At 20, Bashar Assad's rule is the shame of the Arab world

MIDDLE ISRAEL: Whatever its future, Assad’s presidency has already earned him a place in history, in folklore and in hell.

SYRIA’S PRESIDENT Bashar Assad and his wife Asma cast their votes during parliamentary elections in Damascus, last week. (photo credit: SANA/REUTERS)
SYRIA’S PRESIDENT Bashar Assad and his wife Asma cast their votes during parliamentary elections in Damascus, last week.
(photo credit: SANA/REUTERS)
“War On The Gasman,” raved British tabloid The Sun’s kicker headline in spring 2018, ahead of an Anglo-American-French aerial assault following one of Bashar Assad’s gas attacks on his citizens.
The allies fired 100 missiles at chemical-weapons facilities in Damascus and Homs, and thus “marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality,” as Donald Trump soon swaggered.
Two years on, that righteous cavalry is long gone, while the barbarian it confronted is alive and well, as is his rule, which this month marked its 20th year.
Whatever its future, Assad’s presidency has already earned him a place in history, in folklore and in hell.
The Sun’s catchy nickname, on par with notorious mobster Anthony “Gas-pipe” Casso, has accorded Assad a folkloric imprint that few other national leaders will ever stamp.
Sadly, Assad’s historic imprint needs no such journalistic creativity; it lies bare for all to see, exposing the fallacy of Syrian nationhood, the crisis of Arab solidarity and the irrelevance of the West.
THE VISION, as articulated by the Baath (“Resurrection”) Party, was brave: to reunite the great Arab nation, whose identity was lost over the centuries, according to the party’s founding thinker, Zaki al-Arsuzi (1899-1968).
The effort to unite the Arabs, which peaked in the Syrian-Egyptian unification of 1958, collapsed three years later after the Syrians felt Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser was trying to take over their country’s government and economy.
Syria then went its own way, and after six coups in 10 years it entered the 29-year rule of the elder Assad, Hafez, who was guided by a different romantic vision – an Arab imperium that, rather than share power with other Arab states, would restore the Umayyad Caliphate’s 90-year, Damascus-based domination of the Muslim world more than 12 centuries ago.
That is how Baathist Syria emerged with its guiding principle, the creation of what it called Greater Syria, which meant Syria must expand to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
The elusiveness of this vision became apparent already in 1982, when the elder Assad faced a rebellion in Hama before crushing it by surrounding the city with artillery batteries and bombing it to dust for 26 days, killing thousands.
Still, back then the Syrian republic still seemed like a viable project that might someday see better times, if only it would be ruled by someone modern, as the younger Assad seemed to be when his moment arrived, by sheer coincidence, just as the new millennium dawned.
TWENTY YEARS into that new era, the elder Assad’s violence pales compared with his son’s, in all aspects: time, space, treasure and, above all, blood.
Now in its 10th year, the war Bashar Assad has waged is not only this century’s longest, bloodiest and most expensive, considering that Syria’s reconstruction should cost, according to the UN, $250 billion; Bashar’s war has shown that the country whose leaders wanted to gobble their neighbors was in fact incapable of digesting even what was already on its plate.
Assad’s war exposed Syria as an irredeemably tribal society whose leaders’ format for social harmony is the jungle’s relationship between the tiger and the deer.
While at it, the Assad years have also exposed the broader Arab world’s political ruin.
The Arab League, which always has what to say about any incident in Gaza, couldn’t bring itself to do anything while Assad’s war took half a million Arab lives, more than five times the overall number of Arabs killed during the Arab-Israeli conflict’s 72 years, and probably more Arab deaths than any single person ever caused.
Assad didn’t only bleed the Arab nation, he also deprived it of Arab land, ceding to the Russian army swaths of western Syria while foreign militias and Iranian “advisers” poured through eastern Syria, and a Turkish occupation sank roots across northern Syria.
This is, of course, besides Assad having driven millions of Syrians to Europe’s angry streets through the Mediterranean’s angry waves, and besides having created much of the refugee crisis that destabilized the international system and cracked the European Union.
Yes, Bashar Assad has earned his place in history, a place of honor alongside Cambodia’s Pol Pot, from whom he learned to mass murder his own people, and alongside Spain’s Francisco Franco, from whom he learned to unleash a foreign air force on his own cities.
That is how, in hardly two-thirds of his father’s years in power, the younger Assad has killed about 25 times as many Syrians as Assad-the-elder’s toll.
This is besides leveling towns, bombing hospitals, gassing families in their homes, displacing, dispossessing, and disemploying millions, condemning children to starvation and illiteracy, and debilitating the Syrian pound, which entered Bashar’s war trading at 47 to the dollar, and now trades at more than 3,000 to a greenback.
Considering he is only 54; bearing in mind the protection he enjoys from Russia; and recalling Arab governments’ acquiescence to his political survival, it will not be surprising if Bashar Assad’s presidency – already in league with political Methuselahs like Russia’s Vladimir Putin (also 20 years), Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev (28 years), and Iran’s Ali Khamenei (38 years) – is hardly at its halfway mark.
Curiously enough, from Israel’s viewpoint Bashar’s war on his people, while appalling, is a foreign affair. His enemies, had they won, would not have been our friends, and his accommodation of Iran, while a big problem, predated the war and might have matured in any event.
Indeed, Bashar’s war on his people, while affecting the whole world, is first and foremost an Arab affair.
That is why the first question his presidency raises should be addressed to the Arab world: Bashar Assad has massacred your Arab brethren, ruined an Arab land and dishonored the Arab nation. Why don’t you unseat him?
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.