Today and after 26 years Washington has restored full ties with Libya. The thaw between the two countries began in 2003 after Libya unilaterally, and out of the blue, renounced its weapons of mass destruction program, terrorist activities and not to mention buying its way out of the Lockerbie bombing fiasco. As an initial reward Washington restored some political channels by opening a diplomatic office in Libya two years ago. And today Gaddaffi bore the fruits of his 180-degree turn when Washington announced Libya’s removal off of its notorious state sponsors of terror list. Of course this did not happen before major US oil and construction companies secured massive deals in the North African country ;)
But from the get-go, Washington tried to make an example of Libya on how a rogue state can be brought in from the cold if it cooperates with the US. I remember a US envoy to Syria during the first days of the Syrian Accountability Act saying that he would have never guessed that Libya would fair better if he had to choose between the two a year earlier. Washington repeatedly “advised” Damascus to take Gaddaffi’s approach and become a full member of the International community. This of course did not happen. Instead the scrutiny against Syria has intensified exponentially since and Syria has never been so isolated by the west.
So why doesn’t Syria take the Gaddaffi route if the rewards are obviously worth it? Well, the two countries might seem to have much in common (i.e. both governments are authotarian, anti-American and members of the State Departments terrorist list) but there are enough differences between that two that make it unappealing for Syria.
- Libya, a relatively small country (population wise) with high oil reserves, is wealthier than Syria. And in a world with rising China and India the fight for oil between the world’s economic super-powers has reached a cutthroat level. This has enticed the politically powerful US oil companies to lobby for opening up Libya since they have grown sick of European and international firms soaking in the riches of countries like Iran and Libya alone.
- Libya is not at war with, and will not be a threat to, any US ally in the foreseeable future. And since Gaddaffi’s hilarious political suggestions have been snubbed over and over by his Arab counterparts. He has shifted the grace of his influence onto his African brothers. Where his lengthy speeches and comical declarations (I.e. cursing shampoo companies who put eggs in their products when Africans don’t have enough to eat. Even though the shampoos in question only used the same protein. But hey!!! what’s the difference) are not only tolerated but also welcomed when they are accompanied by highly needed cash. So when good ol’ Muammar decided to surrender his nuclear and WMD program it was in his countries best strategic interests since it was unlikely he would ever need them.
- Syria is of course at war (technically at least) and is definitely part of several “struggles” in the toughest neighborhood worldwide. It 's arch enemy Israel not only occupies a piece of its land but is much more powerful than it. The Syrian army bec a me obsolete decades ago ; its only strategic deterrent is its Chemical and Biological missiles. So turning these over, from a military perspective, would be at the very least stupid if not suicidal.
- Lets not overlook the fundamental strategic errors that Syria has committed in the past 3 years. From it’s misreading and support of the Iraqi insurgency. The extension of Lahoud’s presidency, the apparent involvement in the Hariri assassination and even more importantly the dealing with its aftermath. The last of course was instrumental in shifting the Europeans tide on the American side magnifying Syria’s pariah status.
- But more importantly, America’s and Israel’s goal is not to see Syria turn over a new leaf. Because the price to pay for such a gesture is just too high. Israel’s right wing government has rejected even entertaining the thought of negotiating with the Syrians because they want to keep the Golan (Syria’s only major peace demand). Another example is the lack of kudos for Syrian help in deterring an immanent attack on American facilities in Bahrain few months after September 11 and before the Iraqi war or any of the problems in Lebanon. So isolating and weakening Syria has been the US/Israeli strategy from the start, its only thanks to Syria’s mistakes that the process was accelerated.
Excluding the Lebanese issues, the Syrians have tried to appease many of Washington’s demands. From closing (aesthetically at least) the offices of Palestinian factions to tremendously improving its cooperation on the Iraqi border and sending several signals that it was ready to start negotiating with Israel from scratch. But these overtures where not received as warmly as Damascus might have hoped because they were acts in desperate times lacking any regional/international support. And this has sent Damascus a very clear sign that the US is not willing to play nice anytime soon.
IF, and that’s a very big if, Washington had been sincere about its willingness to support an open Syria. They would have waved some carrots in an attempt to lure them to the Libyan route. By setting out clear rewards according to clear demands instead the political garbage about joining the international community that we heard the state department and the DoD regurgitating over and over again. Then Syria might have considered and even heeded such advise.
In summery, I would like to acknowledge Libya’s strategic decision to give in to the west’s demands as the best judgment Gaddaffi has ever made in his political life. The Libyan people have suffered immensely on many levels under the embargo, which their “beloved” leader has been mostly responsible for. But what’s good for one country does not necessarily work for another. Syria’s situation is different than that of Libya because of one and very simple reason. The powers to be do not want to have a peaceful resolution to this particular battle. The Golan will remain in Israeli hands for as long as possible and hey, if Israel runs out of enemies how will it be able to ask for American military & economic support? ;)