|Is Syria Next on Bush's Agenda?
US prepares to punish Syria
US prepares to punish Syria
The United States may slap sanctions on Syria "very soon" under a law meant to punish Damascus for allegedly supporting terrorism and seeking unconventional weapons.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday that the Bush administration is moving forward on implementing the Syria Accountability Act.
"We'll have more to say on that very soon," he told reporters.
McClellan said Damascus had not soothed concerns about its "harbouring and supporting of terrorism"; about foreign fighters crossing the Syrian border to take on US-led troops in Iraq; about the Syrian military presence in Lebanon; and about Syria's quest for weapons of mass destruction.
"Those concerns need to be addressed, Syria needs to take them seriously and work to address those concerns, but we are going to continue to move forward on the sanctions," McClellan told reporters.
Syria denies supporting terrorism, though it admits backing legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
It also denies it is seeking weapons of mass destruction, arguing that the international community should turn its attention to Israel's nuclear stockpile.
The bill also demands that Syria withdraw the roughly 20,000 troops it has deployed in Lebanon and calls on the governments of Lebanon and Syria to "enter into serious unconditional bilateral negotiations" with Israel in order to secure "a full and permanent peace".
The legislation directs the president to prohibit US exports to Syria of weaponry and so-called "dual-use" technology with both civilian and military applications.
And it directs the president to choose two sanctions from a range that includes restricting US exports and business investment, downgrading US-Syrian diplomatic ties, imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States, freezing Syria's assets in the United States, and restricting over-flight rights for Syrian aircraft inside US airspace.
US turns up heat on Syria
Suddenly everyone on Capitol Hill is demanding Syria withdraws its troops from Lebanon so, they say, the tiny Middle East nation can regain its sovereignty.
Possibly the most significant US steps have been the loftily named Syrian Accountability Act and the Lebanon Sovereignty Restoration Act, which US President George Bush signed into law in December 2003, expected to impose sanctions on Damascus.
The US legislation demands Syria withdraw its estimated 20,000 troops from Lebanon. It also calls for an end to its support for "terrorism" and a halt to alleged development of weapons of mass destruction and medium and long-range missiles, charges Damascus denies.
Syria is the main powerbroker in Lebanon and wields a firm grip over Beirut's security apparatus and government.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, on a visit to the Gulf, reiterated what have become almost feverish calls for a withdrawal, so that Beirut can enjoy "full sovereignty".
State Department spokesman Nabil Khury, who was responsible for liaison between Washington and the Arab media during the US-led war against Iraq, again emerged in the region to send a US message.
"The old arguments that this presence was necessary as collateral for recovering the Golan or to protect Syria's flank in the event of an Israeli attack are now obsolete and out of date," he told Lebanon's French-language L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper.
Lebanese opponents of Syria's presence have increasingly voiced their demands for a full Syrian withdrawal, emboldened by the death of Syrian leader Hafidh al-Asad in June 2000. University students have frequently organised mass rallies, which often end in clashes with riot police and dozens of arrests.
However, it is highly unlikely that US policymakers have taken up a crusade to restore sovereignty to Lebanon, said Arab and Western analysts.
These calls "should be seen more as an exertion of American hegemony rather than any kind of principled support for international law or Lebanese sovereignty," said Stephen Zunes, Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, a US thinktank.
"If we were concerned about Lebanon's sovereignty we would not have supported 22 years of Israeli occupation," he added.
"Particularly in the field of foreign policy, the Syrians essentially have veto power over most Lebanese initiatives," said Zunes. "They do exert quite a bit of influence on that countryís policies, I think analogous to the Soviet Unionís influence on its eastern European satellites during the Cold war."
Lebanese political commentators agreed.
"A lot of the Lebanese politicians currently are there because they enjoy backing from Syria. And the more nice things they say about Syria, the more they will stay in office," said one observer who asked not to be named.
Zunes believes Syria is the latest target of US "antipathy" because of its opposition to what he describes as American dominance in the region.
"Since the removal of Saddam Hussein, Syria is one of the very, very few remaining Arab nationalist governments that try to put its own self-interests ahead of Washington," says Zunes.
Al-Asad became involved in Lebanon to rein in Palestinian resistance fighters and their leftist Lebanese allies from defeating Christian militias. Kissinger played on al-Asadís fears that if Damascus did not crush the Palestinians, Israel would be more than willing to carry out the task - a scenario al-Asad wanted to avoid.
Israeli troops moving freely in Lebanon would make it easier to attack Syria. Thus, the Arab League authorised Syrian forces to enter Lebanon in May 1976, and they have never left.
The civil war finally came to an end following the 1989 Taif accord, a Saudi Arabia-sponsored Arab League effort. It called for a complete Syrian military redeployment from Beirut and other major cities in the Beqaa Valley by 1992. However, it set no date for a full Syrian withdrawal, saying such talks would occur only after Arab-Israeli peace had been brokered.
"The Taif agreement has only been partially applied in terms of the Lebanese-Syria issue," said a Beirut-based Middle East political analyst who asked not to be named.
After Israelís withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, following a 22-year occupation, Syrian troops have redeployed four times from Beirut and mountain areas. But many of these forces have only shifted to the Beqaa valley in eastern Lebanon.
Scramble to 'victory':
"If they are able to get a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon they can claim that Lebanon is a victory, that theyíve restored sovereignty to another Arab state," said a Lebanese Middle East political analyst who asked not to be named.
"They can say: 'Look, weíve already re-established democracy in Lebanon, we're working on the one in Iraq, we're working on the one in Syria'; they can have something to show," he said.
Divide and conquer:
Earlier this month, Kurds clashed with Syrians in the northeast part of the country after Kurdish riots swept the town of al-Qamashli killing at least 14 people.
The violence in al-Qamashli, an ethnically mixed town near the Turkish and Iraqi border, ended after Interior Minister Ali Hajj Hammud flew to the area to take control and the authorities threatened those responsible with the "severest punishments".
These incidents are extremely serious and pose the gravest threat to the Syrian government since Kurdish uprisings in 1979 in neighbouring Iran, warned Salem.
"Itís possible that the US, having toppled Saddam, is now free to meddle with Syria and encourage the Kurds ... and let them go ahead and make trouble," said Salem.
Syria is home to some 2 million Kurds.
Iraqís own Kurdish population supported the US-led invasion. Kurdish militias or Peshmerga fought under the command of US occupation forces to topple Saddam.
"Given the Kurdish empowerment in northern Iraq ... itís not unnatural that they look to the West and say: 'Look, we've got a million, a million and a half [sic] of our brothers over there. Letís send them guns and money and when we finish with this over here, letís turn our attention somewhere else'," said one Lebanese analyst.
"Given US hostility to Syria, given the Sunni opposition within Syria and the tight spot Sunnis are in within Iraq, all of that is a very precarious powder keg," he said.
Under US and British defence, Kurds have enjoyed autonomy in northern Iraq since 1991. Kurdish calls in Iraq for further autonomy have stirred fears in Turkey and Syria that their own Kurdish populations will demand autonomy.
Damascus provides backing for the Lebanese resistance group Hizb Allah, which spearheaded efforts to oust Israeli occupation forces from south Lebanon.
A Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon would presumably reduce Damascus' influence on the resistance group, which Washington includes on a list of so-called "terrorist" organisations.
"The United States very much wants Lebanon to make some kind of separate peace with Israel now that there are no longer outstanding issues regarding the occupation, with the possible exception of the Shebaa Farms," says Zunes.
Lebanon and Syria have insisted on maintaining a bilateral peace track with Israel.
And while US calls for a troop pullout could lead to a Syrian military disengagement from Lebanon, it is unclear whether Washington will demand Damascus should release its political grip over Beirut.
Bush imposes sanctions on Syria
Wednesday 12 May 2004, 0:51 Makka Time, 21:51 GMT
The White House has slapped sanctions on Syria, including a freeze on certain Syrian assets in the United States and limits on exports of goods, including weaponry.
President George Bush in a statement on Tuesday said the sanctions were in response to "threats" posed by Syria to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.
Bush accused Syria of "supporting terrorism, continuing its occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes, and undermining US and international efforts with respect to the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq."
The export ban and other measures on Syria also follow long-standing US complaints that the Middle Eastern country had failed to stop anti-occupation fighters from entering neighbouring Iraq.
US bilateral trade with Syria is about $300 million a year.
A State Department official earlier during the week said that exemptions would be made to any export restrictions to allow the sale of aircraft spare parts, so that Syrian planes are not endangered and to allow the sale of communications equipment, to help Syrians get access to outside information.
The sanctions include a ban on flights to and fro from the US, authorisation to the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Syrian nationals involved in "terrorism" and restrictions on banking relations between US banks and the Syrian national bank.
The sanctions go beyond the minimum requirements of the Syrian Accountability Act which Bush signed into law in December.
First Afghanistan. It was an issue of revenge (and an oil pipeline).
Then Iraq. More revenge (and the world's largest oil reserves).
Is Syria next?
And is Syria even a threat?
Well, according to Bush, it IS.
And according to Bush's foreign policy, it is "shoot first, ask questions later".
But can the United States economy handle another war? Or is the US overstretched to possible economic collapse?
The pricetag for the Afghanistan War was 1 trillion american dollars.
The pricetag for the Iraq War was 3 trillion american dollars.
The US National Debt is now $7.14 trillion.
Bush more than doubled it.
The debt continues to grow at a rate of 2.03 billion per day.
And the World Bank is threatening to place a debt limit on the United States (meaning they CAN'T overspend and ask for more loans).
Bush has already made cuts to NASA and other "non-war essential programs", including health and educational programs. Bush's priority of attacking Arab oil-producing countries means that education and health in America is suffering.
The economic sanctions on Syria, is just the first step towards a 3rd war.
The threats and allegations of "possible weapons of mass destruction", or allegations of Syria seeking WMD is step two.
We already KNOW Iraq was innocent.
So will the argument of possessing WMD work in Syria?
Well, its election year in the United States. Americans (and the world) may soon find out. The issue of whether or not the US should attack Syria could make the election a kind of referendum on whether the United States "WANTS" another war. Or two.
Jordan is also considered to be a threat.
Well, lets measure the chances that Bush wants to attack Syria and Jordan next:
Syria has 2,400,000,000 (2.4 billion) barrels of oil reserves. Jordan has only 445,000 barrels of oil reserves.
Skip Jordan. Jordan isn't a threat. They don't even have much oil left.
So Syria it is.
And if Bush attacked Syria, Israel would join in and help. After all, Israel had a previous war with Syria (1967), in which Syria lost some territory (Golan Heights) to Israel.
But that would be very unwise.
The whole thing is very UNWISE. A third war has the potential to UNITE arab countries together and make a much more widespread conflict.
So a possible third arabic-american war.
In my mind, this is sheer stupidity. Osama bin Laden worked for the CIA as a spy during the Gulf War. And he came back for revenge.
After two more wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, how many more people will come to the United States seeking revenge?