BBC- Jim Muir: Palestinian protests: Arab spring or foreign manipulation?


The “Nakba” day incidents on Israel’s borders showed that the Palestinians have undoubtedly been caught up at last in the Arab revolutionary spring fever. In a very different position from most Arab nations, the Palestinians had so far been largely left out as the spirit of assertive demands for rights and freedoms swept the region and threatened its dictators.

The pent-up frustrations of the Palestinians largely took the form of pressure on their own divided leaderships to unite, something that has now happened. The 15 May challenges to Israel on its borders with Lebanon and Syria, within the fragmented West Bank and on the Gaza frontier, undoubtedly embodied the same kind of risk-taking, confrontational people-power ethos that has fired the revolts in many parts of the Arab world.

Palestinian militancy and desire for self-assertion in keeping with revolutionary Arab times are very strong and can be taken as a given. But the ability to express those sentiments is something else.

‘Common denominators’

There is clearly another dimension to the unprecedented eruptions on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, in which a number of protesters are reported to have been shot dead and many others wounded.  The common denominators in both cases are Syria and its ally Iran.

In past years, Syria has prevented Palestinian protesters from getting anywhere near the sensitive Golan border, where Damascus has in the past scrupulously respected its truce agreement with Israel.  Nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees live in Syria, some of them in camps not far from the Golan.  Syria may be distracted and preoccupied by events inside the country, but so much that it could not have prevented the Golan incident if it had wanted it not to happen?

The real power in southern Lebanon is Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement that was created in the early 1980s by Iran and Syria to counter Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. If Hezbollah had not wanted the display of Palestinian refugee militancy at Maroun al-Ras on the south Lebanon border with Israel to happen, it would not have happened. Damascus and Tehran retain extremely strong ties with Hezbollah, so by extension, the same is true of them.

Lebanon, like Syria, also has getting on for half a million Palestinian refugees on its soil. But Jordan has something like two million, yet its borders with Israel, running along the Jordan river, did not see any such incidents because Amman did not want it to happen. Jordanian police intervened to prevent a mere 200 Palestinian students from marching towards the border, and six of them were injured when they were restrained.

The unusual flare-ups on the Golan and on the Lebanese border came as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime moved into its third month of confronting its biggest internal challenge in more than 40 years of rule by his family and the Baath Party. It would be hard not to see a link between the two developments.

To allow a controlled burst of tension on the borders with Israel might have been seen by the Syrian regime as serving several useful purposes: to divert attention from its internal troubles, and to burnish its nationalist credentials of steadfast resistance to Israel.

It may also have been aimed at conveying to Israel and the Americans the message that if Mr Assad’s grip on power should slip, Israel might face a much more militant Syria. In a recent New York Times interview, the president’s controversial businessman cousin, Rami Makhlouf, said that if Syria had no security, Israel would have no security – remarks from which the regime has officially distanced itself, but which came from a key figure within the inner circle of power.

‘Playing with fire’

One question Israel will be asking itself is whether the outbursts on the borders might be sustained and turn into a running situation.  That is not impossible. But Damascus and its allies in Lebanon know that they are playing with fire. Syria would be unlikely to permit a situation on the Golan that could get out of hand and lead to a serious engagement with the Israelis that could be deeply damaging, and might even hasten a decision by Washington to move towards a call for regime change.

A warning skirmish is one thing, a serious confrontation something else. In Lebanon, while anything is possible, Hezbollah is also unlikely to want an open-ended situation in which Palestinians play a leading role. The Palestinian presence triggered the Israeli invasion in 1982 and other interventions which greatly hurt Hezbollah’s Shia community.

The Palestinians in Lebanon played no part in Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. But clearly, these are uncharted waters. For the first time ever, Lebanon had the extraordinary experience of having people shot dead on its northern border by Syrian security forces because of the upheavals inside Syria, and a larger number shot dead on its southern border because of the Palestinian issue.

Whatever the degree of possible manipulation by Syria and its allies, the message from Palestinians both inside and outside is that the Arab revolution has found another home.

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Bahraini Woman Willing to Fast Unto Death if Family is Not Released

Zainab al-Khawaja
 A Bahraini woman who witnessed her father, a well-known human rights activist, being seized by masked soldiers, beaten unconscious and then taken into custody, has told the Guardian that she is willing to die on hunger strike unless he is released. Zainab al-Khawaja, 27, will today enter her fourth day without food in protest at the violent arrest and subsequent disappearance of the outspoken dissident Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 50, along with her husband and brother-in-law.

Zainab, who was brought up in exile in Denmark, is taking only water, and told the Guardian she is already feeling weak, with breast-feeding sapping her strength faster than she had expected. She says she will leave her 18-month-old child with family members if she dies.

Around a dozen masked and heavily armed soldiers, apparently from Bahrain‘s special forces, stormed her apartment in the capital, Manama, at 2am on Saturday. Her father had previously called for Bahrain’s king to face trial for murder, torture and corruption. The family’s attempts to find out from the police what has happened to the men have failed and they fear they are being tortured. Zainab, who started her fast on Monday, said she now dreams about her father’s fate.

“I am willing to go all the way,” she said. “Either they come out or I will not eat. I don’t care where it ends up.” Asked whether she was willing to die, she replied: “Yes. It is difficult with a child but I am willing to make that sacrifice. My daughter has great aunts and grandmothers who will look after her if anything happens to me … We have the feeling that sacrifices are necessary to bring changes to our country, but what is making it harder is the way the world is reacting. Still the US administration is standing with the dictator here.”

Her threat to take her own life came amid signs that the Bahraini regime is toughening its stance against pro-democracy activists. Yesterday was the funeral of the third protester to die in police custody this month. Chanting mourners in Manama pulled the burial cloth off Kareem Fakhrawi, a member of Wifaq, a leading Shia opposition group, to reveal a puncture wound to his neck, extensive bruising across his upper arms, sides and abdomen, and lesions around his lower leg and ankle.

Zainab is documenting her starvation on her Twitter account under the name angryarabiya. On the site she explains: “I love democracy & freedom. Therefore, I hate Arab dictators, and American neo-colonialism. Wanna know why Arabs are angry, I’ll tell u.” More than 8,000 people have signed up to follow her. Human Rights Watch yesterday called on Bahrain’s public prosecutor to investigate deaths in custody reported since 3 April, citing “signs of horrific abuse” on the body of Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer, who died after turning himself in to the police, who had threatened to detain members of his family if he did not.

The authorities alleged he had tried to run a policeman over in a car during an anti-government protest. The interior ministry issued a statement published in Bahrain newspapers saying that he had “created chaos” in a detention centre “which led security forces to bring the situation under control”. The ministry attributed the death in custody of Zakariya Rashid Hassan, 40, arrested on charges of calling for the overthrow of the regime, to “sickle cell anaemia complications” despite his brother showing Human Rights Watch a photo he said he took during pre-burial cleansing which showed a wound on his right shoulder, a gash on his nose and blood that had issued from his ears and lips.

If those responsible are not stopped soon the number of dead in custody will exceed those killed during the protest,” the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights warned yesterday. A coalition of 19 Middle Eastern human rights organisations also condemned Bahrain’s latest crackdown and warned that Abdulhadi al-Khawaja “is at great risk of being subjected to additional torture and ill-treatment while being detained incommunicado”.

The government remains defiant in the face of allegations that they are violating human rights, and Khalid al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, posted on Twitter that al-Khawaja “is not a reformer … he called for the overthrow of the legitimate regime … he violently resisted the arrest and had to be subdued”. In an account of the raid posted on her website, Zainab al-Khawaja described how her father was “grabbed by the neck, dragged down a flight of stairs and then beaten unconscious in front of me”.

“He never raised his hand to resist them, and the only words he said were: ‘I can’t breathe,'” she wrote. “Even after he was unconscious, the masked men kept kicking and beating him while cursing and saying that they were going to kill him.”

She said the special forces also beat up her husband, Wafi Almajed, and her brother-in-law, Hussein Ahmed, but their focus was on her father, who they repeatedly called “the target” during the raid. She is also demanding the release of her uncle, Salah al-Khawaja, arrested three weeks ago.  Zainab said yesterday: “Before they arrested people you thought, yes, they may be tortured, but you will see them again. Now you can’t be sure.

She added that the spate of deaths in custody appears to be a deliberate government tactic to increase fear among dissidents. “The government seems to be proud of this because they are the ones announcing the deaths.”  “It’s outrageous and cruel that people are taken off to detention and the families hear nothing until the body shows up with signs of abuse,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to explain why this is happening, put a stop to it, and hold anyone responsible to account.”

Amnesty International estimates the government is holding more than 400 activists over protests that began on 14 February. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said the number is more than 600.

INSPIRATIONAL VIDEO: Rhymefest- Stolen

Lyrics:
In London I met a rebel leader from Sierra Leon
Told me he like 50 Cent and ask what was he on
I don’t really know him fam, but what you doin here, damn!
He said he was a student, came to London after the war
Shortly before the peace began.
He was only like 5’10’ but you could the shit he had been
Long-sleeve, short-sleeve severed the head
City of God City of Man
Mother raped in front of his eyes his father had his face smashed in
 
In London I met a rebel leader from Sierra Leon
Toald me he loved Jay-Z and asked what was he on
I only met him once or twice, I couldn’t even tell you what he like
This dudes eyes wasn’t white,  they was yellowish
From the deeds that he done that was devilish
Raping village, gutting babies like jellyfish
For the diamonds that I wear what kind of hell is this!
 
After my show I met a girl from Rwanda who was a Tutsi
She said that she loved my swag, real tall pretty nose like a pose
But when she met my homey she got mad
I asked, how you feel inside?
She said have you ever been through a genocide
Have you ever been through a genocide,
Hiding in the closet with the devil on the other side
Your people cant breath cant move,
Dirty clothes, no watter no food,
Death rules consume you, God endooms you,
And one little closet entombs you
You wouldn’t know unless it happened to you too
Why all your fuckin friends look like Hutus
 
But could that really be called war
 if we was colonized by a country from offshore
Occupied by a people we all for
Uncertainty what you getting this start for
Its no way, no answer no lies, just questions WHY?

The Guardian: 400 Bodies found in the Ivory Coast


UN investigators have found more than 100 bodies in Ivory Coast in the last 24 hours, victims of what seem to have been ethnically motivated massacres. Some appear to have been burned alive and others were thrown into a well, said a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The killings occurred in three locations in western Ivory Coast, and may have been carried out by Liberian mercenaries, according to the UN.

The discovery came as Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised president of Ivory Coast, said he would not try to capture Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave power and is hiding in a bunker under his personal residence. In his first televised address since the siege in Abidjan began this week, Ouattara said he would focus on returning the country to normal to ease the plight of civilians.

The UN team’s discovery underlines the need for an urgent resolution to the crisis, which was brought about by Gbagbo’s rejection of the official election results last November.  About 40 bodies were found in Blolequin, west of Duékoué, where another 229 corpses were discovered last week. A further 15 bodies have been discovered in Duékoué, and another 60 were found in the nearby town of Guiglo. Some of the victims were from other countries in west Africa.

Forces loyal to Ouattara were partly blamed for the massacre in Duékoué discovered last week. It is not yet clear who carried out the massacres uncovered on Thursday.  “All the incidents appear to have been at least partly ethnically motivated,” said Rupert Colville, the UNHCHR spokesman, in Geneva. “I think one has to be a little bit cautious of assigning responsibilities.” He said ethnic tensions were rising as the conflict continued.

Ivory Coast has a Muslim north and Christian south, and more 60 different ethnic groups. Under Gbagbo’s decade-long rule, particularly in the early days, he tolerated and encouraged an increase in xenophobia, mainly aimed at Ivorians whose parents came from neighbouring countries, as well as the French. Muslims from the north – Ouattara’s main constituency – were also discriminated against, causing much resentment, and a brief civil war.

Following the rapid advance of Ouattara’s forces through the country last week, Gbagbo has been confined to his bunker with his influential wife, Simone. UN and French peacekeeping forces have attacked his military depots to reduce his firepower. But he refuses to surrender, insisting he won the election and blaming France for his predicament.

Many of Gbagbo’s top generals and troops have deserted him, but about 200 soldiers and militiamen equipped with heavy weapons are guarding his home in the upmarket Cocody suburb, according to the French military. They repelled an assault by Ouattara’s fighters on Wednesday. In his television speech Ouattara said his forces were going to set up a security perimeter around Gbagbo’s compound. They would then wait for him to run out of water and food, while at the same time securing the streets of Abidjan, where most people have stayed inside their homes this week due to the heavy fighting.

Ouattara said he would soon end the ban on cocoa exports, which he announced in January. He also asked the EU to lift sanctions on Ivory Coast’s main ports, designed to pressurise Gbagbo into stepping down.  In addition, Ouattara requested the Central Bank of West African States to reopen its branches in the country to allow salaries to be paid. He also pledged to hold a public inquiry into any human rights abuses committed during the conflict

Charles Kenny- Dont Mess With Taxes

Published in Foreign Policy

Every spring, the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group, announces Tax Freedom Day: the date by which the average employed American will have earned enough income to pay off his or her taxes for the year. This year, that day will be April 12. The Adam Smith Institute, a London-based, free-market think tank that makes a similar calculation for Britain, suggests that British taxpayers will have to work until around May 30 to pay off their own dues.

Tax Freedom Day is a clever-enough gimmick if your aim is to stir up ire over the government stealing income that rightfully belongs to the good people who have earned it through the toil of their labors. In an environment where Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is considered an expert on fiscal policy, it might even work. But it is worth remembering that, from a global perspective, how much we earn is actually 95 percent luck and maybe 5 percent toil. And it isn’t heavy-taxing big government that affects your income — it’s bad government.

The idea that anyone who works hard enough can become rich is a powerful one; for Americans, it’s not just appealing but central to national identity. The problem is that this vision of social mobility doesn’t hold true within the United States — and on a global scale, it’s just plain silly. The reason you earned as much as you did last year has far less to do with how hard you worked than with where and to whom you were born. In the United States, of those children born to parents in the bottom 10 percent of incomes, around one-third remain at the bottom as adults, and over half remain in the bottom 20 percent. Only one out of 77 children born into the bottom 10 percent of incomes reaches the top 10 percent as an adult, according to Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

But the advantages of being born rich rather than poor in America — large though they are — pale in comparison with the advantages of being born in a wealthy country rather than a developing one. The average rural Zambian will enjoy a lifetime income of about $10,000, compared with a lifetime income of around $4.5 million for the average resident of New York City. That’s not because Zambians are all soulless and corrupt. It’s because a Zambian with the same skills, intelligence, and drive earns a lot less in Zambia than she would in the United States — as is made abundantly clear every time a Zambian moves to the United States and starts earning a lot. The same people doing exactly the same job earn much, much more if they move from a poor to a rich country to do that job. In 1995, a construction carpenter’s wage in India was $42 a month. In Mexico, it was $125 a month. A South Korean carpenter, by contrast, made almost 10 times what his Mexican counterpart did; an American one made almost 20 times more.

For those of us lucky enough to be living in a rich country, are taxes really holding us back from a life of ease? In a word, no. Over the (not very) long term, it isn’t tax rates that decide how much money you take home — it is rates of economic growth. If a British person in 1984 paid no taxes at all, receiving as manna from heaven infrastructure, health care, education, policing, pensions, welfare benefits, and all the other services that the state provides, his or her take-home income (adjusted for inflation) would still be below that of post-tax Britons today. The same would be true of an American in 1988. People in the West are lucky enough to have been born in — or nearly as lucky to have moved to — countries that have seen a lot of economic growth over the past two centuries. That’s the reason they’re rich.

 Of course, an anti-tax advocate would respond that low taxes and a correspondingly small government are the secret to a country’s riches — an idea that is appealing, widespread, and very wrong. The last 100 years or so have seen the fastest rates of global economic growth in history; they’ve also seen the biggest governments of all time. From William Easterly and Sergio Rebelo writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research to Ross Levine and David Renelt in the American Economic Review (as well as numerous other analyses), economists have consistently failed to find robust cross-country evidence that a government’s size — measured by tax take or spending as a percentage of GDP — has any bearing, positive or negative, on its economic growth. Want further proof? Many developing countries see personal income tax receipts that would make a Tea Partier tip his tri-cornered hat in admiration, amounting to less than 2 percent of GDP. If a small income tax burden really was the determining factor in driving growth, those countries would all be richer than Luxembourg.

But while there isn’t a proven link between government size and economic growth, there is an important relationship between the quality of government and growth. If a government can’t ensure a basic level of security, stability, fair dealing, and public goods like infrastructure and education, whether it’s large or small is irrelevant — that country will be poor. If the government is providing those basic requirements, it doesn’t matter if it’s also blowing 10 percent of its GDP on bridges to nowhere, high-tech bombers for the last war, or corporate subsidies for ethanol production — that country will be rich. Better government equals richer people — it is as simple as that.

So why do rich people think it is all about effort rather than the luck of the draw? For one thing, there’s the oft-repeated finding from social psychology that people blame their own failures on circumstances beyond their control (“I was fired because the boss never liked me”) and the failures of others on personal flaws (“He was fired because he never did any work”). The reverse also holds: People take far more credit than they should for successful performance as part of a group, particularly if they do not know other group members personally. All of us — not only the rich — are just incredibly narcissistic by nature.

The second factor is that when we make comparisons it is usually to our peers, not the world as a whole. And our peers tend to have gone to the same type of school, work in the same field, and live in the same part of the world. Within these narrow groups, income differences — however small on a national or global scale — are more likely to be about ability and hard work. The fact that you earn more than your colleague who joined the firm at the same time as you did probably does have something to do with your different personal characteristics. The fact that you earn more than a peasant farmer in Lesotho doesn’t. At the same time, you rarely stop to care about how much a peasant farmer in Lesotho earns — despite the fact that the income gap between you and the farmer is many multiples larger than the gap between you and your colleague. However powerful our psychological foibles and narrow frames of reference may be, though, they are beside the point when it comes to public policy.

There are lots of reasons to hate current tax codes — not least because they are ridiculously complex and stuffed with loopholes for groups that can afford the best lobbyists. And governments the world over remain wasteful and spendthrift — including America’s, of course. Especially in poor countries, people ought to be focused on making government more efficient, equitable, and transparent — an effort that will entail lower government revenues in some cases and less government regulation in lots of cases. But the focus should be on better government, not smaller government. And the idea that taxation takes money that is rightfully ours alone, or that if only we managed to reduce the tax burden by a few percentage points we’d all be rich, is laughable. If you are in a wealthy country and it is tax time, be thankful you live somewhere where government works — and pay up.

Foreign Policy Magazine: Obama Should Assist Syrian Democracy-Protestors


The regime of Bashar al-Asad faces unprecedented and unexpected challenges from peaceful protestors demanding political change. Across Syria, citizens have taken to the streets, initially calling for little more than political and economic reforms. The regime responded with force, killing dozens of unarmed demonstrators. As in other cases across the region, regime violence has hardened the determination of the opposition, and mobilized growing numbers of Syrians to participate in mass protests. Regime collapse in Syria remains a distant prospect, but contrary to the expectations of most observers, Damascus is now in play. 

The mass protests and regime violence have left officials in Washington uncertain about how to respond. Faced with the opportunity of actively supporting an uprising against one of America’s most determined and brutal opponents in the Middle East, the Obama administration has demurred. Subsequent regime violence has not yet produced a noticeable shift in the administration’s seeming ambivalence about what to do with Damascus. Given the stakes involved in the Syrian case, caution and prudence are not inappropriate. Sooner rather than later, however, the administration will need to figure out both how much support it is prepared to offer the Syrian uprising, and what it is prepared to do, both now and in the longer-term, should this wave of protests be snuffed out.

This was not supposed to happen. For more than two months, Syria seemed insulated from the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the region. From the regime’s perspective, quiescence reflected the legitimacy it derived from its nationalist credentials and its leadership of the “resistance front.” On Jan. 31st, President al-Asad told the Wall Street Journal that despite its “more difficult circumstances than most Arab countries,” Syria was stable because its government was “very closely linked to the beliefs of the people.”

Many analysts accepted the claim that Syria was stable, if not for the reasons Asad claimed. Stability was the result not of the regime’s legitimacy or its purported nationalist credentials, but its long history of brutally repressing dissent. Elsewhere in the region, mass uprisings shattered the “wall of fear” that had been carefully cultivated by authoritarian regimes over the course of decades. Not in Syria, where the mukhabarat state continued to cast a long, dark shadow. Moreover, many Syrians had internalized the regime’s rhetoric about the risks of disorder if the regime were not present to defend social peace at home, and the cause of resistance abroad, or the ease with which sinister forces might drag Syria into the conflicts and instability that surrounded it in Lebanon and Iraq. These, we believed, were the real reasons that Syria remained “stable.” 

No longer. The courage and defiance of Syrian protestors has given the lie to regime claims of legitimacy. Its nationalist identity and anti-Westernism could not indefinitely insulate it from demands for accountability — the radical and destabilizing notion that the regime might be held to account. Beginning with a tiny gathering of human rights activists in Damascus on March 16, moving south to the dusty border town of Deraa and its surrounding region on March 18, small gatherings of peaceful protestors signaled that the Syrian regime was not immune after all to the discontent and alienation that is fueling uprisings across the Arab world. 

Nor it seems, did the Syrian regime demonstrate any greater creativity or insight in how it has responded to protests than did its counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain. In his long-awaited speech on March 30, President Asad talked about learning.  “We tell them,” he said, “that you have only one choice, which is to learn from your failure, while the Syrian people have only the choice of continuing to learn from their successes.” Precisely what the Asad regime has learned from recent events, however, is unclear. Despite the President’s rhetoric, the Asad regime has adopted the same combination of repression and concession, real bullets and false promises of reform, that have failed to appease protesters in every other case in which it has been used. 

Yet the end of “Syrian exceptionalism” does not mean that the regime’s fate is inevitable.  Protests have spread well beyond Deraa, yet they remain small and scattered. Opposition groups are poorly organized, fragmented, and face formidable obstacles to coordination.  In some areas, such as Lattakia, repression seems to have forced the opposition into near silence. Protests in Syria have not yet congealed into a mass uprising. The regime could yet regain its footing, reassert its authority, even with its claims to legitimacy severely frayed. 

Violence being deployed against the opposition is stiffening resistance, but it is also taking a toll. So are the regime’s counter-measures, including not only its carefully orchestrated pro-Asad demonstrations, but its willingness to deploy the oldest moves in the Ba`thist playbook: demonizing protestors as traitors, agents of foreign powers, and enemies of the Syrian people. However ham-fisted the President’s speech appeared to outside observers, and to many Syrians, it was virtually pitch perfect in its evocation of classic Ba`thist themes: foreign plots, Syrian steadfastness, the virtues of order, and the determination of the regime to crush its adversaries and prevail against formidable odds.  Unfortunately, the courage of Syrian protesters may not be enough to prove Asad wrong.

In channeling his father’s generation of ruthless autocrats, Bashar al-Asad has dismantled the last residual hopes that somehow, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he might seize this moment of crisis to resurrect his self-claimed identity as a reformer. He has also thrown a large wrench into initial U.S. responses to the Syrian uprising. After the March 30 speech, the willingness of some U.S. politicians to characterize Asad as a reformer — an improbable gamble, perhaps, that by ensnaring Bashar in his own reformist claims he might be compelled to act like one — is not a viable position. It is time for the administration to re-boot its Syria policy, address the dilemma of just how much risk it is willing to take, what it will do if uprisings succeed, and how it will respond if they are successfully put down.

For the U.S., the temptation to assist in ushering in the end of the Asad regime is no doubt enormous. The possibility of tipping Syria, of supporting a transition that would not only eliminate a determined and vicious adversary of the U.S. in the Middle East, but fundamentally transform the balance of power in the region, is a prize of such vast consequence that it is hardly surprising to hear calls mounting for the Obama administration to seize the moment and actively back regime change in Damascus.

We are encouraged to imagine the possibilities such a change might bring: Iran hemmed in, its regional project in tatters; Hizballah and Hamas weakened by the loss of a leading regional sponsor and supplier of weapons; a possible democratic government in Damascus, a possible negotiating partner for Israel, perhaps even an ally of the West?  Heady stuff, to be sure. Even if such gains do not materialize, is it not in our interest to assist in removing a brutal adversary from power? Do the potential gains not outweigh the possible loses, as one prominent former U.S. diplomat to the region suggested. 

Perhaps. Yet this grand vision of a truly new Middle East rest on exceptionally wobbly foundations. This is certainly the moment for the U.S. to lend support to Syrians struggling against the Asad regime. Yet the administration should not be lulled by the sirens of regime change into acting on the presumption that things could not be worse.  Even if we acknowledge that fears of instability play into the regime’s hands, regime collapse might well be followed by a period of violent social conflict, the Lebanization of Syria, and the emergence of a regional order that is much darker and less compliant than the one held out by advocates of regime change. The growing sectarianism evident across the Gulf reminds us how quickly identity conflicts could arise in the Levant, with potentially devastating consequences. 

One critical element of such an approach must include expanded efforts to develop a coherent, capable Syrian opposition. Ultimately, the one way to respond to concerns about the instability that might accompany regime change, or the fear that what replaces the Asad regime might be worse, is to contribute to the development of a viable, democratic, alternative Syrian leadership. Rather than holding out for the vain possibility that Bashar al-Asad might bring reform to Syria, the U.S. should immediately begin to back Syria’s true democratic reformers, and strengthen the prospects for long-term regime transformation in Damascus.