Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Syrian Policy Expert Says U.S. Threats Not Serious

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Syrian Policy Expert Says U.S. Threats Not Serious

Article excerpt

Murhaf Jouejati, visiting scholar at the Middle East Institute and adjunct professor of political science at George Washington University, spoke at the Palestine Center May 12 on the reality of Syrian-U.S. relations, and pointed the way to future developments.

Jouejati did not believe that "Syria was next" for regime change, for several reasons: Syria is dominated by the Ba'ath party, he noted, but in coalition with other parties; there exist elements of a civil society and NGOs; and the country has solid relationships with the Arab and international communities (it will become an EU partner in 2010). According to Jouejati, the anti-Syria rhetoric in the U.S. following the attack on Iraq may have been a means of punishing Syria for its opposition to the war. Washington also wished to warn the Syrians not to destabilize the American presence in Iraq through "the instruments of [Syrian] power" in the country. Furthermore, Washington feared that Damascus would express its opposition to the Israel-Palestine "road map" by "unleashing Palestinian dissidents in Syria" if its claim to the Golan Heights was not met in the new peace plan.

According to Jouejati, there were concrete reasons behind Syria's opposition to the war: fears of Kurdish separation (Kurds make up 11 percent of the Syrian population); Turkey's potential self-aggrandizement; the possibility of being surrounded by U.S. forces and losing all leverage against Israel; and certain regional instability. Additionally, Damascus did not view Saddam Hussain as an imminent threat, and was content with the status quo.

Some of Washington's accusations against Syria were true, noted Jouejati-a mufti there issued a fatwa calling for holy war, Syrian volunteers fought American troops in Iraq, and some night vision equipment was smuggled across the Syria-Iraq border. Given the historic ideological and geopolitical rivalry between the Ba'ath parties in Damascus and Baghdad, Jouejati found this difficult to explain, but noted that these actions all occurred against Syrian state policy, which, though opposed to the war, also was against directly aiding Hussain's regime.

What happened to the relationship between Syria and the U.S.? Since the accession of Bashar Al-Assad, Jouejati explained, decision-making in the country has not been monolithic. There are centers of power working at cross-purposes, he said, and a new civil rights movement. …

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