James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Are We Serious about Syria?

by James G. Beldock on July 27, 2006

This evening I had the plea­sure of at­tend­ing a BENS event, co-host­ed by Lead21, at the home of David Blumberg, founder of Blumberg Capital, at which Gen. (Ret.) Charles Boyd was the fea­tured guest. Gen. Boyd bears the unique dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the on­ly for­mer Vietnam POW ever to achieve the rank of 4-Star General (a “General General”), and is now the CEO of BENS (Business Executives for National Security, a well-known and well-re­spect­ed non-par­ti­san group of busi­ness lead­ers).

Gen. Boyd re­port­ed the fol­low­ing very in­ter­est­ing sto­ry re­gard­ing his re­cent trip to Syria. It was, he re­port­ed, un­like any oth­er au­thor­i­tar­i­an coun­try he’s ever vis­it­ed: President Assad him­self met the General at the door to the Presidential Villa and spent a can­did two hours with the General dis­cussing US Syrian re­la­tions, and US na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty in­ter­ests as per­ceived by the General and his group. Repeatedly, President Assad in­di­cat­ed to the General his de­sire to be­gin di­a­logue with the United States re­gard­ing the region–and es­pe­cial­ly his country’s re­la­tion­ship with Iraq and Iran. And President Assad in­di­cat­ed that he has been equal­ly re­peat­ed­ly re­buffed by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Now Gen. Boyd is no Syrian apologist–far from it! But he made an ex­cel­lent and con­vinc­ing point: The Syrians are pre­dom­i­nant­ly Sunni (76% ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia), and thus are not nat­u­ral al­lies of the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Shi’a Iraqi or Iranian ma­jori­ties. Somehow, by lump­ing the sec­u­lar au­thor­i­tar­i­an regime of President Assad in with the fun­da­men­tal­ist Iranian regime and the Shi’a side of the Iraqi Civil War, we have man­aged to po­si­tion Syria on the “wrong side” of our na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty cri­sis over Iranian nu­clear am­bi­tions.

All of this, of course, took place be­fore the re­cent events in Lebanon, and no­body (not least Gen. Boyd) think that the Syrians have done any­thing more than pull their uni­formed troops out of Lebanon, leav­ing be­hind a decades-long in­fil­tra­tion of their se­cu­ri­ty and in­tel­li­gence forces. But the point is nev­er­the­less in­ter­est­ing: the Syrians want a sta­bi­lized, sec­u­lar­ized re­gion­al pow­er struc­ture as much as we do, be­cause they are at, if not as much risk from a nu­clearized, fun­da­men­tal­ist Shi’a Iran as we are, cer­tain­ly sub­stan­tial risk from that prospect. And if our in­ter­ests are, at least in this re­spect, aligned, why aren’t we talk­ing to them?

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