Washington DC – October 6, 2009 (Farid Ghadry – Op-Ed) — You would not know it if you follow the pro-Assad blogs and the chipper news emanating from Damascus, and you certainly would not know it if you listen to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself or see the expediency by which his recent foreign travels have all had a secret economic component seeking foreign investments and aid. The truth is that the Syrian economy is flapping like a dying butterfly.
Between US sanctions, a severe drought in an agrarian-based economy, sustained terror that has caused the migration of over 1 million Iraqis to Syria, political risks promoting “resistance” instead of cooperation, dwindling oil revenues, an alarming increase in Syrian population and a determined new Israeli government, Assad is being squeezed like a Syrian olive for its oil.
Very few people grasp the reality Assad faces now that he has systematically destroyed whatever he inherited from his father through ill-advised policies. Some Middle East analysts are aware of the economic pressure Assad is under, but the extent of the harm his policies have caused the Syrian treasury is largely unknown.
AS IMPORTANT to the piling problems on Assad’s shoulders is the latest challenge Iran was confronted with during the G-20 summit last week, regarding the discovery of its secret enrichment plant in Qom. Assad suddenly finds himself burdened by outside forces over which he has no control. Even his most potent tool of terror seems to have gone stale in the face of the overwhelming pressure Iran is facing for its actions.
If Iran catches cold, Assad will sneeze uncontrollably. No other nation provides Syria with the political clout Iran does; not even Turkey’s short-lived friendliness, about to expire with the expected ruling party’s defeat – an eventuality that the latest Turkish municipal elections show is not far afield.
As such, the pressure mounting on Assad via Iran is yielding far better results for Syrians and the West than the embrace of “dialogue.” Assad is about to give under the pressure, and we should, as John Lennon once said, let it be.
As hard-pressed as he is, his illegitimate regime will try to extract some quick concessions in the hope that he continues to rule a country ravaged by structural fault lines Ba’athism decreed to monopolize power. Syrians must hope that the country’s 45-year slumber is about to end with the demise of those who knocked the country out.
There is no such thing as a “reformed” violent man or a “reformed” oppressor. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s New York circus tent display, unraveling speeches, and deep satisfaction – quite visible on his face – with how the Lockerbie tragedy ended bear witness to this truth. He may not resort to terror himself, but Libya, through oppression and ignorance, is a breeding ground for a hopeless future generation. I can recite the names of Israeli Nobel Prize winners, but can you imagine one Nobel laureate under the rule of Gaddafi or Assad?
WERE THE international community to alleviate the pressure on Assad today, all we would be doing is resetting the clock for the bomb to explode at a later time. No matter the political arguments made in favor of a Middle East dictatorship, or “stability” as some have the audacity to call it, our moral compass as humans is to help Syrians deliver their country to their people, to introduce governance, accountability and coexistence.
Hate-spewing stability is not the answer to a region already flooded with exclusionary ideologies – which is what the West will be reinforcing if it embraces Assad when history is presenting us with a gift for a permanent and positive change.
Just imagine a Lebanon where Hizbullah’s power base could no longer rely on Iran and Syria to provide the incendiary Nasrallah with muscle-flexing, gun-toting missions. Imagine Hamas, looking for Assad in Damascus, finding instead accountable politicians and being forced to become the new PLO’s bride or be chastized as a Muslim divorcee. Imagine Israel, for the first time, helping the Syrian and Iraqi democracies without the specter of terror shadowing its successes.
As Orly Halpern wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward, “normalized relations between the countries [Israel and Iraq] are being discussed unofficially.” So will relations between Syria and Israel once we establish our own peaceful democracy aided by a willing West.
Will all this come at a price? Certainly. Are we willing to burden ourselves today for a better future for our children? We Syrians are. Our hope is that the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are, as well.