Friedman's Fantasy

In his current offering, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, reporting from Damascus, Syria, wonders from what planet State Secretary Condoleezza Rice landed in thinking she can “build an international force to take charge in South Lebanon without going to Damascus and trying to bring the Syrians on board.” Bring the Syrians on board? The Syrians obviously don’t want any part of Israel or anything connected with Israel, having learned their lesson the hard way in the past, notwithstanding the fact that their population outnumbers Israel’s by 3 to 1; they have 296,000 active military to Israel’s 168,000; they have 4,600 main battle tanks to Israel’s 3,090; 520 aircraft to Israel’s 399, according to USN&WR of 31 July.

The Syrians also have a long border with Israel and a land-area more than eight times the size of Israel’s. Judging from the statistics, Syria should just invade (a cakewalk across the border) and help out Hezbollah. Syria certainly has attacked Israel in the past, along with lots of other nations in the region. They have overwhelming superiority vis-à-vis the Israelis – at least on paper. But Friedman goes on: "Can we get the Syrians on board? Can we split Damascus from Tehran? My conversations here suggest it would be very hard, but worth a shot. It is the most important strategic play we could make, because Syria is the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah.”

Why should Syria want to be disconnected from Iran? According to USN&WR, Iran has an active military of 540,000; 1,613 main battle tanks; and more than 163 attack aircraft. So…put the Syrian and Iranian resources together, and the total is 836,000 active military; 6,213 main battle tanks; and 683 attack aircraft. Compare those numbers, respectively, to those of Israel: 168,000; 3,090; and 399. The two countries, Syria and Iran, besides having a combined population 23 times that of Israel, have almost five times the active troop strength, more than twice as many main battle tanks, and 284 more attack aircraft than Israel, and Syria is the important bridge between Iran and Hezbollah, according to Friedman, so why destroy the bridge that makes use of all that superior capacity possible?

Yet, despite all the hullabaloo over the fight between Israel and Hezbollah, along with the Israelis’ “terrible butchering” of Shiites in Lebanon shown 24/7 on TV throughout the Middle East, as well as the leveling of much of Beirut already, Iran and Syria are noticeably absent from the activity, except in their supporting roles (the bridge/supplies?), as well documented. Friedman goes to some pain to make the point that a hostile Syria is not afraid of the USA. One supposes that Iran’s Ahmadinejad brags to his people every day as to the fact that Iran is not afraid of the USA. One supposes that neither country is afraid of the UN or of any other interested power on earth, armed as they are, so why haven’t they helped their proxy, the Hezbollah? They (or the U.S. pundits, or both) certainly try hard enough to make the point that the Israelis form the proxy of this country…but a proxy for what?

The answer is simple. Syria, by its actions in the past, as well as its current role as the mainstay of Hezbollah, has made it clear that it is intent upon the complete destruction of Israel. This country, by contrast has been and still is a fast friend of Lebanon and has evinced no intention to violate either it or Syria. Ahmadinejad has made it clear that his/Iran’s intention is to destroy both Israel and the USA. This country, by contrast, has given no indication that it covets anything to be found in Iran. Syria and Iran know full well that they will suffer terribly if they attempt to operate against Israel – hard lessons learned from past conflicts – so they use Hezbollah as a proxy to destroy Israel. This country, on the other hand, has no need to operate against Lebanon, Syria, or Iran, so it obviously needs no proxy to carry out a non-plan. Indeed, this country needs no proxy to carry out any project.

Friedman, perhaps to indicate the vulnerability of this country to a strong Syria, remarked a comment made by two Syrian officials (not named, of course) to the effect that the 241 U.S. Marines killed in Lebanon by a suicide bomber, supposedly connected to Hezbollah, in 1983 proved that Reagan’s attempt “to impose an Israeli-designed treaty on Lebanon against Syria’s will” was made ineffective without Syrian backing. The subject prompting the alleged conversation involved Secretary Rice’s building of an international force to “take charge in South Lebanon.”

Friedman conveniently did not mention that from 1943, when Lebanon and Syria gained their independence, until 1991, when tiny Lebanon – by treaty with Syria – became an independent state, the Syrians considered Lebanon (not quite as big as Connecticut) as part of Syria and continued to dominate Lebanese affairs after 1991, the Syrian army actually not moving out until last year. By contrast, the Israelis, who battled with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to protect its northern border region through the 90s, pulled out in 2000, at which time Hezbollah was granted what is now known as an unbelievable six-year opportunity to entrench itself in South Lebanon and prepare to be the proxy for Syria and Iran in overcoming Israel, with Syria still smarting over its loss of the Golan Heights to Israel during the war of 1967. Indeed, in October of 2003, Israeli pilots bombed what was alleged to be a terrorist camp just outside the Syrian capital of Damascus, but the Syrians did not respond. Friedman did not mention either the bombing or the non-response.

This brings one to conclude that Friedman’s comparing of 1983 and 2006 sort of places him on another planet, since the world situation, particularly in the Middle East, is nothing like that of almost 25 years ago. The Syrians, far from imposing an obstacle to the USA, are not even up to the task of confronting Israel, even with the supposed backing of Iran, though the two nations are demonstrably militarily much stronger than Israel. Obviously, Ahmadinejad has seen this country move armies halfway around the world and fight conventional wars in 1991, 2001, and 2003. He has no stomach for confronting this country…just blather. Syria understands that neither it nor Iran can out-supply the U.S. effort in behalf of the Israelis as long as the U.S. can engage in mega-manufacturing of everything from bullets to Stealth Bombers to bunker-busters and move armies and materiel all over the world.

Thus…Friedman’s Fantasy. It’s just the other way around, of course. The United States doesn’t need Syria in an effort to stop the bloodletting in Lebanon. Contrarily, Syria desperately needs this country, if it’s not to completely lose its proxy, Hezbollah, and the sooner it understands this, the better. Iran is a non-player, especially since its access to the “bridge” of Syria lies through Iraq, not a healthy environment for anything Iranian at this time. Of course, Ahmadinejad could ignore Friedman’s Syrian “bridge” and try to make a deal for bypassing it and circling around to the north and into Lebanon through Turkey. Anyone believing that to be a possibility is welcome to buy the Brooklyn Bridge for the proverbial ninety-nine cents.