Saturday, April 7, 2007
Friends In High Places
It must be reassuring to Syrian President Bashar Assad that his long, dark night of international isolation might finally be coming to an end. After all, it's been a while since we've seen headlines like this one: "Hungarian Party Official: Syria is guarantee of Peace and Stability in Region". Oh, wait a minute. That one's from the official Syrian news service. And the Hungarian party in question is the Hungarian Communist Workers' Party, which as of the last Hungarian parliamentary elections won 0.41% of the vote and no seats.
More seriously, though, the Economist notes that Assad has managed to take out a new lease on life, warming his relations with Iraq and Turkey, reconciling with Saudi King Abdullah (who came to the airport to welcome him personally to the recent Arab League summit), all while deepening his strategic alliance with Iran. Throw in visits from EU officials and American Congressional delegations and it's obvious that Assad is no longer the pariah he's looked like for most of the past four years.
Which means that the Bush administration's strategy of freezing Assad out is slowly but surely unravelling. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, they come up with as a fallback option.
Oh, and since no story coming out of the Middle East these days is complete without some unintended consequence of the War in Iraq, there's this:
Appalled by the mess next door, few Syrians now doubt that their own secular dictatorship is preferable to the anarchy of supposedly democratic Iraq. Yet Syria's belated recognition of Iraq's government, skilfully portrayed as a graceful bow to American pressure, has brought big rewards. Syria is fast regaining its traditional role as the gateway to rich Mesopotamia. Iraq bought some 400,000 tonnes of Syrian farm produce last year. Near Qamishli, in the north-east, a queue of Syrian lorries heading for Iraq stretches 30km (19 miles). Even the influx of 1m Iraqi refugees brings some benefits: a boom in Syrian property, plus a surge in consumer demand.
The potential gains from Iraq are even greater. Large natural-gas fields lie just across the border in Iraq: the easiest export route for Iraqi oil is through Syrian ports. Iraqi officials already speak of enlarging existing pipelines, while Syria is expanding its refining capacity in anticipation.
So add Syria to the list of regional adversaries who have strategically benefitted from the Iraq War, which just might go down as the most generous elective war in history.