Mark Steyn - spot on!

From today's Telegraph...

The eye doctor never saw it coming
By Mark Steyn

I don't suppose Bashar al-Assad has much in common with Eric Clapton - though, come to think of it, "Layla" is a Lebanese name, and there must be a few of them among the smouldering, raven-tressed, black-eyed Beirut babes so fetchingly demanding their nation's freedom on the covers of this week's Economist, Newsweek, Weekly Standard et al. At any rate, Boy Assad has no desire to find himself wailing, "Layla, you got me on my knees."

Nor has he any wish to sing I Shot The Sharif - that would be Khalil Mustafa bin Muhammad Sharif, a prominent Syrian Kurd who got questioned to death in Damascus last year. In any case, the Syrian government's official position remains that, whether or not they shot the Sharif, they did not shoot the Lebanese parliamentary deputy.

Nevertheless, young Bashar must be feeling a bit like old Clapper in his now celebrated encounter with the Queen. You're a big-time dictator, everybody knows that. Yet George W Bush seems to have no idea what an A-list mega-legend you are.

In fact, Bashar is in a worse fix than Clapper. Imagine if not only the Queen had no idea who Clapton was, but none of the other rock legends in the room did, either - Jimmy Page, Brian May, Jeff Beck. "I thought he was with you." "Nah, never seen 'im before. I thought he was with Brian." That's the way it is with Assad and his fellow Arab League heavies these days. It's one thing for Bush to demand Syria gets out of Lebanon, but what's with Crown Prince Abdullah piling on? Not to mention Jacques Chirac, hitherto every dictator's best friend. Clapton-wise, Boy Assad is Derek and everybody else is trying to avoid being one of the Dominoes.

OK, that's enough Domino theory. The point is Assad is suddenly the loneliest guy in the room. He's the eye doctor whose eye no one wants to catch. The only world leader who didn't get the memo was Paul Martin. Who? Well, OK, he's not exactly a world leader, but he is prime minister of Canada, and asked the other day about the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon he replied thus: "It's clear if the Syrians are in Lebanon, it's because peace has to be maintained." I'm sure Assad is grateful for the endorsement. That and a dime'll get you a cup of coffee in Winnipeg.

The ophthalmologist never saw it coming. Assad's plan for a phased partial withdrawal over several months would have been hailed as a breakthrough a couple of years back. Now Bush swats it aside as too little, too late. In a poignant conclusion to his interview with Time last week, the neophyte dictator said: "Please send this message: I am not Saddam Hussein. I want to co-operate." You don't have to be an eye doctor to read the writing on the wall.

OK, that's enough ophthamology. The headline on Newsweek's cover, alongside the aforementioned Lebanese totty, was "People Power" - a novel concept in the Middle East, but very real. But just as worrying for Assad is a much older tendency in regional politics - the inclination to side with the winners. Right now, for Bush and the Iraqi people and the Lebanese people and Chirac and Blair and the House of Saud and pretty much everyone except the Canadian prime minister, the winning side looks like whichever side Bashar Assad isn't on.

That's a tough spiral to climb out of. Two years ago, Colin Powell took Jordan's King Abdullah to one side and told him, modifying a Rumsfeldian paradigm, that America saw him as part of "the new Middle East". The Sauds, Mubarak and Gaddafi are not entirely on board with this "new Middle East" thing, but since January 30 they've been doing their best to pretend they are - and the easiest way to do that is to stick some loser with the label of "old Middle East". Syria's prestige, such as it is, rests on its subordination of Lebanon. Abandoning that on a time frame demanded by Bush and the Beirut babes doesn't exactly communicate strength. The Iranians are still officially Assad's pals, but the word is that even they wouldn't be averse to a palace coup.

The New York Times' Thomas Friedman was arguing a couple of weeks back that Syria plays by "Hama rules" - a reference to the town whose inhabitants Pop Assad slaughtered en masse. I think he's wrong. Those days are over. Even if you've got the stomach for it, with 150,000 US troops on your border going the exhibitionist corpse-piling route is a much bigger gamble than it was in the "stability" era. Syria, at the very minimum, is being neutralised and turned in on itself.

Regionally speaking, the reasons for toppling Saddam were to (a) end Iraq's ongoing subversion of Jordan; (b) put the squeeze on Syria; (c) show, by the sheer scale of intervention, that the Saudis' non-co-operation on the matter of terrorist funding would no longer be tolerated; and (d) - the big one - initiate democracy in Egypt, to which America gives billions of dollars and which in return gives America Osama sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (the man behind the 1993 World Trade Centre attack) and Mohammed Atta (the man in the cockpit on the second attack). To one degree or another, (a), (b), (c) and (d) are all under way.

You can scoff at this agenda, but go back just five years, to the death of ol' Pa Assad. "I received word not very long ago of President Assad's death in Syria today," said an emotional Bill Clinton at Minneapolis Airport. "I was very saddened by it, and I want to offer condolences to his son, his family and the people of Syria."

I'm sure his family would have been very touched if they hadn't been so busy trying to kill each other. Still, at least Mr Clinton didn't go as far as Mr Chirac, who decided to show up at the funeral to offer his sympathies in person to whichever kinfolk weren't in exile or deceased in unusual accidents.

But then French foreign policy has always been admirably straightforward: find the bloodthirstiest nutcake and put him on the payroll. Bill Clinton, in adopting Elysée standards of sexual morality, also found himself adopting them on questions of broader geopolitical morality. Clapton-wise, he metaphorically got out his sax and played Tears in Heaven.

Whatever happens in the weeks ahead, that world is gone.
But then French foreign policy has always been admirably straightforward: find the bloodthirstiest nutcake and put him on the payroll.
Another suitably blinkered piece by Steyn. As regards propping up or supporting Bloodthirsty nutcakes, I can think of a nation or two that leave France as rank amateurs.

As unpalatable as it is for Steyn to swallow, how much longer would the Lebanese civil war had gone on for, if Syria hadn't directly intervened?
In response to Mark Steyn.....Have you not forgotten Israel?????

Yawn, let the neocons waste there energy..............the enemey is waiting for democracy, fundamentalism through the ballot box!
Speaking of Yawn,

PtP & Jailor,

so this most recent outbreak of democracy has nothing to do with American action in iraq and the ME.

I find it amusing how far some people will go to adhere to their own narrow-minded views. So far, that you are willing to support France as the "honest broker"!

so, what's the colour of the sky in your world?
Plastic Yank,

It does not matter what colour the sky is.....or our glasses. Democracy is rather hard to define, especially when neo-cons get their grubby hands on it. Let clarify some key facts.

The following countries, (In the CENTCOM region) are not democracies in line with the Treaty of Rome type definition:

Turkey - NATO member / wanabe EU
Algeria - Military rule after democratic elections lead to an Islamist Victory.
Saudi Arabia*
All the Former Soviet Republics in SE Asia.

* Absolute or near absolute monarchies.

These countries have varying degrees of freedom from non to some. My view is stop treating me like Dumb hill Billy and lets be honest. If you want to squeeze Syria and Iran fine but the track record of the three CENTCOM countries not on the list above is not exactly the most reassuring examples of democracy!

Israel - pre '67 borders is a treaty of Rome standard democracy.
Israel - including Judea/Samaria/Golan/Gaza does not meet basic democratic standards.
Afghanistan or should I say: The Democratic Republic of Kabul
Iraq - too early to say.

Fundamentals of democracy are:

Universal Suffrage,
Freedom from persecution/torture etc
Open and accountable government
Freedom of expression and open and critical press.

It is not about being cosy/occupied with/by Washington, it is not about axis of evil or regimes or tyranny.

PY Need I go on?

Trivia Question....Which democratic county has the biggest Muslim Electorate?
Jailorinummqasr said:
Awol - Is it relevant with respect to GWB Doctirne
Perhaps, perhaps not. But none of those countries had a human rights record as bad as Saddam or the Taliban.
How bad was Saddams human rights record?

Does anyone know?

PY , I think democracy broke out in the Lebanon , before the invasion of Iraq.

The Iranians are still officially Assad's pals, but the word is that even they wouldn't be averse to a palace coup.
Nice twist Steyn. You fail to mention that the reason they wouldn't be averse, is the MTV watching , coke supping , Miller on a Friday night, club going yoof of Damascus are an affront to the hairy shirt wearing ayatollahs of Iran?

Secularism , it's bad business for the ultra-right Christians, Ultra-Right Islamics and year zero Jewish columnists.

Mr. Steyn, start watching satellite Arabic TV channels, especially those from Syria and the Lebanon. I think you'll find their youth get told to 'Turn down that goddamn stereo" too.

Razmania (MTV type magazine programme) is certainly an eyeopener, and the youth of today in downtown Homs, wouldn't leave home without their Pepsi's ,Liptons iced tea, Sony mobile phones and Levi's 501s .

Syria's version of "Pop Idol" , and the good looking girlies clad in not a lot, must have Iran's theologians screaming for the good and merciful Allah to turn Damascus into a smoking hole in the ground.

Still, you have to expect this sort of godless commie decadence from a man who is an Anglophile.

Still, that just doesn't fit in with Steyn's narrow minded, bigoted , torah-rah view of the ME does it?
Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran are not exactly the role models.

But you miss my point whilst squeezing Syria and Iran is okay as far as I am concerned the Steyn article fails to say anything about other countries who are just as bad.

As for the Neo-con ideology, democracy must be the goal, and diplomatic pressure should applied elsewhere.


Book Reviewer
PartTimePongo said:
Still, that just doesn't fit in with Steyn's narrow minded, bigoted , torah-rah view of the ME does it?
The charitable might dismiss this as a slip of the keyboard. I seem to detect the faintest possible stench of incidental anti-Semitism.

I fear Steyn's not even Jewish. Perhaps you can hate him for being Canadian instead?

Profuse apologies in advance if this wasn't what it looks like.
god, i'd love to get into this, but unlike some of you, i got work to do!

see ya, ya whinging liberals :D
No slip of the keyboard. It's a reference to Steyn's pandering to neo-conservative Israeli opinion.

For further insight, might I suggest Richard Perle's policy document to Ben Netanyahu?

It later appeared, with some re-working as the infamous PNAC document.
There are two types of people - those who see the world as it is and those that see the world as THEY would like it. Rather Steyn should be called a realist. Those who oppose his opinion are not.
A sweeping statement T6.

Like it or not, not everyone in the world wants to be re-made in the neocon image.

In fact, not everyone in the Middle East conforms to the neocon stereotype either.
Neocon must be new in your vocabulary. As to democracy I think it's practiced differently in the places that enjoy the privelage. There is only one definition for democracy - check your dictionary. Democracy has different flavors depending on the country. But all have one thing in common - free elections with popularly elected leaders.
Rightly or wrongly, once people start using the word 'Neocon' then I mentally position them one step closer to those in the tinfoil hats.

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