Friday, April 22, 2011

"A shift in power in Egypt hasn't changed much of the geopolitical map. A shift of power in Syria would have tremendous consequences.........."

Malley on NPR:
SIEGEL: Now, I understand that you did not meet directly with President Assad, but I wonder what your sense of him is. After all, he was regarded at the outset as being interested in big reforms. Then he pulled back. Does he actually want to reform things, do you think?
Mr. MALLEY: Well, in my impression, it's twofold. First of all, I think he understands the economic plight that his country faces. I mean, one would have to be blind not to see it. And to that extent, he knows that he's going to have to reform the country. On the other hand, the notion that some people have had over the years that he could reform the country against his own regime, that was the illusion, that he could turn against the very pillars of support of his regime and become a revolutionary that would lead a revolution against those who brought him to power. And that's not going to happen. And so it's not a matter of him being stuck. It's that he is part of the very regime that today is trying to save itself, and it's not going to save itself by committing suicide.
SIEGEL: How would you describe what the U.S. interest in all this is, to help the Assad regime save itself and maintain a stable Syria; to help them be thrown out so that it would thwart Iran's influence? What is the U.S. interest here?
Mr. MALLEY: I think this is one of those very complicated cases. And one could judge the complexity by the ambiguity of what the administration and the shifting tone of the administration. I don't think that they saw it as to their advantage to have instability in Syria, partly because they didn't know what's going to come next. And, you know, we don't know what's going to come next. It's not a society that the U.S. knows that well. There is a history of Islamist activism. On the other hand, of course, if you were to tell anyone in the administration that tomorrow you'd have a government that would be less pro-Iranian, that wouldn't be providing weapons to Hezbollah, that would be prepared to make peace with Israel, I think they would take it. So it's really a question of fearing the unknown, fearing instability, which could come, you know, at a great cost to many, many Syrians. You have a community of minorities, religious and ethnic minorities, who could suffer greatly. So I think the administration was hoping that the regime would reform enough. As the toll mounts every week, they're inching towards a much tougher position.
SIEGEL: You've worked in the Middle East and followed the region for years. How do you place what's happening right now in Syria in the context of the history of the region and also of uprisings in nearby countries?
Mr. MALLEY: Well, first of all, I think once again it goes to prove that nobody's immune and that it could happen anywhere, and we just will only know it after it happens. I think the paradox of the Syrian situation is, on paper, Syria's much less important than Egypt. I mean, the fact that Mubarak fell should be more significant than whether or not Bashar Assad falls. And yet, because Egyptian foreign policy basically didn't have much of a role over the past several years, the shift in power in Egypt hasn't changed much of the geopolitical map. A shift of power in Syria would have tremendous consequences for the U.S., for Iran, for Lebanon, for the rest of the region, and that's why so much is at stake..."

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