I heard LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chair of the Democratic National Convention, speak last night in Burbank, and among a fairly mainstream liberal speech that focused heavily on the DREAM Act and the Administration’s granting deferred action status for DREAM-eligible undocumenteds, he accused the Romney-Ryan campaign of “saber-rattling on Syria.”
This came one day after the President, in a press conference at the White House, called any use of chemical weapons in Syria “a red line” that would draw military action from the United States. This is the very definition of saber-rattling; the Chinese called the threat an excuse for military intervention (even as the threat is probably hollow). So I found that a curious charge against the Romney campaign by Villaraigosa.
Hopefully, that’s a bridge nobody will have to cross. There’s a report out today from the current deputy Prime Minister of Syria that they would be “ready to discuss” the resignation of Bashar al-Assad and the transition to a new government. That the statement came while the deputy PM was in Russia for talks adds some significance. Upon closer inspection, however, it looks more like a tactic than anything.
“The resignation (of Assad) as a condition to be fulfilled before the start of a dialogue means it will be impossible to start the dialogue. Any issue can be discussed during the dialogue,” Jamil said, according to Reuters.
“We are ready to discuss even that issue (the resignation of Assad). But resignation before finding the mechanisms acceptable for Syrian people – is that a real democracy?” Jamil added.
The Syrian regime knows that the opposition is highly unlikely to enter into a negotiation without assurances for the exit of Assad. So a statement like this allows the regime to blame the lack of talks on their opponents. At least that’s how the State Department viewed it, as well as the Syrian opposition. And this distrust on both sides means that hopes of any dialogue are really fanciful.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the Syrian government is trying to further a sectarian war in Lebanon, bringing the civil war beyond the borders of Syria.
As Syria’s civil war drags on, the recent arrest of a former Lebanese government minister allied with the Syrian leadership on charges that he planned a campaign of bombings and assassinations has led many in Lebanon to conclude that President Bashar al-Assad is trying to push this fragile country into a sectarian war.
The kidnapping of nearly 50 Syrians last week by Shiite tribes seeking to avenge abductions by rebels in Syria — along with deadly shootouts on Tuesday in Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli — has also added to the sense that Lebanon’s tenuous stability is waning. Here among the rolling hills of the border, Sunnis say they are gathering weapons for a wider sectarian battle.
“The Shiites think these people should stay in Syria, even if they are dying,” said Amer Mohammed, a Sunni leader here angered by what he sees as provocations by Lebanese Shiites. “We have the means to fight them, and we will if we have to.”
I think the evidence that Assad is behind a sectarian war in Lebanon to distract attention from the situation in Syria is largely circumstantial. More likely, Lebanon is simply a tinderbox and a neighbor to Syria, and sectarian violence across the border can easily spill over and increase tensions.
The likely outcome here is for the civil war to rage and threaten a regional conflict, without overt outside intervention or a peace negotiation.