January 3, 2006

Assad On the Griddle

Hatched by Dafydd

Everybody and King Kong's uncle has already commented on this, so I'll try to give it the Big Lizard Twist (which really ought to be a dance craze). Today, Detlev Mehlis, the U.N. prosecutor investigating the assassination of erstwhile (and expired) Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, renewed his demand that he be allowed to interrogate the Big He himself, Bashar Assad, the trivial son of erstwhile (and expired) Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad.

Mehlis tried before and was rebuffed; but since then, a former Syrian vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, has admitted to al-Arabiya TV that Assad himself personally threatened Hariri with death if he didn't support unconstitutionally and illegally extending the tenure of Lebanon's puppet president, Emile Lahoud. Hariri refused, and shortly thereafter found himself ascending to the pearly-gated community in the sky.

The Syrian parliament, in a fit of impotence, voted to try Khaddam (in absentia) for capital treason... and worse, to drum him out of the Baath Party. Khaddam, currently living in Paris, appears unafraid -- at least now that the riots have stopped.

But none of this to-and-fro changes the tempo of the investigation, which contracts like an anaconda tighter and tigher around the cockeyed ophthalmologist who runs Syria. He may well not be able to avoid being questioned now -- or suffering sanctions from the U.N. Security Council (France is on board this time, since they had good relations with Lebanon before the Syrian invasion; time and the franc are on our side).

The quandry for Bashar Assad, stuck between Iraq and a hard peace, is that allowing himself to be interrogated like a common street thug by, of all people, a German would humiliate him. In a tribal world where perception of strength is often the difference between life and death, to be jerked around by the U.N. may quite easily cost Assad what little confidence the Party and the military had in him.

Like Kim Jong Il, Assad's only claim to the Damascene throne is that he is his father's son (his second son; the eldest, Basil -- I rib you not -- had the ill grace to die in a car crash in 1994). He actually had no interest in Syrian politics, as faulty Basil was the anointed successor to Papa Hafez; in the '94 flash of steel and glass, Bashar's whole life changed... and he was not prepared.

His rule has been tentative and uncertain. The assassination of Hariri was a blunder of monumental proportions, which has already resulted in the Syrian army being ejected from its thirty-year occupation of Lebanon -- which must have enraged the generals. If Bashar Assad is now humiliated by being dragged in for questioning, I suspect he will be forced out.

And in the tribal politics of Syria, "forced out" generally means horizontally, or at least into prison -- as former president Salah Jadid discovered when he tried to oust Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad in 1970.

The United States could fairly easily destabilize Syria even further and hasten the day of Bashar Assad's ignominious departure from the corridors of power: we could simply slide some of our Anbar Province troops northwest and seize a 15-20 mile strip of Syrian land adjoining the border with Iraq. We would announce that, since Syria has professed itself incapable of interdicting the "insurgents" (terrorists) flocking from Damascus to Anbar and Nineva, we were doing Bashar Assad a favor by interdicting them ourselves.

And if Syria runs to the U.N. to complain about their sovereignty being debased by the invasion and occupation of some desert area inhabited only by tribes that make their living smuggling arms, munitions, drugs, and terrorists across the border... we just respond "(cough, cough) Lebanon (cough cough)." They'll get the message.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 3, 2006, at the time of 4:49 AM

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