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Twisted Logic from the Syrian Ambassador

Marc Haddad

The new Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Moustapha, spoke on March 2 at MIT about Middle East peace, a topic of controversy and contradictions by most any account.

What was unusual about this talk is that the speaker himself seemed full of contradictions, perhaps more so than the issues he discussed. Moustapha set the tone early on by expressing his admiration for the MIT community, then promptly proceeded to insult our intelligence with twisted logic, albeit in a very polite way. Yet since he appeared to be genuinely interested in dialogue, I would like to give him here the positive feedback he solicited.

To start with, the ambassador’s claim that Syria is for a peaceful resolution of all conflicts in the Middle East is very questionable, since Syria still supports militant groups in the region, some of which are under its direct tutelage and/or protection. Just this past October, U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism called Syria “a sponsor of numerous terrorist organizations,” citing groups like HAMAS and Hizbollah. And even if one is to believe, in good faith, the ambassador’s claims that the Syrian regime is now against the use of force, then why is it that force and oppression are still being used inside Syria to restrict freedoms and deprive the Syrian people of their basic human rights in a situation documented by respected organizations like Human Rights Watch? By the same token, if the Syrian regime is against the use of military force in Iraq and Israel because force doesn’t resolve conflicts as the ambassador stated, then why is it that Syria maintains an occupation force of roughly 20,000 troops in neighboring Lebanon? Why not 20,000 Red Cross workers instead?

The ambassador proceeded to say that his country’s 30-year long occupation of Lebanon can not be called an occupation, because not a single bullet has been fired against the Syrian army since the end of the Lebanese civil war 12 years ago. Apparently, the ambassador is not impressed by the hundreds of peaceful student demonstrations against Syrian occupation inside and outside Lebanon; maybe we should conclude that Moustapha only understands the language of force in which he claims he doesn’t believe?

I’d like to remind the ambassador that the reason the Lebanese have stopped firing at the Syrian army is because they have already turned in their weapons at the end of the civil war as provided for by the Syrian-sponsored Taif Accord of 1989, which also stipulated a that Syria relocate its troops by 1992 from Beirut and other major cities to the Beqaa Valley and establish a timetable for its complete withdrawal (see for more details). Now, 12 years later, this complete withdrawal has still not occurred.

But perhaps the most blatant piece of twisted logic came in the ambassador’s claim that he was not part of the Syrian establishment, as the obvious easy way out of having to answer for all that establishment’s offenses. This attempt at self-exoneration removed any remaining shred of personal credibility that I was still hoping for, and I’m sure it failed to pass the litmus test by anyone looking for signs of real change from the Syrian regime.

What the ambassador needs to learn here and convey to his government back home is that no one is duped by their attempts at putting a friendly face one a repressive regime. As Charles Dickens once wrote: “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door,” and we are still waiting to see real reform in Syria and a withdrawal of Syrian troops from neighboring Lebanon. The failed experience of Iraq’s Information Minister Mohammed Al-Sahaf should be the best indication to Dr. Moustapha that spin doctors cannot hide and twist the truth for very long, and that while America may still get most of its oil from the Middle East, people can nonetheless easily tell when it’s of the snake-oil variety.

Marc Haddad is a doctoral candidate in Technology Management and Policy.