Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Syrian Regime and Wikileaks

One of the most widely read and interesting Wikileaks documents about Syria is here. I have always enjoyed reading this particular document and when a friend recently linked to it, I couldn't help pore through it again. Not only does it give a remarkable insight into the workings of the Syrian government:

SARG officials at every level lie.  They persist in a lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  They are not embarrassed to be caught in a lie. While lower level officials often lie to avoid potential 
punitive action from their own government, senior level officials generally lie when they deem a topic too "dangerous" to discuss (e.g., Al-Kibar, IAEA) or when they have not yet determined whether or how to respond (FFN, Hezbollah arms supplies, etc).  When a senior SARG official is lying, the key challenge is not demonstrating  the lack of veracity but discovering the true reasons for it. 

But it is beautifully written and clearly the product of a lucid mind. It might as well have been penned by a company man boating his way up a river in nineteenth century central Africa:
The President's self-image plays a disproportionate role in policy formulation and diplomatic activity.   Meetings, visits, trips abroad that enhance his respectability and prestige are pursued; encounters that may involve negotiations or difficult debate are declined or delegated to subordinates. The President responds with anger if he finds himself challenged by visitors, but not until after the meeting.  He 
seems to avoid direct confrontation.  When engaged in summit diplomacy, he often seeks to include allies to bolster his confidence (e.g., Quadripartite Summit in September 2008, Riyadh Summit in April 2009).   His foreign policy subordinates are all "employees" without constituencies or influence independent of the President's favor.  Their overriding concern when engaging foreigners is to avoid the appearance of overstepping or violating their instructions. They are particularly cautious in the presence of other Syrians; requests to meet one-on-one often yield more expansive and candid responses.  
Given the confusing state of affairs concerning events in Syria, it is interesting to see how supporters of the regime apply the same tricks in their debates with sceptics of Assad's propaganda as his own cronies do in diplomatic affairs:

The Non Sequitur:  When Syrian officials don't like a point that has been made to them, they frequently resort to an awkward changes in subject to deflect perceived criticism.  Syrian officials seem to think they've scored a verbal hit by employing a facile non sequitur, usually in the 
form of a counter-accusation.  When the SARG's human rights record is raised with Muallim, for example, he often raises Israel's December-January Gaza operation or, more recently, 
asks if the U.S. will accept the 1300 Al Qaeda sympathizers in Syrian jails.   The non sequitur is intended to stop discussion of the unwelcome topic while subtly intimidating the interlocutor with the threat of raising a subject that is putatively embarrassing to him or her.  When the non sequitur 
is deployed, it is clear that the SARG official is on the defensive. 
When the propagandist is asked about democracy and human rights in Syria, they would respond with something about Iraq; if you question the killing, they talk about Gaza or Bahrain; if somebody criticises the torture, they would counter with something about Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. Clearly it was a black day when the Syrian regime discovered the non sequitur (which is a Latin phrase that means something which does not follow from what came before it).

The report does have interesting things to say about Syrian foreign policy, and as I suspect, there has been a certain principled approach which permeated throughout the Assad regime's foreign policy. Of course this could never justify the beastliness of Assad's domestic repression, but it is good to be fair for history's sake.

No comments: