Michael Totten

The Butcher of Damascus

The United Nations says Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party government has now killed 5,000 people in Syria. So we can add that to the number of Americans (in Iraq), Iraqis, Lebanese, and Israelis he’s killed by exporting terrorism to the rest of the region.

Syria, like Lebanon and Iraq, is a sectarian tinderbox, and for decades the Assad family regime has sponsored violence against its neighbors not only for the geopolitical enhancement it brings, but also as a way of exporting Syria’s own instability. Its deployment, so to speak, of Sunni extremists to Iraq was a diabolically clever way of ridding itself of an internal threat and killing Americans at the same time. Bolstering Hezbollah in Lebanon against the “Zionist Entity” provided the regime with a patina of respectability among that same potentially lethal Sunni constituency.

Today, though, Syria is a suppurating wound in the Levant, and I’m beginning to seriously doubt that Assad will survive this. If he does, I’m not sure his old grand strategy will work quite as well as it used to. Syrian Sunnis, unlike Lebanese Sunnis, cheerled Hezbollah when it went to war against Israel, but they’ll never forget that Hezbollah sided with the Butcher of Damascus at their expense when it mattered most. That doesn’t mean he’ll stop supporting Hezbollah, but it does mean Hezbollah won’t work for him as well as it used to, not in Syria, and not in Lebanon either.

Shortly before the uprising against him began he said his government was immune to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt because its policies were close to the people. I have no doubt he truly believed that. He fashioned Damascus as the capital of Arab Nationalist “resistance” because he thought it was popular and that it would save him. That’s why peace with him was impossible and still is impossible. The last thing he’s going to do if he survives is enrage the Syrian masses all over again by signing a peace treaty with Israel.

May he flee soon to Russia.