Assad’s Fantasies Fuel Syria’s Tragedy

Emad Hajjaj, Jordan


The Syrian tragedy is on its way to becoming more heart-rending. Caught in his fantasies, President Bashar al-Assad today confirmed he is incapable of ending the bloodletting through rational negotiations. That will place new pressures on President Barack Obama to get rid of him before Syria descends into Hades. Mediation attempts by the United Nations hold little promise now.

In his first speech in six months, Assad demonstrated that he is as out of touch with realities outside his palace as were Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak just before their fall. Like them, he was triumphalist and bitter and almost completely blind to the anger driving people to face government bullets.

“Who should we negotiate with? Terrorists? “We will negotiate with their masters,” he said, making clear that the masters are in Saudi Arabia, America and Europe. Assad is blaming everything on the US and its allies. The stage-managed rally cheered but could not have bought that tired argument.

In his paranoia, he still thinks people will believe whatever they are told by those in authority, just as they did 20 years ago. But that was then. People believed because they had almost no access to other information. It is different now. People on the street know more than those confined to palaces because they use mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The street cannot be duped for long because the truth cannot be hidden as easily as before. “Everyone who comes to Syria knows that Syria accepts advice but not orders,” Assad said, forgetting that the Syrian people also do not submit to orders as humbly as they did at the time of his father. So he will have to make the bigger compromises, not the people nor the opposition. Those might include his stepping down quickly.

Worse, he is out of touch with the thinking in Russia, China and Iran, the regimes he sees as protectors. Russia’s top leaders have plainly said they do not care about Assad personally. They are putting their foot down because they cannot allow the US and its allies to use violent rebel movements to depose foreign governments. Moscow felt betrayed when France and NATO used its acquiescence to military intervention for humanitarian purposes to remove Gaddafi. So it has placed vetoes on moves within the United Nations to allow military actions to protect Syrian civilians against Assad.

Agreeing with Russia, China opposes Western pressures against Assad but neither Moscow nor Beijing are his friends. Their motivation is suspicion of US intentions. Nobody, not even Iran, will go out on a limb to keep Assad in power because he has repeatedly demonstrated he is too remote from the people he governs.

His political arrogance caused him to use unbridled force against peaceful protest movements, causing the birth of a civil war. As a result, most Syrian rebels are soldiers who defected from the army or tribal militia who took up arms after decades of non-violence. The degeneration into chaos allowed brutal foreign zealots inspired by al-Qaeda to use well-planned attacks and bombs to turn Syria into a cauldron of confusion.

The war has become an uncontrolled mess of factions and fighters. Pro-government forces are no longer the only killers of opposition fighters and civilians. Al-Qaeda jihadists are also killing them to keep the pot boiling and increase the confusion. The situation is worsening by the week and Obama may have to decide soon on US-Europe-Arab collaboration on military measures to depose Assad.

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Author: BRIJ KHINDARIA, Foreign Affairs Columnist

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