Thursday, November 23, 2006

Democracy carries no sense to Iran and Syria

A few days ago I warned here that Iran and Syria, due to their scorpion-like nature, cannot be counted on as partners in bringing peace and stability to Iraq and the Middle East:

Con Coughlin, UK Telegraph-The precise identity of those responsible for this week's assassination of Pierre Gemayel and his bodyguard may never be known, but few Lebanese entertain serious doubts that Hizbollah and its close ally Syria were not involved in the killing.

Ever since Syria was forced to undertake a humiliating withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon last year, following its involvement in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, Damascus has been desperate to reassert its authority over a country it sees as a client state. Prior to the withdrawal, Syria had dominated Lebanon's political landscape – irrespective of the wishes of the Lebanese people – with varying degrees of success for two decades.

This sudden loss of influence, coupled with the championing of the newly liberated Lebanon by the Bush administration, has made the Syrians more determined than ever to restore the status quo ante. The fall-out from the Hariri affair – which could still result in the prosecution of senior members of Syrian President Bashir Assad's inner circle – has meant the Syrians have had to keep a low profile in their quest to re-establish their domination over Lebanon. So they have turned to Hizbollah, and the militia's backers in Teheran, to do the job for them, and so far the tactic has proved to be remarkably successful.

The war Hizbollah provoked – on Teheran's orders – against Israel last summer succeeded in consolidating the Shi'ite Muslim militia's standing in Lebanon as the one faction that had the will, and the resources, to take on the Israelis in defence of Lebanese sovereignty. In fact Hizbollah's standing is such that Michel Aoun, the country's former Christian president and a highly respected former army general, has opted to make an alliance with the Shia.

...All of which makes a mockery of Tony Blair's suggestion – articulated only last week during his Mansion House speech – that the West should engage in a constructive dialogue with both Syria and Iran in an attempt to resolve all the ills of the Middle East. What he singularly fails to understand is that, far from being interested in pursuing a dialogue with the West, the Syrian and Iranian regimes are engaged in an elemental battle with the West to define the future shape of the Middle East.

...This is a prospect that is viewed with alarm among the ruling classes in Iran and Syria, who depend upon the tried and tested methods of state-sanctioned brutality and repression to keep themselves in power. Far from wanting to work with the West to make the region a better place, they want to keep it as it is. Rather than seeing governments established in Baghdad and Beirut that are accountable to the people, they are prepared to resort to any means at their disposal – from road-side bombs to assassination squads – to sustain themselves in power.

Far from wanting to assist the West with its efforts to bring a breath of modernity to the politics of the Middle East, the unreconstructed autocrats of Damascus and Teheran are viscerally opposed to any attempt to make life better for the people they rule. The sooner Mr Blair grasps this simple fact, the better.

Related: Michael Young,Times of London: So how does 'engaging with Syria' look now?