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Missing Barry Rubin

Missing Barry Rubin

The Obama administration makes mistake after mistake in Syria and in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Unfortunately, Barry Rubin is no longer around to offer his critiques.

It is hard to believe that it has been three months since Barry Rubin passed away.

With all going on in the world, and especially in the Middle East, Barry’s absence is pronounced as there are few who saw things as clearly as he did. Barry’s essays and columns are not disposable, like those of some other columnists and analysts. He wasn’t looking for some pithy phrase to describe a complex problem or looking for new evidence to support his ideology. He looked at events and facts and drew his conclusions. Consequently something Barry wrote could still be relevant or true, months or years later.

Two recent stories illustrate this point.

Barry had been a critic of the Obama administration’s handling of Syria’s civil war.

The Times of Israel last week featured an interview with a Syrian dissident Kamal Al-Labwani, Israel is our last hope, indicates Syrian dissident. The point referred to in the headline is Labwani’s belief that Israel could win over the moderate rebels in Syria and much of the population if it helped protect civilians.

“If you only helped us intercept low-flying [regime] helicopters by providing a limited amount of antiaircraft weapons, with American approval, it would have a huge effect, morally and militarily,” Labwani said. “There are a million ways such weapons can be given to recognized people [in the opposition]. These weapons have ‘fingerprints’ and deactivation modes.”

Alternatively, he said, Israel could declare a no-fly zone in southern Syria, as NATO did in Libya in its bid to topple Muammar Gaddafi. Such a move would immediately cause a large segment of Syrian society to support peace and normalization with Israel.

But there’s more to the interview. Labwani is not currently among the Western backed rebels. He explained why:

Rather than build the capacity of Syrian institutions, Western negotiators appointed their own “agents or collaborators,” mostly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, hoping they would become Syria’s legitimate opposition. They have also appointed “fake” representatives of Syria’s minorities with no grassroots support inside the country, marginalizing Syrians “who fought and were deported” from the decision-making process.

Barry wrote numerous times about how the West had betrayed the true moderates in Syria by supporting the Islamist rebels. In October 2011 he wrote about the newly formed, Western backed rebel group.

I believe that the Turkish Islamist regime deliberately helped produce a Syrian leadership that is more Islamist and more Muslim Brotherhood-controlled than was necessary. Since Turkey’s government was empowered to do this by the Obama administration, the White House is responsible for this extremely dangerous situation. It is a blunder or a betrayal — in effect, the motive and cause don’t matter — of the greatest dimensions. The Obama administration may “only” have paved the way for the triumph of Islamist regimes in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia — we don’t yet know the final result — but it has been actively involved in helping promote an (avoidable) Islamist revolution in Syria.

In March 2012, when that group fell apart Barry wrote:

Several SNC members, including Kamal al-Labwani and Haitham Maleh, have announced their resignations. They are both elderly veteran dissidents who are not Islamists. The reason being given most often for this crack-up is that the group’s leadership is “autocratic,” excluding most of the membership from any role in decision-making. Leaving aside the element of personal ambition, however, why is it autocratic? Because it is imposing the Muslim Brotherhood line rather than responding to the preferences of the activists within Syria, that’s why.

As the New York Times admits , al-Labwani, “accused Muslim Brotherhood members within the exile opposition of `monopolizing funding and military support.’” Yet there is not a word about how the Obama Administration pushed this Brotherhood-dominated leadership onto the Syrian opposition.

By the end of 2012, a new Western backed rebel group had been formed and it was no better than the earlier one. Based on reporting by Jonathan Spyer, Barry wrote:

The bottom line: if this is Syria’s new government, then Syria now has an Islamist regime.

This is happening with the knowledge and collaboration of the Obama administration and a number of European governments. It is a catastrophe, and one that’s taking place due to the deliberate decisions of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders. Even if one rationalizes the Islamist takeover in Egypt as due to internal events, this one is U.S.-made. …

Why is this happening? Because Obama and others believe that they can moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and this will tame the Salafists, despite massive evidence to the contrary. This is going to be the biggest foreign policy blunder of the last century, and the cost for it will be high. It should be stressed: such a strategy is totally unnecessary; the alternatives have been ignored; and the real moderates are being betrayed.

Whether or not backing moderates from the outset would have produced different dynamic isn’t clear. What is clear is that the administration chose to back the Muslim Brotherhood and never gave the moderates a chance. When defenders of the administration argue that there are no good options currently in Syria, they are ignoring that there was once such an option.

Another recent story which Barry’s writings shed some light on is the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

In March, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas engaged in a war of words with Fatah’s former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan. Dahlan, who was expelled from Fatah, currently lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates. Funded by his host country has been making inroads among the Palestinian population in the West Bank. During the height this feud, Dahlan was interviewed by an Egyptian television station. The interview was translated by MEMRI.

Mahmoud Abbas was against the Clinton document. I supported it. Today, Mahmoud Abbas wants a third war, in order to achieve the same Clinton document. What he is negotiating about today does not amount to 50% of the Clinton document.
Why did they prevent Yasser Arafat from signing the Clinton document? In order to present him as if he did not want a peace agreement. Today, half of them say that they supported the Clinton document, but that Yasser Arafat refused. That’s not true. You were all against the Clinton document. Yasser Arafat wanted it, but you instilled fear in him. We would have gotten 100% of the land, East Jerusalem as the capital, and a reasonable solution for the problem of the refugees, 200,000 of whom would have returned, in keeping with understandings.
What Mahmoud Abbas is negotiating about today does not amount to 50% of the Clinton document that we rejected. Does that not constitute a political corruption and political crime?

I don’t believe that Dahlan is correct that what was being discussed now was less that half of what was discussed at Camp David. However, he charges that Abbas pressured Arafat not to accept Camp David. Dahlan isn’t normally someone I’d trust. However in 2011, Barry wrote Why Did Fatah Expell Its Number-One Anti-Hamas Guy?

Dahlan was once Yasir Arafat’s protégé, practically the only post-1967 Gaza/West Bank Palestinian with any real influence on the PLO’s leadership in the 1980s. When the PA was formed, Dahlan became head of Preventive Security in the Gaza Strip with the difficult job of keeping Hamas in line. He genuinely tried to do that job but was often held back by PLO/PA/Fatah leader Yasir Arafat. Reportedly, Dahlan warned Arafat that if Hamas weren’t suppressed it would eventually challenge Fatah for power. Arafat didn’t listen to him.

Eventually, Dahlan broke with Arafat over this issue. He eventually worked his way back into power as the post-Arafat Fatah/PA strongman in the Gaza Strip. There were times that Dahlan seemed a possible candidate for future leadership; there were times when Dahlan seemed relatively dovish toward Israel in the spectrum of PA/Fatah opinion. According to good sources, Dahlan was one of those who thought the PA should have accepted a deal with Israel after the 2000 Camp David meeting instead of rejecting it entirely, as Arafat did.

This is all hard to believe as the reason for his fall. Most likely, there is something else and something more important at that: Dahlan hates Hamas and Hamas hates him. It is reasonable to think that he is being forced out because he opposes Fatah’s cooperation with Hamas. Dahlan believes that in any such deal Fatah will eventually be the loser and Hamas will take over the PA. I think he’s right. With all of his faults and failures, throwing Dahlan out of Fatah is one more step to that group’s decline.

There are three things that are important about Barry’s article. One is his charge that the reason Dahlan was expelled from Fatah was largely because of his opposition to Hamas. As Barry observed, if corruption was a reason for expelling someone from Fatah leadership, the leadership would be quite small. Another point that’s important here (the sentence is bolded) is the revelation that Dahlan supported the Clinton backed deal in 2000. It supports Dahlan’s claim to the Egyptian televisions station. And thirdly, the assessment of Barry and Dahlan that co-opting Hamas would be the death knell for Fatah, is shared by Khaled Abu Toameh.

It’s true that Dahlan may be motivated more by power than peace, but the Dahlan story – his expulsion as well as his claim about 2000 – suggests a greater significance to the under-reported story of Fatah’s unity deal with Hamas. Taken together they suggest that Abbas may be a moderate because he does not explicitly advocate violence against Israel, but in terms of negotiations there is nothing moderate about him as he has no interest in coming to terms with Israel.

Whether regarding Syria or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Obama administration continues to make mistake after mistake. Unfortunately, we no longer have Barry Rubin around to point them out.

[Photo: DemoCast / YouTube ]


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How does one define/identify a “moderate rebel”?

    Juba Doobai! in reply to janitor. | May 5, 2014 at 12:58 am

    The actual question is ‘how do you identify a moderate Muslim?’. The answer is, you can’t cuz there’s no such creature living.

Yukio Ngaby | May 4, 2014 at 4:32 pm

The missteps of the Obama Admin. are becoming legendary. We’re all going to be feeling the effects of Obama’s bumbling internationally for many years– esp. in the Middle East which has been, understandably, overshadowed by Ukraine.

We’re already seeing this in the manner Obama was treated in Saudi Arabia, his failure to cut a deal with Japan, and the utter contempt that Russia has now displayed. Obama’s dealing with Egypt and Syria was a disaster and everyone– ally and enemy (or is “rival” more currently acceptable?)– has noticed and is acting accordingly.

It’s a mess. Weird how years of sucking up and “community organizing” didn’t prepare for the real thing…

BannedbytheGuardian | May 4, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Obama is going to California to get a Holocaust medal . True story.

    Juba Doobai! in reply to BannedbytheGuardian. | May 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

    This is the ultimate in sycophancy from Spielberg, who certainly should know better. Obama who hates Jews to get a Holocaust medal! If Obama has his way, that medal will be for advancing a third Holocaust on the Jewish people. What are you promoting when you say that a third ‘intifada’ is needed to get Israel talking again?

      platypus in reply to Juba Doobai!. | May 6, 2014 at 8:57 am

      What happens when the State of Israel tires of supplying innocent citizens for the lunatics’ intifada? In short, it takes two to make an intifada (and I am in no way criticizing Israel).

      What happens if the big Mideast Peace Prize Game Wheel stops spinning and lands on “That’s It Never Again”? As for me, I ran out of patience for dealing with these sadistic killers around 1973. It’s a good thing I’m not in charge of Israeli jails – none of the vermin inside would ever see the light of day. I’d even put up a Dante’s Inferno welcoming sign.

There is more insightful wisdom in his past writings about the middle east than the entire output of the state department over the same time period. The so called experts at the department usually can neither read nor speak any of the local languages and have never really studied the religions. They would claim that they are political experts when in fact they are merely socialists and internationalists undermining our sovereignty on a daily basis. If they would be experts they should start by compiling his entire output and studying like it was their doctoral thesis.