Jewish World Review
Dec. 14, 2011
/ 18 Kislev, 5772
The last days of a despot, Or: A nervous man sings a nervous song
It won't work. Talking to Barbara Walters, interviewer to the stars, Syria's bloody dictator acted as if he were just an innocent bystander to his country's sufferings. Rather than their cause. By now Bashar al-Assad's act may not fool even Bashar al-Assad. Under the sharkskin splendor of that Beirut business suit, he has to be sweating.
His country is in spreading flames, bodies litter the streets of rebellious cities like Homs, the resistance is no longer waving banners but guns, a rival army of defectors is already in the field, and the revolution is following the same general arc as every other in the Arab Spring. It may have turned to winter elsewhere, but it's still fresh in Syria. And blood red.
Even as Bashar Assad explained how much his people supported him, the fate of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya must have preyed on his mind. They, too, were the people's choice -- till the very moment they weren't.
Syrians call their dictator The Giraffe when they think his secret police aren't listening, and it is hard to look at his picture, with that long neck of his, and not imagine a rope coiled around it. He must feel it tightening every day. No wonder he sounds nervous. His days as a dictator, or just his days, are numbered. He sounded not only strange but estranged from reality.
Maybe it was the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this year that did it, but a half-remembered ditty that Cab Calloway used to sing about another dictator keeps coming back:
Der Fuehrer's got the jitters, he's lookin' thin,
We made our reservations, and we're movin' in . . .
He don't know where, he don't know when,
But we made our reservations, and we're movin' in
Where, when and exactly how the House of Assad will fall remains uncertain. The bloody details always are as power slips out of the tyrant's grasp. Will it be the next slight breath that topples his house of cards, or the one after?
The endgame has begun in Syria, but how long before checkmate? The pieces -- pawns, knights, bishops, rooks -- are falling one by one. Or joining the opposition. Or fleeing the country. It is only a matter of time before the king is pushed over, and the game done. As he must know. No wonder he's got the jitters, and he's lookin' mighty thin.
The longer his regime struggles, the longer the innocent will be massacred. The death toll just topped 5,000. Even the United Nations has noticed. Why, even the Arab League has spoken up, and this time not to say it's all Israel's fault. (Surely, that will come in time.)
The specter of civil war and sectarian chaos, as in Iraq before the Surge, grows more real every day -- for Syria is a potpourri of creeds and ethnicities: Sunnis, Shi'a, Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druse, Circassians, Armenians....
It's the Yugoslavia Syndrome. When the iron dictatorship that held all the restive sects and peoples together falls apart, civil war ensues. While the world stands back and goes tut-tut. Till it can no longer just look on and finally, finally imposes some kind of peace, or at least a diminished war. Chaos impends, if it hasn't already begun. Homs, the epicenter of the revolt, has been leveled before -- by Assad the Elder -- and now Assad the Younger may try a repeat. Before he himself is leveled.
As Syria's regime cracks, the world talks. And only talks. Or votes for empty sanctions. This country's ambassador to Damascus, a brave man who has spoken out against the dictatorship and raised hopes of freedom, is headed back to the spreading bloodbath in Syria. Quite aside from the question of whether Washington would have done better to withdraw its ambassador months ago, his heroism is admirable. But it will prove only a gesture unless the rest of the world does more than talk.
What can be done? The free world has just done it -- in Libya. It may have waited too long, but it did act at last. A coalition of the willing enforced a no-fly zone that gave the rebels the air cover they needed to begin advancing. All the way to the shores of Tripoli. Given that kind of support, Libyans freed themselves. The world knows what to do -- if only it will do it.
But the longer such a step is put off, the more innocents will be mowed down. For now the American secretary of state offers only pap. ("We certainly believe that if Syrians unite, they together can succeed in moving their country to that better future...." --Hillary Clinton in Geneva last week.) As for the American president and commander-in-chief, he dithers. As usual. While a country bleeds. How long, oh how long, must the Syrians wait for freedom?
Bashar al-Assad's fall is in the cards, but why wait till they are dealt one by one, atrocity after atrocity? He's on his way out, but there's no reason his departure shouldn't be hastened. Just as Moammar Gadhafi's was. For mercy's sake.
Now it's Bashar al-Assad who's got the jitters and looking thin. The world needs to move in.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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