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Syria: Assad’s dangerous fantasy world | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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As the spiral of violence in Syria continues, a question merits serious consideration: Far from being part of a possible solution, isn’t President Bashar al-Assad now at the core of the country’s problems?

Even Russia, which has dragged its feet in support of the despot, no longer seems as certain in its assessment of al-Assad’s chances of clinging to power. (Last week in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left the door ajar on the possibility of excluding al-Assad from a transition.)

Russia may also ponder the emerging balance of power in the Middle East. With Egypt under its new President Mohamed Mursi joining the bloc of Arab states supporting the Syrian uprising, al-Assad is left with no regional allies outside Tehran.

However, the problem with al-Assad goes beyond Realpolitik considerations. Al-Assad appears to be losing contact with reality. He seems to be spinning an alternative world of his own, making himself a prisoner in a cobweb of fantasies.

Lavrov should ask his Arabic-speaking advisors to watch and analyse an interview al-Assad granted to the Iranian state television’s Channel 4 last week. In it one finds an emotionally exhausted man who has no clue as to what is going on in the real world. And, clinging to his fantasy version, he seems to have no desire to find out.

Lavrov would have to ponder a simple question: How could a man who doesn’t even know the problem contribute to its solution?

Shorn of rhetorical adornments, al-Assad’s view of the situation is something like this: Over a decade ago, almost at the same time that al-Assad succeeded his father, the United States marketed its “New Middle East” project.

Al-Assad launched his “process of reform” in conformity with the Zeitgeist, so to speak.

However, for unspecified reasons, other events such as the Palestinian Intifada, the 9/11 attacks on the US and the invasion of Iraq, slowed down al-Assad’s “process of reform”. Elsewhere, al-Assad continued to do “what was needed”, including taking his army out of Lebanon. But, then came the war launched by Israel against Iran’s armed presence in southern Lebanon in 2006, followed by the 2009 war in Gaza.

Suddenly, al-Assad realised that what the Americans wanted was not reform but his removal from power. He had done everything to please them and failed.

The reason was that the US, motivated by its “colonialist essence”, was against al-Assad because of his support for ”The Resistance”.

Al-Assad does not tell us what he means by “The Resistance” or who is resisting whom and for what. But he insists that he is the champion of that pretense.

Support for “The Resistance” is one of three reasons why his regime is challenged by “colonial powers.” Another reason is Syria’s “geopolitical position”. Syria, al-Assad says in a schoolmarm’s tone, is “located on the tectonic plates of the Middle East”. Any change there would send ripples throughout the region. However, he does not say why anyone would want to activate the “tectonic plates”.

Yet another reason why he is in trouble is because he supports Iran’s nuclear programme. Again, he doesn’t say why Syria might benefit if the Khomeinists get the bomb.

Is Syria’s current crisis exclusively caused by external factors?

Al-Assad reluctantly admits that it is not. However, he dismisses the internal causes of the crisis as secondary.

In a rather comical answer he claims that his Syrian opponents “numbered 64,000 people” out of a population of 22 million. But how did he get such an exact number? Was there a census? Why not 64,123 or even 65,000?

And who are the people that his forces are killing every day? Al-Assad’s answer is categorical: they are members of Al Qaeda plus a handful of criminals working for money. In other words, there is no political problem. What Syria is facing is a security problem that can be solved only by “eliminating the terrorists”. “It is our duty to kill the terrorists” he says. “Every terrorist we kill saves the lives of tens, hundreds and thousands of people,” he asserts. Al-Assad’s philosophy could be described as government by massacre! No need for negotiations, compromise, transition, election etc. Just keep on killing!

But who is a terrorist? A terrorist is anyone killed by al-Assad’s death-squads the Shabiha.

And, yet, he immediately adds that he had supported the Annan “peace plan” and ordered a ceasefire. However, “the terrorists” violated that ceasefire “5,000 times”, another exact number, killing the Annan plan.

One doesn’t know whether al-Assad is actually delusional or playing a role assigned to him by shadowy “ strongmen” in his entourage. What is certain, however, is that he is a one-trick pony with none of the imagination, flexibility and moderation that an effective leader needs in a time of crisis.

Instead, he appears as a man urgently in need of psychiatric help. For any transition to succeed, it is essential that al-Assad step aside, or be pushed aside. If he is not scripted out, even the simplest scenario of “change within the regime” rather than regime change would be problematic.

Al-Assad talks of “total war” while trying to implicate Syria’s neighbours in this bloody drama as a hint that he might adopt the “Samson option”.

The shooting down of an unarmed Turkish fighter jet was designed as a foretaste of that strategy.

Al-Assad would do well to read Samson’s story more carefully. He would find out that the hapless Samson exercised his famous option after he had been shorn of his strength and blinded as a punishment for defying the divine will.

Samson’s option was nothing more than a form of suicide with frills added for dramatic effect.