Fouad Ajami: Syria ... Where Massacre Is a Family Tradition

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Ajami is a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is co-chair of the Hoover Working Group on Islamism and the International Order.

Pity the Syrians as they face the Assad regime's tanks and artillery and snipers. Unlike in Libya, there is no Arab or international "mandate" to protect them. Grant Syria's rulers their due: Their country rides with the Iranian theocracy and provides it access to the Mediterranean. It is a patron of Hamas and Hezbollah. And still they managed to sell the outside world on the legend of their moderation.

True, Damascus was at one time or another at odds with all its neighbors—Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Israel—but it managed to remain in the good graces of the international community. It had made a mockery of Lebanon's sovereignty, murdered its leaders at will. Yet for all the brutality and audacity of the Syrian reign of terror and plunder in Lebanon, the Syrians were able to convince powers beyond that their writ was still preferable to the chaos that would engulf Lebanon were they to leave.

In the same vein, Damascus was able to pull off an astonishing feat: Syria was at once the "frontline" state that had remained true to the struggle against Israel, and the country that kept the most tranquil border with the Jewish state. (As easily as Syria's rulers kept the peace of that border, they were able to shatter it recently, sending Palestinian refugees to storm the border across the Golan Heights.)

It was the writer Daniel Pipes who rightly said that Syria's leaders perennially wanted the "peace process" but not peace itself. Their modus operandi was thus: Keep the American envoys coming, hold out the promise of accommodation with Israel, tempt successive U.S. administrations with a grand bargain, while your proxies in Lebanon set ablaze the Lebanese-Israeli border and your capital houses Hamas and all the terrible Palestinian rejectionists.

Syria could have it both ways...



comments powered by Disqus