Featuring the works and commentary of Andrew Bruss

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dethroned Despots: Is Assad Next?

So far the dictators who’ve fallen in the wake of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution have all been friends of the West, but that is about to change. While the world keeps itself fixed on NATO’s undefined mission in Libya, things are falling apart in Syria.

In the Southeastern town of Deraa, Syrian soldiers gunned down at least 44 people who were among thousands protesting the Assad regime. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is calling on the Syrian army to “empower a revolution.” On a trip to Israel, Gates said, “I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate and in fact empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that.”

With the exception of Yemen, economic conditions in Syria are worse than any of the other countries impacted by the recent spat of revolutions. Compound that with the incompetence of President Bashar al-Assad and regime change in Syria is in the cards.

In the case of the Assad family, the acorn has fallen far from the tree.  Bashar al-Assad has been ruling Syria with an iron fist since the death of his father, Hafez, in the summer of 2000. In the decade or so since Bashar took over, poor living conditions in Syria have became much worse.

Hafez was a shrewd manipulator who, more than any of Israel’s adversaries, instigated the Six-Day War. As a testament to Hafez’s strategic cunning, he managed to be the last of the three Arab armies to face Israel in that conflict and paid considerably less of a cost than his allies.

But Bashar is not his father. Rather than demonstrate leadership, he has avoided direct negotiations with Israel, which would reap great economic benefits and international acceptance, in order to continue playing second fiddle to the Ayatollah. Syria’s geographic location between Lebanon and Iran makes them the lynchpin in Iran’s policy of arming the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. But Syria’s inability to break from this Shia crescent of Persian hegemony has already gotten them labeled as an outcast amongst nations. Additionally, their role in the arming of organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas is likely to get them sucked into the next major conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Bashar al-Assad saw his North Korean-made nuclear plant bombed by Israel and in no way retaliated. In a region where strength is often demonstrated through anti-Israeli action, Assad demonstrated weakness.

Having exposed his weakness to the world, it makes perfect sense his oppressed subjects would seize upon the zeitgeist of the time and put their lives on the line to eject him from power.

Yemeni Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawar’s continued violence against his people has only hastened his seemingly impending downfall. Although Yemen is an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda, the White House has already signaled they are preparing for a change in power. So if recent events are any indicator, Assad’s violent suppression of peaceful protests will only hasten his ousting.

If Assad goes, so too would easy arms shipments from Iran to Hezbollah. Regardless of who replaces him, it’s hard to imagine anyone less competent than Bashar al-Assad.

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