Ahmed Salkini, a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in
Washington, says that my post
on Syria's alleged transfer of Scud missiles (or parts thereof) to the Lebanese
Shiite militia Hezbollah was "petty" and "ignorant." Here's his email in full:
Even though I usually maintain a policy of not responding to
petty, ignorant journalism, the title of your post, "The dumbest country
in the Middle East," intrigued me and so I thought I would make an
exception. It made me question, how can
the "dumbest country" outmaneuver the strongest country in the world,
and its superpower, along with the numerous Western and other countries that
followed in its footsteps and that tried to isolate it? How can the superpower,
during its previous administration, work so diligently on isolating "the
dumbest country", yet end up being isolated itself (former Bush-official
and current Obama-appointee, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffery Feltman:
"consequently, the United States, not Syria, seems to be isolated";
Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel in a 2008 op-ed: "our policy of
non-engagement has isolated us more than the Syrians.")? how can the "dumbest country" face
all these economic sanctions imposed by the superpower, while simultaneously
achieving some of the highest economic growth figures in the region and being
considered one of the top 'frontier markets'?
It also made me question, how can an editor of a prestigious
publication reach such an 'enlightened' conclusion, and dub another country
with such distasteful, malicious, and nescient names, while by all accounts
there has been no evidence of such weapons transfer -as stated by American
officials (see articles in NY Times, Washington Post, and others). It finally
occurred to me that while Mr. Blake Hounshell failed to discover the 'dumbest
country in the Middle East,' I succeeded in discovering the dumbest reporting
in the city.
I think it's very interesting that a representative of the
Syrian government would respond this way, and also disappointing. In fact, it
strengthens my view that -- whether or not it's true that Syria transferred the
Scuds or not (and no U.S. officials are denying that Syria arms and otherwise
supports Hezbollah in general) -- this is a country that has a history of
making poor decisions in the face of tremendous opportunities to make a better
life for its people.
Syria has a per capita GDP of less than $5,000, even though
it borders countries with much more successful economies, such as Israel
($28,400), Turkey ($11,200), and even Lebanon ($13,100). Its real growth rate
in 2009 was less than 2 percent -- hardly fast enough to catch up to its peers or forestall a coming economic crackup.
Even Jordan and Egypt are doing better.
Washington has given Damascus countless opportunities to come
over to the Western camp, and yet Syria chooses to align itself with Iran -- a
world pariah whose leaders are laughingstocks abroad, and feared tyrants at
home -- and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which offer no vision of a
brighter future for the Middle East. This strategy can only lead to further
marginalization in a world that is fast passing Syria by.
So, is Syria the "dumbest
country in the Middle East"? It's obviously a subjective judgment, and there's
plenty of competition in the region. But I haven't seen a convincing case that Bashar al-Assad's government is making smart choices these days.
If it's more polite criticism they seek, I'd suggest Salkini and
his colleagues read this
piece by Syria expert Steven Heydemann. His bottom line: Syrian leaders are getting
dangerously cocky, and need to rethink their strategic direction.
UPDATE: More letters. This one's from Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in London:
I really find it extremely appalling to see a magazine of the caliber of FP going down to the level of such a poor political analysis.
Mr Hounshell has lost any credibility from the moment he chose the title for his article ...by saying that Syria is "the Dumbest Country in the Middle East" , the whole article turned into a personal statement and not even near to what is called professional journalism.
Mr Hounshell you have to know that Syria is simply not a Charity and Syrian people are very proud of their culture and nation ...so whether you agree or disagree with Syrian policies in the region or the so called "Syrian behaviour"...... insulting 22 million Syrians by calling their country the Dumbest ...... was definitly the most insensitive and unprofessional thing to do.
i wish that you can educate yourself more about syrian affairs so you can write a worthy reading and more balanced article in the future.
An apology for Syrian people would be a good start for you,... and then you can think about writing an article on how can America and people like you help Syria becoming more Constructive in the Middle East on the basis of Mutual respect and common interest and not on the basis of might makes right.