultline: it runs through much of the Middle East passing by Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and even divides Europe and the US as well as the UNSC.
    • The Assad regime gained importance by placing itself at the epicentre and thrived on creating problems and blocking their resolution. It is management by crises rather than crisis management. The game is over when this is understood and the decisive battle is one of the mind – once the game is exposed then we realise that we are better off without it.
    • This manner of conducting business is a political culture that is disappearing from the region with the demise of Saddam, Qaddafi, Mubarak, Saleh, Arafat and very soon Assad and who knows what’s in store for Saudi Arabia. (Elias Muhanna falls into that category.)
    • This is why I find much ‘hope’ in Amal’s last sentence in #3 which is really the key: we are no longer in the 70s to have another Lebanon and Iraq will get better.
    • The argument that the people of the region do not form ‘nation states’ and are thus doomed to either dictatorship or civil war because it is all the west’s fault is so 20th century. We are also witnessing a global crisis in the role of the state .
    • The Syrian regime and its supporters play this mind game based on the ghosts of conflicts past. The sectarian card is the most potent and ‘a thousand Afghanistans’ is not an academic observation, it is a threat. The aim is exactly to show that the regime is indispensable and irreplaceable.
    • The pursuit of ‘engagement’ with the regime was also based on convoluted arguments about the damage it can cause and the problems it can solve, a kind of blackmail. Many engagionistas also went along for their own reasons, e.g just to spite George Bush (or Aznar or Blair) and because they fell into the trap of believing that they could look Assad in the eye and ‘make a deal’.
    • What is relevant is which side of this mind game one is promoting, and one inevitably is, either deliberately or unwittingly, contributing to the illusion of power that the regime has.
    • The essential question now is that the nature of the uprising in Syria is still non-violent and non-sectarian in nature and method – part of the mind game is to establish the idea that this is now a delusion and it all revolves around the question whether incidents of violence detract from this very central proposition.
    • At the risk of sounding like a bully: we are all players and it is difficult to be a neutral observer without contributing either positively or negatively to this perception.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | February 12, 2012, 9:58 pm
  36. AP, you are crossing the line by being accusatory and insulting in a hollow way not backed by facts. I have differed with many opinions voiced by Prof. Landis but never lost sight of the fact that in a great majority of his writing he is observing, narrating, analyzing. Everyone makes mistaken assessments and Landis has been quite candid in admitting such mistakes, for example when he predicted that the Arab spring would not reach Syria.
    Frankly, I don’t see what either you or AIG get out of demonizing Landis. At least AIG is trying to use facts and specific quotes. You, on the other hand, have chosen tinny bullying.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 12, 2012, 10:07 pm
  37. HP,

    Demonizing? We are certainly criticizing Landis, but why is it demonizing?

    Prof. Landis is a recognized expert on Syria and he makes recommendations that people listen too. And these decisions have life and death consequences for the Syrian people and people in the middle east. The Syrian regime’s support of Hamas allowed Hamas to kill 1000 Israeli civilians in the Second Intifada. You may understand why some people do not think it is particularly amusing when he says that such support by Syria is inevitable and wise.

    But forget AP and my personal angle, it is the Syrian people that are suffering because of Landis’ advice. Prof. Landis does have the inside knowledge to assess best how to help transition Syria. But instead, his advice has been for years to be more accommodating with the Syrian regime and to make them stronger. How does that help the Syrian people? All of Prof. Landis advice if much of it were implemented, would have made Assad much harder to remove.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 12:53 am
  38. HP.

    It may come as little comfort, but zionists are just as beastly to each other.

    It’s a matter of manners and mindset.

    Posted by lally | February 13, 2012, 1:11 am
  39. ” Many engagionistas also went along for their own reasons, e.g just to spite George Bush (or Aznar or Blair) and because they fell into the trap of believing that they could look Assad in the eye and ‘make a deal’.”

    I suppose one would have to slot the Israeli Generals willing to bargain w/Assad into the later category.


    Posted by lally | February 13, 2012, 1:19 am
  40. “It may come as little comfort, but zionists are just as beastly to each other.”

    Of course, the Zionists killed so many of their own! Wait I maybe getting confused here. Let’s make a list of the countries in the region:
    1) The Lebanese killed hundreds of thousands of their brethren
    2) The Egyptians killed thousands of their own
    3) The Syrians killed tens of thousands of their own
    4) The Jordanians are much better though there was Black September.

    So when have the “beastly” Zionists killed each other? When has a Zionist government ever treated Zionists in anything resembling how its “non-beastly” people have?

    Words have consequence as they shape policies. People are dying in Syria because of how Syria was dealt with. There is nothing “beastly” about a frank discussion.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 1:40 am
  41. AIG.

    No need to get hysterical about a cultural artifact; the recent hounding of Judge Goldstone would provide a much more relevant example of “beastly” behavior. Even his progeny in South Aftica felt the collective wrath.

    It was an impressive exercise to observe in realtime…..

    Posted by lally | February 13, 2012, 2:31 am
  42. Lally,

    Yes, keep it up. Between your generalization about Zionists being “beastly” and your claim that it is a “cultural artifact”, you are showing yourself to be quite a bigot.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 2:48 am
  43. Nadim said:

    “Elias Muhanna falls into that category”

    Which category? 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 13, 2012, 7:20 am
  44. AIG,

    You stole my thunder again.

    HP, I stand by my opinion: Professor Josh should be ashamed.

    AIG articulated my posiition perfectly. And without any vindictiveness on his part. I get angry; AIG just writes better! Although AIG was thrown off SC a few times for having the audacity to challenge the Assad-lovers on SC, Alex, and Professor Josh, the most vile have a field day there and still do.

    As AIG states:

    Prof. Landis is a recognized expert on Syria and he makes recommendations that people listen too. And these decisions have life and death consequences for the Syrian people and people in the middle east. The Syrian regime’s support of Hamas allowed Hamas to kill 1000 Israeli civilians in the Second Intifada. You may understand why some people do not think it is particularly amusing when he says that such support by Syria is inevitable and wise.

    That is why I think Professor Josh owes a lot of people an apology.

    The Israeli Left and Arafat were exposed after the Oslo facade, now the Left, ME academia/Professor Josh and Assad are exposed (again) after the arab awakening.

    I had to spend years on these websites, including SC and this one, listening to anti-semites and arabists whine about Netanyahu, “Murder Inc.”, and how the Likud was the biggest obstacle to peace in the region. Well, we all have seen with our own eyes who the biggest obstacle to peace is, and it isn’t Israel.

    Let’s go down Memory Lane, shall we, as we read some “odd”/typical opinions before Assad went “crazy”:


    Joshua said:

    Dear QN, You write: “These issues, however, are small potatoes compared to the damage that the relationship will sustain if Syria uses Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel again, with all of Lebanon paying the price.”

    Syria will undoubted encourage Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel if peace talks go no where. What else can it do? The only reason Israel is talking to Syria today is because Olmert couldn’t destroy Hizbullah by force of arms. Without Hizbullah, there would be no talks or hope of Syria getting back the Golan, I fear.

    This all means that Syria will try to keep that card an ace.

    That, you will say, suggests that Syria really has no regard for Lebanese sovereignty. I would argue that what it really means is that Syria places its own national interests above those of Lebanon and that Lebanon is too weak to deny Syria Hizbullah.

    We get back to the old question of how Lebanese should try to deal with it annoying Syria problem.

    Lebanese should support Syria’s cause of getting back the Golan as best they can, rather than trying to thwart it, as Geagea et al do.

    They, of course, believe Syria wants to own Lebanon and unify, which helps explain why they would prefer to side with Israel to defeat Syria. I think we have proven that this is a losing strategy for Lebanon.

    Supporting Syria’s claim to the Golan may also be a losing strategy, but, at least, many Israelis still say that they will return it under the right circumstances.

    best, Joshua

    August 25th, 2008, 10:31 pm


    111. qunfuz said:

    O for God’s sake Shai, how long will you continue repeating the same rubbish? Years of peace process have brought Israel more stolen land and water and the Palestinians more dispossession and apartheid. And the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed is NOT the same. What you call terror attacks is resistance to Zionist ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and massacre. You say: “No Israeli is willing to listen to the “why”, or to the difference between the two.” That is precisely why there is no point talking to Israelis at the moment. You will say that’s what the Israelis say about the Arabs, and I repeat – the Arabs have tried making peace, and it has brought only more disaster. The Arabs do not occupy the Israelis. The Arabs have not ethnically cleansed the Israelis.

    Zionism is based on the concept of Jewish superiority over the natives of Palestine. It necessitates bouts of ethnic cleansing and massacre, and can only survive while the Arabs are controlled by dictators. Zionism is an evil. There can be no peace with it. We don’t want peace anyway, we want justice.

    94% of Israelis supported the disgusting racist massacre of innocents in Gaza. Ninety four per cent. Don’t talk to us about partners for peace. Your rhetoric is sick, like your society.

    I don’t imagine we can defeat you in the near future. This situation is truly tragic. But enough of dialogue with you monsters and your monstrous ideology. Resistance doesn’t have to be violent – though I support absolutely any means the Palestinians employ to resist the genocide – but resistance is the only option.

    (By the way, there are an increasing number of Jews OUTSIDE of your apartheid state who do see the difference between the violence of the oppressor and the violence of the oppressed. This provides a glimmer of hope. Zionists like you, even if you’re soft Zionists, provide no reason to hope whatsoever.)

    February 4th, 2009, 5:01 pm


    23. majid said:

    You are not quite right. These are actually not just rumors. Iran has tens of such secret sites that are buried deep in ground that were not shown to the IAEA and this is known for over three years. No body knows how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. If Pakistan has the bomb(s) most likely Iran already has it. In addition, Iran has the capability to detect any aircraft the moment it takes off from airfields in occupied Palestine. So Iranian missiles will start raining on settlers heads while the Zionist airplanes are still on their way. Iran is also well equipped with latest anti aircraft missile batteries which will shoot down all the invading planes before they reach Iranian airspace. On the other hand, Zionist planners assume Hezb may be satisfied with just firing few thousand missiles into Zionist cities or settlements. Hezb will do that of course and it will also send its ground troops to settlements to clear settlers out of their holes. This Netanyahu thinks he has the means. He has nothing. The Zionist entity will suffer its first major decisive defeat at his hands which will lead to the dismantlement of the Zionist project once and for all. If America tries to save it, American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq will simply have to start digging their graves. I doubt however, that a bankrupt America will dare to do anything to save this cancerous anomaly. An oil boycott will bring America down to its knees in these economic circumstances.

    May 5th, 2009, 10:29 pm


    14. Alex said:

    Well Chris … when I write an opinion, it has nothing to do with the way I moderate the comments section. When was the last time you had an issue with my moderation? … The last few months you left 100 times more comments than I did. Did you notice?

    As for my use of quotes for “Israel” and “friends of Israel” …this is because I don’t think they are friends of Israel … they are friends of sick ego and friends of conflict and violence.

    And “Israel” today is not the Israel I can accept anymore .. I am more than happy to see Syria living in peace with a peaceful Israel … but today’s “Israel” is an aggressive, arrogant, selfish country that elects violent criminals and racists to its leadership… a country that thinks that through slick lies (like those of President Peres) it will be able to continue to fool everyone into thinking today’s “Israel” is interested in peace.

    When today’s “Israel” and the “friends of Israel” in Washington understand that they have no way but to learn to respect their neighbors then I will be happy to go back to Israel, without the quotes.

    Don’t worry … I have not changed my acceptance of Israel’s right to live in its UN recognized borders of pre-1967.

    It is your newly elected prime minister Netanyahu and your newly updated president Peres who are again trying to go above international law.

    And finally … We are hearing again that sanctions against Syria are extended because among other things, Syria failed to control its border with Iraq.

    May 13th, 2009, 3:45 am


    11. norman said:


    You are right , there are many stupid Arab states , but the Arab people are smarter than their leaders and that is why they admire Iran , Assad , Hamas and Hezbollah ,

    We can not and should not expect others to liberate our land and get our rights , for 40 years , israel has never left an Arab land without force and untill we move to get our rights back , the US will not do anything until we push for our rights , the world respect the people who fight for their rights,

    (( Koom ya abdi , la koom maak ))

    May 20th, 2009, 1:34 am


    7. majid said:

    You should know why the story is important. You know what the zionists were trying to do last fall? they were trying to buy the Georgian Government to their side in order to use its territory as a launch pad against Iran. But Russia screwed up their plan when they moved in and uncovered the zionist evil plot.
    But recently there have been developments in Georgia which Russia didn’t like. You know the zionists never give up. Could they have struck a deal of some sort with Russia to carry out their plan against Iran? You never know. That is why it is important to find out.
    But I am sure Ahmedinejjad will destroy them and send them to the moon and rid the world of their evil once and for all. The guy has the Mahdi (A.S.) on his side. So who on earth can match his power and reach? You think a few zionist destitutes can challenge that? They don’t know what they’re up to!!!

    May 26th, 2009, 1:20 am

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 8:01 am
  45. Nadim says:
    “• The argument that the people of the region do not form ‘nation states’ and are thus doomed to either dictatorship or civil war because it is all the west’s fault is so 20th century. We are also witnessing a global crisis in the role of the state .”

    I always thought that facts are facts and that one does not change the underlying factors of events as often as one changes shirts:-) I think that the facts speak for themselves. The main idea is NOT to blame the West but to blame the inhabitants of these “new states” for having failed to develop a political identity free of their religious beliefs and above all for having failed to demand accountability and democratic rule from their governments. Yes their is no room for dictatorships and it is unfortunate that it has taken so long for the citizens of the Arab states to rise and demand a modicum of democracy. What is unfortunate is that the demands are still shallow and limited to a very small circle of the demonstrators whether in Egypt, Tunis, Liya,Syria…
    As for predictions about the evolution of the state let me just say that the nation state has out lived its usefulness. It is not about to disappear but its role is no longer as essential as it used to be . Whether we like it or not , globalization accelerates the demise of the nation state and the rise of cosmopolitanism. People vote by their feet by beating a path to regions that are democratic and offer opportunities.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 13, 2012, 9:01 am
  46. Still Fuming q:op

    We can not and should not expect others to liberate our land and get our rights , for 40 years…


    Did you get your rights yet?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 9:24 am
  47. First-ever Bedouin commercial solar field licensed,7340,L-4186700,00.html

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 9:28 am
  48. HP, AIG,

    For as much as you attribute certain strong positions to Prof. Landis, for example AIG implying that the Prof. was advising the Syrian regime to do this or that or applauding this or that action, I maintain that the overwhelming majority, if not all, his posts reflect his analysis without necessarily representing what he would side with or advise.
    As I said before, I have differed with many of these opinions, particularly in relation to what I am most interested in, Lebanon (including the assassination of Rafiq Hariri) and I have always pointed to early analyses of the Prof. where he explains how a HA-Syrian conspiracy could have been rationalized by them (taking him to task for later deviating from this analysis and assuming a more vague explanation). Nonetheless, even in theses cases, the tone of an analyst and observer always came through, not of an apologist.
    Landis has admitted when he made wrong projections and overall behaved consistently as a professional academic and expert.
    Objective rebuttals of his opinions are fine. Personal attacks are NOT.
    Telling someone they should be “ahsamed of [themselves]” is regrettably a negative reflection on the person doing the telling.

    I have to also admit that my use of the word “demonizing” was incorrect in the previous post. AIG is right on that one. I stand by the rest of my assessments.

    Finally, I want to point out that I make these observations without taking sides on the analyses. It may well be that Prof. Landis is wrong most of the time. I don’t know. Facts will tell. Then again, he might have been right most of the time. His unquestioned expertise does give him insights beyond most other analysts and his ability to articulate these analyses does enable him to express them better than most others who do have the same expertise. This is why he has been a frequent resource to the media of late.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 13, 2012, 10:30 am
  49. HP,

    Pleas read my comment #27 in this thread. Can you really argue that this post of Landis is analysis not apologetics? He clearly states that supporting Hamas and Hezbollah is a smart decision by Syria. He clearly defends Syria using terror organizations as tools of foreign policy.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 11:09 am
  50. Second that, HP.

    One can disagree with some positions and conclusions, but Syria Comment has been and still is absolutely invaluable to anyone seriously interested in Syria. And one shouldn’t mistake the Baathist agitprop that goes on in the SC comment field for Landis’s own opinions.

    I’d say the same, by the way, for someone on the other end of the spectrum, like Gary Gambill, who publishes through the Daniel Pipes crowd and is quite openly hostile to the regime. I’ve always found Gambill’s writings on Syria very interesting and mostly convincing — despite disagreeing with some of the political framing, and despite thinking that Daniel Pipes and his nasty little band of bigots should be run out of Middle East analysis in tar and feathers. Focus on the argument at hand, not on the messenger.

    Posted by aron | February 13, 2012, 11:10 am
  51. AIG,

    The “sin” of Israel’s creation can never be forgiven. Meanwhile, the sin of supporting the Assads is not a sin at all.

    We should all be proud of ourselves.

    Looks like baby Assad is catching up to his Daddy: Over 7000 dead…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 12:23 pm
  52. Aron,

    Can you please post all the info you have showing DP is a “bigot”?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 12:24 pm
  53. Ghassan – the link to the NYT piece makes a similar point about the state. But where I would not agree with you is that I think nationalism is overrated and people have the right to be tribal and communal and sectarian or even anarchist as long as they can find a reasonable formula to coexist.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | February 13, 2012, 12:24 pm
  54. Akbar Palace —

    Don’t really have the time, but if isn’t working for you, there is an excellent website devoted to tracking his long history of Muslim-baiting and bigotry at

    Posted by aron | February 13, 2012, 12:34 pm
  55. AIG.

    Love of Spam is a cultural artifact common to Hawaiians. Are your shorts in a empathetic twist over that statement, too?

    So what if Landis saw Syrian support for Hamas and Hezbollah as a calculated benefit? Once upon a time, Israel saw sponsorship of Hamas (vs Arafat) as a wise strategery. Perhaps the Israeli schemers who manifested that rivalry are more deserving of your personal ire.

    Posted by lally | February 13, 2012, 12:51 pm
  56. aron,

    I went to DP’s website, which I’m pretty familiar with, and I didn’t find anything bigoted. I DID, however, find a topic on “Moderate Muslims”, and below is one of those articles. The article was rather positive and optimistic…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 12:52 pm
  57. Doh!


    If anyone’s “shorts are in a twist”, it the Syrian people’s.

    And I guess we’re still scratching our inflated heads trying to figure out how we got to this bleak situation.;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 12:57 pm
  58. At least AP managed to pull out a little wink.


    Thank Goodness for Lally, putting some of the hypocrisy in check.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 3:18 pm
  59. Nadim,
    Yes we are witnessing the beging of the end of Westphalia but what will replace it is not tribal loyalty if for nothing else but the fact that it is most undemocratic. What will replace it is allegiance to ideas such as liberty, justice, common good and ultimately environmentalism.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 13, 2012, 3:37 pm
  60. At least AP managed to pull out a little wink.


    Just so you know, the wink and the “Doh!” was only meant to say that Lally’s protestations are hugely unwarranted.

    As if Lally’s point that the GOI’s short-lived reach-out to Hamas was equivalent to Syria’s material support of Hezbollah and several other terrorist groups and their multi-decade subjugation of their own people.

    Thank Goodness for Lally, putting some of the hypocrisy in check.

    The hypocrisy, IMHO, is how quiet many arabs become with Israel isn’t the villain. Methinks Lally and Assad are kissing cousins.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 4:23 pm
  61. When Israel’s name is thrown in the mix; Arabs will kiss and cuddle butchers like Assad, Saddam, Gaddafi & others just to spite Israel. There is no logic. Just like pre-school kids would say: Gotcha!

    Let’s say that Landis is great. Although his years have been spent trying to put a good spin on a bloody butcher…We have to talk nice and say it was just his opinion. Well his opinion (among others’ like Noe etc) was used as a tool to cover the sheer brutality of a sick regime! Shall we hand out candies to someone who “predicted” that sectarian sentiments could arise in Syria? Seriously? After being subjugated and beaten up for 40 years and most recently brutally suppressed by the shabi7a and the murderous regime; is it any wonder that there might be a backlash?…

    Yes thank you to all hired guns of murderous regimes! You were just analyzing. Great PR. Right on!

    Posted by danny | February 13, 2012, 4:46 pm
  62. QN and Nadim,

    This is is going to be harsh on you guys, sorry.

    Maybe it’s the ivory tower or maybe it’s the requirement of academia, but I am getting sick and tired of disagreements with Landis, followed by “my esteemed colleague” type crap.

    I think when you do that, especially at the current violent stage of the Syrian crisis, you are putting yourselves on the far end of a spectrum that starts with Baathists thugs like Kanso, spans Landis and ultimately includes….you, perhaps inadvertently but you are there.

    Kanso threatens and spews venom for the regime, Landis is the (not so) sophisticated voice of “western” “reason” for the regime, and you are there nearby vouching for the decency of the guy (Landis).

    The problem with Landis, and others of his ilk, is not that he’s wrong on a prediction or a conclusion. Of course everyone is guilty of that. The problem is that at no point in time he has squarely said that the regime is immoral, bankrupt and criminal. At what point does one do that, academic or not? At what point does the “esteemed colleague” crap stop?

    Words have consequences, and having decent people like you provide succor and support serves Landis, who is a useful idiot, serve the thugs and the regime up the food chain.

    Take a stand damn it, this is not about analysis anymore but about immorality, people dying and others who can’t bring themselves to draw a line.

    Posted by OldHand | February 13, 2012, 4:59 pm
  63. AP:

    Come on. You should at least smile and *wink* at the irony (and hypocrisy) of AIG’s position (and seemingly yours too). I know what the Doh and the Wink were supposed to signify.

    The US and Israel have endorsed just the sort of (perhaps misguided) policy of backing groups (such as the Mujahedeen, or Hamas), when it suited their political interests.

    Not of course to condone this, but why pick on Assad when he follows the same strategy!

    What was that saying again? Something about the kettle and the pot?

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 5:07 pm
  64. Gabriel,

    I just disagree with you. I’ve been making the same points on OTW’s site, and the only person I feel I’m getting thru to is OTW (a little) and Aboud (our long-lost Homsi, nowhere to be found this past week).

    Actually, I think I did get thru to Danny above. So, at least a few peope “get it”.

    Something about the kettle and the pot?

    The “kettle and pot” analogy would be fine if an Israeli leader used tanks against mostly Jewish cities like Tel Aviv and if Israeli didn’t have freedoms.

    Now that’s a stretch HaBB, as stretch only an Israel-hating, Assad-excuser could muster…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 5:24 pm
  65. Gabriel,

    What are you talking about? Israel supported Hamas for a few months initially when it was an unarmed movement as a political balance against the PLO. Once it understood what Hamas was really about it stopped. But it never armed any organization to attack Arab civilians. The hypocrisy is only in your dreams.

    And I am not picking on Assad. I am criticizing Landis for saying that Assad was smart to support Hamas. I think that is a dreadful position to take and this decision will haunt Syrians for a long time to come. Do you agree with this or not?

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 5:31 pm
  66. There is never ever under any set of circumstances whatsoever a justification for butchery, thuggery, dictatorship, tyranny and yes evil. A Ba’ath like regime with people like the Assad in control are systems of exploitation based on distrust of the citizens and personal liberty. They do not deserve to ever be defended or justified. That is a categorical imperative. It is as simple and straight forward as that.

    Since you mentioned the kettle and the pot in your previous post please read this quote :

    Aoun : ”
    عون :سليمان أصبح طرفاً معطلاً بالحكومة وميقاتي يريد أن يفرض نفسه ديكتاتوراً

    Mikati , the only PM who has failed to claim any of the prerogatives of the job and has been relegated to an errand boy is being accused by the megalomaniac that he is a dictator lol It cannot get to be stranger than this. Why is Mikati putting up with all of this? Aoun is a clown.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 13, 2012, 5:32 pm
  67. I am criticizing Landis for saying that Assad was smart to support Hamas.

    …and Landis’s complacency regarding Assad’s treatment of his own people.

    Landis had one set of rules for Assad, and other for the Israelis (who he predicted, incorrectly, would be some sort of albatross around America’s neck).

    Of course, the Syrian people be damned.

    Landis should rip up his PHD and start over.

    Better yet, he should be shipped to Homs or Dera’a and be forced to live there for the next year.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 13, 2012, 5:44 pm
  68. Without Israeli enabling strategerists, there would be no Hamas making a happy home in the OT’s. Deal with it.

    In addition, without Israeli nation designer strategerists’ serial occupations of Lebanon, HA would have only been a splinter in some Lebanese eyes instead of the acknowledged most militarily capable insurgency/resistance entity in the world. Deal with it.

    Both of the above are the Original Sins.

    Gaby, I too thought A Palace was exercising his occasional sense of whimsical humor….our error.

    Posted by lally | February 13, 2012, 5:50 pm
  69. AIG @50,

    Landis’ “analysis” in your post #27 is not necessarily “apologetics.”
    An objective reading can be a description of the strategy followed by Syria and how, in Syria’s assessment, it is justified and smart and logical.
    I can see how a cursory reading might lead to the interpretation that the value judgment is Landis’ but in fact I don’t think it is.
    It is also very understandable that one (including me, and most definitely you) might be disturbed by a characterization of Syria’s choices and action in that case as smart. To some of us they clearly are not. But these our opinions. I do not think one can make a logical definitive inference that the text implies Landis’ own belief that they are smart. He is reporting.

    In the same manner, going back to the example I keep giving, of the very old post by Landis explaining how HA/Syria might analyze a potential guilt on their part in the assassination of Hariri (which they both still deny) by the fact that they were “backed against a wall,” I did not see it as Landis himself justifying that rationale but as providing it as an analysis of how HA/Syria might be thinking.

    Same thing in the posts you quote above. I think.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 13, 2012, 6:28 pm
  70. In case anyone’s wondering about that post I keep referring to, here it is:
    It’s been a mantra of mine, perhaps overly repetitive to some (and due to my lack of expertise in this area), but I do think it’s a brilliant analysis and likely the true motive behind Hariri’s assassination. Time will tell.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 13, 2012, 6:40 pm
  71. AIG:

    Israel only “supported Hamas for a few months, and stopped when they figured out what they were about”?!?

    You must not think very highly of the Israelis!

    As for your other question, regarding whether or not Israel ever armed people who attacked Arab civilians, you aren’t seriously asking this question, are you? Do I really need to answer that?

    As for your last question,

    And I am not picking on Assad. I am criticizing Landis for saying that Assad was smart to support Hamas. I think that is a dreadful position to take and this decision will haunt Syrians for a long time to come. Do you agree with this or not?

    What does it matter what I think? I am not a political strategist. For the record, in my personal view, no. I don’t agree with the Assad strategy. But then again, nor do I agree with Israel’s strategy vis-a-vis Hamas, or the US strategy re: Mujahideen Afghanistan. Nor, most certainly do I agree with the US current and continued sleeping with Saudi Arabia, the single biggest source of global “terror”, in my my very humble view!

    But those are my views. All those decisions are, as you would have it, dreadful. But they are used by political types to advance their interests. And yes, they were used by Israelis as well.

    At the very least, you should acknowledge this, so that we can at least pretend to have an intellectual discussion about this!

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 6:48 pm
  72. @66

    This is a slow death dance that these “politicians” are tangoing to. The village idiot is conveniently used by HA/Syria and visa versa. In the cesspool; otherwise known as Lebanese politics; anything goes. There are no moral choices. It makes a brothel’s experienced madame blush!

    Posted by danny | February 13, 2012, 7:18 pm
  73. Wow, this conversation is deterriorating into childish and emotive nonsensical declarations! While I understand that very few on this blog are trained in reading and understanding texts closely, it seems now that the most vocal are the ones who cannot read and understand period or those who, like well trained statisticians, know how to cherry pick facts and statements and weave them together into supposed arguments. I can understand the lack or vision and the desire not to think, as part of the neoliberal and social scientific outlooks, but what justifies the lack of understanding of texts read? How could someone like AP claim to have “read” Daniel Pipes and then not understand his bigotry, when his claim everywhere is that most Muslims are.radical because violence is inherent in their religion/way of life! The whole career of Pipes is devoted to attacking and tarnishing the reputations of academics who do not agree with his particular racist perspective on Islam and Arabs, a perspective that he believes should be reflected into ME scholarship–maybe precisely because he is not really a scholar but a failed academic turned pundit.

    AIG can cherry pick as much as he wants to weave together possible inconsistencies in academic analyses, but he should know that analysis requires constant questioning and truth is about uncertainty and not consistency outside mathematical and axiomatic studies.

    Academic Expertise counts for something because it is training in patient reading and analysis. Number crunchers and alchemists cannot understand the world but try to make sense of it from the perspective of their deluded visions of reality. It seems to me that we have way too many number crunchers and alchemists expressing their own way of looking at the world as the right way not only on this blog, but in this social and political environment! The world is changing, indeed, and dumbification is becoming the rule; no need for intelligence or rigorous thinking when all you need to learn is how to express your emotions, how to fulfill your needs and desires, how to work, how to consume, and how to vote!

    Posted by Parrhesia | February 13, 2012, 7:46 pm
  74. HP,

    You write:
    “Landis’ “analysis” in your post #27 is not necessarily “apologetics.”
    An objective reading can be a description of the strategy followed by Syria and how, in Syria’s assessment, it is justified and smart and logical.
    I can see how a cursory reading might lead to the interpretation that the value judgment is Landis’ but in fact I don’t think it is.”

    If the Syrians follow an action, isn’t it obvious that it is because they think it is smart? Why would they follow an action they think is stupid? Your interpretation does not make sense. It is clear that it is Landis voicing his opinion about Syria’s actions.

    Let’s review again what Landis says. Take a look again at this statement:
    “The main proof that Syria’s strategy is smart, if not a success, is Hillary Clinton’s speech at AIPAC.”

    It categorically states that Syria’s strategy is smart. It does not state that Syria thinks its action are smart. No, Landis is PROVIDING EVIDENCE that Syria’s actions are smart. This is all Landis, not the Syrians.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 8:44 pm
  75. Gabriel,

    In the article you posted, it is clear that Israel dropped Hamas the moment it militarized. So what is your point? Israel never armed Hamas. Israel did arm Bashir Gemayel’s forces but did not do so knowing that they will kill civilians. Arik Sharon was fired because of Sabra and Shatila. Assad knew all along that Hamas was planning a suicide campaign against Israeli citizens. He encouraged it and funded it.

    Israel is no saint, but we have not supported and funded a terror organization for years as Assad did and as Landis called “smart”.

    Posted by AIG | February 13, 2012, 8:58 pm
  76. AIG,

    Just for the purpose of debate:
    If a person A states that the actions of person B are smart, this does not imply that person A thinks that the actions of person B are good, legal, helpful, positive. It simply states that the actions person B are perceived by person A as moves to the benefit person A’s interests. Not person’s A country’s interest, person’s A compatriot’s interest, person A’s interest.

    Now substitute country for person for A and keep person for person in B.

    You, AP, or even I could suspect that person B acquiesces and likes person/country’s A actions, but there is no proof in the statement that this is the case.

    That was my point.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 13, 2012, 9:07 pm
  77. AIG #74

    You’re being rather silly in your persistence. You are reading far too much into Landis’s columns.

    Correct me if I am mistaken, but aren’t you the one who on more than one occasion said on this forum that “We have the IDF”.. and said it quite proudly?

    Why? Because you believe (quite rightly) that Israel’s best insurance is a strong military.

    What’s wrong, in a non-biased, honest argument, to suggest, as Landis does … that Syria’s negotiating power (and best chance for “peace”) is a balancing of the power equation? That’s the crux of the argument, and it is not predicated on whether Assad is a megalomaniac or not.

    I mean come on, you’re no fool. Look at Egypt and its election. 20% support for the Salafist Nour party, and another what, 50% support for the MB? You’re making so much about Assad’s support for Hamas/HA. What do you care? You have the IDF! Are you telling me all those Freedom Fighters in Syria are going to kiss Hamas and HA and Muslim Brotherhood goodbye! Get real.

    Your contorting (and quite painful at that) of Landis’s writing is a little over the top. You’re a smart fellow. We expect a little more from you.


    Come on. Stop being silly and contorting this article as well. You think the Israelis were dumb, and were happy to fund the “Islamists” as a charity and as they spread the “Message”.

    Did the Islamists start calling the Jews son’s of Pigs and Apes only in the last 20 years!?!

    Or did the Israelis not have an issue supporting those groups then.

    Really AIG. Get a grip on things.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 9:14 pm
  78. AIG — To simplify this apparently very difficult distinction:

    Syria supporting Hezbollah was a great, affordable investment for Bashar, which gave him a regional influence he’d never had otherwise.

    Syria supporting the Tamil Tigers on the other hand, now that would just have been bonkers.

    Posted by aron | February 13, 2012, 9:31 pm
  79. AIG:

    BTW, the point of me posting that article was to suggest rather blatantly that you have your history a little off-mark.

    It was there to show you (through an article written by one of your compatriots) that Israel was in fact supporting Hamas for years, and not as you had dismissively suggested, for a few months.

    By being dismissive in this manner (and for one who is evidently quite intelligent), you are being disingenuous, and you bring into question your intentions in your analysis.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 9:34 pm
  80. Aron#78

    Not just influence. But longevity.

    I cannot believe the level of inanity this forum and discussions have sunk to.

    First it was a problem of a broken record repeating ad nauseum. Now this.

    Gee Whiz. Yes, a heretical off-shoot minority sect could have dreamt of lasting half as long as it did, in absolute power, by not taking an anti-Israeli stance, or supporting anti-Israeli groups! Lebanon’s Maronites anyone?!

    This is quite appalling.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 13, 2012, 9:40 pm
  81. Enlighted one

    I am glad you liked my note,

    Posted by Norman | February 13, 2012, 9:53 pm
  82. What is going on in Syria is a tragedy, the syrian people have suffered enough. Most scenarios also seem to lead to tragic outcomes as well. The one option that I could think of that could hopefully lead to a soft landing, is if Bashar takes the high ground by resigning in the name of saving the country from further mayhem. He’s had eleven years at the helm already (it’s a better than average tenure by most standards around the world).

    He can hand power to a temporary government of technocrats made up of both loyalists and opposition reps, with the sole mandate to organize open elections six or nine months down the road.

    Let the syrian people vote freely to see which vision they prefer among the two camps.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 13, 2012, 10:48 pm
  83. Thanks HP for bringing that article up……So it was 1559 who killed Hariri. That clears it then. Here I was thinking it was Ze Germans.

    Seriously, The Aliens on planet X knew what Hamas represented even at their inception. Give credit to Mossad will ya.

    Posted by Maverick | February 13, 2012, 11:15 pm
  84. Maverik,

    First of all, these things are handled by the Shin Bet, not the Mossad. Second, Hamas was purely a political organization and they bamboozled us to believe that they are merely a religious party and will never arm. It was a mistake by the Israeli intelligence community. Yassin looked so cuddly with his high pitched voice and his wheel chair.


    Yes, Hamas was supported for years until it armed. But the fact remains that the moment it armed, its support ended.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 12:45 am
  85. Professor Josh can look back at these days and take pride at the monster he and his menhebak minyans helped to create. He may avoid such discussion, but we all know the truth.

    I hope Professor Josh won’t delete his archive.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 12:46 am
  86. Parrhesia must have just completed a course at Dale Carnegie 🙂

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 1:03 am
  87. “Yassin looked so cuddly with his high pitched voice and his wheel chair.”

    Lol…you poor innocent beings duped by religious folk……Maybe the conspiracy theorists in the Arab world are exaggerating the Zionist threat…just slightly. Lol.

    Posted by Maverick | February 14, 2012, 1:11 am
  88. HP,

    When you tell your kids or grand kids “‘that was a smart move”, do they not also understand that it was a good move? “Smart” in most normal contexts implies good also. You want to insist that it is not the case here, fine. I find it a very weak argument.

    But let’s assume that your definition is right. What follows then is that Landis believes that if it is in the interest of less powerful countries to use terror groups to advance their foreign interests, they should do so because as you say, it supports their interests. That is a dreadful position to hold. Would it be smart for countries also to commit genocide if they think it advances their interests?
    Landis is not even thinking one step ahead. What is good for the goose is good for the gander and if it is smart for Syria to use terror against its enemies, it is smart for its enemies to use terror against Syria. That is why supporting terror groups is dumb, especially against stronger enemies. Using terror or genocide is never smart, even if you are the strongest kid on the block, and it is downright stupid when you are one of the weak ones.

    Furthermore, for a country that demands the Golan back based on international law, aren’t they undercutting their position using terror groups?

    The Israeli public, which I am part of, has developed a distinct hatred of Bashar and his regime after the Second Intifada and the Second Lebanon War and never in a million years would any Israeli government give him the Golan back.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 1:14 am
  89. Maverik,

    You have to put yourself in the shoes of the people making the decision. The problem then was the PLO and Hamas was a way to undercut their power. They did not imagine what Hamas would turn out to be. It was a mistake. We Zionists make mistakes just like anybody else, but the reason we are a “threat” is that we discuss our mistakes in public, investigate them and learn from them, unlike our neighbors that have no transparency. The “Zionist Threat” is the Israeli democracy. As for the rest, we are really not different from our neighbors.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 1:22 am
  90. I wonder if anyone here actually read the WSJ article. Nothing new there for anyone familiar with the history.

    Israel never funded or armed Hamas (which didn’t even exist at the time). The sum total of Israeli “support” for Hamas was not arresting some people who later founded Hamas who were then members of a non-terrorist Islamist organisation, except for those times when it did arrest them (like arresting Yassin in 1984 [unmention in the piece – amongst a few other errors – e.g. Hamas was only founded six months after the First Intifadah started not in 1987] – he was released in 1985 in the Jibril deal, and arresting him later too), which somehow don’t count.

    In all these cases, it was their supposed ‘moderate’ ‘rivals’ which got their release – Perhaps one should blame the PFLP or King Abdallah for supporting Hamas by arranging the release of their people and for hosting them? Or the PLO for funding them in the 90s? Or the Clinton for forcing the return of the 400 activists? All of these action were much more substantial than anything Israel did (not) do. They just don’t match the political narrative.

    Posted by Y. | February 14, 2012, 4:56 am
  91. AIG — “You have to put yourself in the shoes of the people making the decision.”

    Exactly. Imagine yourself being cynical old Hafez al-Assad, looking for ways to dominate southern Lebanon, cement your power in Beirut, tie up the Lebanese Shia after Amal started floundering, put pressure on Israel, gain non-military leverage over the Golan, prove your strategic relevance to the US, make Iran somewhat co-dependent on you, and raise your standing in Arab and Syrian nationalist opinion … and, oh suddenly, here comes Hezbollah, looking awful nervous, asking for your help. What would YOU think was the smart thing do in that situation?

    And for Bashar, it’s a million times easier: the decision has been made long ago, the political and security structures are already up and running. Switching course would require a painful break with current allies, with no clear alternative in sight. At what point during the past decade do you see any good incentive for him to surrender his silver bullet?

    Posted by aron | February 14, 2012, 5:34 am
  92. AIG:

    Yes, Hamas was supported for years until it armed. But the fact remains that the moment it armed, its support ended.

    Alright. That’s a start .Changing your narrative that is. Maybe I’ll help push it along, by taking some specific excerpts from the WSJ article.

    A year later, in 1984, the Israeli military received a tip-off from Fatah supporters that Sheikh Yassin’s Gaza Islamists were collecting arms, according to Israeli officials in Gaza at the time. Israeli troops raided a mosque and found a cache of weapons. Sheikh Yassin was jailed. He told Israeli interrogators the weapons were for use against rival Palestinians, not Israel, according to Mr. Hacham, the military affairs expert who says he spoke frequently with jailed Islamists. The cleric was released after a year and continued to expand Mujama’s reach across Gaza.

    So according to this article, despite the fact that Hamas (maybe not under the name of Hamas), was found to be collecting arms, aka arming, its head was released so that he can continue to expand his network across Gaza, and the Israelis, according to this article, let this happen because Yassin told them that those weapons were intended to be used against the “Secular” leadership.

    In fact, the cleric and Israel had a shared enemy: secular Palestinian activists. After a failed attempt in Gaza to oust secularists from leadership of the Palestinian Red Crescent, the Muslim version of the Red Cross, Mujama staged a violent demonstration, storming the Red Crescent building. Islamists also attacked shops selling liquor and cinemas. The Israeli military mostly stood on the sidelines.

    Oh, alright. That’s Kosher then.

    How pray tell is that radically different from what Assad did. Let the buggers have offices and what not in Damascus, and facilitated arms shipment from Iran to Lebanon. Oh yes. Maybe he too was supporting the “Charities” of Hizballah.

    Get real. Or better yet, get honest, if you want to have any credibility.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 6:08 am
  93. PS. From previous post.

    The intent of posting those specific paragraphs (just in case you haven’t connected the dots) is to make quite explicit that just as it was not months of support, but years of support that Israel provided, that contrary to your assertion, this ‘Support”, whatever it entailed did not in fact stop “once Hamas started arming”.

    BTW. You have to somewhat chuckle at this article. Even an Israeli-Sympathetic article does a horrible job giving the Israelis a free pass on this. Did the Israelis ( Shin Bet or Mossad, or whoever) really need a “Tip-Off” from their sworn enemies (the Fatah) about Hamas collecting arms!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel armed the buggers.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 6:14 am
  94. Y#90

    Perhaps you can help me sort something out in my head, since you are quite familiar with the extent of Israel’s support to Hamas.

    Given that Gaza was under the control of Israel, and given that Hamas was collecting arms to use against Fatah (as per the WSJ article that you read which has nothing new)…

    Where were Hamas getting their arms from (so that they can grow their collections and stash them in mosques)?

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 6:34 am
  95. Gabriel,

    Yassin and others were indeed ‘released after a year’ – as a part of the Jibril deal. Hamas got weapons the way everyone else there did – smuggling, criminal networks stealing from Israeli military bases etc. Unless you suggest that Israel supplied Hamas and then raided its own stock… What is true is that Israel didn’t bother banning the Islamist organizations, but I’d say that indifference (even stupid indifference) is usually different from ‘support’. If you call that support, than well, just nearly every other player in the ME can be defined as having supported Hamas far more, as most of which gave money or weapons to Hamas at some time or another.

    Posted by Y. | February 14, 2012, 7:53 am
  96. @93
    “Did the Israelis ( Shin Bet or Mossad, or whoever) really need a “Tip-Off” from their sworn enemies (the Fatah) about Hamas collecting arms!

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel armed the buggers”

    No further comments needed.!

    Posted by danny | February 14, 2012, 7:59 am
  97. As for Assad’s policy, I’d say the policy of supporting Hizballah made sense for H. Assad, but was past its sell-by date when B. Assad came into power. The basic problem is that it let Hizballah become too independent from Syria (esp. after the Israeli withdrawal), so Syria lost a lot of leverage while still keeping all the negatives.

    By that time, this policy reduced Syrian influence in Lebanon by making half of Lebanon upset (which helped lead to the 2005 withdrawal) while making Hizballah not as dependent on Syria anymore (for example, it can import weapons via the ports), it made Saudi Arabia very angry so it was a net loss in Arab opinion (since SA influences Qatar which controls AJA, and that matters more for the long term), it dramatically reduced any influence of those Israelis who were willing to discuss the Golan on Syrian terms (the Olmert government was crippled after 2006), while not actually pressuring Israel to withdraw from the Golan (Syria can’t offer as much to Israel on this subject anymore), and made Syria more dependent on Iran than vice-versa (since it allowed Iran a bit too much influence on Lebanon, and Lebanon is critical to Syria’s economy).

    Had the elder Assad lived past 2000, he’d have probably been smart enough to balance Lebanon better and make Hizballah depend more on Syria. Granted Bashar was new, but international relations aren’t defined by ‘fair’.

    Posted by Y. | February 14, 2012, 8:10 am
  98. AIG,

    Just think, Professor Josh espoused the same actions and values that the Russians and Chinese have implemented today, namely prop up Assad and make him stronger.

    And since the arabs on this website (save Danny) can live with that, I suppose I can too.

    Love Live Bashar!;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 8:15 am
  99. AP, your conclusion “And since the arabs on this website…” is obviously wrong. I get the emotional outburst but it’s not based on correct facts, not even on correct assumptions.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | February 14, 2012, 8:33 am
  100. Cut Professor Josh some Slack NewZ


    …”save Danny”. Danny, I’m pretty sure, is of arab heritage.


    There’s no emotional outburse; just puzzlement. For example, OTW’s “Walls” website shows a bit more emotion. The participants there are extremely affected by what is going on in Syria. They are Syrian. Or maybe because Walls has a specific Syrian tilt and QN’s website is Lebanese. I don’t know.

    Of course you can take up for Professor Josh if you want. That is your right. The internet is free. I just find it interesting that participants on Walls are EXTREMELY critical of the Russians and the Chinese. OTW is starting a “BDS” program of sorts to demonstrate against them.

    OTOH, Professor Josh espoused the exact same views as the Russians and the Chinese. So why doesn’t Professor Josh get any criticism from the arab community? Maybe because he was so beautifully anti-Israel for so long, it sort of bought him a “Get out of Jail Free Card” so-to-speak… But your guess is as good as mine.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 8:49 am
  101. Y:

    Hamas got weapons the way everyone else there did – smuggling, criminal networks stealing from Israeli military bases etc.

    Thanks. Smuggling, stealing from Israeli bases, etc.

    Like AIG, you must either

    a) Not think very highly of Israel or its intelligence services, so much so that you actually believe it took a “Tip-off” from Fatah to let Israel in on what was going on, or

    b) Not think very highly of us, the QN readership, so much so that you believe this alternative narrative is even remotely credible to us.

    As I said to AIG previously, I get that different people have different biases, and different views. But let’s at least try to pretend we are having a somewhat honest or intellectual discussion about this.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 9:48 am
  102. Old Hand

    My relationship with Josh has nothing to do with the dynamics of the ivory tower or the requirements of academia. We are good friends, and have been for several years. Good friends can disagree with each other, even though Josh and I don’t disagree about all that much.

    By your standards, 99% of the Middle East commentariat would be described as useful idiots and apologists for criminal regimes, just because we don’t preface everything we write with an announcement that XYZ regime is “immoral, bankrupt, and criminal”. Can you name a Arab government that does not fit that bill? How many times has Andrew Tabler or Michael Young (both good friends of mine) or anyone writing for NOW Lebanon castigated the Saudi, Qatari, or Jordanian government as immoral, bankrupt, and criminal? I think we all are grown up enough to accept that all of these regimes have legitimacy issues. For that matter, why do pundits who supported of the Iraq War get to call that tragedy a “mismanaged operation” when it cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, but Landis is lumped in with the Wahhabs and Kansos because he doesn’t fit the bill of a WINEP-certified Syria commentator?

    The fact that people continue to attack Josh after he spent all of last year writing articles explaining why the Assad regime is doomed just goes to show, in my view, that what most readers really want from their experts is cheerleaders for their own viewpoints, not actual analysis. Yes, I’ve disagreed with Josh on a lot of things (and you can troll through three years of Syria Comment to witness all of our arguments) but your critique (like that of many others) is unfair, in my opinion.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 10:12 am
  103. Y — Good points, all of them, and a more useful discussion than the one on the semantics of “smart”.

    I agree that Bashar has handled Lebanon clumsily. The Hariri hit, which I assume he was responsible for, wasn’t the only occasion, although obviously the worst. And he could probably have calibrated the HA relationship better, as you say. And yes, there were many drawbacks to the relationship, and they grew heavier over time.

    Still the question remains: if not HA, who else, what else? It’s simply wrong to say that HA was a policy negative for Syria’s regime. It didn’t perhaps bring as many positives as it could have, due to Bashar’s fumbling, and it brought risks of its own. But to say that Bashar might have played his hand better isn’t the same as to say that he could have invented a whole new policy by dropping HA. There was never a solid alternative available.

    Syria obviously profited greatly from HA during the 90s, and had a tremendous payoff in the form of the withdrawal of 2000. Then the equation shifted, but still, shifting away from that strategy would come at great cost while bringing very little benefit.

    To abandon a reliable ally, he’d have wanted something in return which could bring him the following things: (a) another form of deterrence against attack, or international (=US) guarantees (b) continued primacy in Lebanon (c) financial backing to supplement any drop in Iranian assistance when times got tough (d) reliable promises of progress on Golan. I don’t see such a combination as likely except in the event of a peace deal, or an interim deal towards retrieving the Golan, with US involvement and perhaps Gulf financial support.

    I agree that HA (& associated acts) wasn’t nearly enough to help Syria resolve any of those issues by itself, but it was no doubt the sharpest instrument in Bashar’s toolbox. As Landis argued in that post quoted, Syria’s best hopes for getting there was probably not to go ask nicely, but to continue to make its presence felt through obstructivism and dirty tricks. Holding on to the thing everyone wanted in Lebanon was one way, retaining a minor spoiler role in Palestinian politics another, screwing with the US in Iraq was a third.

    Bashar’s only serious opportunity for safely switching tracks in Lebanon was very brief, generously defined as from the withdrawal in 2000 to 2002 when the Iraq conflict began whipping up a storm. And even in that short period, Bashar had to have been seriously spooked by the Intifada, 9/11 and other things, making him less eager to alienate trusted allies.

    And as you say, he was newly installed, which seems to have meant in particular that he couldn’t just break vested interests in Lebanon as he pleased. Quite the contrary, his alliances in Lebanon and the shift away from Hariri, Jumblat and the rest of the old guard favorites appear to have been a key aspect of securing his dominance in Damascus.

    So, given how slowly and suspiciously that regime moves normally, I’m not at all surprised clung to HA during that brief window of uncertainty about its usefulness. It would have been to throw away his most useful card in regional politics, hoping to draw an ace from the deck instead. And then things took their course — Hariri, misjudgements, bad luck, and all — and after the conflicts of 2005-2008 it would have been lunacy to try to drop HA. By that time, Bashar’s whole Lebanese and regional position was predicated on his alliance with HA and Iran, and extracting himself from it would have been quite a chore. Still, I think eg. the ouvertures to Turkey must be seen partly in that context, trying to diversify away from what had by then become a highly problematic over-reliance on Teheran/HA. But by then it was a long term project.

    Posted by aron | February 14, 2012, 10:20 am
  104. Keep Trying

    But let’s at least try to pretend we are having a somewhat honest or intellectual discussion about this.


    Yes, let’s be honest. Since you are trying to paint some sort of “moral-equivalency” between Israel’s support of Hamas and Assad’s support of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, feel free to expand on the following points:

    1.) How long did the Hamas-GOI relationship last? How long did the Hezbollah-GOS relationship last?

    2.) What misssiles did the GOI provide Hamas vs what GOS provided Hezbollah. The same, fewer, or more? Provide hard numbers.

    3.) When did Assad ever war with their “client” Hezbollah like the Israelis did with their “client” Hamas in “Operation Cast Lead”?

    4.) When did the Syrian client ever target Syria in the same way Israel’s “client”, Hamas, target Israel?

    and lastly,

    5.) Which American professor recommended that Israel continue to supply weapons to their Hamas “client” for the brillant reason “what else can they do”?;)

    Your feeble attempt to equate the two situations is frankly, a synical joke. The US tried to befriend al-Queda and Bin Laden. So what? The effort to befriend an organization in contrast to the effort spent to destroy the same organization is totally one-sided in each case.

    Syria has never attempted to destroy the major terrorist organizations Professor Josh specifically recommended she support.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 10:28 am
  105. AP.

    Let me show you how the honest discourse is done.

    1.) How long did the Hamas-GOI relationship last? How long did the Hezbollah-GOS relationship last?

    Who cares? The argument was about the relationship itself- not how long it lasted. If A and B both slept with the devil, it doesn’t really matter if A went for the full service while B only went for a Blow Job.

    Are you conceding formally (so that we can move on with this point) that Israel did in fact have a “relationship” with Hamas when it suited their interest, even when it knew Hamas was not only about “Charity”? Yes? No?

    2.) What misssiles did the GOI provide Hamas vs what GOS provided Hezbollah. The same, fewer, or more? Provide hard numbers.

    Who cares about how big the guns were. My assertion is that Israel at the very least turned a blind eye to Hamas gathering weapons. And that according to Israeli sources, did not care if those weapons were used agaisnt Hamas’s enemies, as long as they were not used against Israel.

    I don’t know what “missiles” in HA’s arsenal were supplied by Syria, if any. Syria certainly helped deliver missiles through Iran. But that to me is sort of like Israel turning a blind eye to theft/smuggling by Hamas.

    3.) When did Assad ever war with their “client” Hezbollah like the Israelis did with their “client” Hamas in “Operation Cast Lead”?

    Assad didn’t have just one client. Assad ad all sorts of clients during the Lebanese war.

    You are in a Lebanese forum here. Ask anyone to give you details about backstabbing Assad did to his one-time allies.

    4.) When did the Syrian client ever target Syria in the same way Israel’s “client”, Hamas, target Israel?

    I would argue that the Hamas type (really an offshoot of the Brotherhood) is targetting Syria now.

    Turn on CNN.

    5.) Which American professor recommended that Israel continue to supply weapons to their Hamas “client” for the brillant reason “what else can they do”?

    Let’s not make this about Israel, since clearly it’s a touchy subject for you. But take the discussion to Iran/Libya or any other spot in the world. Professors regularly come out and say the US should arm/help/whatever this or that “opposition”.

    I hope that answers all your questions.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 10:56 am
  106. Gabriel,

    Let’s have an honest discussion. Assad armed and funded Hamas to conduct a terror campaign of suicide bombings in Israel that took the life of 1000 Israelis over several years. Restaurants, hotels, disco, public transportation etc. were bombed. Did the Israeli government ever support something that even comes close? Funding an opposition group is VERY DIFFERENT from funding a terror group and knowingly supporting mass murder of civilians over several years. You can claim equivalence as much as you want, there just isn’t. And Landis supported this as “smart”. Go ahead, keep defending him.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 11:03 am
  107. Is this lemonade or beer?

    The argument was about the relationship itself- not how long it lasted.


    Of course, Because the minute you scratch the surface your “moral-equivalency” crumbles like halva.

    You should know better. The Nazis had “relationships” with Jews…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 11:07 am
  108. .” Did the Israeli government ever support something that even comes close? ”

    LOL..It didnt need Hamas for that, it already had another terrorist organization called the IDF

    Posted by mo | February 14, 2012, 11:10 am
  109. Ap..
    I asked you a flat out yes no question in the previous post.

    You didn’t bother responding.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 11:15 am
  110. I really wanted to remain a silent follower, but I couldn’t resist pointing out the obvious:

    AP Says: “OTOH, Professor Josh espoused the exact same views as the Russians and the Chinese. So why doesn’t Professor Josh get any criticism from the arab community? Maybe because he was so beautifully anti-Israel for so long, it sort of bought him a “Get out of Jail Free Card” so-to-speak… But your guess is as good as mine.”

    How about because Prof Josh doesn’t have a VETO on the UN Security Council? In other words, one espouses views (Prof Josh) and the other (Russia, China) make decisions that have real impact on the ground.

    OTOH, I can’t believe I am coming to the defense of Prof Josh. I don’t agree with any of his analysis, but it is just that – analysis. Once the voices become silent, then the oppressor wins. AND YES even if the voice in question supports the oppressor.

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | February 14, 2012, 11:33 am
  111. Gabriel,

    Lets see what you and the piece expects us to believe:

    A) Israel armed Hamas (never mind it didn’t exist then) against Fatah.
    B) Fatah tells Israel Hamas will attack Israel and Israel _believes this_.

    Maybe we should try telling Iran that HA will attack it… Somehow I doubt there’ll be a response other than laughter.

    What I suggest? Israel had its own sources, and when it found out Islamists were gathering weapons it (tried to) disarm them… Which worked for awhile. Hamas itself was founded six months after the First Intifadah began (per Schiff’s book. They later forged documents to pretend the organization was founded a bit earlier), and gradually it grew stronger. But the later history is already well-known…

    Posted by Y. | February 14, 2012, 11:36 am
  112. QN,

    I think Old Hand’s view is quite fair. You bring Tabler as an example. Once he was out of Syria, he made it quite clear what he thought of the regime. Landis never did that. I remember Landis even writing how mistaken the regime was about Tabler, and the question is relative to who? I will try finding the exact quote. Furthermore, why does what Landis has recently written excuse or mitigate in anyway what he wrote in the past? Landis has never rescinded his words about how “smart” the Syrian regime is.

    How do you interpret this tidbit from Landis:
    “So long as the US stops the flow of arms to Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah without stopping Israel from expropriating Palestinian and Syria land, the Arab goose is cooked. Obama’s Washington remains vigilant and decisive in its efforts to thwart Arab resistance to Israel’s expansion. The question is whether Obama can put together a policy that will also push forward the Arab Peace plan. If he cannot, all the promise will be unfulfilled.”

    This is not analysis, this is support of the “Arab position” (whatever that is) and support of transferring weapons to terror groups to counterbalance Israel.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 11:39 am
  113. Johnny,

    We are not trying to silence Prof. Landis, we are criticizing his views. Where have you seen either AP or me EVER suggest SC should be closed down or that Landis’ rights to free speech be limited in any way?

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 11:44 am
  114. We are not trying to silence Prof. Landis, we are criticizing his views.

    We are also collecting funds to send Landis on a one-way ticket to Homs. Please send check or money order to:

    Help the Syrians
    c/o “Professors for a Just Middle East Peace”
    100 University of Oklahoma
    Boonies, OK 80321

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 11:50 am
  115. QN and HP,

    You will really enjoy this post:

    “US Economic Sanctions on Syria Have Failed,” by Joshua Landis

    Contrary to what Andrew Tabler of WINEP, a right-wing think tank argues, US sanctions on Syria have failed.”

    My favorite parts:
    “US sanctions are no longer a major factor inhibiting investors.”
    “If Americans don’t get into the act soon, they will find themselves at a serious disadvantage in an emerging market that has promise and where most assets are undervalued.”

    Landis even quotes Otrakji’s delusional comment as backing his views.
    Do you really believe that this is analysis and not cheer leading and support of the regime?

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 11:53 am
  116. QN,

    I have read SC long enough to know what Landis’ position is.
    It is the following:
    Although the Assad regime is odious, it is much better than the Sunni regime that will replace it especially in regards to the Alawite and Christian minorities in Syria, and I care more about the minorities than about the Sunni majority.

    That is a perfectly reasonable position to hold, but Landis is not willing to say it clearly. What is he afraid of? Being called sectarian? This is the middle east not the midwest.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 12:12 pm
  117. aron – Well, we have some disagreements I guess:

    First, I don’t view the 90s or the 2000 withdrawal as a big payoff for Syria, but more of a failure to get nearly as much as they could at the time. If an agreement between Assad Sr. and Barak been signed that would have been the big payoff. Perhaps the main reason for it not happening was Hafez’s health. An experienced negotiator like him should have been able to smooth his way past the formal disagreement about the NE Kinneret. Instead, what happened was the withdrawal which was a mixed blessing for Syria.

    Second, Assad Jr. should have tried to strengthen a counterforce to HA and play balance-of-power. Not because the West wanted him to, but in order to enhance his control of Lebanon and of HA. The only way Syria could play the HA card is if it is in its hand.

    If HA is in the Iranian hand, than it doesn’t help Syria all that much. In that case, it gives no reason for others to need Syria, and I don’t think it even gives Syria a deterrent. It sure didn’t stop Israel from blowing up that reactor, or buzzing around Assad’s palace, or bombing an Islamic Jihad camp there, etc. etc.

    Third, I don’t buy the regional turbulence line. If anything, this could have given cover to Assad Jr. to adjust policy (‘the situation has changed’ etc.).

    Fourth, he should have explored much better relations with the US (and yes, making a few concessions in advance was worth it). Sadat, for example, turned to the US _before_ Camp David was signed. By so doing he managed to get its support during the negotiations.

    Fifth, that list of demands is, well, an indication for how much the regime overvalued its hand. There were little chances of him getting all of it, and if it wanted to play all or nothing than it got the result it deserved (‘nothing’).

    Lastly, yeah, turning to Turkey was the one competent thing he did foreign policy-wise.

    Posted by Y. | February 14, 2012, 12:17 pm
  118. Y.,

    If you recall (I heard Ehud Barak say so directly in an election speech), Barack ran on a platform of withdrawing from Lebanon because he thought it would put pressure on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. It wasn’t all that clear at that time that it was a Syrian interest that Israel withdraw from Lebanon. The Israeli withdrawal opened the path to the Syrian Accountability Act since Syria was the only occupier in Lebanon.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 12:28 pm
  119. QN,

    Here the bit I promised about Tabler. This is all Landis:

    “I must say that I was a bit surprised to hear that Tabler was successfully recruited by WINEP. Some critics argue that the Institute acts as a quasi arm of the pro-Israel lobby. All the same, it does make sense in that it is the most influential Washington think tank on things Middle Eastern, in particular on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Martin Indyk helped to found it and Dennis Ross has hangs his hat there when he isn’t working for the president. What is more, precious few think tanks would hire a Syria specialist, so it is quite possible that Tabler had few choices. It is hard to think of a pro-Arab think tank in Washington that supports fellows – certainly not one that would hire a scholar for his knowledge of Syria. Unlike Jewish-Americans, Syrian-Americans don’t give money to think tanks, perhaps for the reasons that Tabler outlined in his interview.

    As Tabler says, he is the “only foreign correspondent to ever travel with the Syrian president on a foreign state visit (China, 2004), so I imagine that someone in Syria is catching hell for his choice of employer after eight years in Damascus.”

    It is from this post:

    Isn’t it clear that Landis expected Tabler to be “pro-Arab” (anti Israel and US policies) like him? And isn’t it clear that Landis is saying that in order to get info like he and Tabler did, you need to be “pro-Arab” or accept the Syrian position? Landis clearly lays his hand on the table in this post.

    In any case, thanks for toggling my memory of this post with your mention of Tabler.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 12:50 pm
  120. Y#112:

    I am not expecting you to believe anything. I simply quoted a piece that I myself did not author. C’est tout!

    This piece makes reference to statements made by Israelis “in the know”. And you yourself attested to have read the piece, and stated that there is nothing there that is “new”, that in fact, all of the material listed there is known.

    For the record, I agree with your last statement. That was my point. Despite this being an Israeli friendly article (and painfully so), it is obvious that Israel did in fact “have its own sources”, and that is how it came to know that Hamas (or whatever predecessor organization existed) was in fact arming.

    It knew all that information even as it saw skirmishes between Fatah and “pre”-Hamas. Skirmishes that suited its interests just fine.

    On your two points:

    Lets see what you and the piece expects us to believe:

    A) Israel armed Hamas (never mind it didn’t exist then) against Fatah.
    B) Fatah tells Israel Hamas will attack Israel and Israel _believes this_.

    I didn’t say Israel armed Hamas. I said I wouldn’t be surprised if early on it in fact did. At the very least, I think they turned a blind eye to whatever activities they were involved in to get themselves armed. By agreeing that Israel had its own “sources” to find out about this arming process, you are conceding the point. Now if I can only get you to acknowledge it explicitly (something you, AP, and AIG seem to find hard to do).

    On point B), no of course I didn’t expect you to believe that. That would make me a stupid stupid person. Ditto, the absurd sequence of logic you, AIG and AP was trying to push us through.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 1:05 pm
  121. I don’t understand your position, AIG and AP.

    You keep showing me quotes from several years back that show Joshua arguing tirelessly that Syria is weak, the Arab goose is cooked, Israel is so much stronger, Syria has no way of achieving its foreign policy objectives, yada yada yada… and still you feel that he is a champion of this regime, just because he does not come out and call it “odious”? Just grow up already and stop looking for a shibboleth.

    As for the sanctions quote, that was perfectly valid then. The Syrians were courting Qatari money, the Saudis were pursuing reconciliation, the Turks were signing all kinds of trade agreements, etc. So it was legitimate to state that US sanctions were not affecting the regime. Would you rather have an analyst tell you want you want to hear, or what is actually true? Josh got more things right about Syria’s outlook and strategic objectives during the 2005-10 period (which was when I was reading him) than any other analyst. Did I like that he was right a lot of the time (especially about Lebanon)? No. But I’m not going to stop listening just because I disagree with him on some issues.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 1:11 pm
  122. AIG#107:

    One topic at a time. Otherwise, there would be information overload.

    Once the question of Israel’s “support” for Hamas question is settled, we can move on to much larger questions of Israeli support for “terrorism” and targeting of civilians.

    Go ahead, keep defending him.

    This is an unfair/unwarranted statement.

    Just be fair and consistent in your analysis.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 1:15 pm
  123. PS: There’s a big difference between a thoughtful, reasonable person who holds different views than you do, and an irrational, partisan, intellectually dishonest person who holds different views from you. You can have a conversation with the former, and not the latter.

    The galaxy of Resistance Axis pundits is made up overwhelmingly of the second type. Josh is a straight shooter who knows Syria and tells it like it is.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 1:17 pm
  124. AIG, I tend to more agree with your thinking in this ping-pong match. However, when Joshua Landis writes on the Syrian economy and that US sanctions have failed, he did have backing elsewhere. I recall that, The Economist I believe, ran a story on Syria as the next emerging market. I’m not sure on the order of things, i.e. whose story came first, but there were others as well who thought of Syria in terms of an emerging market. Recall Dardari, one of the few outside leaders actually trusted, and his plan for investments to Syria. Recall the various projects involving foreign companies. Recall the change of scenery of Dimashq between 2000 and 2008. One can be forgiven for having thought Syria was an untapped market.

    Of course, one found also those with opposing views, those who said that Syria will never grow enough unless sanctions from US lifted. That JL espoused the emerging market view was quite incorrect (even the last year aside, fdi actually fell between 2009 to 2010) but nevertheless understandable.

    For what it’s worth…

    Posted by Pas Cool | February 14, 2012, 1:38 pm
  125. QN
    In my humble opinion you are missing the forest for the trees. No one is questioning the right of a writer/analyst to his/her point of view. That is an intrinsic right that is not open to discussion. What is at stake is whether the views and analysis that have been done by one source (Landis in this case) over a number of years have helped justify, rationalize and support oppression and dictatorship. The record is clear on that.
    The fact that the recent events have made it clear that this regime is bankrupt and cannot survive; that it has ruled for all these years by instilling fear and violating human rights; that it has no list of accomplishments besides killing its own people and that the rulers might be held accountable in a court of law for crimes against humanity have finally convinced Landis not to rush to the defense of the sinking ship with all the rats on it does not make Landis an objective observer by any stretch of the imagination. He thought of himself for years as the rational Syrian defender. Well it is time for him to eat crow.
    What is clear is that his previous positions devoted to the support of the Baath and the Assads were arrived at through reverse engineering. At each and every twist and turn Landis assumed that the Assads were right and then worked the logic backward to build a flimsy case for it.
    And ,btw, making ones views regarding the morality/immorality and legitimacy/illegitimacy of a system that one has devoted years to covering is an absolute must. There ought be no place for moral ambiguity in the coverage of such seminal issues that affect the lifes of millions of people. Allow me to repeat for the nth time that there is a categorical moral imperative to take a stand against tyranny irrespective of its origin. There is no justification for evil, fullstop.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 1:56 pm
  126. Another Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind

    What is at stake is whether the views and analysis that have been done by one source (Landis in this case) over a number of years have helped justify, rationalize and support oppression and dictatorship. The record is clear on that.

    GK “gets it”.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | February 14, 2012, 2:05 pm
  127. Ghassan

    In my view, there’s a clear double standard here. Josh expresses his view on Syria (which is rooted in the cold logic of realpolitik) and he is called a fawning sycophant who justifies oppression and dictatorship. Meanwhile, experts on the modern politics of Egypt, Iran, Saudi, Jordan express their views on those countries without singing kumbaya, and no one gets their panties in a twist.

    Back to the dissertation.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 2:16 pm
  128. QN
    Stay focused on the dissertation but please keep in mind that two wrongs do not a right make. Actually most people, credible ones, who write about Saudi Arabia often mention their disdain for its absolute rule.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 2:27 pm
  129. QN,

    If Josh really knew about Syria, he would have known that the economic situation in Syria was untenable. At which point exactly did the line change form the “American sanctions are not working” to “Americans sanctions are working”? The drought that displaced millions of Syrians was never commented on by Landis. The economic implications of that were never commented on by Landis. The huge youth unemployment, again, never touched by Landis (except to put news articles about these issues if they were published).

    I have very little to add to what GK says except that it is clear that Landis is complaining, ranting against Syrian weakness, not describing it objectively. Wherever he can, he attempts to show that even though Syria is not strong enough to get the Golan, it is strong enough to make trouble and that is “smart”.

    Do you really believe that an objective analyst of Syria could be a friend of Imad Mustapha? Why did Mustapha end the friendship when Landis did become much more objective? Why is Otrakji not posting anymore on Syria Comment? Of course we can discuss the validity of every piece of evidence I present, but the totality of the evidence makes it clear to me at least (not to mention several other followers of SC over many years like Pas Cool and GK) that you are wrong in this case.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 2:35 pm
  130. Yes, the totality of evidence is mind-blowing. I am in awe of it, and so please don’t assume that my real reason for not responding to you is that I have a dissertation to write.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 2:45 pm
  131. It might be helpful to apply in this case the common practice used by many philosophers, the use of an analogy.
    Assume a French reporter has spent ten years ;1980-1990 ;covering the ex Soviet union in any and all media venues available. The analysis was always favourable and at times it was nothing short of extolling the wisdom of the rulers and their ability to maneuver the ship of state so well. The refusenicks and the Solzhnitzyns of the world were always dismissed while the brutality of the KGB ; the Gulags and the terrible economic performance of the empire never warranted a negative remark.
    Then all of a sudden the Berlin Wall falls and the Russian people revolt against their tormentors of 70 years. At that point our fictitious French reporter decides that the Communist regime will not survive and even suggests that a soft landing is not possible.
    How would the Russian people or an objective observer judge this reporter? Can he be judged as anything but a tool of , at a minimum, promoting oppression? I don’t think so.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 2:53 pm
  132. QN,

    You have an excellent excuse, but HP is slacking off 🙂

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 3:14 pm
  133. GK#132

    Unlike others on this forum, who apparently have dogged JL for the last decade :), I don’t know if in fact the analogy can be made.

    Having said that, I think that the question of objectivity and objective analysis requires that if one were to bash the Communist regimes for certain actions, then they would hold the US to the same standards.

    And for the most part, I think objective reporters have done that.

    Whether or not JL falls into that category is an altogether different question.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 4:03 pm
  134. GK,

    The categorical imperative that you refer to is based on the universality of Reason and is about some kind of transcendent autonomy in terms of making decisions that are considered moral by Kant. Nowhere is the CI as specific as to designate a form of government (tyranny) in either the second critique or in the groundworks.

    It is in relation to progress towards a more.Rational world, and towards perpetual peace, that Kant would have oppsed tyranny, but not in relation to a categorical! Soon enough, history was introduced by Hegel as the ontological foundation of any meaning and value, and since then, no philosophy claims that there could be universal measures for assessing moral or political behavior–except for proto Marxian theories based on communicative action and for logicians who take the social world for a.linguistic puzzle or for a.naturalistic playfield.)

    All say that, after ww2, reason lost its place as the transcendent escape pod that will save humanity and bring universal harmony to the world. The Market, at one point, replaced reason as the claimed universal measure of salvation, and there are currently still both economic prophets of salvation and followers of the religion of the universla value of purchase power as peace, happiness, and freedom.

    Your theory would assume that we should All be against the tyranny of the market since a categorical imperative drives us. Wishful thinking! The better explanation would be finding that change and transformation in our particular social and historical constructs of political communities require “parrhesia”–as analyzed historically by Foucault–and thus a constant debate, critique, and questioning of any stable form of conditioning or subjectivization is what “free”people should aim for.

    There aren’t any binary choices, like good and bad, true or false, except in axiomatic or foundational settings. In the real world, the social world that we all live in, we need vigilance and critiques brought about rational discourses, but also an adequate understanding of the complex and multiple conditions within which we function, in order to effectuate change and some control over our lives. We do not need Reason as a transcendent and omnipotent regulator, nor do we need to explain our word reductively in terms of moral binaries or in axiomatic utopian constructions.

    LANDIS tried to study the social fabric of Syria, in its changing nature. You and others are choosing to “take a stand” based on an imagined universal, like Bush did: you are either with us or against us! The world is not as simple. Your attention to the crimes in Syria is directed away from worse crimes being committed everywhere, and you are being led by the mediatic noose to overvalue and to concentrate on this “unacceptable” situation in order to tame you!! Now you may not accept my analysis as truthful, or as useful, and you may silence or ignore my points, but at least you encountered a different interpretation or your situation–and either doubt, as Pierce would call it, or an unconscious appropriation of different positions, would allow for “change” and transformation at the individual level. Scholars and different theories and interpretations are equally needed transformation.

    It is imperative to critique other points of view as long as we are critical of our own as well. That is the beauty of the humanities and the natural.sciences: there is no truth to discover there, only a truthful method because it is always critical of its own findings….

    Posted by Parrhesia | February 14, 2012, 4:25 pm
  135. Gaby,

    Those reporters who dared bash the Assad regime were commemorated today in Biel. Samir Kassir & Gebran Tueini may you RIP.

    I’d like the brave intellectuals here to show me where JL has bashed the Assad’s family or its policies the past years…

    Please be kind enough not to link to absurdity of what Ghassan correctly described above @ 132.

    Posted by danny | February 14, 2012, 5:13 pm
  136. Danny

    I’m not disagreeing. I haven’t read enough JL, if any at all, nor can I tell you if he ever bashed or criticised Assad or not, nor am I going to go back and read 10/20 years worth of his writing. JL is not worth my time :).

    If the above holds true, then I think the case of objectivity against Landis can easily be made, and it doesn’t require the likes of AIG to go and pull articles and nit-pick on this or that line.

    As far as Tueni and Kassir are concerned. May they rest in peace indeed.

    Posted by Gabriel | February 14, 2012, 5:24 pm
  137. It’s not a party until someone invites the categorical imperative. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 5:34 pm
  138. Parrhesia,
    You know as well as I do that I am not going to discuss deontology in any depth at QN. But since you brought it up I think that the following quote from Kant might be helpful: “If rational beings can be an end in themselves, this is not because they have reason but because they have freedom. Reason is merely the means”
    To Kant happiness does not depend on dictatorial laws ,. not even benevolent ones, happiness is a cause of human freedom. And yes it is a categorical imperative to oppose dictatorship and tyranny not only in Syria but wherever it takes place.. From Beijing, to Havana and from Berlin to Wall street. I am not focusing on the crimes of Syria to the detriment of other crime. It just so happens to be the topic of interest in this thread.
    I assure you that I am equally repulsed, if not even more so, by the environmental abuses and yes, the inequities of the market. But when you point out that these are just as important as the tyranny in Syria isn’t this an admission that the Syrian regime is a regime that I do noit wish to see go universal. That was , afterall, the best measure suggested by Oneil and rawls , two very important disciples of Kant.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 5:51 pm
  139. QN,

    It is not a party until the beloved dictator shoots 5,000 people and trashes Syria. Before that it is all just “smart” foreign policy or actions forced on the regime by the circumstances.

    Posted by AIG | February 14, 2012, 6:13 pm
  140. New post up.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 14, 2012, 6:15 pm
  141. AIG
    I understand that many are using the figure of 7000 not to speak of the physical destruction, the jailed, the wounded, the economic stagnation and the psychological damage done to a whole nation.

    Our proverbial reporter was assigned to cover the ex Soviet Union and so we are limiting the judgement to that case. Obviously though, the yardstick against he is judged should be applied uniformly.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 14, 2012, 6:42 pm
  142. Y — Good points again. I agree that a signed agreement on Lebanon would have been better for Syria, but I’m not sure they wanted to sign it except in the context of getting the Golan back.

    As for Hafez insisting on his lines on the Golan, and even more his failure to move on these negotiations in time: I agree that this seemed irrational, but it could have been a question of legacy I suppose. Or a stalling strategy (hoping to link Golan to Lebanon, before the withdrawal, in a “grand bargain” sort of deal). Or health. Or succession. Or just a dysfunctional policy-making system. Probably a little of them all.

    In any case, I’m not saying the regime’s foreign policy has been “smart” in every way. Hafez wasn’t quite the foreign policy genius he’s been made out to be — he was a great tactician, undoubtedly, but he made repeated strategic errors, betting on the wrong horse time and again. But sticking with HA post-civil war is one area where I just can’t see better alternatives, from a regime point of view.

    “Second, Assad Jr. should have tried to strengthen a counterforce to HA and play balance-of-power. Not because the West wanted him to, but in order to enhance his control of Lebanon and of HA. The only way Syria could play the HA card is if it is in its hand.”

    Emphatically agree, although I don’t think it would have been easy. But now we’ve come a long way from saying he could realistically have dropped HA altogether, which was what I originally disagreed with.

    In any case, it’s not a clear-cut issue. Bashar lost a lot of sway over Lebanon, even before being run out in 2005. And HA is Teheran’s creature, absolutely. But even now at Syria’s weakest, both Iran and HA are doing their utmost to prop up Bashar — so it’s not exactly as if Syria is irrelevant to them.

    I don’t think it even gives Syria a deterrent. It sure didn’t stop Israel from blowing up that reactor, or buzzing around Assad’s palace, or bombing an Islamic Jihad camp there, etc. etc.

    This is a bit of a straw man argument, isn’t it? War is one thing, one-off incursions are another. Surely HA being able to blanket northern Israel with missiles helps bolster Syria’s deterrent power — at least it seems to feature heavily in Israeli strategic thinking. So, no, HA doesn’t provide a magic defensive shield, but it’s been one very useful tool among several.

    (And as you’ve noticed, Syria’s gas-tipped SCUD arsenal didn’t stop Israel from buzzing the presidential palace either, but I do think they are a working deterrent.)

    Third, I don’t buy the regional turbulence line. If anything, this could have given cover to Assad Jr. to adjust policy (‘the situation has changed’ etc.).

    I don’t think he needs much political cover, that’s why he’s a dictator. His problem was never public opinion, it was a lack of raw power and reliable allies. HA seemed to provide a bit of both within its sphere of influence, and dumping them at the exact moment he was being pressured just seems stuped.

    Fourth, he should have explored much better relations with the US (and yes, making a few concessions in advance was worth it). Sadat, for example, turned to the US _before_ Camp David was signed. By so doing he managed to get its support during the negotiations.

    I’m sure the Sadat example weighs heavily on Assad’s mind, but more because of 1981 than because of 1977…

    Fifth, that list of demands is, well, an indication for how much the regime overvalued its hand.

    Yes, I think you’re mostly right here. But politics rarely give you an either-or choice. The third alternative is to wait and see and hope for better times, and try to slowly adapt if they don’t show up, rather than risking a collapse in your position by switching track 180 degrees at the wrong moment. That’s more or less what Syria has been doing since the 70s, producing some hits and some misses.

    On balance, not a highly successful foreign policy, but for the Assads to have clung to power for 40 years (could well have been 50 or 60 if not for 2011) certainly tells the regime it’s been doing something right.

    Posted by aron | February 14, 2012, 6:46 pm
  143. Gabriel,

    Well, that’s not what I said, that’s what the piece believes. And no, having spies doesn’t mean one knows everything. But keep your conspiracy-style thinking if it suits you.


    And that’s one of the reasons why I called the 2000 withdrawal a ‘mixed blessing’ for Syria.

    Posted by Y. | February 15, 2012, 11:42 am
  144. aron,

    Well, we agree on more now. I didn’t suggest dumping HA and Iran (at least not yet), but creating a distance and being more independent would have useful. What does Syria (as contrary to Assad) gain from dependence on HA and Iran? Less importance, more economic difficulties? Yes, their support for Assad is useful now (though I suspect motivated as much by the desire to avoid similar happenings in Iran), but having the Gulf State in one’s corner (or at least neutral) would have enabled to prevent a lot of the mess in the first place. I guess Assad planned to rely on Turkey to balance Iran, but that didn’t work out… But I’m just repeating myself from earlier, so I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree here.

    I don’t think Hizballah’s missiles add much over Syria’s own missiles as a deterrent vs invasion, and Israel can get most of what it wants short of invasion anyhow (I don’t really see why Israel would want to invade Syria. Building settlements in Damascus? The most direct path to satisfy some Israelis’ psychological need for eating Hummus there? Seriously, Israel has better things to do. That said, deterrence is built vs capabilities rather than intentions).

    Doing something right? Well, the chosen FP allies did not abandon Assad when the going got rough, and that counts. I think a more diversified FP would have strengthened Syria, but its weakness is just as much a result of disastrous internal and economic policies (like not approving the Association Agreement when the EU all but begged him to sign it in 2009. Worrying about imports would have made sense if there wasn’t already an FTA with Turkey which has a customs union with the EU. As it is, Syria still got the imports but access to the EU market was hampered).

    Posted by Y. | February 15, 2012, 12:31 pm
  145. Y. – Pleasant debate, this. But I also think we agree on most things.

    Well, obviously Syria doesn’t stand to gain from dependence on Iran, on the contrary I think they’d much prefer to have the upper hand in that relationship. It’s just that the regime probably stood to lose so much more from trying to break ranks during the past ten years, and becoming the junior partner was perhaps seen as an unfortunate necessity if it was to continue. Simply, the least bad option.

    As I see it, there were never any alternative allies that could be trusted under the kind of pressure the Assads have become used to experiencing from time to time. US, EU, GCC might have promised him the Moon to break with HA, but could not be trusted to stand by him in a crisis. Even Turkey turned out to be less reliable than expected. And remember that Assad actually had Qatar more or less in his corner when this started, and was back on speaking terms with the Saudis. But that didn’t help at all, when push came to shove.

    Unless Bashar could have extracted himself from major conflict with the West and simultaneously had reasonably solid guarantees for financial support and non-aggression (the “list of demands”), I don’t see what could have made him confident enough to take the leap. Possibly a combination of increasing economic problems at home and improving ties with a strong Turkey, but now we’ll never know.

    Deterrence — No I don’t think Israel is keen on invading Syria, never was. But the regime has to worry about the capability, as you say. The missile deterrent at least gives it some limited flexibility in regards to Israel, in addition to focusing everyone’s mind a bit on the need to keep peace on the Golan. Plus, Israel can also be used as a hostage target, à la Saddam’s SCUDs in 1991. (That should concern people right now, I think. Especially the risk that the regime might try to ignite limited conflict via Lebanon — again, a good use for relations with HA!)

    Another point on HA is that if it didn’t have missiles, through Syrian support, it would itself be weaker in the face of Israeli conventional assault. Syria has had good reason to strengthen HA even on the understanding that it is an Iranian proxy, just because it’s the best way to keep rival forces out of south Lebanon. I’m not saying the SLA would rise again if HA was weakned, but … you never know.

    The EU Association Agr., very good point. That was really a case of Bashar overvaluing his hand, as you said before.

    Posted by aron | February 15, 2012, 1:19 pm

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