FIN DE REGIME IN SYRIA?
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
But Bashar's main role internationally is serving as Tehran's premier ally. Despite Westerners usually seeing the Syrian-Iranian alliance as a flimsy marriage of convenience, it has lasted over thirty years, enduring shifts in personnel and circumstances, due to what Jubin Goodarzi, in 2006, called the two parties' "broader, longterm strategic concerns derived from their national security priorities."
The Syrian intifada has already weakened the Iranian-led "resistance bloc" by exacerbating political distancing Tehran from Assad and fomenting divisions in the Iranian leadership. Syrian protesters are burning the Iranian flag; were (Sunni) Islamists to take power in Damascus they would terminate the Iranian connection, seriously impairing the Mullah's grandiose ambitions.
The end of Assad's rule points to other important consequences. Bashar and the ruling Islamist AK party in Turkey have developed such close relations that some analysts see the Assad regime's removal leading to a collapse of Ankara's entire Middle East policy. Also, unrest among the Kurds of Syria could lead to their greater autonomy, which would, in turn, encourage co-ethnics in Anatolia to demand an independent state, a prospect that so worries Ankara, it sent a stream of high level visitors to Damascus and urgently pushed a counter-insurgency accord on it.
Turmoil in Syria offers relief for Lebanon, which has been under the Syrian thumb since 1976. Similarly, a distracted Damascus permits Israeli strategists, at least temporarily, to focus attention on the country's many other foreign problems.
The word desperation nicely summarizes the Syrian people's lot; since 1970, the Assad dynasty has dominated Syria with a Stalinist fist only slightly less oppressive than that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Poverty, expropriation, corruption, stasis, oppression, fear, isolation, Islamism, torture, and massacre are the hallmarks of Assad rule.
Thanks to Western greed and gullibility, however, outsiders rarely realize the full extent of this reality. On one hand, the Syrian regime financially supports the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom. On the other hand, an informal Syria lobby exists. Thus, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refers to Bashar al-Assad as a "reformer" and Vogue magazine publishes a puff-piece on the tyrant's wife, "Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert" (calling her "glamorous, young, and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies").
One potential danger resulting from regime change must be noted. Expect not a relatively gentle coup d'état, as in Tunisia or Egypt, but a thorough-going revolution directed not only against the Assad clan but also the Alawi community from which it comes. Alawis, a secretive post-Islamic sect making up about one-eighth of the Syrian population, have dominated the government since 1966, arousing deep hostility among the majority Sunnis. Sunnis carry out the intifada and Alawis do the dirty work of repressing and killing them. This tension could fuel a bloodbath and even civil war, possibilities that outside powers must recognize and prepare for.
As impasse persists in Syria, with protesters filling the streets and the regime killing them, Western policy can make a decisive difference. Steven Coll of the New Yorker is right that "The time for hopeful bargaining with Assad has passed." Time has come to brush aside fears of instability for, as analyst Lee Smith rightly observes, "It can't get any worse than the Assads' regime." Time has come to push Bashar from power, to protect innocent Alawis, and to deal with "the devil we don't know."
Contradictory Iranian and Turkish advice to Assad foreshadows the larger differences ahead between the two Islamist powers. Whereas the Iranians counseled Assad violently to repress the protesters and actually helped him do so, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan advised Assad that "responding to the people's years-old demands positively, with a reformist approach, would help Syria overcome the problems more easily." He even got into details: one newspaper report indicates he told the Syrians "to increase the effectiveness of public services, ensure a more transparent economy and public tendering process, and restrain the security forces." (Those are not exactly the priorities I would stress.) Contradictory Iranian and Turkish tactics point to looming tensions between the Islamist 1.0 and 2.0 regimes.
The Assad government insists that the street protestors are Salafis, or violent Islamists, and that the government is protecting the country from them. As one pro-government politician put it, the regime cannot permit "some people [to] announce a Salafi emirate in Dara'a. This is not Afghanistan." Salafis and other Islamists are indeed a great danger in the Middle East, but, as in Libya, they are far from the mainstay of the opposition.
Vogue magazine is unrepentant, even defiant, about its wretched story on Bashar al-Assad's wife Asma. In an interview, Vogue Senior Editor Chris Knutsen justified the glamorization of tyranny, explaining:
A leading member of the West's Syria lobby, Patrick Seale, has apparently bailed out on the regime. He is married to a Syrian, Rana Kabbani, who published a sharp article, "From the Turks to Assad: To Us Syrians, It Is All Brutal Colonialism," that surely ended the Seale connection to Damascus. One excerpt from her scathing analysis:
© Daniel Pipes 2011
Originally Published in National Review, May 24, 2011
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, May 24, 2011
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Author of three books on Syria and author or co-author of a total of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for National Review Online, Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
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