February 28, 2005 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Syria: W's Next Win?

The last few weeks have seen multiple vindica tions of President Bush's policies in the Muslim World. It should now be widely recognized that the President's unwavering push for Muslim democracy has reaped significant results.

The most recent manifestation is the unexpected decision over the weekend by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to amend his country's constitution to allow for direct, multiparty presidential elections in the Arab World's most populous nation. This is certainly welcome news.

But more important in the near term is Syria. After Iran, Syria is the region's biggest problem. It supports terrorism (Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad), facilitates the Iraqi insurgency, has chemical and biological weapons and missiles and brutally represses its own people.

In a surprise move - if it can be believed - late last week Damascus announced it will finally withdraw its remaining 15,000 troops from Lebanon's north and west to the strategic, eastern Bekaa Valley along the Syrian border, as agreed to under the 1989 Taif Accord.

Even more remarkable - once again, if it can be believed - Syria proclaimed it's ready to work with the United Nations to implement Security Council Resolution 1559, sponsored last year by Washington and Paris, demanding that all foreign (Read: Syrian) troops leave Lebanon.

But why are the Syrians giving in so fast? Just consider what they've see since 9/11:

Right after the September attacks, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad heard Bush proclaim that there had to be a break with the past. That turning a blind eye to evil because it was easy or convenient was no longer an acceptable policy for America - or others.

Assad's Baathists watched Bush topple Taliban/al Qaeda rule in Afghanistan in late 2001. They saw the first democratic elections in Afghan history late last year and the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Assad also watched what happened to his old pal, Saddam Hussein, wondering about the effects at home of 8 million brave Iraqis casting ballots in Iraq's first real democratic elections last month.

Syria also had to notice Libya's coming in from the cold in late 2003, swearing off not only terrorism, but agreeing to give up its WMDs as well. Even the Palestinians, whose cause Syria has championed for years, held several rounds of successful elections in recent months.

Bad guys are falling left and right due Bush's relentless pressure for change. Even a Syrian alliance with the hard-line, fundamentalist Iranian mullahs isn't going to stem the spread of freedom in the region.

The Lebanese people have had "enough" of Syria as well. Outraged by the grisly assassination of popular former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Syria's heavy-handed occupation, tens of thousands of Lebanese poured into the streets last week.

Inspired by President Bush's re-election inaugural address, the recent Iraqi and Palestinian elections, Ukraine's Orange Revolution, Lebanon's own Red and White (or Cedar) Revolution is underway.

It's premature to call the Lebanese revolution a success, but it's likely to have a profound, lasting effect on both Lebanon and the region. That's why we can't rest on our laurels just when we have Syrian repression on the run in Lebanon.

The free world must continue to champion Lebanese "people power" at every opportunity, demanding:

* The complete withdrawal of Syrian military - and intelligence -forces from Lebanon;

* the resignation of Lebanon's Syrian-backed puppet government, and

* free elections in Lebanon at a suitable time after Syria's full withdrawal.

If Syria doesn't comply, the U.S. should implement additional economic sanctions under the 2004 Syrian Accountability Act, as well as seek multilateral sanctions at the United Nations. The European Union shouldn't implement its pending trade and political agreement with Syria, either.

Dislodging Syria from Lebanon is another important step in transforming the Middle East and the Muslim World. But it can't end with liberating Lebanon.

Syria must also be pressured to open its political system, end its support for terrorism, make peace with Israel and swear off WMDs. No, Syria is unlikely to go quietly, as evidenced by the (probable) Syrian-backed Islamic Jihad terrorist attack in Tel Aviv last week.

But Syria is swimming against the tide of history - revolutionary, democratic change is taking place in the Middle East. Thanks to President Bush's unwavering stance on freedom and democracy, a new, free Muslim world is just over the horizon.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: peterbrookes@heritage.org

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post