Thursday, March 03, 2005
Russia and Germany joined an international chorus of demands for Syria to leave Lebanon, and President Bashar al-Assad was expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on Thursday for talks diplomats said would focus on a pullout.
The anti-terror coalition that fractured over Iraq has needed an issue to rally around without offending domestic constituencies or the internationalist media. It is Bashar al-Assad's enormous misfortune that Syria's occupation of Lebanon has become that issue.
Russia, in particular, has some face to save. Having stocked up the Syrians with military hardware in return for proxy adventurism through the Cold War, Russia considers Syria part of its sphere of influence. It abstained in September when the Security Council passed resolution 1559 calling for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, not wanting to cast a veto on such an apple pie issue and simultaneously unwilling to stab its ally in public. Once Putin saw Chirac walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Bush, though, he knew he could not afford to "lose" an encounter that he could not win, so he is climbing on board in the cause of defending the credibility of the United Nations:
[Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov said the resolution, like any other Council measure, must be implemented -- a stance that further ratcheted up world pressure on Syria to withdraw its 14,000 troops.
When Syria does withdraw, and it will, Putin will be able to declare victory for his position, even if it only became his position today. Bush and Rice, we can be sure, will be gracious and respectful and let Putin run his victory lap.
Nothing succeeds like success.
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UPDATE: Via Glenn Reynolds, the Saudis pile in:
Saudi officials told Assad the kingdom insists on the full withdrawal of all Syrian military and intelligence forces from Lebanon and wants it to start "soon," according to a Saudi official who spoke by telephone from Riyadh.
I came across this very interesting article at Juan Cole's Informed Comment about Syrian history and foreign influences.
Give 'er a read if you can find the time.