Foreign Policy Blogs

Editorial: Words of Wisdom

In tandem with the last post assessing recent American relations with Syria from the US perspective, this post will evaluate the same relationship from the opposing viewpoint. Again, an important quote came to mind that, I feel, sheds light on the issue at hand. Recently, pop musician Ke$ha has enjoyed a tremendous amount of worldwide commercial success, having sold over 2 million copies of her debut album Animal. However, Animal has been the target of almost universal critical wrath. Many feel that Ke$ha’s singular musical style, centered around a sort of debauched and irreverent motif, lacks artistic merit.

Ke$ha knows how to be defiant, and so does Syria.

Ke$ha knows how to be defiant, and so does Syria.

Ke$ha has not taken these attacks lying down. On the new mini-album Cannibal she has responded to her detractors by way of “We R Who We R”, a delightfully outlandish track that is vintage Ke$ha. Instead of focusing on the value of self-knowledge, as Bill Parcells so eloquently did, Ke$ha’s mantra is all about defying convention and flouting norms. While Ke$ha’s acts of defiance include dancing, turning up the volume, and wearing necklaces–it’s fair to say Ke$ha’s motives are less than high minded–her point is well taken. Conformity is not necessarily good.

The behavior of the Syrian government over the past several years illustrates this point much more clearly and convincingly than Ke$ha ever could. While neighboring governments were trying to toe the US dictated diplomatic line on a whole host of issues–Iran, Hezbollah, The Peace Process–Syria said no. In so doing Syria has rejected the so-called “western camp” (whatever that was/is) and has defined it’s own policy agenda internationally.

Internationally President Assad has focused mainly on accumulating friends and advancing economic development, with the dual purpose of cementing Syrian diplomatic autonomy. Establishing a regional trade agreement with Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon provides a good example. Work has been underway for months to formalize a regional free-trade framework which would deepen economic links between Syria and its neighbors–high level talks on the agreement will reconvene this week.

Syria has also succeeded in improving relations with Saudi Arabia. In the aftermath of the Hariri assassination Riyadh held President Assad personally responsible for the death of the Lebanese PM. However, there has been a noticeable thaw in relations, culminated by Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to Damascus this past July.  By reaching out regionally Syria has established a base of diplomatic support which will prove difficult to weaken. The Syrian government has also reached further afield having secured a strategic partnership with Russia earlier this year, as well as on going cooperation with Iran.

Taken as a whole Syria’s behavior hasn’t conformed to what some would want it to be, however, it has been successful in that it has achieved many internal goals. Syria is no longer weakened and isolated, it can no longer be bent to the will of others–as it was in 2005 when it was forced to remove its troops from Lebanon.

The problem, for Syria and Ke$ha, is that being a non-conformist has its limits. Defiance can turn self-defeating quickly. Eventually, hopefully soon, Syria will be presented with a diplomatic option that will be more attractive than “resistance”. It remains to be seen if Syria and her President are capable of more than simplistic non-conformity. Ultimately, as Ke$ha can attest, its much easier to shout “We R Who We R” than to work together with your critics towards larger goals.



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.