Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Middle East Leader Who Should Be Ignored

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By Barry Rubin

The BBC has just broadcast a program entitled, “Syria's Bashar al-Assad: A leader who cannot be ignored.” This precisely echoes Syria’s main propaganda theme: it is the center of the Middle East, the leader of the resistance (to Israel and the West), the key to peace and the anvil of war.

This is rubbish. In fact, the title inspired me to think: Bashar “the giraffe” Assad is a leader who can—and up to a point, of course should—be ignored. He is the tail on Iran’s dog, an ally who won’t cross Tehran on any major issue. Bashar is intransigent on negotiations with Israel. He takes concessions from the West and gives nothing in return. He is being allowed to get away with recapturing Lebanon; sponsoring Hamas and Hizballah; and killing Americans in Iraq through insurgent terrorists he sponsors there.

U.S. attempts to engage Syria have failed. Syria is too weak to go to war with Israel. It has not even succeeded—despite numerous efforts—to revenge itself for Israel’s bombing of its plutonium reactor (built in partnership with Iran to help Tehran’s nuclear program) or the killing of two important people (one a Hizballah leader; the other a Syrian general who worked on the nuclear program and was liaison to Hizballah) in some of the most secure territory in the country.

So Bashar cannot do much more mischief than he’s doing now and, at any rate, won’t offer anything in return any way.

I can’t think of anyone more worthy of being ignored in the region.

Even Human Rights Watch took time off from its relatively single-minded obsession with bashing Israel to point out that Bashar has done nothing to improve the human rights' situation in his dictatorship during the ten years he has run the family business. Yet there are still those in the West who rhapsodize about Bashar being a reformer based on absolutely nothing.

Incidentally, here's a good joke told by a close observer of the region. When he heard that al-Jazira was introducing an English-language service a few years ago, he thought, "But they already have an English-language al-Jazira. It's called the BBC!" Another pointed out that an al-Jazira editor was so vitriolically anti-American that when he was fired there he immediately got a job with the BBC's Arabic-language service.

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