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Who Has The Power?

Brad Plumer looks at some recent developments and wonders if Bashar al-Assad might not prevail after all, despite the recent protests and so forth in Lebanon. I certainly don't know. The interesting thing, however, is to recognize that it would probably do us all well to stop looking at this situation through America-colored goggles. The reality is that unlike in, say, Egypt, there isn't a great deal of pressure the United States can really bring to bear on this situation. The other Arab states have a certain amount of sway, as does Russia as Syria's major arms supplier and historic great power sponsor. Primarily, though, it's the European Union -- by far the largest market for European goods [EDIT: by which, of course, I mean "Syrian goods," though Europe is, in fact, the largest market for European goods as well] -- that has some plausible threats to make. The ball is basically in their court, though one imagines that at the margin the United States can do something in terms of trying to keep various interested parties on the same page.

Hopefully, they'll step up and hit the ball. It's worth noticing that it was France, rather than the U.S., that first really tried to put Syrian involvement in Lebanon on the international agenda several months ago, so perhaps they will. What's more, it seems to me that European decision-making here could have a significant impact on American decision-making with regard to Iran. There's some doubt here in the states as to whether the E.U. would really follow through on any threatened sanctions against Iran that would be part of a carrot-and-stick deal. European willingness to kick a little ass in one place, would make the White House more likely to believe in promises of hypothetical future ass-kicking.

March 6, 2005 | Permalink

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Do you mean "largest market for Syrian goods"?

Posted by: Vance Maverick | Mar 6, 2005 3:12:27 AM

Can somewhat explain what exact kind of ass-kicking Europe or the US can do to Iran?

A resolution that even though Iran hasn't violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it isn't being as open as we would like?

Sanctions that need a new resolution to lift? So the US can then assert that sanctions will never be lifted until there is regime change? Can anyone imagine that happening again?

At the debate Kerry said he would "get tough" with Iran if it didn't cooperate. Get tough how?

If we miraculously get a regime change, regime change to what? Regime change to a regime that will, against local popular wishes, disavow the nuclear program for the sake of the Westerners? We probably won't even end up with a regime like that in Iraq.

Whenever you hear vague threatening language - "kick ass" "get tough" "everything is on the table" that seems to be a sign that there is no specific threatening language that could have been used.

Posted by: Andrew Booth | Mar 6, 2005 4:40:27 AM

Why on earth should we Europeans put pressure on Iran, as they are - according to all available evidence - adhering to the NPT better than the nuclear powers (yes, I mean the USA) who have not lived up to their own disarmament commitment? Legally and morally, these "negotiations" don't have a leg to stand on, I suspect it is just threats and bullying, with some feeble bribes, on one side and increasing irritation on the other.

In fact, since I do not want to see another war so close to Europe, with the distinct possibility of US nuclear first use, plus the inevitable oil crisis, personally I would welcome it if Putin leased a couple dozen nuclear bombs, complete with service personnel, to Iran and Syria until the end of Bush's term, so as to beef up their capacity of deterrence.

Get it into your heads that from most Europeans' POV, YOU are the real irrational menace, far more than Iran, North Korea, Iraq, or any other of your chosen victims. But apparently you are still living in a dream world, whether Bush supporters or so-called "liberals". Wake up!

Posted by: European | Mar 6, 2005 6:06:05 AM

Re "European willingness to kick a little ass in one place, would make the White House more likely to believe in promises of hypothetical future ass-kicking."

You assume that there is anything but contempt towards the White House on this side of the Atlantic, or a real willingness to second the irrational bullying coming from Bush.

Apart from your bought politicians like Blair, at this point, we could not care less what promises the White House wants to believe in or not. After all, we no longer believe or trust anything you (the US government and military) say or do, except that it is likely to be harmful, deceitful, and contrary to our as well as your own best interests.

Posted by: European | Mar 6, 2005 6:13:22 AM

Andrew - since you asked:

1. The U.S. can institute a naval and air blockade of Iran.

2. The U.S. can take down the Iranian military bases on Abu Musa.

3. The U.S. can interdict the Kharg Island oil depot.

4. The U.S. can destroy the Iranian air defense network.

5. The U.S. can destroy the Iranian Navy.

6. The U.S. can destroy the Iranian Air Force and enforce a no-fly zone over Iran.

7. The U.S. can destroy any substantial surface movement of military forces in Iran.

That's just off the top of my head.

The Europeans could help with any or all of these, but are not essential to the accomplishment of any of them.

These are all capabilities, not current intentions, mind you.

Given the current direction of events in the rest of the Middle East, I suspect the good citizens of Iran will likely spare us the necessity of doing any of the above by getting rid of the mullahs on their own.

Also, what gives you the idea that nuclear arms are a matter of "popular wishes" in Iran? South Africa's former regime went nuclear too, but when a genuinely popular government replaced it, the nukes were decommissioned. Perhaps you are in possession of some polling data not widely known?

European - a few questions:

1. What disarmament commitment is the U.S. not living up to?

2. If Iran is too "close" to Europe for another war, I wonder: Why didn't you good folks bestir yourselves a bit more when that nasty Balkan business was going on a few years back?

3. Nuclear first use? You do go on so.

Get it into your heads that from most Europeans' POV, YOU are the real irrational menace, far more than Iran, North Korea, Iraq, or any other of your chosen victims.

It's not that we misunderstand you, dear fellow. We just don't much care about your obviously delusional opinions.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Mar 6, 2005 7:51:11 AM

[EDIT: by which, of course, I mean "Syrian goods," though Europe is, in fact, the largest market for European goods as well].

Hey, Matt, why bother with the paranthetical explanation? Why not just make the edit and leave it at that? (though if you hadn't, your readers surely would realize what you mean). Is this some type of blog etiguette or something -- i.e., once you publish something you can never edit without disclosure? If so it's a dumb rule. You'd never find big media web outlets devoting time to such silliness.

Posted by: P. B. Almeida | Mar 6, 2005 10:05:58 AM

South Africa's former regime went nuclear too, but when a genuinely popular government replaced it, the nukes were decommissioned.

Actually, I got an impression that the nukes were decommissioned before genuinely popular government took over.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 6, 2005 10:14:58 AM

South Africa was a _very_ unique and _very_ unusual situation.

If White House/Pentagon planners have the idea that Iran is more like South Africa than like any of the other nations that have come close to becoming nuclear in history, then we'll just disagree and we'll see how it turns out over the next couple of years.

Posted by: Andrew Booth | Mar 6, 2005 10:15:47 AM

Oh, good, Iran is like Spouth Africa. We all know how good things have been in South Africa since the end of Apartheid.

Posted by: Glaivester | Mar 6, 2005 11:59:36 AM

The question is WHY don't we have as much influence on Syria as we do on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or even China? Because we refuse to engage them.

Unless we want an endless succession of wars, with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, etc., we would be wise to use our political influence as boldly as Bush has used our military.

Posted by: epistemology | Mar 6, 2005 1:39:20 PM

Because we refuse to engage them.

What do you mean by 'engage'? The way I see it, it's either bribes and economic bullying or assassinations and millitary bullying. Or both. How else would you convince people to advance your interests instead of theirs?

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 6, 2005 1:54:45 PM

Actually, I got an impression that the nukes were decommissioned before genuinely popular government took over.

The last white administration ended apartheid, invited in the IAEA to decommission the nukes and arranged for its own dissolution and the new constitution under which Mandela was elected. The point is popular government was coming and the last white SA administration decided to bow gracefully to the inevitable.

If White House/Pentagon planners have the idea that Iran is more like South Africa than like any of the other nations that have come close to becoming nuclear in history, then we'll just disagree and we'll see how it turns out over the next couple of years.

Fine by me, Andy.

Oh, good, Iran is like South Africa. We all know how good things have been in South Africa since the end of Apartheid.

I suggested Iran might be like South Africa in one particular way. It is, of course, unlike South Africa in many more ways. Starting with the most obvious, it has oil.

Unless we want an endless succession of wars, with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, etc., we would be wise to use our political influence as boldly as Bush has used our military.

We are. And it appears to be working. For some strange reason this makes certain people apoplectic.

What do you mean by 'engage'? The way I see it, it's either bribes and economic bullying or assassinations and military bullying. Or both. How else would you convince people to advance your interests instead of theirs?

Well, economic "bullying" certainly has its uses ("Hey, Hosni. There's a bit of a holdup on that $2 billion check.") Assassins and military bullying we save for the hopeless cases - like Saddam. And it wouldn't be neighborly if we didn't point out to the long-time despots with newly energized protesters thronging their streets that they always have the opportunity to take a well-earned retirement if starring in 'Najibullah II - The Takedown' doesn't appeal.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Mar 8, 2005 1:05:43 PM

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