Syria: Dictatorship 101

Bashar Assad


A bit of Syrian history will prove useful as the world looks on while Syrians are slaughtered in the thousands to ensure that Bashar al-Assad, the son of the late Hafez al-Assad remains that nation’s dictator.

Hafez came to power in a bloodless military coup in 1970. A year later he assumed the presidency, beginning three decades of classic repression in which all enemies, real or imagined, were jailed or killed. His power came from the way he packed the government with family members and those from his minority Alawite sect, a Shiite group in a majority Sunni nation.

The last time Syrians tried to rise up in opposition to Hafez was in 1982 and he slaughtered thousands in the city of Homa. Hafez ran a secular government and ran into problems when he joined his fellow Arabs in the wars against Israel. In 1967, the Israelis took control of Syria’s Golan Heights during the Six-Day War. Strategically important to protect a swath of northern Israel, the Heights were never returned.

The war was a turning point in the Middle East insofar as Israel also took control of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan. Israel later signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returned the Sinai, gave the Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, and occupied the West Bank, but chose not to formally annex it despite its historic connection as Israel’s provinces of Judea and Samaria. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

While all this was going on Hafez al-Assad had turned his attention to Lebanon that had a decade’s-long civil war. In 1976, in the name of peace-keeping, he put his troops there and they remained until the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on October 20, 2004. The Lebanese rose in opposition, forcing Syria to withdraw its troops in 2005.

If all this seems convoluted, it is! That only thing to keep in mind is that Syria has been in the grip of the Assad family now with Bashar al-Assad having been immediately put in power following his father’s passing.

Dictatorship is the family business and, while the present opposition is generating a fair amount of hope, fear, and consternation throughout the Middle East, the best efforts of Arab League diplomacy and the typically useless fulminations of the United Nations have achieved a big fat zero since the insurgency began ten months and five thousand dead Syrians ago.

The latest word is that the uprising has reached the outskirts of Damascus and some analysts are suggesting the Syrian military, those loyal to Assad, is overstretched, but he has three big aces in his hand and two of them are Russia and China, both of whom have promised to veto any United Nations resolutions condemning Syria.

He also has Iran to supply him with guns and bullets. Iran has been a longtime ally of Syria and has been a major supporter of Hezbollah, the Palestinian organization headquartered in Syria and in political control of Lebanon as Syria’s and Iran’s proxies.

So, as uprisings go, young Assad seems to have learned well how to put them down by killing as many of his countrymen as necessary.

His neighbor, Turkey, is flailing around for any kind of a policy and the rest of the Middle East is well aware that the United States of America, led by Barack Obama, has provided the same level of indifference to Syria’s people as he did when the Iranians filled the streets to protest their ayatollahs.

In just three years the U.S. has become a very weak player in the Middle East despite having a carrier task force parked near the Strait of Harmuz. We are out of Iraq and will be out of Afghanistan by next year. Our only real ally, Israel, has been treated with complete disdain. If you want to see what a failed foreign policy looks like, look at Obama’s.

© Alan Caruba, 2012

Self-Educated American Featured Writer, Alan Caruba, blogs daily at An author, business and science writer, he is the founder of The National Anxiety Center.