SYRIA, REDUX

Some stories in WaPo seem to corroborate my analysis of the Syria situation. That the regime has allowed Iraqi fugitives to escape into Syria seems clear. Otherwise, as this piece notes, most of our grievances with Syria are longstanding, although there is some evidence that they’re stepping up chemical weapon production. The timing is convenient, though:

Remarks by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer were a clear indication that the administration has turned its attention to recent and long-standing grievances with Damascus, and expects it to heed the lesson of the successful U.S. military campaign against Iraq.

Senior administration officials said there are no plans to launch a military strike against Syria. But “we’re trying to scare them for the moment,” one official said, in the hope that “Syria will change its behavior.”

The threat is certainly more credible now than it would have been a month ago. Indeed, this Washington Times piece indicates that Russia, Iran, and others are taking it very seriously.

Jim Dunnigan has a good explanation for why Syria risked the ire of the US to begin with:

Syria has apparently decided to make a few billion bucks by offering some sanctuary for senior Saddam followers. Unlike the Persian Gulf nations, Syria has not got a lot of oil. With a population of 17 million, oil revenue is only about $3-4 billion a year. With a socialist dictatorship like Iraq’s, the economy is a mess and only a ruthless police state keeps a lid on rebellion. Syria earns additional money by tolerating the drug trade in Lebanon, and the radical Shia groups (like Hezbollah) that operate in Lebanon against Israel. The Baath party that has run Syria for four decades is dominated by Alawite Moslems, a sect that comprises only 14 percent of the population. The Alawites make common cause with the ten percent Christian minority and the Druze (3-4 percent). But by adroitly handing out money and brutal treatment as needed, the Assad family has managed to stay in power. Syria has made deals with the United States as well, to provide information on al Qaeda. The Baath gangsters in Syria don’t think the United States would invade, and that they can bargain and buy their way out of any problems.

The current warnings by President Bush and others are making it clear that there are limits to what Syria can get away with.

The NYT editorial page, somewhat surprisingly, acknowledges that Syria is dangerous but, quite predictably, does not think we should go to war with them.

Update (9:20): The Canadians are scared, too. (via GoogleNews)

Update (12:50): Apparently, pretty much everybody is scared.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.