On June 10, the CIA's paranormal communications department intercepted the following message to Syrian President Bashar Assad from his late father.
Let's listen in.
Dear son, I have resisted the temptation to speak to you from beyond the grave until now, the fourth anniversary of my passing - partly because I raised you an atheist and didn't want to freak you out, but mainly because I wanted you to learn how to rule Syria in your own way. But your private lamentations about Syria's difficult situation have grown more frequent in recent weeks, and I cannot bear to see you so disheartened. Take heed, my son, of what I tell you and everything will work out.
First of all, don't beat yourself up. I lost a war during my first four years in power, but I learned a lot of important lessons (the first being that one must always refer to a military defeat as a "victory" and jail anyone who says otherwise for the rest of their lives).
You've made some serious mistakes, and I'm here to help you learn from them; but you've also done some things right. Your "intelligence cooperation" with the Americans after 9/11 is a case in point. Exiled Syrian Islamists across the globe have been hunted down and, in some cases, deported back to their motherland (if only I could have seen their faces when they got off the plane in Damascus). The help you gave the Americans was cost-free, but the returns were enormous - it brings back fond memories of my decision to join the US coalition against Saddam in 1991. And kudos to you for the stepped-up support you've given to so-called terrorists in Palestine - they've killed more Zionists with human bombs than we did with an entire army in 1973.
As for your mistakes, let's start with the one everybody's talking about: the American sanctions imposed last month. You screwed up, no doubt about it, but don't let the sanctions get you down. They aren't going to be painless, but they do not spell major near-term economic trouble because the US is not one of our top trading partners. They may undermine our international prestige a bit, but they also enhance Syria's reputation in the Arab world. The domestic impact is a bit murkier. Some of our political opponents will be inspired by the American action to press harder for reform, but others are likely to shy away from challenging you now that Syria can claim to be the victim of "Zionist-American aggression."
What most worries me about the sanctions is that they appear to mark a definitive shift in US policy from constructive engagement to coercive engagement. You're going to have to coax them back into the old ways of doing things, but reading the Americans is tricky. They'll tolerate a great deal more than they say they'll tolerate, but there is always a limit - you have to figure out where that line is and stop just short of it.
YOUR EFFORTS to foment rebellion against American-led forces in Iraq show that you learned a great deal from my drive to expel US-led peacekeepers in Lebanon during the early 1980s (and I thought all you did was watch TV).
Indeed, your boys have inflicted much higher casualties than mine did, and against a much larger deployment (of course, I had to work with the Lebanese). But you failed to realize that the United States has a much greater stake in Iraq's transition to democracy than it ever did in Lebanon's - trust me, they will not pack up and leave until they have finished the job.
Your biggest mistake and my greatest worry, however, is not your alienation of the Americans but your alienation of the Europeans. I was shocked last month when member states of the EU decided to insist upon inclusion of an anti-WMD clause in their association agreement with Syria. And Denmark held a parliamentary hearing on the "oppression" of Syrian Kurds. Clearly you failed to recognize how much your Iraq policy threatens European interests.
While most European governments expressed staunch opposition to the American-led invasion of Iraq, this does not mean that they now want to see the American project in Iraq fail. While many people in France and Germany loathe the US government, few would advocate undermining the birth of democracy in an oppressed land simply to humiliate America. Now that our European friends have backed a UN resolution legitimizing the American occupation, this should be clear to you.
So, my son, you're going to have to let the Americans do their thing in Iraq.
Even the Saudis are now asking you to do this - not because they want to see democracy in Iraq but because all of this al-Qaida activity you're facilitating in Iraq is spilling over into their kingdom.
Focus your energies on maintaining control of Lebanon - the billions of dollars that we skim from their economy is your financial lifeblood. In my day, the Americans tacitly accepted our presence there because I gave in just enough on other fronts to discourage any meddling in our back yard. But US diplomats are starting to use the word "occupation" to describe our presence in Lebanon for the first time in years.
Most Lebanese hate you as they did me, and are likely to rise up if they get the impression that America is on their side. If that happens and your Lebanon lifeline is cut, you're finished.
So play ball with the Americans in Iraq, and they will play ball with you in Lebanon.
Trust me, I know this from experience.
The writer edits the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin..