Jim Dunnigan on Iraq’s Baathist neighbor

Why Syria Matters

On Strategy Page:

The Syrian Baath party is in a very difficult situation. They became corrupt, as did the Iraqi Baath party, and turned into a police state. While not as brutal as Saddam’s Baath, the Syrians were more effective. The elder Assad was not as eager to invade his neighbors (except for several failed attempts against Israel.) The Syrian Baath Party is thus less hated by Syrians than the Iraqi Baath Party was by Iraqis. But Syria is also full of unhappy citizens who would welcome a more honest and effective government. But like Arabs everywhere, most Syrians are either unwilling or unable to do the deed. And now the Syrian Baath Party sees, as its deadliest enemy, a democratic government in Iraq. Such an development could inspire Syrians to get rid of the Baath Party. Face it, being a dictator is like having a tiger-by-the-tail. It’s tough to hold on, but letting go is fatal. So the Syrian Baath Party supports the remaining Iraqi Baath Party in their struggle to regain power in Iraq. But this is a dangerous game, especially as it becomes more and more difficult to deny Syrian support for Iraqi Baath violence inside Iraq. The Syrians try to have it both ways, by insisting that there is no support for Iraqi Baath, while having Syrian police and border guards look the other way as the Iraqis move money and people through Syrian into Iraq.

The Syrian Baath party also has things like loyalty (to fellow Baath members in Iraq) and greed (all that Iraqi oil money they are now getting) to worry about. They can’t just tell the Iraqi Baath Party members to go away, despite American demands that they do just that. And then there is fear. A democratic Iraq will be an anti-Baath Iraq. Syria’s only friend in the neighborhood is Iran. But even there, it is the minority of Islamic conservatives that dominate Iran, that supports Syria. The majority of Iranians see Syria as another oppressive police state, and an Arab one of that. Most Iranians have an ancient disdain for Arabs in general.

Syria, under the Baath Party, has no friends and few prospects.

To be honest, I’m more than a little surprised we haven’t been more pro-active toward Syria. I expected major military action (or at least credible threats of it, including massed troops on the border) by mid-2004. I don’t think that the energetic insurgency in Iraq has delayed any such plans, as masses of US troops on the Iraq-Syria border would probably hurt the insurgency significantly.


  1. You’re right, Darrell. Exactly right. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but that should be enough. But then we’d have to compare Michael Moore’s minutemen to Hitler’s SS, and next thing you know someone’s feelings would get hurt. Can’t have that.

  2. Appaently we (or at least certain elements within the Bush Admin) didn’t learn anything from Vietnam )& any number of other counter insurgency campaigns) where the state suffering from an insurgency was next door to states providing sanctuary to the insurgents. This is another example of how Bush and his crew neglected to take a very predictable factor into account and come up with a comprehensive advance plan to deaol with it. I swear some of our leaders must have partied through their poly sci classes, and worked overtime to come up with a ‘drive through’ plan that was badly imbalanced in favor of conventional military ops, at the expense of the more important religious , cultural and political aspects of invading a Muslim country. Don’t get me wrong….our military has done great, ‘but’ they and the civilian portions of our Iraq operations have been consistently hobbled by lack of foresight and vision prior to the invasion, and a number of bad strategic and tactical decisions since.