Monday, October 17, 2005

The Sweating Starts in Syria

Belmont Club's Wretchard and The Fourth Rail's Bill Roggio see the ratification of the Iraqi constitution as the beginning of a new phase in the war. according to these observers, the insurgency has diminished to the point where it's unable to do much more than snipe around the margins of the Iraqi juggernaut, and the administration, who's eyes have been turned toward Damascus for some time, now feels a little more latitude to turn up the threat of military action against the Syrians who have been making mischief in Iraq ever since the end of the invasion phase of the war.

Roggio says that:

The Times Online states the Bush administration has offered Assad the "Gaddafi deal" via a third party, which consists of the following:

1) Co-operate full with investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination and hand over any suspects for trial.

2) Cease all further interference in Lebanese affairs.

3) Halt funding, planning and training of Iraqi insurgents on Syrian territory.

4) Stop support for militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

A 'senior Arab diplomat' is cited in the article as saying "Assad is facing a tough time ahead and he has very few friends left... He is desperately looking for a way out of this predicament." However, a 'source close to the ruling family' stated "The regime has calculated that it has the resources to survive for quite some time even if it is isolated... The strategy could be to manage the conflict until external pressures ease."

Whatever the outcome of these negotiations, it is clear the war in Iraq has moved its center of gravity from central Iraq to the border with Syria, and perhaps all the way to Damascus. The establishment of permanent outposts in Tal Afar, Sa'dah and along the Euphrates in towns astride the ratlines from Syria, along with political progress in Iraq and the development of the Iraqi Security Forces has shown the Syrians the limitations of the insurgency. While the insurgency may be able to conduct attacks on infrastructure and kill Iraqi citizens, it is unable to derail the political process, obtain mass support or take and hold territory.

Syria's hand in the insurgency can no longer be hidden, and this has furthered the isolation of the Syrian government and created the conditions for the Syrian problem to be addressed. The Assad regime is now under diplomatic and military pressure to denounce its state sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas, eliminate the jihadi's use of its territory for attacks on Iraq, and quit its interference with Lebanon's affairs.

Assad calculated that America did not have staying power in the Middle East, and pursued a policy of opposition to the establishment of democracy in Lebanon and Iraq. The effort in Iraq and pressure at the U.N. Security Council over Hariri's assassination are proving him wrong.

Wretchard adds this thought:

I think most rational observers, however anti-American, must have by now come to the grudging conclusion that the insurgency is a lost cause in Iraq. As Athena at Terrorism Unveiled and Dan Darling pointed out in their analysis of the captured letter from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, the insurgency's terror tactics have been a huge mistake from Day One. Athena puts summarizes Zawahiri's message to Zarqawi eloquently. "His cowboy ways aren't winning him any strategic alliances. And on the sectarian strife among Sunni Muslims, Zawahiri is basically saying 'Drop it.' "

If Zawahiri is now looking for a Mr. Nice Guy, however, Zarqawi is probably the wrong place to start. But it doesn't matter. Any realist must guess that we are now moving into the post-OIF era. While there will continue to be fighting in Iraq and many challenges remain, the ultimate outcome is no longer a mystery. One hint this is understood by Washington is a New York Times sourced article ... describing the hitherto hidden border fighting with Syrian soldiers:

A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops, including a prolonged firefight this summer that killed several Syrians, has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war, according to current and former military and government officials. ...

In a meeting at the White House on Oct. 1, senior aides to Mr. Bush considered a variety of options for further actions against Syria, apparently including special operations along with other methods for putting pressure on Mr. Assad in coming weeks.

American officials say Mr. Bush has not yet signed off on a specific strategy and has no current plan to try to oust Mr. Assad, partly for fear of who might take over. The United States is not planning large-scale military operations inside Syria and the president has not authorized any covert action programs to topple the Assad government, several officials said.

The timing of this release suggests that Syria's participation is now an issue which Washington is prepared to publicly discuss. While the situation in Iraq seemed doubtful, the US could not credibly address the Syrian issue because its Iraqi commitments precluded any action against Damascus. Now the Assad regime knows that US forces will not long be occupied in Iraq they are sweating bullets. Ironically the availability of US forces means that they will probably not have to be used in Syria.

Newsweek Magazine claims that the US had considered launching cross-border operations against Iraqi insurgent targets Syria on October 1 -- another publicly released telltale that US policy is ready to come out of the closet -- but were dissuaded by Condoleeza Rice who argued that "diplomatic isolation is working against al-Assad, especially on the eve of a U.N. report that may blame Syria for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri". Diplomacy would not have been enough while the insurgency tied down America. With the insurgency fading fast, diplomacy may be enough.

Just as the ouster of Saddam by OIF touched off a wave of changes in Libya, Lebanon and the entire region, the impending defeat of the insurgency will paradoxically enhance the ability of diplomacy to address many of the remaining issues. Saddam's defeat confirmed what many military analysts knew from Desert Storm, that it was impossible for any conventional army to stand up against US forces. And that modified the behavior of many rogue states. Yet there remained the hope that the terrorist model of warfare, forged in Algeria and refined against Israel in Lebanon, would bring America to a halt: that rogue regimes acting discreetly could operate within that strategic shadow.

Now, for the first time since Algeria, a terrorist force of the highest quality, supported by contributions from oil-rich countries, in the heart of the Arab world, with sanctuary in a friendly regime across the border and eulogized as "freedom fighters" by dozens of major international publications is on the verge of total and ignominious defeat. There are no more strategic shadows.

Assad's meddling in both Lebanon and Iraq is going to have consequences, none of which will be pleasant for him.

We speculate, though, that the administration's primary target is not Syria and that American policy will be merely to cow the Syrians into submission. The country that should be concerned that our troops are being increasingly freed up in Iraq by the improvements in the Iraqi forces is Iran. The mullahs in Tehran must be wondering what is in store for them if they persist in developing nuclear weapons.

As long as American forces were tied down in Iraq the Iranians knew there was little chance of an American initiative against their nuclear program, but now that troops are becoming available for operations elsewhere, the operational sites at which this program is based suddenly find themselves in much greater jeopardy. The Iranians have American blood on their hands and they should be gravely concerned about that.