Many of the US diplomacy documents leaked by Wikileaks on Lebanon and Syria were based on the US ambassador/charge d’affaires describing an event or reporting the stances of different politicians, but few involved the authors’ personal and direct comments, and opinions about the subject leaders. Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and others were among these leaders in Lebanon. But this time, there is specific American cable leaked by Wikileaks, that fully assesses the Syrian foreign policy, and gives very brutally blunt opinion about the Syrian President Bashar Assad and his team(s). I think this cable is ‘gem’ from a research point of view! it clearly details the American view of the Syrian hollow diplomacy. This assessment is an outcome of the working relationship for decades, between Syrian regime and the United States of America
The cable is written by the US charge d’affaires in Damascus at the time Maura Connelly, who became later (and still) the American Ambassador in Lebanon. She wrote that President Bashar Assad is different from his father, former President Hafez Assad. Meetings with the father had wealth of detail and historical perspective, but seems it is not the case with the son. The cable describes Bashar as ‘neither as shrewd nor as long-winded as his father but he, too, prefers to engage diplomatically on a level of abstraction that seems designed to frustrate any direct challenge to Syria’s behaviour and, by extension, his judgment’.
The cable adds that Bashar Assad prefers to see himself as a ‘sort of philosopher-king, the Pericles of Damascus’. Bashar’s image plays a disproportionate role in policy formulation as per the cable; all president’s activities are designed to improve his prestige, although encounters that may involve tough debates or negotiations are avoided. But the American diplomat admits that playing to Bashar’s ‘intellectual pretentions is one stratagem for gaining his confidence and acquiescence; it may be time-consuming but could well produce results’.
The Syrian President Bashar Assad is reported to have a direct supervision on his staff, and that included his vice-president, foreign minister, advisors, and intelligence chiefs, and his brother Maher! But this supervision is not institutionalized or formalised in anyway. Remits of different people is not clear, and policy making decisions are not well studied based on assessments of certain choices from different government agencies, but rather related to only him (obviously, the American diplomat is comparing the Syrian way of doing business to the American way – and most countries – where many agencies do their bits and contribute to the decision making process, in a bureaucratic but formal and effective way). Moreover, the cables says that Assad and his team can’t juggle more than one major foreign policy issue at a time (of course, how can he if everything has to come back to him – one person. No room for specialisation).
The cable mentions how the Syrian officials are sticklers for diplomatic protocol, which guarantee a ‘respectful treatment’ in return even from the ‘world that is often at odds with them’. But it says that the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is bureaucratic to the extent that it can fall behind its duties, with the foreign minister requesting to review all notes by himself. And by the way, the ministry doesn’t have an internal email, only fax!
Ok, now the bomb, from the cable: ‘officials at every level lie. They persist in a lie even in the face of evidence to the contrary. They are not embarrassed to be caught in a lie’. This is so blunt and full of confidence, and you just wonder how business can be done in this atmosphere, which explains why many issues/files have not progressed on the Lebanese-Syrian and American-Syrians fronts. The cables continues to describe the Syrian policy to be passive based on tactics rather decisive, oblique rather direct, but rather arrogant at the same time. This is based on the fact that previous historical embarrassments were caused generally by ‘false projection of assertiveness’.
It was suggested too that the Syrian regime seeks an upper hand in any diplomatic relationship, by being involved in ‘harsh verbal attacks‘ or trying to blackmail (through owning the solutions) the foreign diplomats who usually have the desire to resolve any problems. This is backed by the believe that their policies are based on morally and intellectually solid principles. I can imagine all the solutions/problems in Lebanon falling within this context(!), where the Syrian view has to prevail else you are in trouble. Moreover, Lebanese internal issues are always used as a negotiations leverage for internal Syrian matters.
I note that members of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian opposition (March14) always said former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafik Hariri was verbally threatened in their last meeting (August 2004), which they say was fateful. The degree of the Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs, their control of Lebanese politicians, deceit, stubbornness, unconvincing pretending of not knowing what the problems were and the deterioted relation with Rafik Hariri, all these were shown in the recent publication of the minutes of meeting between Rafik Hariri and Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid Muallem in 2005.
The 2009 cable (09DAMASCUS384) summarizes the American view of the Baathist Syrian regime, which was seen full of ineffectiveness, lies, vanity, arrogance, deceit, passivity, antagonism, complacency, non Sequitur, but still able to punch above its weight! the cable is must-read for those interested in the Syrian matters, and for the President biographer who tends to stick around with President Bashar Assad these days.