Monday, April 18, 2011

The Kicking In Of A Rotten Door. Part Four : The Road To Damascus.

Or Bashar al-Assad takes a Ba’ath.

It has been some time since the last missive on this subject, the new, new world order in the Arab lands. It is not that things have remained in limbo, there is movement in Yemen, in Bahrain, in Jordan, and in Saudi Arabia. It is all very interesting, with Yemen looking like it may make a break. Still the most interesting piece on the chess board has to be Syria. Nowhere is the dynamic between the push for change, and the elites response to that push, been more dramatic or illustrative.

Syria, dear reader, is a real oddball. The claim that Syria is part of part of the Shia Crescent of Doom are both facile and wrong. The polity is mostly Sunni and the leading elite are Alawi. To call the Alawi "Shia" is to be factually correct but misleading. It is like calling the Snake handling sects of Appalachia Protestant, a lot of nuance get lost in the labeling.

This dynamic, that of a citizenry that is hugely Sunni while the thin crust of leadership that is Alawi makes for an unstable government. Add to that mix a even thiner crust of Ba’athist Pan Arabism and you have a nation just waiting for the right moment to explode.

The only way this mix was kept under control was via the ruthless machinations of Hafez al-Assad. In a part of the world that is chock-a-block with vicious military dictators, Assad was Non plus ultra of the breed. Not even Saddam Hussein gave Assad a run for the money. Assad is the man that ordered the Hamma Massacre among other things.

Hafez was succeeded by his son Bashar in a smooth transition. Bashar has kept the machinery of the Ba’athist state running smoothly for almost eleven years before a fruit vender in Tunisia set off the wildfire that now engulfs the Arab world. When Egypt and its operatically corrupt leader Hosni Mubarak went topsy-turvy, Bashar Al Assad decided to do a little house cleaning before the unwashed masses got the idea in their heads to do the job themselves.

In true tin-pot dictator fashion, Assad sacked his entire cabinet and hired freshly scrubbed faces for the old posts. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. But while Bashar wowed them in the hermetically sealed confines of the toy Syrian legislature; the unwashed masses were having none of it. Street protests sprouted like mushrooms after a heavy rain.

Having found the velvet glove next to useless, Assad quickly fell back on plan “B,” ruthless suppression. But even here he was not his father’s son. Daddy was more than willing to shell his opponents to make a point. Bashar is not as willing to be so bloody minded, at least not yet.

It is hard to predict where this will end up. In the long run the nation of Syria can not be ruled by a tiny ethnic and religious minority. The Alawi are punching way above there weight, and that can only happen for so long. Add to that fact that the official ideology of the Syrian regime, that of the Ba’ath Party, is a rotting corpse, and things can only go in one direction. Syria is held together by force majeure, by military might alone. Once the general populace is no longer cowed by military might, it is anybody’s guess what happens next.

If you read any of the other missives you know what I consider the true pivot on which these events will turn on. That pivot is corruption. How bad is the rot in the Ba’athist regime of Syria? I have already pointed out part of the rot, it is plain view, it is the hereditary nature of BasharAl Assad’s leadership.

One of the true iron laws of history is that dynasties go to seed. It may take long, it may not take any time at all, but sooner or later, genetics hands the dynasty a stinker. Sometime genetics can be especially cruel and hand a dynasty a whole series of incompetent rulers. If a dynasty is especially lucky it can limp along on a wretched series of barely competent mediocrities before the killing blow arrives. However it plays out, the end game remains the same; an incompetent ruler meets up with a massive historical event or time and he or she looses his/her head; sometimes literally. I have no idea where Bashar al Assad lays on the sliding scale of genetic degradation, I just know that the slope tends downward.

It is almost certain that the Syrian government is at least starting to rot from the head, what about the body? Here you have the very typical rot common to almost every other Arab state. Bribery, corruption, petty venality, the death of thousand cuts that every Arab citizen must endure from their government exist in Syria; they are part of the warp and woof of daily living. There is a vast reservoir of toxic rage against the Syrian government that is just waiting to surge past the repressions used to contain it. Like most of the Near East, it is a flood fifty years in the making.

We have been here before gentle reader. At the very least we have been here for parts one, two, three, and now four. This is just the Post Cold War World working out some of the kinks. This is the new world order. One more time, what is the U.S. plan if Syria gets truly nasty? We have to ask this question because the response from Team Obama was just so well thought out when Libya blew up like a crate of nitroglycerin in the back of a rickety pick up truck on a bumpy back road. What bright idea will be presented by Obama’s Amazonian brain trust this time? Is there a plan? Pretty please, with sugar on top?

These questions need to be asked because Team Obama seems so feckless and adrift in matters of foreign policy. All that brain power and wheel spinning, but no discernible results seen. The mish-mash of half thought-through nostrums that Team Obama has offered don’t even begin to be the outline of a coherent foreign policy. Dorothy in the Wizard Oz had a better exit strategy than Obama has in Libya. Where the hell are Obama’s Ruby Red Slippers? Nowhere to be seen dear reader. Instead, Obama has gotten sucked deeper into the twister that is regime change.

Why do I have a sinking feeling that Team Obama will again be blindsided by the onrush of events? Why do I have a sinking feeling that we will have yet another example of flop, twitch and flail from Team Obama? Why do I have a feeling that no one, not a soul has game planned what regime change means in Syria? OK, maybe the Israelis have more than a few really awful ideas cooking in their febrile brains, but what of the United States? Are we going to let Bibi tell us what to think and do? Will the Israeli tail wag the dog of U.S. Policy; again? This is our plan A, and nothing else?

Hello, this is the critical National Interests of the United States we are talking about, can we dispense with the Hamlet-like muddle Barry, and do what you were elected to do? You know, all that leading the nation stuff that is part of the job of the President?

It is recorded in the Bible that Paul converted to the one true faith on the road to Damascus. Maybe another miracle will happen to Obama now that Syria is in his sights. Maybe Obama will convert into a real leader instead of the transactional mess he has been since being inaugurated. We can dream, no?
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