In today’s “Clock Ticking Against Assad,” another NYT analyst equates “studied abroad, elegant British-born wife, French speaking, and widely-read” with a desire “to reform the repressive police state he inherited from his father, given time and opportunity.” We are told that Bashar, unlike his stern father “seems quiet, almost meek.” The press’s treatment of Assad reminds me of the foolish optimism that greeted the appointment of the “sophisticated” Yury Andropov. (Andropov must be a reformer; he loves classical music and speaks foreign languages. Bashar must be a reformer he studied medicine in Britain).
Apparently Assad’s brutal crackdown of his own people has dashed our expectations. The Obama administration’s bet that Assad, the closet reformer, will democratize and broker a real peace with Israel appears to be lost. But, we learn from the article that this is not Basher’s fault. He is surrounded by sinister relatives and security forces, who stymie his benevolent impulses. His fault (according to an anonymous diplomat) is that “doesn’t have the courage to do what he needs to do for the sake of the country.”
Somehow we are supposed to believe that one of the world’s tightest and most brutal dictatorships is made up of “good” and “bad” factions, where the bad guys do bad things behind the back of the “good” head of state. We are supposed to believe that Syrian security forces assassinated a leading Lebanese politician without Bashar knowing. Bashar must also be blissfully unaware of Syria’s support of Hezbollah mischief, or of the clandestine attempt to build nuclear weapons.
We are told that Basher’s salvation is meaningful reform. The Baath regime will survive if it allows freedom of assembly and press and opposition political parties! For Bashar’s sake, let us hope he does read such pieces. Basher’s survival chances are near zero if he offers “meaningful reforms.” They will only show weakness and intensify the demonstrations (now without fear of being shot dead). The only “reform” the outraged Syrian population will accept is the removal of Bashar and his entire regime. Bashar Assad, like Qadaffi in Libya and the Mullahs in Iran, can only survive by the sword. That is their best chance, and they are likely to win.
Our diplomats and journalists must learn that dictatorships operate according to specific dynamics that do not depend on the education, background, or humanistic orientation of their leaders. Stalin was extremely well read; was kind to his daughter, and made a great impression on Roosevelt. Hitler had excellent table manners. Bashar speaks French and reads good books. These things make little difference. They are a foundation of sand upon which to base foreign policy.