Bashar al-Assad is a geek with a lisp, a former optometrist and ELO fan. But we should also remember what he comes from. His father Hafez al-Assad used the suicide bomber to birth the modern era of international terrorism.
“Although incontrovertible proof is lacking, Western intelligence believes that the truck bombs used in the attack on the American Marine and French compounds in Beirut last October were rigged in the Bekaa Valley, which lies along the Syrian border. If so, the Syrians must have at least known that a terrorist operation was in the works, because they monitor the valley closely. Suspicion of Syrian involvement is further strengthened by a long history of violent underground activities in Lebanon by Assad’s agents. Redeployment of the Marines from land to sea would remove that particular target, but there are other places in the Middle East where terrorism can be used against Americans or American interests. In addition, Assad’s military forces, including his Soviet missiles, make him a serious local threat.”
Also remember that the Assads are Ba’athists. Like Saddam Hussein, Ba’athists are fascists who model their party on the Nazis. They are as far from mainstream politics as a regime can get. They have nowhere else to go from how far they’ve already gone.
“As a rule, the more abstract and totalizing the ideology, the more blood that follows in its wake. That’s because once a leader is toppled or challenged, such ideologies provide for no intermediary layers of civil society — between the regime at the top and the tribe and extended family at the bottom — to hold a country together. In 1998 in Beirut, three years before 9/11, I interviewed the public intellectual Elias Khoury who told me regarding Iraq and Syria, “these regimes have succeeded in destroying not only their societies but any alternatives to themselves. Because no alternative can survive, the choice may be between total control and total chaos.””
“Baathism Caused The Chaos In Iraq And Syria” | Foreign Policy | Robert D. Kaplan | 03/07/2018
Bashar al-Assad never intended to be a brutal dictator. His father groomed his older brother Bassel to be his successor. Bassel’s death in a car crash brought the younger international playboy Bashar home to run the family business. Being taken seriously on the world stage is still a huge chip on his shoulder. For nationalist and ideological reasons, a Ba’athist strongman won’t back down from cruise missile strikes. Assad has more skin in this game than we can imagine.
We talk about having skin but the rest of the world knows the cards we’re holding. Regime change is not a card in our hand. America will not confront the Assad regime directly. As long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons he can kill as many of his own people as he wants. Neither Russia nor Iran will pull their support. The counterweight coalition I’ve written about (Russia, Iran, China, Syria, and other non-democratic nations) is holding its own against American geopolitical interests.
We think there’s a political and a military solution in Syria while we dither about the political and occasionally unleash the military. But for Assad and his coalition a military solution is the political solution.
It’s hard to fathom that kind of evil, but it’s easy to understand that kind of relentlessness.