Thirteen years ago when he took power, Western analysts told us that Bashar Assad was going to modernize and moderate-tize Syria. He was going to bring Syria into the civilized world, and make peace with Israel. Now the same “experts” are telling us to work with the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood and the new Iranian poster boy, Rohani.
Published in Israel Hayom, August 30, 2013.
When he took office in Syria 13 years ago, at age 34, Bashar Assad was considered the great white hope of the West. He was going to modernize and moderate-tize Syria. He was going to bring Syria into the civilized world.
He was going to take an economically-bankrupt, ethnically-fractured, diplomatically-isolated, militarily-dominated, politically-corrupt and inhumanely-repressive state and make it an ally of freedom and democracy.
Or at least, that’s what most Western analysts told us.
Faced with the choice between being feared, like his old man Hafez, or being respected like, say, Bill Clinton, Bashar was sure to choose the latter, the pundits pontificated. In the Internet age, keeping an entire nation repressed and completely isolated was simply going to be impossible, they said. It was “unlikely” that the supposedly-urbane Bashar was capable of slaughtering tens of thousands of his own countrymen to maintain a totalitarian grip.
The usual cabal of Arabists was certain that Bashar was going to re-shape and down-size his military, throw-out the Palestinian terrorists, and open a dialogue with Washington. He was going to get immediately rid of Mustafa Tlass, the notorious Syrian defense minister who liked to pen anti-Semitic screeds in his spare time, and of the dour, impudent foreign minister Farouk Shaara. He would appoint peace-loving spokesmen in their stead.
Bashar was suppossed to banish from the circles of power his bad brothers, Rifaat (who carried out the 1982 Hama massacres – which he did); and Maher, commander of the regime’s Republican Guard and 4th Armored Division.
Bashar was going to leave Lebanon, disconnect from the Shiites, and abandon the Lebanese drug trade. He was going to make Turkey his main regional ally, instead of Iran, and bury the hatchet with his contemporary, the young King Abdullah of Jordan.
Remember the gushing magazine features about Bashar, the dashing British-trained ophthalmologist, who was going to shuck his father’s close-mindedness and hermit-like existence, and instead travel the world? How Bashar was going to bring democratic culture and values, and personal ties to Western counterparts, to a new generation of Syrian leadership?
Remember how Bashar was going to make a surprise visit to give a lecture at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center or Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, and offer peace – just as Anwar Sadat did?
Well, Bashar did none of these things. Instead, he cozied-up more than ever up to Iran, became the closest ally of Hezbollah, tried to build a military nuclear power plant with the North Koreans, served as the backdoor to Iraq for every jihadist and anti-American militia in the world, sought to undermine and destabilize Jordan, closed the door on reconciliation with Israel, and slaughtered tens of thousands of his own countrymen with incredible brutality. He and brother Maher have even used chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus and elsewhere.
So much for the attempt at beautification of Bashar. The moral of the story: Take Western analysis of Mideast matters with a big grain of salt. When the Obama Administration and its liberal media backers take a liking to the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt – beware. When the Administration and the Europeans pin great hopes on the new face that the Iranians have put up for show, President Hasan Rouhani – beware. Rouhani will smile all the way to Iran’s nuclear bomb.