It seems I’ve got Syria on my mind. Whenever we talk about a family vacation I suggest the Golan to get a good view of Damascus. Despite hailing from good Ashkenazi stock and no family portraits with a minaret in the distance or a distinguished ancestor in a fez or caftan, my thoughts turn more to Damascus and Aleppo than to the “Pale of Settlement.” I am obviously enthralled by my neighbors to the north.
This fascination led me to read the release from an interview Syrian President Bashar Assad gave to leading German magazine Der Spiegel. The image that the Syrian president brings to mind is that of an abusive husband who turns to his wife with feigned contrition, admitting that on the domestic front he could have done things differently. To a President, “domestic” takes on a whole different scale. Assad is of course referring to his quelling the Syrian civil war. Der Spiegel quotes him as saying, “There were personal mistakes made by individuals. Every human makes mistakes. A president also makes mistakes.” (The double-entendre of “a president also makes mistakes” is clear, eh, President Obama?)
While recognizing that his government made errors in the severity of its initial crackdown in the country’s civil war he, as with most bullies or despots, proceeded to attribute blame to the other side, saying that the blame does not fall on one side alone because reality has “shades of gray.” Assad’s definition of “shades of gray” became clear during his interview: “According to my definition, a political opposition isn’t armed.” Assad was referring to a page pulled from his personal playbook in which only psychotic totalitarian dictators like himself are allowed weapons. Any civilians who attempt to defend themselves are instigating whatever punitive measures are taken against them; basically, the “The Abusive Husband” or “The Victim Had It Coming” doctrine. Since the Syrian civil war began in March of 2011, to date more than 100,000 in opposition to Assad have been killed.
It is an intriguing experience, reading the lies of a pathological prevaricator. Assad throughout the interview continued denying his use of chemical nerve gas on his own people, claiming that President Barack Obama had “not even a whisper of proof” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. Washington blames Assad’s government for an August 21 sarin nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds. President Assad and his ally Russia said anti-government rebels carried out the attack and used chemical weapons (blaming the victim). According to former leaders of Assad’s military it is absolutely certain that Assad used the chemical weapons and despite a United-Nations-adopted resolution calling for the elimination of Syria’s entire arsenal of chemical weapons, will retain hidden caches of the weapons for future use.
Claiming innocence to the charge of using chemical weapons on his people despite the United Nations, the United States, former allies and Syrian hospitals having incontrovertible evidence to the contrary displays an indifference to reality and conscience which serves him well. Demonstrating no compunction in slaughtering his countrymen by any and all means at his disposal — the Syrian Army, Iranian fighters, Hizbullah, shelling and flattening entire districts, chemical weapons — Assad seems to have risen like a phoenix from the imminent end prognosticators have been predicting for him and his regime since shortly after the civil war began. In the case of Syria, indifference to reality and ruthless indifference to the condition of others seems to be a distinct advantage.
During the course of the interview he claimed that he had not yet decided whether to run for the presidency of Syria again. With consideration, he stated, “If I don’t have the will of the people behind me then I won’t run again.” Having the “will of the people” in any upcoming elections shouldn’t prove to be too much of a problem for Assad; he has killed much of the opposition. Syrian “democracy” is unfettered by a two-term limit like in the United States, so, theoretically, Bashar Assad, like his father Hafez Assad before him, could continue to rule Syria for generations. It is hard to imagine what else a man of his skill-set would do. Of course, he could always fall back on his degree as an ophthalmologist and open a practice.
More important to an enduring Assad rule than the popular vote amongst Syrians may be the less appealing alternatives to the Western powers of al-Qaida terrorists who would replace him. In the interview Assad opined, “It seems to me that the West is more confident in al-Qaida than me,” further noting that there the rebels consist of tens of thousands of al-Qaida terrorists from 80 countries receiving financial aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as logistical aid from Turkey. He described this as the foreign involvement that has been sustaining the conflict. True, there has been foreign intervention on both sides: the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizbullah fighting with Syria and various al-Qaida affiliated groups, most notably al-Nusra, joining the opposition.
Though it appears the West would want to see Assad ousted and derivatively benefit from the weakening of Iranian and Russian influence in the region, there is no indication that the West is willing to pay the price of letting al-Qaida be the replacement. The fact that there is no pro-Western group to fill any political vacuum is probably Syria’s greatest insurance policy against Western intervention. As insurance policies go, Assad is clearly living in a “no-fault state.”
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com