[tweetmeme] I am sure that Michael Totten is a nice guy. He is sure a smart one. I really enjoyed his piece comparing Beirut to Baghdad. All that said, he is adept at ignoring 90% of reality to make a point. Take his recent analysis of Syrian-Israeli relations. The piece in Commentary Magazine is in response to the recent war of words between Israel and Syria and it is self-contradictory and ignores most recent events in an attempt to support the idea of regime change in Syria.
Totten starts out by reminding of the FM Avigdor Lieberman’s warning that Syria would lose any war with Israel and that the war would end in the end of the Assad dynasty. Totten says that Lieberman spoke in response to Syria FM Walid Moallem threatened Israel:
But after Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Moallem, threatened Israel this week with a war that would be fought “inside your cities,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman snapped. “Not only will you lose the war,” he said to Assad, “you and your family will no longer be in power.”
Of course Moallem said that a war would be brought to Israel. What Totten completely disregards is the fact that Moallem was responding to Israeli DM Ehud Barak and his own threat of war. Earlier in the week Barak said that without peace with Syria, there would be an all-out war in the Middle East, not to mention the general threats of war that have consistently been coming from Tel Aviv. To be fair, Israel threatened Syria because of its support for Hezbollah; Barak’s threat was, in the words of Haaretz, ‘uncharacteristically sharp and strident.’ Clearly Syria would respond.
Totten also ignores the fact that Syria President Bashar Assad said that Syria wanted peace, but that Israel ‘is not serious about achieving peace since all facts point out that Israel is pushing the region towards war, not peace.’ Moallem’s response was the first threat Israel has received from Syria. Lieberman’s response was not the first from Tel Aviv.
Also absent in Totten’s analysis is Israeli PM Netanyahu’s reaction. After the belligerence from Lieberman, Netanyahu told all ministries to avoid talking about Syria in the media, had a personal meeting with Lieberman, and made an official announcement highlighting that Israel was not looking for war with Syria. Netanyahu was clearly upset that the bellicose Lieberman made such aggressive comments that only served to undermine Israeli policy. Furthermore, in an effort to distance the Israeli government from Lieberman’s and Barak’s remarks, Barak sent a message to Syria apologizing for his initial remarks, saying that he did not mean to insinuate that Israel would attack Syria. Nor does Totten mention the reaction of the Knesset after Lieberman’s remarks. From Haaretz:
Lieberman’s comments drew harsh criticism on Thursday from a range of Knesset members, some of whom urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein him in or dismiss him.
“Netanyahu must stop war instigator Lieberman,” said Labor MK Eitan Cabel.
For Totten to insinuate that the threats were coming from Syria is absurd and inaccurate. Syria was reacting to threats from Israel that received criticism from across the spectrum in Israel. Of course, Totten’s article is on regime change in Syria, so it is helpful to make Assad look like the belligerent, peace-hating leader.
The meat and potatoes of the article talks about how regime change in Syria is dangerous because of the possibility of sectarianism taking hold of the country. The majority of Syrians are Sunni, with about 30% of the population filling in as Christians, Druze, Alawites, or Kurds. Totten notes, to his credit, that there is no ‘grassroots movement demanding democratic change right now as Iran does’ and that the ‘sectarian monster that stalks Lebanon and Iraq lives just under the floorboards in Syria.’ If Lieberman had his way and got rid of the Assad regime, there is a good chance that Syria would turn into another disaster a la Iraq. Presumably, the Alawites that rule the police, military and make up most of the political elite would fiercely resist a democratic change. Furthermore, if Israel kicked out Assad, you can be sure that Iran and Hezbollah would try to make the reestablishment of a government more difficult.
Totten ends his article by saying that Lieberman was ‘right to threaten to pull Assad’s plug if he doesn’t back off. He’s a lot less likely even to start the next war if he knows he’ll be held accountable.’ Somehow Totten is able to present this as an accurate statement of reality. Recently, Assad has not made any mention of starting a war with Israel. Indeed, Moallem’s comment about war in Israeli cities was in the context of an Israeli initiated war. Certainly, if Syria starts a war with Israel, the Jewish state has every right to attack Damascus with full force; however, there has been no evidence that Assad needs to ‘back off.’ Totten should really look at all the remarks to see who should back off.
(Hint: he is the Israeli FM and his name rhymes with Spavigdor Speberman)