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Posted by on May 22, 2008 in At TMV | 6 comments

Hold Me Tight, Iran

It’s hard to know what to make of reports that suggest that American trade with Syria actually increased last year. Remember, this is despite the fact that the Syrian Accountability Act (2003) leveled strict trade sanctions and barred the sale of most American goods. General Motors, Coca-Cola, and a few others corporations are apparently doing a brisk trade, however, effectively skirting the restrictions by shipping in their goods from overseas factories. Nonetheless, overall market access between the two countries has diminished and Syria is reportedly feeling the effects.

With fewer Americans products flowing in, Damascus has looked eastward towards Tehran. Trade between the two countries has jumped severalfold over the past few years, and sanctions appear to have played a pivotal role in pushing these unlikely partners from the “It’s Complicated” status of the 1980s to “Married” as of today.

From car-manufacturing plants and a proposed $2 billion industrial zone for Iranian businesses to plans to overhaul urban transportation systems, Iranian companies are charging into Syria, looking to cash in on a recent privatization push.

Weighed down by a behemoth public sector, an abrupt influx of nearly 2 million Iraqi refugees and falling oil production, Syria’s leaders are trying to liberalize their economy in hopes of avoiding a financial meltdown. In another time, the Syrian privatization effort might present an opportunity for the United States and Europe to use their enormous commercial muscle to drive a wedge between Damascus and Tehran, Washington’s foremost antagonists in the region.

But the United States imposed sanctions in 2004 as punishment for Syrian support of militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations. These prohibited American exports to Syria and gave President George W. Bush the added option of outlawing American investment in the country, effectively scaring off American and Western companies from doing business there.

At the same time, Iran, the subject of two recent rounds of United Nations sanctions for its possible nuclear weapons ambitions and a three-decade boycott by the United States, has few opportunities to invest abroad.The end result, Western diplomats and analysts say, is that Washington has effectively pushed Damascus and Tehran into deepening their alliance of nearly three decades. (International Herald Tribune)

It is no secret that Syria has no great ideological affinity for the mullah regime – their regional and political goals are substantially different. Yet rather than try to draw Syria away from Iran, the United States has settled on an isolation policy that has, inadvertantly, pushed the two countries closer together!

It is a similar criticism to that which has, in hindsight, often been directed against the Kennedy administration in its policy towards Cuba. By severing economic and diplomatic ties with the Castro regime in early 1961, the United States forced the Cubans into the arms of the Soviets. Had Kennedy decided to adopt a policy of economic engagement, rather than enforced isolation, Havana would likely have tempered its relations with the Soviets in favor of closer ties with the Americans.

It’s a lesson that is lost on the Bush administration.

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  • You read my mind Jeb. After I read your second paragraph, my mind immediately jumped to Cuba’s relationship with the Soviet Union.

    While the strengthening of ties between Iran and Syria are likely due to incompetence, it could help neocon efforts to push for invasion of one or both of those countries. After all, our government was more able to effectively demonize Cuba after they were forced into the arms of the Soviet Union than before.

  • DLS

    [yawn] It’s the evil, big, bad Bush’s fault. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Spare us the “invasion” paranoia! Did Syria’s illicit nuclear weapons activity and support for terrorist vermin possibly have anything to do with poisoned relations with the USA? (Not to the ignorant or to those with uglier motives moving them.)

    And Castro doesn’t deserve to be a celebrity subjected to sympathy because of the (predictlably) evil Yanqui neo-colonialist-imperialist monster under your bed.

  • I’m not the one consistently advocating we attack new countries and abridge our own freedoms in the name of protection from the Uber-Terrorists. Spare us *your* paranoia.

  • DLS

    I’m not advocating either thing. Nor is it I who make up fictitious paranoia charges (a pathetic “comeback” if it even merits the term “comeback” with obvious contempt attached). [sigh]

  • Well, don’t pretend like there aren’t a lot of powerful people who feel that way.

  • DLS

    Chris: The neo-cons who felt something like that way (you have mischaracterized and even misreprented them) have, in the aftermath of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq, largely become silent and invisible, skulking into the background to the point where they largely have disappeared. Nobody seriously believes any attack on Iran will be favored or rashly sought (nobody sane, that is). Everyone is aware of the likely short-term consequences, which alone are bad — Hormuz and oil disruption, attacks on other nations’ oil infrastructures and oil disruption, even preemptively to force the developed world to consider sparing Iran’s, missile and air strikes by Iran on US-Western and Iraqi-sympathetic-to-us targets in Iraq, the likelihood of terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world at the same time, and so on.

    I am avoiding pretense. I am realistic. It goes for you and your side, too.

    2006 spelled the end of neo-con conceit, at least in its application by Washington. We cannot leave abruptly, and cannot permit oil to fall into the hands of terrorists or Iraq’s government (often the same thing). But we’ve failed to “win the peace” at the end of the war, didn’t even send enough troops initially to seal the borders as well as pacify the unruly. This is going to be a mess and hopefully a Dem admin won’t make it worse by being naive worse, or appealing to the naive (or worse, sometimes — “US is evil”) who elects that admin in large numbers this November.

    Meet the new Iran (and Cuba), same as the old so far and in the near term after a new administration takes office and the USA is “new.” Iraq won’t be.

    * * *

    “to drive a wedge between Damascus and Tehran”

    I kept quiet to see if anyone else noticed this possibility, but as nobody else has said anything: Doesn’t anyone else suspect this may be on the minds of Israelis and may be one reason for peace talks (now that a subdued Syria after losing its illicit reactor might reconsider some of its misbehavior)?

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