The incoming Obama administration will have to deal wit Syria and Iran. In this Guest Voice post, Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, offers some advice. Guest Voice posts do not necessarily reflect the view of TMV or its writers.

KNOW WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH

By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration-elect is planning how it is going to engage with Syria and Iran—to try to split the former from the latter and to persuade the latter to…split from itself? Let’s say, be more moderate. The debate in the media, academia, and policymaking circles generally assumes that such an approach can work, that you can deal with these regimes with a real chance they will meet commitments and change their spots.

There is, however, much evidence to the contrary, showing the duplicity and world-record cynicism of the radical states. Here’s the latest one, which deserves wide coverage and understanding.

Two of the most courageous and non-violent reformers in Syria are Michel Kilo, a journalist, and Mahmoud Issa, a human rights activist. In 2006 the two men were imprisoned and sentenced to prison thereafter.

But on November 2 of this year, the appeals’ court in Damascus, which always does what the government tells it to do, ordered a pardon for the two men. Why this unusual move? Because Syria was in the midst of negotiating an association agreement with the European Union and the deal had been frozen since 2005, partly due to European criticism of Syria’s human rights’ record.

On December 14, the EU and Syria finally initialed the agreement, moving it a big step forward.

On December 15, the next day, the Syrian court reversed itself and withdrew the promised pardon.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.

Some months ago, during the visit of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the legislator publicly announced that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad had promised him to release some political prisoners. A few days later, the Syrian government denied any such promise. To my knowledge, Spector never denounced the trick that had been played on him.

When then Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Damascus the first time, Bashar promised to close terrorist offices there. Powell announced success; the offices weren’t closed. The second time Powell went to Syria, he publicly stated he would not be fooled again. While there, Bashar promised him to close the oil pipeline from Iraq which was breaking the international sanctions invoked against Saddam Hussein.

It isn’t that no one has tried negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program but merely that Iran has broken all its pledges.

There is a saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” What do you say for being fooled the twenty-second time?

As the Obama administration will discover when dealing with Syria and Iran, this is typical behavior.

Start counting.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.

JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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Copyright 2008 The Moderate Voice
  • AustinRoth

    WHAT?? You mean you cannot trust Mid-East dictator states? I thought it was only Bush that cannot be trusted there.

    What next, accusations of human rights violations in the region by a country other than Israel?