Solace and solutions—two endgames not likely to be found on a battlefield. And, yet, that is exactly what Syria’s Bashar al-Assad expects to extract from his four years of running gun battles. Or perhaps that is what his Alawite followers are demanding from Assad. The bastard stepchildren of Islam’s Shia sect, the Alawite have no other option. Taking refuge in Lebanon is out and none of them want to head for Iran.
So Assad goes shopping for a solution. I can almost hear his daily self-pity standing before the shaving mirror: “How to be rid of this Arab Spring hangover?”
I suspect on more than on occasion he harkens back to his father’s success in routing the Muslim Brotherhood. Ancient, unknown history for Americans, but back in 1982, Assad’s father—a ruthless bastard by all accounts—shelled the city of Hama for 27 days. Killed 2,000. 20,000 or 40,000 depending on who you ask.[i]
Best of all, old man Assad did it all by himself—well, he did employ the Syrian Army, but there were no interlopers. Worst travesty an Arab regime imposed upon a domestic constituency[ii], until now.
Blessed with Russian assistance and an international community unwilling to intervene in another Middle Eastern debacle, Assad has been left to his vices. Starvation, deportation, and barrel bombing. All fair game.
Shit, he even gave half of his nation over to the Islamic State. That’s audacity worthy of Stalin or Mao. (Keep in mind it is only because of Stalin and Mao that we can claim more people have died in the name of ideology rather than religion…a huge leap forward for Bible thumpers and Koran quoters.)
But now Assad is pissed. Seems he believes Donald Trump’s America is not living up to the entrepreneur-in-chief’s rhetoric. Here’s Assad during an interview with a Chinese news team—NPR won’t go to Syria–“We haven’t seen anything concrete yet regarding this rhetoric. We have hopes that this administration in the United States is going to implement what we have heard.”[iii]
That’s right, Assad is calling Trump’s bluff. I’m still awaiting word from the White House…or perhaps the Florida golf course our president likes to call home.
Meanwhile, al-Baghdadi—the new caliph—and his jihadi horde continue to rape and pillage their way across the Middle East. Washington might be better served watching events in Libya and the Sinai than worrying about Assad’s tattered regime. We’re not talking about grand strategy here—that’s Assad’s problem—we are talking about Europe’s future.
Assad you see, will likely survive his bout with Arab Spring and the Islamic State. Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Tunisia may not be so lucky. And they have yet to demand Donald’s attention. Or just haven’t managed to get on Chinese television.
What we take from the Islamic State in Mosul or Assad wrestles back in Syria are petty wins with little strategic significance. Al-Baghdadi and his loyal jihadi are playing a much longer game—one with sights on crossing the Mediterranean and toppling bastions of the ancient Holy Roman Empire.
Charlemagne should be spinning in the grave—Assad should be digging his. The US 7th Calvary is not mounting a rescue for Damascus—the boys in blue are going to be busy watching the banks of the Seine. Life imitates Osiris.
[i] John Kifner, 12 Feb 1982. “Syrian Troops Are Said To Battle Rebels Encircled In Central City,” New York Times.
[ii] Robin Wright. 2008. Dreams and Shadow: the Future of the Middle East. Penguin.
[iii] Reuters, 11 Mar 2017, “Assad calls U.S. forces ‘invaders’, but still hopeful on Trump.”