Incisive Perspective: Syria and Saudi Arabia
By Barry Rubin,director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal
May 29 2011
Syria Murders Hundreds; “Pro-`Arab Spring'” West Yawns or Supports Syrian Regime
The situation in Syria is terrible. Hundreds of people have been shot; others arrested and tortured. And yet after weeks of demonstrations and repression the West has done nothing. True, the U.S. government has shifted from defending the dictatorship to scolding it mildly. Big deal.
How ironic. President Barack Obama extolls the “Arab Spring,” helps overthrow the Egyptian and Tunisian governments, made a try to do so in Bahrain (until the State Department talked the White House out of it), and is still trying in Yemen and in Libya (with military intervention!) yet does nothing on Syria, the most repressive by far of all these countries (except Libya).
So, here’s how the Middle East works. As an Arab friend writes to me:
“Everyone, whether anti- or pro-regime, is convinced that the U.S. government is protecting [Syrian dictator] Bashar al-Assad and wants him to stay. The longer this administration stands by its incredibly stupid position telling him to “lead the transition” as he kills and tortures at will, it will be stained by his obscenity.”
In other words, when the U.S. government defends the Assad regime the people believe it supports the Assad regime. Every principle set down by the Obama Administration on Egypt and elsewhere-whether right or wrong-is being violated by that same government in Syria!
Here’s an example , for those with a strong stomach, about what’s going on in Syria:
And the Syrian oppositionists correctly believe that they aren’t getting any international support. Palestinian groups that have practiced terrorism for decades are treated as saints and victims; the Syrian people (and Iranian, Turkish, and Lebanese oppositions, too) are treated like pariahs. Western students do nothing for them; Western students and activists don’t protest on their behalf.
Why do only anti-Western movements and opponents of governments friendly to the West get Western support?
The White House even rightly accused Syria of letting protesters cross through closed military zones to let them attack Israel’s borders in order to distract from its repression of protesters at home. The White House spokesman said, “Such behavior is unacceptable.”
But apparently it is acceptable to the White House.
After all, the Washington Post states in an editorial :
“The administration said ten days ago that it would `adjust… relations with Syria according to the concrete actions undertaken by the Syrian government.’ Since then Syrian troops have invaded more cities and killed scores more people. Now the regime has provoked violence with Israel. Has the time not yet come for an `adjustment’?”
No. Two weeks after this editorial and almost a month since promising to do something on Syria, the administration shows no sign of altering a Middle East policy mainly defined as being nice to the West’s enemies and nasty to its friends. What’s particularly noteworthy is that we aren’t just talking about Israel but also: democratic oppositions in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey; as well as the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the smaller Gulf states. This Obama Administration is an equal opportunity unreliable friend.
And what does Israel’s government think about Syria?
The Syrian government is not exactly popular in Israel. There have been times in the past when Israeli policymakers thought Syria might stabilize the Lebanon-Israel border. But this expectation has never really worked out. So nobody’s thought like that for many years.
There are three reasons why Israel has “accepted” the Assad regime. First, it couldn’t do anything to change the situation. Second, it viewed the regime’s continuation as inevitable. And third Israel worries that a revolutionary Islamist regime would replace it and make the regional situation even worse.
Israel doesn’t have any options to affect Syria’s internal politics. Purely as an observation, Assad will probably survive. Israel will lobby neither for nor against Assad’s fall. But Israel must be prepared since–as we just saw with the Nakba day events–he will heat up anti-Israel activities to distract attention from his problems and legitimize his regime.
These have been observations, not plans for action. Israel has never lobbied with anyone to preserve or protect the current Syrian regime. Assad hasn’t needed “help” to maintain the support, or at least toleration, he has received from the West. Israel’s political capital is precious and won’t be wasted on an issue where action isn’t needed and would make no difference.
If Israel believed that a moderate democratic regime–or at least one that wouldn’t attack it and sponsor terrorism against it–would emerge Israel certainly wouldn’t oppose such an outcome.
But Assad is likely to survive both because of his own ruthlessness and the West’s shameful behavior. Warsaw, 1944; Budapest, 1956; Prague, 1967; meet Damascus, 2011.
SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2011
And The New Leader of the Free World Is…Saudi Arabia?
Since the United States is not leading the anti-Islamist forces in the Middle East and protecting the relatively moderate Arab states, the new leader is…Saudi Arabia.
But, you say, isn’t Saudi Arabia also Islamist? Well it’s as Islamic as you can get without being revolutionary Islamist. Isn’t Saudi Arabia profoundly anti-Jewish? Yes, but it mostly just talks about it. Isn’t Saudi Arabia anti-democratic? Yes, we’d prefer the United States but President Barack Obama is busy with other things.
Obama wants Middle East Muslims to love America. There are only two problems:
1. His policy doesn’t work. They don’t love America.
2. The Muslims he keeps appealing to are those who are radical and pro-terrorist. For those who are Muslims but don’t want to overthrow their neighbors, go to war with Israel as soon as possible, throw out U.S. influence, and transform their countries into something like Iran and Taliban Afghanistan, Obama is a problem.
So the Saudis are doing what I’ve been telling the Obama Administration to do for 2.5 years: Form an alliance opposing revolutionary Islamism. Of course, the Saudis won’t include Israel (at least publicly) and they won’t get Europe, but at the moment they’re all we’ve got.
This was completely predictable. Some weeks ago, Nawaf Obeid, who speaks for the Saudi government, in an informal and deniable way, of course, wrote an important op-ed piece saying that the Saudis were fed up with the Obama Administration. Sohe voices the Saudis’ anger and disappointment with a U.S. government that fails to fight against revolutionary Islamism and protect the Saudis from Iran.
I’ve been writing about this split for two years and now it has happened. The thing is that the Saudis are right and Obama is wrong. The Obama Administration helped overthrow the Egyptian regime and was ready to help bring down the government in Bahrain. The Saudis have had enough. The Jordanians would do the same if they could, as would Israel.
And there are plenty of countries in South America, Central Europe, and Asia that also feel this U.S. government has let them down.
Wasn’t this the U.S. government that was going to win over the Muslims, make the Arabs love America, and make the United States popular again?
Saudi Arabia has plenty of shortcomings. It won’t even let women drive! But at least it won’t let Tehran and the Muslim Brotherhood get in the region’s driver’s seat.
Barry Rubin’s latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org. His PajamasMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.