Monday, July 31, 2006

Saddam and Syria in the news

I've long since returned from vacation, but I've been terribly remiss in updating this blog. Then again, most of the world's dictators have been laying low. I'm not the only one who takes some vacation time in the summer, after all!

One dictator who has been in the news lately is former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein who has recently broken his hunger strike, and told his prosecutors that, if convicted, he would rather be shot by a firing squad than hanged. In this age of execution by lethal injection, we have become somewhat squeamish about capital punishment, and some people may have forgotten that hanging is a punishment traditionally reserved for common criminals - an indignity Saddam feels is beneath him as befits his status as president of Iraq. Well, former president of Iraq, but Saddam has never quite accepted his demotion from "president" to "defendant" in a graceful way.

Staying the Middle East, one may have noticed the current dust up between Israel and Hezbollah. I cannot help but wonder: was the Hezbollah offensive that triggered this war part of a power play by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to strengthen Syria's weakening grip on its former client state, Lebanon?

After the hamfisted assassination of Rafik Hariri and the subsequent diastrous (for Syria, anyway) Cedar Revolution, it seemed Lebanon's days as a de facto Syrian colony were at an end. Could the junior Assad be as inept as the senior Assad was shrewd? Are Damascus and Tehran waging their proxy war against Israel to satisfy hard liners domestically? Does Assad hope to reverse Syria's loss of regional influence? Most importantly, why has Assad been silent during the fighting? Obviously, Assad doesn't dare challenge Israel directly, and he certainly won't be sending the Syrian military back to Southern Lebanon while the nearly invincible Israeli military is there. Given the current anti-Israeli mood in Europe and the United Nations, it seems safe to bet that he's weighing the pros and cons of jumping back into Lebanon the very second the Israelis pull out.

I have always thought Bashar al-Assad to be a shadow of the dictator his father was, but if he's looking through his father's old playbook for the next move, I may be forced to review my estimation of his skills as a dictator.