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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another









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3/16/2005

Bye, Bye Assad

Anti-regime protests in Syria were unthinkable just a few weeks ago. They aren't any more, not because Syria is more open to dissent than other Middle Eastern countries -- it's arguably the most oppressive state in the region now that Saddam's regime has been dismantled -- but because the Lebanese protests and Assad's cringing response prove he is far more vulnerable than almost everyone thought.
Michael J. Totten, TCS
A great article by Totten over at Tech Central. I think he's right on his main point that the Arab Street may still be seething, but it has realized that it has the power to effect regime change itself.

Oddly, I think he is likely wrong on Syria. My own read is that Assad is clearing the decks for a scamper. One way or another there is a lot of Iraqi money sitting in banks controlled by the Syrian regime. It is not much fun being President of Syria with all manner of your daddy's thugs running covert operations they are not telling you about. You may well want to co-operate with the revolution sweeping the region, but your father's Baathist cronies are not going to play ball.

What to do?

Get the Hell out. A couple of friendly bank transfers and faster than you can say French passport there you are on Le Cote d'Azur.

While it would be pleasing to see a spontanous Syrian revolt, a wiser course of action might well be to prepare for a complete leadership vacuum in the very near future. Because Totten is right - Assad has cringed over Lebanon. And the most basic rule of strongman government is no cringing.

A rule Assad is aware of. Which may mean he is giving up his strongman credential. In which case there is nothing left.

If I am right the West should be looking to flood the Syrian zone on Assad's departure. If only because a) there is every chance that some of Uncle Cuddles WMD's may have ended up there, b) the Awali tribe the Assads have used as their powerbase will still be disproportionately powerful, c) the potential for mischief from a failed Syrian state is huge.

And here it might be a good idea to see whether or not the Europeans, particularily the French, might be induced to lead the charge. France has a historical, if not terifically positive, attachment to the area. A move to ensure basic security and an orderly trasition to a democratic Syria would be in the bounds of peacekeeping. Might make a good fit.