Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Like father, unlike son

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is, at present, the most powerful Arab dictator in the Middle East. Oh sure, I hear you say, he's only gained this distinction because Saddam Hussein is dead. What's more, the weak chinned al-Assad is nowhere nearly as formidable as his late father, the infamous Hafez al-Assad. So what gives?

Perhaps the fact that an utter mediocrity like Bashar al-Assad finds himself in charge of Syria is a testament to the nearly extinct influence of pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, the twin ideologies that spawned so many Arab dictators like his father, the aforementioned Saddam, Gamal Abdel Nasser, et al. Perhaps it's because Bashar was not groomed for the job. When his eldest brother, Basil, died behind the wheel of his Mercedes 560-SEL, the old man elevated Bashar to the position of heir apparent, regardless of whether or not he might actually have what it takes to be an Arab strongman.

The answer is "just barely". For example, nearly 30 yearis ago, his infamous father managed to turn Lebanon into a helpless client state. Fast forward 30 years, and the junior Assad has managed to drop the ball completely, by clumsily arranging for the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, an event that started a political chain reaction concluding with the hasty, and humiliating, Syrian withdrawal in 2005. In fact, things are so bad, Bashar al-Assad has given up on trying to force concessions from George W. Bush, and instead, has bent over backwards to accommodate Nancy Pelosi. Can anyone imagine Anwar Sadat dealing with second stringers?

Just when you think things can't get any worse, it's come down to this - being interviewed by Mother Jones magazine. Not Time, not Newsweek, but Mother Jones. Was he really so desperate to have Volvo drivers in Oregon hear about Syria's role as power broker in the Middle East or something? At least he found a publication who hates George Bush nearly as much (if not more) than he does, but really, what's next? An appearance on Fresh Air? A blog on the Huffington Post? How humiliating must it be for a dictator to be interviewed like any run of the mill Zinn, Churchill or Chomsky?