7 Reasons Why Syria's Annapolis Attendance Is Inconsequential

With a lot of talk of bringing Syria in “from the cold” and “thawing” of the relationship between Washington and Damascus, it is time to summarize once and for all why Syria’s attendance in the Annapolis conference is meaningless.

1- Iran Doesn’t Approve of Annapolis.

As a junior partner in the Syria-Iran axis, Syria can’t afford to provoke Iran, and Iran doesn’t like Annapolis one bit. This point was made clear after the phone call between the Iranian President Ahmedinejad and his Syrian counterpart, where both leaders declared that the the summit will fail.

2- Syria promises but doesn’t deliver

As most international envoys to Damascus have learned, the Syrian regime always combines sweet talking with negative actions. The reason is simple: The Syrian regime’s regional influence has always been based on the perception that it can restrain “extremist elements” like Hezbollah and Hamas. But the paradox is that without these elements, the world won’t have anything to ask from Syria. This is why Syria likes to sell promises, not deeds.

3- Syria’s real demand is Lebanon, not the Golan.

Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 was a humiliation the regime hasn’t gotten over. Syrians believe the historical fallacy that Lebanon was cut-off from Syria after the French colonialists left. Also, Lebanon was to Syria what Honk Kong was to China a few years ago: A cash-cow and window to the international financial system that helped prop its corrupt security services. Adding to this all, the Syrian regime is threatened by the International Tribunal that will try the killers of Rafic Hariri, the popular ex-prime minister of Lebanon who was killed in in February 2005.

4- In Syria, Assad doesn’t call all the shots.

In Syria, the young president Bashar el Assad is not the only decision maker. Powerful and corrupt military and intelligence officers like Assaef Shawkat control many levers of power in Damascus and are keeping a close menacing eye on their brittle president, especially when it comes to the International Tribunal where they could be heavily implicated.

5- Peace is not a good thing for the Syrian regime.

The ruling elite in Syria is comprised of Alawites who are a tiny minority in Syria. To constantly keep the lid on the Sunni majority, the Syrian regime likes to frame the middle East Conflict as an epic conflict where Syria is “last bastion of resistance” against American and Zionist plans for the region. In other words, the narrative is changed from “dictatorial ruling minority” to “Arabs versus Zionists”.

6- Syria wants nuclear goodies.

A clandestine nuclear program is not usually a precursor to peace.

7- Human rights situation keeps getting worse in Syria.

In the last few days, Syria banned Facebook, a website that contained many Syrian civil rights activities. That adds to Damascus’ dismal record on the human rights front. If Syria really wanted to open up with the west, it would at least have tried to make some goodwill gestures on that front.

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  • http://www.alisamad.com Ali

    I think you just selected 7 reasons of much longer list of why syria shouldn’t be there.
    It is a shame what the Syrian government is doing,wasting Lebanon’s time, and it people’s time to live happily and to prosper.
    I don’t even know why they were invited to the peace conference. It is another sad day were murderers get a chance to lay down their rules and obstruct everything.

  • http://polibel.blogspot.com/ FWM

    In principle it is indeed true that Annapolis could be inconsequential for Lebanon. I do however disagree with the bulk of your reasons, which I think reflect a fundamental misconception of Syria’s interests.

    “Syria’s real demand is Lebanon, not the Golan” . That quote expresses the intellectual symptom of a profound, though understandable, misunderstanding of Syria’s key interests.
    Bashar El-Assad’s real interest is to stay in power and “in the money”. Power as far as Assad is concerned is based on a dosis of fear, as well as a need for legitimacy. Legitimacy of the Assad regime relies on 1) arabism, whose sole rationale is the struggle against the “zionist enemy”. 2) it relies on a certain social pact with the syrians by which the regime provides food and stability in return for political apathy. That is why the Golan and not Lebanon is so important to Bashar and his clique. If they want to consolidate their legitimacy they have got to get Israel on its knees and present themselves like the triumphant victors of a 40-year long struggle. Lebanon in this respect is only important in so far as it allows syria to increase its leverage on Israel through the southern borders. Syria did that first through the Palestinians untill 1983 and then with Hezbollah. Lebanese need to understand that, especially the christians from the FL, if they are to have a sober view of what is happening today.
    Now, “what about the murder of Harriri” you will ask me! The Syrians had without doubt a key interest in this horrific murder. But not because they so wanted to own lebanon per se. The problem they had with Rafiq Harriri is that he had become too important to control. Rafiq Harriri enjoyed solid international support, he was about to realign with the Christians, but most importantly as a successful and Powerful Sunni he was the only moderate Levantine politician from the sunni sect capable of mounting a very serious challenge to the Assad regime from within Syria. Rafiq Harriri’s friendship with Abdul Halim Khaddam has to be understood in this light. Syria, who still needed, and still needs, Lebanon at that time had no other choice than assassinating a person who had the charisma and network to unroot the Assads in Syria.

    Finally a brief word on being “in the money”. Assad does not need to own Lebanon to be in the money. Quite to the contrary. What he needs is economic reform, FDIs, trade relationship with decent countries, and a nice pipeline from Kirkouk to Tartouz. The problem is that he cannot liberalise the economy without loosening the not around the average Syrian’s net and without challenging his own internal barons. In order to have the strenght to do that, Bashar need to regain the Golan, parade in Damascus as the long awaited hero, and implement the long awaited reforms. It is doubtful whether he has the necessary skills for that.

    Annapolis will be inconsequential for Lebanon, if Syria and the US cannot agree on the price of Syria’s return to the community of decent nation. bashar will want guarantees that the UN tribunal will not incriminate him, nor his brother in law (that will suffice to keep the latter happy), he will want guarantees that Israel will dismantle the colonies on the golan and agree in principle on sovereignty over the waters of the sea of galilea, he will demand to keep a Syria friendly president in place so that he can regulate hezbollah and keep it as his last bargaining chip that he will only drop wants the Syrian flag floats on the shore of the Sea of Galilea. It is not at all sure tha the US will agree with that price. That is why I agree in principle that Annapolis might be inconsequential.

  • anthem boy

    i always notice in the political cartoons, that lebanon is always portrayed as a sheepish weakling. the one here is another example. why is it you allow yourselves to be this way? how about you use the jewish “david and goliath” scenario in a cartoon? at least it would give people some hint of the strength they have. like you have said, syria is just a lap dog…bully, nothing more. just reach out and bloddy their nose and see what happens. if you do, they may back off or worst case scenario, they hit back and if they do, you would have alot of people on your side to help you deliver the next punch. sometimes you just gotta stand up and fight those syrian thugs.

  • Jay

    FWM… I second your analysis on Syria.
    Though entertain me for a second. Let’s assume for some reason the status-quo remain the same in the Middle East and Iran continues on with its nuclear program. Sometime in 2010-11 Iran would be a nuclear power and presumably has a nuclear weapon.

    Try and imagine the ME in that light, and off course with the Syrian regime and HA further emboldened and aggressive in their overreach. How would the ME be for the rest of us? That’s why Iran will never be allowed to become nuclear.

    I think the Annapolis conference is a last ditch effort to try and sway Syria and isolate Iran. I think this coming year the US/Israel will take care of the Iranian nuclear program.

    It’s possible that’s the reason some in M14 (Jumblatt) is still offering an olive branch to HA in the hope of reaching a made-in-Lebanon rational compromise. So far HA has been unyielding…

  • GK

    Hizb-iran get his orders from Iran and Syria. But it is the first time (for some time) that Iran and Syria are taking different positions on Annapolis. I am wondering if HA will be Hizb-Iran or Hizb-Syria after Annapolis!

  • Sam

    I think your post is coherent and I believe that Syria is buying time and manipulating everyone and giving fake hopes to advance their agenda in Lebanon, under the supervision of Khameinei will.

    Then, the West by inviting Syria is either stupid or playing stupid. Or maybe the first priority is to keep ”very calm” the Golan heights!

    Therefore, March 14th should not rely only on Western pressure for help. International relations is interest based system and there is not international rule of law!! Under these equations Lebanon is weak and under persian-alawite threat.

    Here come ”anthem boy” smart suggestion. Until we play hard and use force for self-protection, Syria and HA will keep assassination and chaos. They’re a wolf and the game rule is : the Jungle Law, aka survival of the fittest.
    March 14th should adapt and use force in respond to violence and assassination.

    That’s the costly, but only, solution! Then everyone will listen and help pro-active Lebanese more than passive-fatalist migrating cosmopolitan group.

  • http://polibel.blogspot.com/ FWM

    I agree with you. The US really needs to get Syria back into mainstream. Whether it is to attack Iran, weaken it, or just stabilize Iraq and Gaza, or any combination of them, I really cannot tell right now. Though I tend to see an attack on Iran as 35% probable in 2008. My sophistic dosis of pessimism in my comment stems from the fact that in order for the US to pay the price and Syria to agree on it, we need some relatively unsophisticated nut-heads (Bashar and Bush) to see the light. I am encourage by the realpolitik I have seen at hand in the last months, as well as by the concrete evidence that the US and Syria have started to warm up to each others some months ago.

    But fundamentally I agree with you a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and will not be allowed to happen, but I am not sure that a military strike is the only option. I think time is playing in favor of the Anti-Iran axis. There are parliamentary and presidential elections due for the next 16m, moreover Khamenei is not immortal and what comes next is likely to be more pragmatic. Moreover time will not play against the resolve of Russia, China, the US, Israel, and the Arab states to see a nuclear Iran emerge.

    Remember that Iran and the US are both engaged in a race against time to settle their issues with the US first. History tells me that the syrians will be faster.

  • MK

    Mustapha, I think your analysis is spot on!!

  • Sam

    Syria is by now a satellite state subordinated to rising and strong Iran. Syria presence in Annapolis is explained by a behavior called ”Al Taquia”. In other words, Iran agreed on Syria going to the peace meeting knowing that it is good for PR and won’t lead nowhere. Similar tactic to Iran’s worthless negotiations with the European Toirka on nukes. Bashar, unlike his father, is ideologically tied to Iran. Any Syrian deal with the West, Iran is the cosigner. Iran and Syria agree on the to have a stronger bargaining stand!

    As for US bombing Iran (I pray for that every night!), this is our wishful thinking misleading our judgment. The US could try to contain Iran but won’t start a preventive war unless Iran force them to do that. US is not strong enough to make a clear cut winning military war against Iran.

    Iranians are smart enough to play their best game El Taqia and avoid crossing the red line. Still their ”marge de manoeuvre” is very wide : from Dahyé to Rabié and form Bassra to Najaf.

  • Jay

    Excellent analysis by Michael Young.

    To HA sympathizers try and read this article with an open mind, I know you can do it & might gain something.

  • GK

    No need to bomb Iran. Take the Soviet Union as an example. The US starved them by outspending them until the people (Russians) said we had enough! Also, North Korea! Iran will not be able to continue spending on its military forever while can’t have enough gasoline to its people with more than 20% unemployment and high inflation rate! If Iran (and Syria) are waiting for a new president, whoever will be in the White House, we carry the same policy with these 2 countries. The only thing that may change is withdrawing part of the military from Iraq and positioning it few miles from the coast of Iran!

  • MK


    To make a long story short.

    There was a fear of ‘mutual assured destruction’ during the Cold War. Two superpowers pitted against each other. It was a war of ideas more than anything else.

    North Korea has been starved for AGESS! It took years of sanctions and isolation before they gave up. And North Korea is a really poor country.

    Iran is completely different. Firstly, it is SEEKING nuclear weapons. It is a few years away. AND it has oil. Despite the dire domestic situation, it can pull through for another 5 years easily.

    US policy is that it will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Whether the political will is there now or not is irrelevant. Republicans or Democrats aside, if diplomacy fails, they will strike.

    If not, Israel will. They have a minister just for the Iranian threat.

  • Jay


    I agree with you regardless who’s elected for US president the policy will not change. The feeble-minded who think otherwise are simply naive and don’t have a clue about the working of US policies. Just as they did when they were hoping before the French elections.

    Back to Iran, the key difference here is that Iran is a terrorist-sponsoring state, so waiting it out is not an option. Also Syria’s continual isolation and HA escalating rhetoric is becoming ‘unacceptable’ to just sit it out.

    Not sure whether you’ve read this..

    it seems the US and the Iraqi government reached an agreement that will allow the US to remain in the country for the long term. So those who are wishing the US public had enough with Bush and demand a troop withdrawal are way off. The new US embassy in Iraq is considered one of the largest ever, and with more military bases to follow. So Iran, Syria, and HA better wake up to the reality that the US is here to stay.

  • GK

    With or without agreement between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government, the US military will be there for a long time. But what the US is trying to do is to move out of populated areas and let the Iraqi police to control them. The US wants to have less military in the Iraq so they can be used somewhere else if needed!

  • Andrew The American

    Everyone is waiting for Bush to Leave office

    – Most American hate him – and hate his relationship with the house of Saud

    – Most Americans feel Syria should get a serious a** kicking for the negative role they always play

    – Most Americans Hope Lebanon can become a thriving democratic place like the netherlands

    – Most Americans Support Israel because she invents, is scrappy, and were the original writers of the bible

    – Most Americans Dont care about the Palestianians because they know full well that they only want Israels destruction (rather than their own real state)

  • Jay


    “Most Americans” don’t know how to locate Israel, Lebanon or Palestine on a map!

  • Amly

    Well Assad fired the minister who barred Facebook and it can once again be accessed. Don’t care to mention that?

    Assad fires official who barred Facebook By ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday replaced Syria’s communications and religious affairs ministers, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

    Assad issued a decree naming Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabbouni as minister of communications, replacing Amr Nazir Salem. Sabbouni had been Salem’s advise.

    Local Syrian Web sites in recent months had been critical of Salem, who had been nominated to the post in February 2006, for blocking some Web sites including http://www.all4syria.org and the Arab online newspaper http://www.elaph.com as well as online social networking site Facebook.

    Recent reports have said that Syrian authorities blocked Facebook, the popular Internet hangout, over what seems to be fears of Israeli “infiltration” of Syrian social networks on the Net.

    Residents in Damascus said that they have not been able to enter Facebook for more than two weeks. An Associated Press reporter got a blank page when he tried to open the Facebook web page Friday from the Syrian capital.

    Syrian officials were not available for comment Friday because of the Muslim weekend, but some reports have suggested that the ban was made to prevent Israeli users from infiltrating Syrian social networks.

    Lebanon’s daily As-Safir reported that Facebook was blocked on November 18. It said the authorities took the step because many Israelis have been entering Syria-based groups.