In December of 2011, Fred Hof, then Pres. Obama’s senior official for Syria policy, testified to Congress that Syrian President Bashir al Assad was a “dead man walking.” This was Administration policy and defense: if Assad were ineluctably falling, why push?
But Assad thrives. On July 16, 2014, Assad, newly “re-elected,” celebrated the start of his third 7 year term. Past U.S. initiatives to admonish him — Geneva I, Geneva II etc. – are but dead men talking.
To mark the occasion, he mocked America, claimed terrorism would be coming our way, and threatened all Syrians who hadn’t actively supported him. It turns out there are real red-lines in Syria: the red carpet he strode to his inauguration, and the lines of blood that will flow within Syria, and from Syria to the West.
Assad’s lengthy and Orwellian inaugural address to “free Syrian revolutionaries” – his supporters – praised both the “morals” of his culture and the slaughter, past and future, of citizens who oppose his family’s rule. The Assad of barrel bombs, poison gas, and civilian slaughters praised his followers’ honor. For their support, he praised Iran, Russia and China for “non-interference” in other countries’ affairs, and then without irony thanked Hezbollah for fighting his opponents.
Assad praised his once-open hand of reconciliation to Syrians, but proclaimed it now a closed fist for those who hadn’t accepted. His enemies are not just those who had taken up arms, but those who “waited” or “bet against him” or “manipulated” others – i.e., anyone he chooses – for they are as dangerous as terrorists, he claims.
Yes, he noted with some sarcasm, there were those who “called for a revolution” under the banner of the “falsely called Arab spring,” but these were merely the treacherous agents of “a sinister plot for the whole region,” a long-standing Western-Israeli plot, stretching back over a century, prosecuted now by sectarian and terrorist means. He had opposed the invasion of Iraq because it would spread sectarian war, he sniffed, ignoring his role speeding Sunni fighters into Iraq from 2003 to 2011, and ignoring his patron Iran – whom he elsewhere praised for non-interference in others’ affairs – sending arms and fighters to kill Iraqi Sunni. Somewhere, George Orwell ruefully smiles.
Assad’s inaugural drips with disdain for America and President Obama. Loyal Syrians, he boasts, have brought down the “superpowers and their satellite states, and decision makers and their obedient executers.” Assad savors the moment’s irony, “For the enemies of our homeland, these elections were the instruments they had been waiting for to delegitimize the state.”
Assad praises Syrian “steadfastness,” in contrast to Obama’s wavering: “positions changed, players withdrew, terminology dropped, alliances vanished, councils divided and other bodies disintegrated.” Assad, relieved when Obama limited his interests to chemical weapons and gleeful when Obama then abandoned his red-line, now ungraciously scorns him for it.
But, most of all, he scoffs at Obama’s inaction. “During these years, whilst they were talking,” he tells supporters, “you were doing; they sank in their illusions, whilst you made today a reality.” Translation: Today, the supposed “dead man walking” celebrates re-inauguration.
“Countries are not measured by the size of their surface area or population,” Assad taunts, they are measured “by their will . . .” The Syrians, “brought down all those who distanced themselves from the battle waiting to see where the balance of power will settle.”
Assad derides Obama’s sole reliance on Syrian opposition. His enemies failed, Assad gloats, “because they depended on lackeys and agents. They did not know or understand how to deal with masters and honourable and patriotic people. . .” America misjudged Syria, because it is “unable to interpret the true meaning of honour, sovereignty and freedom.” Americans are too shallow. “Those who want to predict the behavior and reaction of an ancient and civilized people should have the same historical and civilizational depth.”
Assad will not even grant Obama his retreat. To dismiss Syria, Obama claimed it was “someone else’s civil war.” Assad portrays this as just another futile American subterfuge: “The term ‘civil war’ today is used as a political cover to legitimize the terrorists as one side in a Syrian–Syrian conflict rather than despicable instruments in the hands of external powers.” Nor, Assad correctly notes, will Syrian “civil war” spare slaughters elsewhere.
Assad predicts his enemies now face a “painful price” for their inaction. In this, sadly, Assad is right. He gives two grounds. First, “many other nations, sooner or later, will suffer from the same terrorism.” Indeed, the Obama Administration proclaims terrorists returning from Syria endanger America. “As a result of their ignorance,” Assad decries, “we now have incubators for terrorism and a springboard for aggression.”
In addition, the Sunni Islamist terrorist group which calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has expanded from its base in Syria to seize large portions of Iraq. IS, murderously hostile to Assad, Iran and its Shiite allies, threatens them. But its success was partially engineered by Assad himself to discourage America acting in Syria. This trick still works: America focuses now on whether a unified Iraq will endure.
Having risen from the dead, Assad sees little to fear from the US now. In a turn that Assad would see as true to form, President Obama is talking again about a limited plan of support for the Syrian opposition. On current lines, it will take more than a year to implement. Perhaps he considers inviting the President to walk the red carpet of his Fourth Inaugural.