February 23, 2005

NOT EVEN A WORTHY FOE (via Jim Yates):

The Traffic Accident in Syria in 1994 that May Lead to Lebanon's Freedom in 2005 (Daniel Pipes, 2/22/05, NY Sun)

The fate of Syria was in good measure determined on January 21, 1994. That's when, driving at a too-high speed to the Damascus airport for a skiing trip abroad, Basil Al-Assad crashed the Mercedes he was driving, killing himself and his passengers.

The accident had great consequence because Basil, then 31, was being groomed to succeed his father, Hafez Al-Assad, as dictator of Syria. All indications pointed to the equestrian, martial, and charismatic Basil making for a formidable ruler.

After the car crash, his younger brother Bashar got yanked back from his ophthalmologic studies in London and enrolled in a rapid course to prepare as Syria's next strongman. He perfunctorily ascended the military ranks and on his father's demise in June 2000 he, sure enough, succeeded to the presidential throne. (This made Bashar the second dynastic dictator, with Kim Jong Il of North Korea having been the first in 1994. The third one, being Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, emerged earlier this month. Other sons waiting in the wings include Gamal Mubarak of Egypt, Saifuddin Gadhafi of Libya, and Ahmed Salih of Yemen. Saddam Hussein's pair never made it.)

The possibility existed that Bashar, due to his brief Western sojourn and scientific orientation, would dismantle his father's totalitarian contraption; Bashar's early steps suggested he might do just that, but then he quickly reverted to his father's autocratic methods - either because of his own inclinations or because he remained under the sway of his father's grandees.

His father's methods, yes, but not his skills.

Bad systems produce bad leaders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2005 8:33 AM

Saddam Hussein's pair never made it.

How'd that happen?

Posted by: pchuck at February 23, 2005 10:20 AM

pchuck: Bad Hair Day in Mosul in early 2004.

I don't know that Basil would have done a better job. He was certainly more martial and more reckless, as is shown by the manner of his death. But timidity may have been the best thing for the 21st century so far. Syria is short on resources and friends. Boldness might just have earned Syria the right to be the staging base for the invasion of Iraq.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 23, 2005 10:55 AM

'Boldness' would have been a disaster for Syria. As it was, they nearly got run over by the Turks in the early 2000s because of their support for the PKK and giving asylum to the terrorist Ocalan. Had they allowed any more activity against Israel than they did, the Israelis would have whacked them too. A Basil Assad dictatorship would have ended in a meeting of Turkish and Israeli generals over bagels and coffee in a smouldering downtown Damascus.

Posted by: Bart at February 23, 2005 11:13 AM

Why are they not called "kings" and the governments "absolute monarchies"? In what way do they differ from some 15th century royal?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 23, 2005 12:06 PM


Royals ruled by Divine Right and served and were limited by God. These guys are dictators and serve only their own parties, bounded by naught.

Posted by: oj at February 23, 2005 12:12 PM