Today, as Assad’s government responds with unrelenting force to a popular uprising of the sort that has brought down regimes across the Middle East over the past 18 months, Syria’s ruler has embraced his image as a global pariah. He will not flee and will not bend to foreign pressure, he has said publicly and privately.
In Assad’s mind, his presence and control are the only protection from mass killings for his Alawite clan — a Shiite sect that makes up about 12 percent of Syria’s population.
“He has no illusions about how he is perceived around the world,” said the Rev. Patrick Henry Reardon, pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, who met with Assad for 90 minutes in December. “But he sees it as an almost metaphysical necessity that he must hold his country together and, to do so, he’s got to knock a few heads.”
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Despite his rhetoric about shaping a more modern and democratic society, Assad adopted a narrative in which Syria was ever under assault by a conspiracy of radical Islamists, the United States and Israel. The more he has been pressed over the past 15 months from within and outside Syria, the harder he has pushed back.
“In his mind, if Syria becomes the North Korea of the Middle East for 10 years, so be it,” said David Lesch, a historian at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of a book about Assad.
I’m not sure that Syria becoming the North Korea of the Middle East will garner another glamorous photo spread for Asma al-Assad in Anna Wintour’s Vogue, or cause Barbara Walters to again claim her husband is charming and intelligent, but a transformation into the next North Korea should certainly make Assad’s nation even more beloved at CNN: