Monday, July 5, 2010

Is Syria's Dictator a Rubin Reports' Reader?

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By Barry Rubin

A reader, perusing the speeches of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad, suggested jokingly that the president in Damascus is reading Rubin Reports. After all, his main themes are what I've been telling you: America is weak; it isn't making progress in Afghanistan; Iran is getting stronger; U.S.-Syria engagement isn't going anywhere; the Arab-Israeli "peace process" isn't moving forward; and Brazil and Turkey have gone over to the Iran-Syria side.

Pleasant as it would be to assume Bashar is copying me, however, he is voicing some typical Middle Eastern conclusions on these points that are no secret except to people in the West and especially in the Obama Administration as well as large sections of the mass media.

Listening to Bashar, other Middle East leaders, and the region's media is essential to know what's going on in the area. They are a more reliable source than Western newspapers or television, which frequently selects and censors their remarks to fit preexisting conceptions. For example, to report that Bashar made antisemitic remarks to the Pope doesn't further the idea that he is a moderate. To let people know the derisive and antagonistic tone the state-controlled Syrian media takes toward the United States doesn't suggest that they want to be friends.

I don't think any Western mass media has even now informed its readers that the Iranian and Syrian dictators openly talk about the fact that the Turkish regime is now part of their alliance. On the other hand, we do have U.S. officials sending tweets from Damascus about how great the coffee is there.

I'd drop in for a cup but the last time I was in Syria they were so hospitable that I was given a personal escort to make sure I didn't get lost while leaving the country in a hurry. Still, if Bashar wants to chat I'm available. Indeed, I'm sure we would understand each other far better than the Western observers who ignore all his main motives and interests. If we became chummy we might even have a good laugh at their expense. I have had that experience with people from a number of Arab countries, Turkey, and Iran in recent years.

So let's listen to the original sources when they are talking to each other, not just giving soothingly deceptive interviews to Western reports.

Note: While you are in a lighter mood,  watch this funny 100 seconds' long video of Israeli troops in Hebron. Very funny. An army with a sense of humor can't lose. On the other hand, the Palestinian press agency has protested this video! No kidding. What does that tell you?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran; The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East; and The Truth About Syria. To see and subscribe to his blog go here; for GLORIA Center publications go here.

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