Thursday, March 03, 2005

Removing the Leech

 
Today's story from the Associated Press, Anti-Syrian tide drives workers out of Lebanon, describes how Syrians have become persona non grata in Lebanon:
Despite official Syrian and Lebanese denials, anti-Syrian sentiment has reached a fever pitch in Lebanon. Anti-Syrian protests brought down the country's pro-Damascus government and calls are intensifying for the withdrawal of Syria's 14,000 troops based in the country.

[...]

Many Syrian workers do not have work permits, making it impossible to know their exact numbers. But estimates range from about 500,000 in low seasons to more than a million during harvest time and the summer, when tourists stream into Lebanon.

It is also not known how much money Syrian laborers transfer home, financial analysts say, because most earnings are in cash.

"It is for sure in hundreds of millions of dollars," said an economist, Louis Hobeika.
In addition to these cash transfers, Syria's economic nervous system is deeply intertwined with Lebanon's. According to Die Welt (translation by Joshua Livestro),

When the Syrians leave Lebanon, that "will also spell the end of the Syrian regime," says Alan Merhi (a 23 year old graphic design student camping out on the square, JL). All the others agree with him - it's Lebanese money that pays for the Baath-regime in Damascus. "They control the casinos, the harbours, they take 50 percent of our taxes, they took the $40 billion in reconstruction loans that the country received after the end of the civil war," says Merhi.
It is hard to foresee the endgame of the struggle that has just begun in Lebanon. Bashar al-Assad's honor and prestige are already at stake in the outcome. How can Syria possibly back down, when the economic costs are so high?

If the United States presses for a complete withdrawal of all Syrian military troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, the stress on the regime in Damascus could well become unbearable. The glass becomes cloudy: Syria could face popular unrest and demonstrations, followed by a crackdown according to "Hama rules"; Assad could be overthrown in a military coup; Syria could generate more spectacular terrorist attacks outside its borders so as to divert attention from the regime.

If the Syrian leech is removed from Lebanon's body politic, the coming days will hold far more than their share of history. We live in interesting times.

6 comments:

Solomon2 said...

Compare the eye-doctor dictator with a dentist.

Baron Bodissey said...

Ha! Seems to me Boy Assad is going to need a lot of novocaine... ;)

Doug said...

Bashar al-Assad: resisting the spread of democracy in the Middle East could have perilous consequences.
Syria’s Weak Spot
Hitting Damascus where it hurts.
. LINK .
(so many EASY options!)
Seems to me, he's screwed in Lebanon, and he will be screwed at home, unless the Poor Doctor shapes up!

Engineer-Poet said...

The big question:  could Syria be pressured into arresting the members of Hamas, IJ, Hezbollah, etc. and handing them over for trial?  If the Assad regime has made off with $40 billion in reconstruction money, it seems that anyone in government with any wealth would be vulnerable to suits to recover it; this might be a lever to pry loose the terrorists and all the information about their networks.

If a shutdown of funds from Europe would kill Hamas, what would loss of personnel, money and so many agents do for the rest?

USMC_Vet said...

"Things must get worse before they get better."

We have to endure what will come with a focus on where we are going.

Shortsightedness would prove to be our own Silver Bullet. If we are unwilling to endure, we are unprepared for the better. It's not simply our (American) call. It is the call of the peoples of Lebanon, of Egypt, of Iran, and lest we forget...of Taiwan.

We complain of bearing the burden of implementation through our military forces and their sacrifices...but...we do not face living beneath the jackboot of the likes of Assad. We could easily and comfortably grab our toys and go home and hit the Burger King drive-thru.

But how comfortable is that choice really?

In that choice there is no honor.

Baron Bodissey said...

Doug -- yes, I read that NRO story, but not until after I posted.

Boy Assad is now promising to pull back to the Bekaa, but the administration is saying, "That's not good enough." As it should.

Endgame is approaching for Bashar. I don't think he will survive the upcoming events, unless he disguises himself and flees to France. The loss of face will be too much for the regime to stand, and Papa Assad's cronies, who control big parts of the state apparatus, will almost certainly overthrow him. As we all know, in that part of the world an ousted dictator does not normally retain his life.

But the thing to remember is how little control we (that is, the USA) have over events now. An inexorable logic is unfolding, and US pressure is a part of the mix, but it is far from the most important one. Purple fingers in Iraq have really started something.

We could conceivably save Junior's ass right now by easing off on the pressure, but, aside from that, there isn't much we can do. Take a ringside seat, everyone: it's going to be an interesting bout.