There is a new production playing out in the Middle East. I call it The New Syrian/Iraqi Nexus. It's not a very good production, but it certainly bears watching. Here is a synopsis.
Every month about one hundred terrorists sneak across the Syrian/Iraqi border into Iraq. Their mission is to destabilize Iraq, to attack Western targets in Iraq and to eliminate local Iraqis who participate with Westerners in the process of rebuilding Iraq. The success rate of these terrorist infiltrators is pretty high.
Could Syria stop these terrorists from using the border as a sieve through which they slip through so effortlessly? Of course. But rather than stop them, Syria encourages them. Syria gives a wink and a nod and when necessary, Syria gives a shove. Syria gets perverse pleasure out of seeing the United States and Iraqi backed allies squirm. Right now, Syria is smiling, Syria is pleased.
Iraq's leading comic was recently assassinated. The material for his act came from daily life, he told jokes about "the situation." He had introduced a new comic genre to the Iraqi public, caustic Iraqi humor. He poked fun at the United States. He made fun of local corruption, of the police. He had audiences laughing at bureaucracy and at religious leaders. He was the hit of the Iraqi version of Comedy Central. And like on Comedy Central his audience was young. And his audience watched him more than they watched the news, and his audience got their information from him more than they got it from the news.
And in the now classic style of the faceless Iraqi assassination, he was gunned down in his car. He was a comedian. He wasn't a politician, he wasn't a leader, he was a comedian. Actors die a hundred deaths, but none of them are supposed to be fatal.
Walid Moallem, Syria's Foreign Minister, just wrapped up a multi-day trip to Iraq. He came with a proposal. Two simple requests. Syria will work to seal the border with Iraq, if - if, Israel starts re-negotiating on the issue of the Golan Heights with the ultimate goal of an eventual withdrawal. A total eventual withdrawal. And Syria would like to see a timetable set for the U.S. withdrawal from the region.
After the United States withdraws from the region, Syria will back the United States, not just in Iraq, but also in Lebanon. Why? Because if the United States is no longer in Iraq, tensions will be reduced and there will be less violence in Iraq. And if the United States is no longer in the region, there would be less violence in the region. So says Syria.
Syria should know, since Syria backs, sponsors or initiates a good portion of the violence.
But here's where the whole production falls apart. Syria is not dependable. Syria makes commitments, but does not live up to them. There is nothing to convince me that this time will be any different. Syria is talking about wanting calm in the region, but Syria's actions tell me that Syria does not really want calm in the region.
Most of the killing in Iraq today is termed "sectarian violence." It is a euphemism for Muslims killing Muslims. It has absolutely to do with either United States policy or presence in Iraq. Absolutely nothing.
And to date, on regional issues, Syria has bucked the system. Syria advocates disorder not order, Syria advocates violence not calm, Syria advocates assassinations not negotiations. During the last days of this summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah a meeting of the Arab League was convened in Cairo. Syria disagreed with the Arab League's stance on Hezbollah and the war against Israel, so Syria boycotted the meeting. The meeting was dedicated to rebuilding Southern Lebanon and the League chastised Hezbollah for breaking the fragile status quo. And Syria disagreed. And Syria boycotted.
Syria is a real problem. But Iraq needs more allies in the region in order to stabilize internally. In the eyes of Iraq Syria is a strong potential ally. And that's why the President of Iraq, Jalil Talibani, is visiting Iran and meeting with Ahmadinejad. Iraq is reaching out across the border asking a neighbor for help. Syria is not to be trusted. Iraq is desperate.
Iraq may indeed get support from Syria, but the price will be the destruction of Iraq's new found democracy and Western orientation.
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