BEIRUT, March 5 -President Bashar al-Assad of Syria refused on Saturday to comply with President Bush's demand that he withdraw all of his country's troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, telling the Syrian Parliament that he planned instead to order a gradual pullback to Lebanese territory near Syria's borders.
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Bashir Assad, Syria's president, isn't the model for integrity. You know Syrian intelligence won't leave that quickly, even if the troops do. But this is a hopeful sign. So why is the White House taking such a hard line?
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"Anything less - phased withdrawal, partial withdrawal, leaving the intelligence agents in place - is a violation of the resolution," one senior aide said. "How fair an election can Lebanon hold if the troops are there to intimidate voters, people running for election, or people now in office?" [my emphasis]
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If we weren't being governed by a bunch of teenagers, a more supportive line could have been advanced. Maybe 'we welcome Syria's intentions to end the occupation of Lebanon and look forward to a speedy withdrawal'? Eh? Sounds a bit more . . . diplomatic, especially in light of this last week:
Iraqi officials said Sunday that Syria captured and handed over Saddam Hussein's half brother, a most-wanted leader in the Sunni-based insurgency, ending months of Syrian denials that it was harboring fugitives from the ousted Saddam regime. Iraq authorities said Damascus acted in a gesture of goodwill. Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, who shared a mother with Saddam, was nabbed along with 29 other fugitive members of the former dictator's Baath Party in Hasakah in northeastern Syria, 30 miles from the Iraqi border, the officials said on condition of anonymity. The U.S. military in Iraq had no immediate comment.
You know, if the idiots in Washington would realize that Assad sees the writing on the wall and throw him a little support with the troop withdrawal, it would go a long way in Palestine, maybe among some of the other Arab states, to convince folks that the Americans aren't just out to stake their claim on the region's oil and allow Israel to do as it pleases.
What we are hearing is saber-rattling consistent with what we heard in 2002 when Iraq was in the sights of the Bush administration. Are they trying to achieve 'regime change' in Syria? Are they willing to have another chaotic, failed state on their hands, another breeding ground for terrorists?
The Bush administration is misreading these whispers of democracy in the oppressive regimes in the Middle East as a referendum on its Iraq policy. You hear them saying that freedom is on the march in Palestine, and Eqypt, and Lebanon. It's not because of Bush's policy in Iraq. It's because Arafat died.