Opinion column: Getting tough with Syria

By Elie Dvorin

Having been on campus for almost three years, I’ve seen my share of “End the Occupation” rallies. These rallies are characterized by a bearded sociopath standing on the Quad, ranting about Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories or the U.S. occupation of Iraq, while six of his closest friends stand around him in a circle and repeat his witty phrases. Yet in all my days of rally observing, I’ve never once seen a call to end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Despite the fact that Lebanon has been occupied since 1976, most people had never heard of the Syrian presence until last month when Lebanon’s former prime minister was assassinated.

The fact of the matter is that Syria is a serious impediment to peace in the Middle East, and fortunately, the Bush administration is starting to recognize that. Last week, Bush and some European allies called for a full Syrian withdrawal of troops and intelligence services from Lebanon. Nonetheless, I fear the administration’s threats are more bark than bite.

In 2003, Congress passed the “Syria Accountability Act,” which calls on Syria “to halt (its) support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its development of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil” and otherwise be held accountable for its role in the Middle East. The law gives the U.S. president several different options if Syria doesn’t comply with the demands. Most of these options involve economic sanctions, which aren’t effective against a country that survives on blood – 25,000 died for opposing former president Hafez Assad – and oil money. Syria isn’t a prominent trading partner of the United States, and its economy won’t be driven into the ground by U.S. sanctions. Thus, Syria will have no reason to reconsider its policies.

Repressive dictatorships like Syria understand one thing and one thing only – force. However, that’s not a feasible option right now. Luckily for President Assad and his government, the American people will not support large-scale military intervention given the current problems in Iraq. Instead, the United States needs to take an extremely hard-line diplomatic stance with Syria, and if that doesn’t work, we need to swiftly take out the regime with tactical strikes.

The problems with Syria extend far beyond their presence in Lebanon. Syria has continually been looking to develop WMDs, and as many intelligence personnel believe, they are storing some of the WMDs that were in Iraq before the war. In addition, Syria funds various terror organizations and supplies them with resources and a safe haven. According to Congressional findings, “terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, maintain offices, training camps and other facilities on Syrian territory and operate in areas of Lebanon occupied by the Syrian armed forces and receive supplies from Iran through Syria.”

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The Syrian support for these groups is anything but trivial. For years now, Hezbollah has been firing rockets and mortar shells into northern Israel from Lebanon. Hamas and the PFLP have taken credit for numerous suicide bombings in Israel that have left hundreds of people dead. Without the full support of Syria, the insurgency in Iraq that has cost more than a thousand U.S. soldiers their lives would not be as orchestrated or bloody as it has been. ÿ

We need to discard this false notion that Syria’s support for terrorism and occupation of Lebanon are purely ideological. These actions, along with their widespread human rights abuses, have very real and very serious impacts on the future of peace in the region and the world. As the Middle East begins to change and democracy and self-determination gain momentum in the region, the Syrian government has made the decision to stay in the Dark Ages. Sooner or later, the Syrian people will stand up and revolt against their oppressive rule. Until that day, the United States needs to make it clear that Syria cannot prevent other nations from advancing.