Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What the Bush Administration has accomplished in the Arab world

Those who yearn for the days of "American engagement" in the Middle East during the Clinton Administration, those who deride President's Bush's vision of a new Middle East, should consider the actual, observable behavior of Arab nations today. Syria claims that Israel mounted an aerial assault deep in its territory, but more disturbing to the Syrians than the Israelis' ability to penetrate its air defenses is the total lack of support, or even interest, from other Arab nations, as described in this Jerusalem Post report:

Issam Dari, the editor-in-chief of the Tishrin daily, one of the Syrian government's mouthpieces in Damascus, said he was more worried by the Arab reactions than the Israeli "aggression."

The Arabs remained silent in the face of the Israeli piracy, he said, adding, "They are pretending as if this happened on Mars or Jupiter."

A Jordanian academic in Amman said many Arab governments were unhappy with Syria's role in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as its close ties with Iran.

"The Syrians are still meddling in the internal affairs of Lebanon by killing anti-Syrian figures," he told The Jerusalem Post. "They are also seen as supporting al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists in Iraq."

The academic said the Syrians should be the last ones to expect the backing of the Gulf countries.

"Syria is a close ally of Iran, which is still regarded as a major threat to stability in the Gulf," he said. "[Syrian President] Bashar Assad has placed himself on the wrong side by forging an alliance with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah."

An Arab diplomat in Cairo said the failure of the Arab world to voice strong support for Syria "should be seen as a message to the rulers in Damascus that they must revise their policies." He said Assad "needs to realize that the Arab world has changed and become less tolerant toward dictatorships. Many Arab governments are angry with Syria because of its support for Hamas and Hizbullah."

Even Arab autocrats understand that their people seek greater political rights. They see Syria not as a champion of the old Arab order, but as an impediment to the new era of Arab reform. As with Soviet perestroika, the opening of cracks in Arab autocracies' political systems will lead to an accelerating process of change: chalk this up along with the North Korean nuclear retreat as major foreign policy victories for George W. Bush.

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