Tall and awkward, Bashar looked the part of the Accidental Dictator. His gaze, as you can see above, didn’t exactly inspire fear. His dad, on the other hand, looked like he’d left a few (thousand) bodies in his wake over the years. See Hama in 1982, when he had his brother shell the entire city into oblivion in order to dismantle a key stronghold of a years-long Muslim Brotherhood uprising.
Casual observers labeled Bashar soft. There didn’t seem to be any Machiavelli in him. Maybe an uncle or cousin would do him in. Or a general he leaned on, perhaps a loyal Alawite he trusted. Could he win or buy enough friends to stay in power? Could he consolidate his power enough in Damascus to simply survive?
Thirteen years later, Assad is playing chicken with America and winning. How the hell did that happen?
Let’s ask Russian President Vladimir Putin, the new international broker of peace and voice of reason in world affairs. Comrade?
Thank you, Chairman. First-time contributor, long-time reader.
First, Obama established a threshold for unacceptable behavior that America was unwilling or unable to enforce. If your president felt strongly enough to strike Syria, he would’ve gone ahead and approved the campaign. Instead, he blinked and shuffle-passed the ultimate decision to your comically dysfunctional, ineffectual Congress. That showed he didn’t want to take ownership of this military strike, just like he didn’t want to take ownership of the unintended consequences – a “cold” regional proxy conflict going “hot” involving Iran, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and extremists of many flavors that we Russians do not like.
You Americans crack me up – going from the Decider-in-Chief, Bush 43, to the Community Organizer-in-Chief as your president. Would it kill you to elect a moderate (like me)?
Second, Bashar and I beat your president in the head-of-state information campaign. Although most reasonable people (outside the Middle East) believes the Assad regime is responsible for the late August attack that killed nearly 1,500 people, Bashar and I have made a stronger case against U.S. military involvement in Syria. All we had to utter were two words: “Iraq” and “Afghanistan.” Those conflicts were intended to be of limited duration as well. Bashar’s interview with journalist Charlie Rose, in which Hafez’s son threatened “everything” if his country was attacked, provided a not-so-subtle message to Americans who believe two oceans can keep them safe from retribution by Syria or their proxies.
And for this war (yes comrade, we would call it a “war” even if Obama would not), your president would have fewer friends than ever. For your president, it’s important to have friends when you go to war. Imagine Ronald Reagan asking for the world’s permission to make war in Grenada, Libya, Lebanon (as part of a peacekeeping force), Panama, Central America, etc.
Third, my man Sergei Lavrov stole Secretary of State John Kerry’s thunder and threw the doors wide open for a potential non-violent resolution to this standoff: Turn over your chemical weapons and this is all over. The Russian foreign minister persuades Bashar to say, “OK, maybe.” We buy more time – weeks, months before all the stakeholders agree on a plan on an inspection regimen – for a potential negotiated settlement for Bashar, while we make U.S. political leadership look even weaker and more indecisive than it already does now. I win!
There are many big unknowns about verification of a massive chemical weapons program on the scale that Syria apparently possesses. UNSCOM, the U.N. body tasked with verifying Iraq’s WMD program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, played a cat-and-mouse game with Saddam Hussein and his cronies for years. Would the Assad regime agree to such an intrusive inspection program led by Americans or – sacre bleu! – the French … in a country that has become Balkanized by civil war?
Fourth, it doesn’t seem like your president knows what he wants to do. Does he want to deter future chemical weapons use only? Can a limited military campaign somehow diminish Syria’s military machine, as John McCain and Lindsay Graham have argued for over the past two years?
Military men (I’m just your average KGB guy-turned-politician) speak of a desired endstate – how the battlespace should look upon the conclusion of a campaign or operation. What is your president’s desired endstate for Syria if the U.S. does conduct a air and missile strike against the Assad regime? Could kinetic targeting even be effective now, with the amount of time Bashar has to hide his most valued military capabilities?
And if there is no U.S. military involvement, what is the strategy? Who do you support? The rebels, you say. Well, which faction? The moderate ones, you say. Ah yes, like these guys:
I don’t see any good solutions coming from your White House. I watched President Obama’s speech Tuesday night and came away as confused about his message as Peggy Noonan was in the Wall Street Journal. And that’s saying a lot.