Tuesday, November 22, 2005
A friend of mine has put together this "mock interview" based on a number of public and private talks that I have been recently giving in a number of think tanks and institutions. It does a pretty good job in summarizing where I stand these days on the issue of regime change in Syria.
How would you assess the viability of the current Syrian regime?
We have a very nonviable regime in Syria. It is a regime that continues to foster terror and is trying to destabilize the region with its adventurous policies. It supports radical Palestinian groups, is not showing any kind of vision for a more feasible foreign policy, and does not tackle any of the country’s outstanding problems – whether internal or external.
The whole thing started when President Bashar Assad sat next to the Pope and made this unfortunate comment about the Jews being the torturers of Christ instead of benefiting from this historic visit by the Pope to Syria. Rather than making the best of that, he nullified the entire event and its positive implications for Syria’s image. From that moment on, he really depicted himself as an unfit for the job.
What role can the Syrian opposition play in helping to reform the government’s internal and external policies?
It took four years for the Syrian opposition to realize that Assad will not enact any real reforms, and I think that the turning point was his most recent speech where he turned against any opposition. Prior to that speech, most of the opposition delivered the message that they stand by Assad at this important time as long as he carries out some basic reforms, political and economic. In his latest speech he mentioned nothing of reforms and instead lambasted the opposition and threatened a crackdown.
The moronic policies that this regime has adopted will ensure that it will not continue forever. Syria is losing control of its borders and eventually the regime will send the country into a downward spiral of violence and mayhem.
What level of responsibility do the Syrian people have for maintaining the Assad government?
I am not one who will excuse the Syrian people from responsibility. We have put up with this regime for too long and the opposition groups have really had a lot of stock in this government up until the last few months. Syrian opposition groups recently issued the Damascus Declaration, which signals many important changes. Significantly, the secularists and Islamists agreed on something; most important, it is not reform that they are asking for now but rather the creation of an alternative to the regime.
President Assad is neither an all-inspiring figure nor an intimidating leader like his father, the late President Hafez Assad. Just recently there were some protests against a trial of some Kurdish activists and 10 people were arrested. If this sort of thing had happened when his father was alive the crackdown would have been bloody and swift; but times have changed. No one can do this bloody crackdown any more. Syria is not Uzbekistan: You cannot simply send the troops against demonstrators.
Soon the mediocrity of the current leadership will cause people to rub off their shock and once again want to challenge this regime. I hope that the next challenge will be a velvet revolution that will see the main figures in this regime kicked out. Knowing what the alternative is, this is the only option that we can really push for at this stage.
Why should the United States and other Western countries encourage a regime change in Syria when it may create turmoil and disorder?
I think President Bush realizes that Assad is not capable of delivering. In order for him to be in charge he would have to step out of character. Syria is too weak to serve anyone’s interests.
The world needs a strong Syria – a Syria that is capable of honoring commitments and holding the country together. A Syria that can control the radical Palestinian factions, contain the radical Islamic currents and sever its ties with Hizballah – this current regime cannot do this. In the absence of a strong regime, we have a regime that will only create more problems than it can prevent.
For those who are hoping that a weaker Syria will be friendlier to American, Israeli and the Syrian people’s interests – that’s not going to happen. For the first time the Syrian people, the Americans and the Israelis have the same interest – a strong regime that is capable of honoring commitments, a regime that is capable of signing peace agreements.
I can see that day coming only because we don’t have a choice. I think if the current regime is incapable of seeing that, we should not hesitate to recognize this matter ourselves and plan for it and hopefully hasten the arrival of that day. We need to work together to contain the damage and the mayhem that can be caused by a catastrophic explosion that would occur if the regime stays in power much longer.