Tuesday, April 15, 2003

There is an important difference between Iraq and Syria which the media is not driving home enough. Iraq was under one-man rule, and the Ba'ath party had been purged of all who were not loyal to that man. Syria, on the other hand, has a weak central ruler whose control over his inner circle remains uncertain. Indeed, many have suggested that Bashar al-Assad only holds office because the Ba'athist old guard in Syria can't determine which of them should hold the reigns in his place. Bashar al-Assad himself appears to have some liberal tendencies, and while the "Damascus Spring" was brought to an end once the old guard got cold feet, the country is still much more open than it was several years ago.

What I think this means for American policy is this: The hawkishness that I feel was the only option in Iraq would be badly misplaced in Syria. For one thing, where there are competing faactions, this is also opportunity. Furthermore, according to a distinguished expert on modern Syria who recently came to campus, what really hurt the cause of civil liberties in Syria was September 11. Before that al-Jazeera had taken up the case of Syrian political prisoners. After that, they lost interest in favor of the "War on Terror," and the pressure on the Syrian government abated.


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