The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

The Schenker whitewash & the price of not facilitating peace between Syria and Israel

David Schenker, who played an important role in the Bush administration’s squandering of multitude opportunities presented in Lebanon in 2005-2006, has always expressed a hardline on Syria. But in a recent WINEP piece, he tries to rewrite history by saying the regime change option was “always” off the table during his days with Bush!

Well, this doesn’t pass the smell test and he knows it.

His assertion is misleading first because there were prominent advocates of just that approach within the Admin (Dick Cheney as but one example as we now know) and second because he doesnt give the reason why REGIME CHANGE IN SYRIA COULD NOT BE REASONABLY TRIED…. Put simply, the 2005-2006 period saw an acceleration in problems for US power brought about by the disastrous Bush policy of regime change in Iraq which made another regime change thrust – especially into a WMD country and one which arguably the Israelis PREFERRED! – extraordinarily problematic.

But, Schenker makes it seem as if his Defense Dept team was merely playing the role of not supporting Assad during this period that extended into the great defeats of 2008 – i.e. they were just not doing anything to HELP Assad stay in power!

In fact, as Schenker knows, there was an active policy of destabilization going on between at least 2004-2008, especially via Lebanon but also in constantly pressuring, isolating and at times literally having allies attack Syria and its allies. One can argue the merits of this approach, but Schenker is dead wrong to suggest a nice, kind of hands off policy was advocated by Defense and/or implemented by the Bush administration.

The point we can now discern, especially with Wikileaks info, is that 1) the Bush administration actively sought to undermine Syria RATHER THAN ENGAGE IN A SERIOUS PEACE PROCESS that would have been difficult politically for it in the US and in Israel… AND 2) that although there were prominent advocates of an even more active and direct regime change approach, the US – due in part to the kinds of policies which Schenker favors – had started to run dangerously out of juice by the time more opportunities for such an approach seemed to appear…. much to the chagrin of Schenker, Abrams, Hannah and others.

Finally, the best part of Schenker’s piece – as always – is that you can clearly see the limited epistemological horizons he has in viewing Others – especially Islamists, Resistance actors etc.

The Neo-LiberalCons love bringing up Stalin, Hitler and guys that supposedly CANNOT BE APPEASED, CANNOT BE REASONED WITH …. and even that cannot really be contained… a la Moshe Arens ongoing thesis in Haaretz and in practice.

What Schenker always fails to realize in his one-dimensional equations is that the balance of power in the modern cases he deals with and cites – Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah etc – is so out of whack – so in the US and its allies favor – that even if one believes in his Black and White approach, with-us-or-against-us logic – the “enemy” just doesnt look ANYTHING like the actor he cites.

This, in my mind, OPENS UP the array of approaches that could and should be tried.

Indeed, how can one seriously mention Assad and Stalin in the same analysis and the same discussion of approaches, power, consequences etc… – even if the former does use some of the tactics of the latter!

But this was and is at the heart of Schenker’s approach to the problem of the Middle East – and it is precisely a major reason why he helped get the US in so much strategic trouble during the Bush years when there were, initially, so many chances for building peace AND meeting US interests.

— A final point, we should all remember that one of the CENTRAL reasons why there is a likelihood of so many bad outcomes in the coming period – should Syria’s unrest grow – is precisely because of the Bush administration and Clinton administration’s abject failure and lack of resolve and desire in getting a peace deal done between Syria and Israel.

If the bush folks, especially, had actually tried this track and forced a solution, we would probably be facing scenarios more similar to Egypt than to Libya and Iraq…. the former of which, though certainly dangerous and pregnant with disasters, is nevertheless far more preferable to the latter experiences of unrest, transformation and bloodshed.

Very sadly then, yet another consequence of the failure of US leadership in the Peace Processes may just be a Syria torn apart before our eyes, with the good emancipatory energy squashed…. as it was so often in the past in great part due to our choices and actions.


By David Schenker
New Republic Online, April 9, 2011

During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime was helping insurgents to cross the border and kill Americans. In response to the Syrian provocation, the Bush administration considered a broad range of policy options. But one family of options always remained off the table: regime change or any combination of pressures that might destabilize Damascus. The prevailing interagency concern was that Syria without Assad could prove even more militant than under his terrorist-supporting regime.

At the Department of Defense — where I worked — we held a dissenting view. While the Pentagon didn’t advocate toppling the Assad regime, we likewise didn’t see an interest in helping to preserve the dictator’s grip on power. In discussing the administration’s Syria policy, then Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman — a former aide to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who served in five U.S. administrations — recalled Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1943-1946. It was Harriman, Rodman sardonically noted, who once said, “Stalin I can deal with. It’s the hard-liners in the Kremlin who scare me.”

“…It perhaps goes without saying that the United States should not be in the business of regime removal in Syria. Yet it’s time to revise the assumption that Washington somehow has a vested interest in Bashar Assad’s political survival. As the brave Syrian people do the hard work and pay a high price to rid themselves of a corrupt, capricious, and brutal dictator, America should not be throwing him a lifeline.

Years ago when I was working in the Bush administration, I was tasked to write an options paper on Syria. Prior to putting pen to paper, I sought the sage counsel of the late Peter Rodman, who, in typical fashion quipped, “Kissinger tasked me to write the same paper in the early 1970s.” Today, 40 years and seven presidents later, the United States is still seeking an effective policy to contend with the Assad regime. Paralyzed by concerns of what comes next, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — continues to cling to the status quo. Regrettably, if the Assad regime weathers this storm, hamstrung by ongoing fears of worst-case succession scenarios in Damascus, decades from now Bashar — or his own son Hafez — will remain a policy challenge for the United States.”


Written by nickbiddlenoe

April 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Posted in ANALYSIS

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