- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
So what are we to make of the allegation that Syria is moving, or has moved, Scud missiles, or parts of Scud missiles, into Hezbollah country in Lebanon — even as the Obama administration tries to send a U.S ambassador back to Damascus for the first time in five years?
On the one hand, it’s a little baffling. Why would Syria risk an Israeli strike by taking such a provocative step? With an assist from U.S spy satellites, Israeli jets could easily take out the missiles — they’ve already proven their ability to evade Syrian radar with the 2007 raid on an early-stage nuclear plant near the Euphrates River. And the international opprobrium that would result from proof of such a weapons transfer to a terrorist organization would be severe.
Despite all the Syrian bravado about Hezbollah’s strong showing against Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, surely Bashar al-Assad knows that his creaking Soviet weaponry would fare badly in any conflagration — and that his presidential suite is well within the range of Israel’s F-15s. For all the figures you read in the press about the size of Syria’s military and its vast arsenal of tanks, the country is essentially a tin-pot dictatorship with little ability to project power beyond Lebanon, where for decades it has dominated its smaller neighbor’s domestic affairs.
If you think in regional terms, the (alleged) move makes marginally more sense. Iran, Syria’s ally and patron, is looking to show the West that any strike on its nuclear facilities would be extremely costly for the United States and its allies. With pressure escalating, it’s not hard to imagine that the powers that be in Iran leaned on Bashar to lend a helping hand next door. (Syria expert Andrew Tabler offers some other plausible motives here.)
The insane thing about all this is that Syria would be much better off by joining the pro-Western camp. It could get the Golan Heights back, get the sanctions lifted, and attract foreign assistance and investment — while fending off pressure to open its deeply authoritarian system, just as Egypt has. It could reap billions in tourism revenue, thanks to its incredible archaeological and cultural riches. And it could finally bury the hatchet with other Arab states, which have long been frustrated by Syria’s close ties to Iran, its support for militant groups, its meddling in Lebanon, and its intransigence on all things Israel.
But dictatorships are strange animals; they often make poor decisions for reasons that are inscrutable to all but the most informed observers.