Book Review: The Truth About
Palgrave MacMillan, 2007, $31.00 (At Amazon )
What to do about
The Truth About Syria opens with two quotes that tell us what it is about, and what
The first quote is from a crucial speech made after the last Lebanese war, in which Syrian President Bashar Assad said, "The great man is the one who surprises his enemies." He was announcing his intention to "surprise"
The second quote is taken from Shakespeare'
I well might lodge a fear
To be again displaced, which to avoid....
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels.
The Assad family has established a hereditary dynasty shored up by repression within, and confrontation and terror abroad. The rule of the Assads is not aimed at improving the lot of their people or forwarding a particular ideology. They changed ideology from secular Arabism to a seemingly impossible confection of pan-Arabism and Islamist extremism because it was expedient to do so.
Their rule is not about improving living standards for
fictional Corleone Mafia family. Rubin points out the similarities in numerous details, down to removing henchmen who rebel against the rule of the son..
Hafez Assad came to power following a dizzying succession of coups that had made
Muslim Brotherhood is always there, threatening to take over the country by fair means or foul, and the usual Ba'th party rivalries that have plagued all such regimes are also a threat to Assad family rule.
Staying in the saddle is therefore priority number one for the Assad family.All the actions of the regime serve that imperative. The Assad family cannot make peace. Peace would remove the excuse for the Mukhabarat secret police establishment and the rule of internal terror, which are supposedly needed to combat the machinations of the Western powers and the "Zionists," and to aid in the struggle to regain the Golan heights first, and later, all of "Palestine" (Israel), Lebanon, and
Jordan, which Syrian nationalists have always conceived of as part of Syria.
Prosperity and peace would ruin the Assad regime. Therefore, Western assumptions that Syrian leadership must want peace and prosperity are mistaken, and it is pointless to "engage"
The megalomaniac goals and the roster of foreign villains are convenient "to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels." They are also convenient excuses for discrediting and jailing any reformist opponents as supposed agents of Zionism and the west. The methods should be familiar to students of the former
police, the personality cult of the rulers, the one-candidate "elections," and other aspects of such repressive regimes.
To bolster popularity at home, the Assads have always projected the image of championing the fight against imperialism and Zionism, vying for leadership of the Arab/Muslim world. "Honor," they have convinced their subjects, is more important than democracy and prosperity. To this end, they foster terror in
actually doing so.
As Rubin explains, the Assads rule by controlling the Syrian economy, managing and allocating corruption rather than fighting it. They keep the lion's share (Assad means "lion") for themselves, and dole out portions to friends of the regime. Aside from
Assads cannot allow economic reform and prosperity. Reform would take the Syrian economy out of their hands. It would foster the rise of an independent reformist, liberal middle class that would insist on democratic institutions.
The risks of war and confrontation are minimal for the Assad regime, while the constant confrontation bolsters their image as defenders of the faith and the people. The risks of angering western powers are minimal because those, especially the US, have shown a strange willingness to ignore or react minimally to almost every Syrian provocation, ranging from their acknowledged role, along with Iran, in fomenting the Lebanese civil war, to their role in the terror bombings of the US marines, to attacks on Jordanian diplomats and US embassies, to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in Lebanon, and especially to documented Syrian involvement in the Iraq insurgency.
The method, Rubin explains, is to create an impossible situation and to explain that the problem, as in
"Accidents could happen, to you or your family. You need protection."
"From whom do I need protection?"
It works every time, as US and European diplomats and politicians buy the Syrian line that
The physical risks of confrontation are minimal for
The real risk of this war, was that it was Hezbollah and
of the war with
At the same time,
Hafez Assad was wily, experienced and in his way, responsible. He took care to have deniability for almost all the moves of the Syrian regime, especially following the disaster of the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Rubin shows how, by carefully playing off the different powers against each other, probing their weaknesses and telling them what they want to hear, the Assad family has always been able to gain enormous foreign policy leverage, despite the fact that Syria is materially a non-entity that has no physical means or military resources that could be used to stop a serious assault by Israel or any
The one instance when
As Rubin points out, Bashar Assad is brash and inexperienced and was initially unsure of himself. To stabilize his rule, he embarked on sham liberalization at home, and on adventurism abroad. The vigorous secular stance of the Hafez Assad regime has been relaxed. Women are allowed to wear traditional clothing, and the religious establishment was coopted to support a new blend of Islamic
Arabism or Arab-flavored Islamism. Repression is generally maintained not by arrests, but by threat of loss of livelihood. Syrian sources indicate that compared to the rule of Hafez, Bashar's rule is "liberal," causing a degree of satisfaction, because Muslim Brotherhood adherents and religious elements have more freedom. Bashar pursues a program of vigorous repression of liberal reformists,
but, as these are a tiny minority, most people don't care.
Abroad, Bashar cooperated with Saddam Hussein against the
Bashar Assad allows the operation of insurgency units based in
Assad the son, drew the conclusion, perhaps mistaken, that there is almost no limit to what he can do. In
war, to force
but the Syrians needed an excuse to perpetuate the conflict.
The remarkable part of the
On the contrary, much of the US Middle East "establishment,
Accounts by Syrians, and developments since the publication of the book, bear out the main points of Rubin's thesis. Bashar is "advancing" on all fronts. In
perpetrated a bloody attack on UNIFIL forces.
Syrians are busy smuggling large quantities of arms to their Hezbollah clients in
Syrian officials have not denied that they are preparing for war with
In preparation for war,
world was deeply shaken by the coup, and of course,
Everyone who wants to understand the
President Bashar Assad. At least, it would have been a welcome dose of reality as an antidote to the reams of fatuous commentary by Assad family sycophants. ruth About Syria has won plaudits from Lebanese and others who understand the regime. Unfortunately, Rubin's thesis will surely be dismissed or minimalized by the establishment in charge of making foreign policy in the
veridical picture of Assad's
Meanwhile, Assad himself, and his sidekicks in
Of course, if a Syrian had written the book, it would have been more convincing. But a Syrian could not write this book and stay alive.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.