Bashar Assad: Dead man walking
By DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
Washington Watch: Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has only himself to blame as he heads for history’s garbage heap.
Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has only himself to blame as he heads for
history’s garbage heap.
The British-educated eye doctor came to office
among high hopes that he meant what he said about political, economic and social
reform to bring his country into the 21st century. At home and abroad he’d been
nicknamed “The Hope.”
A more appropriate moniker would have been “The
Disappointment” or “The Disaster.” He quickly fell under the influence of his
father’s old guard and succumbed to fear that reform was a sign of weakness his
enemies could pounce upon. He lacked the leadership, political cunning and
ability of his father, but successfully emulated the worst of his father’s
attributes – brutality, repression and corruption.
Like his father and
for his own parochial reasons he kept the border with Israel quiet, although,
also like his father, he continued to arm and encourage Hezbollah and other
He also fell under the influence of the Iranians, who see
regional instability as essential to their goals.
Turkey’s new Islamist
government quickly embraced Bashar as part of its goal of becoming a dominant
player in the Muslim Middle East and poking its thumb in the eyes of the West,
especially those uppity White European Christians who wouldn’t let a Muslim
country join their exclusive EU country club. But Bashar has turned Turkey
against him and now risks going to war with his much stronger neighbor. He also
has lost his wealthy benefactors in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi
Against the backdrop of the Arab uprising in early 2011, Assad
managed to turn peaceful demonstrations into a violent civil war. He spoke of
reform but had no intention of delivering, and as the calls for change grew he
unleashed gangs of thugs, his army and even his air force.
slaughtered tens of thousands of unarmed Syrian civilians, wounded many times
that number and sent even more fleeing to neighboring countries.
most countries have called for him to step down, Russia and China still protect
him with their UN vetoes, because they want to play spoiler in the region
against the West and because the last thing they want their folks back home to
see is their own government blessing a popular uprising against a brutal
dictatorship. It’s not good for business.
Every day the reports of his
brutality and slaughter of civilians get worse. Recently his government
threatened to use chemical weapons – which it previously denied even having – on
its own people.
And as Assad slips – too slowly – from power it appears
increasingly possible his country will be devoured by tribal and sectarian
warfare, and there’s a very real chance that the Islamists, notably the Muslim
Brotherhood and affiliates of al-Qaida, could rise to power.
France and Turkey have recognized the newly-formed National Coalition for Syrian
Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and the Obama administration has called it
“a legitimate representative of the Syrian people” but said it is withholding
military support until it is convinced the group “is committed to a democratic
Syria, an inclusive Syria, a moderate Syria.”
The Americans and Europeans
are reluctant to lift their embargo on heavy arms out of fear the weapons could
fall into the hands of Islamic extremists in the anti-Assad forces. They also
are concerned about extensive human rights abuses by some rebel factions,
including public summary executions of prisoners.
Obama’s dilemma is
there’s no way of knowing whether the next regime will be much different. That
was driven home in the past week by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power
grab and move to impose an Islamist dictatorship.
factor came when a dozen or so Syrian Islamist factions, including Jabhat
al-Nursra, a particularly violent group with ties to al-Qaeda, and foreign
jihadists, rejected the coalition and announced they were immediately
establishing an Islamic state in Aleppo, the nation’s commercial
That is Israel’s quandary: the feeling in Jerusalem is better the
enemy you known than the one you don’t.
“We don’t know if the alternative
will be any better,” said Dan Schueftan, a professor at Haifa University and a
visiting professor at Georgetown University.
“There is no foreseeable
outcome that is worth investing in.”
Israel has seen the Syrian uprising
explode along the Golan Heights as shells have landed across its border, but it
hasn’t always been clear whether they came from government forces or the
opposition. Israel fired back and Damascus sent a message saying the fire was
accidental and that it wasn’t interested in any conflict with the Jewish
Israel has been anxious to stay out of the conflict, concerned
that Assad may try to provoke a battle with it as a diversion from his domestic
uprising. The Netanyahu government has joined the other nations calling for
Assad to leave and it has offered humanitarian aid, food and medicine to the
When Assad ultimately exits, it will most likely be when
the Ba’ath party or the military decide it’s time.
If he is lucky he’ll
go to jail, maybe in Damascus or in The Hague; if he’s really lucky he will go
somewhere else where he can have a reunion with the billions he looted from his
people. But if there is justice he’ll go directly to Hell, not passing Go or
collecting his $200.
He could have avoided it all by recognizing the
course history was taking in his region instead of being trampled by it. He had
ample warning, advice and opportunity. But like too many dictators, he knew
better. And now it’s too late.
©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield