Bashar al-Asad

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Basher Al Assad, you are an unlikely candidate for the title of President of Syria. Your father, Hafez al Assad, is noted for ruling through brutal repression of the people. However, you, as the second son, were thought to have no role in the future governance of this country. This is so much true that you studied ophthalmology in England, while your father was grooming your brother, Basil, for succession to the throne. The fates seemed to have other ideas, though. Your older brother was killed in a car accident, and this forced you into the limelight, a position you did not want. You progressed quickly through the military ranks, taking to the military very naturally. However, when your father died in 2000, politics seemed to be a much more difficult matter for you.

Contents

Early Political Life

Of course, you were elected as President of Syria. However, early in your reign you acted timidly. Many viewed you of a shadow of the man your father was. Slowly, you have grown into the position that you inherited. Early in your career you attempted to bring to Syria a freer form of governance. Your first attempt consisted of freeing hundreds of political prisoners, people who had been detained for years only because of the political views they had. You also allowed for public meetings on political matters and for a free press. However, within Syria there are certain powerful vested interests. The closed nature of Syria's economy has allowed for a select few businessmen with political connections to prosper on a grand scale, while the majority of the economy suffers. This forces the president to rely on the Military to keep the peace in such an unequal system. The Military is pampered by the government and the elite in a bid to maintain control of the country. This has led to very entrenched interests and very powerful cliques. The Military enjoys its position as the most important, pampered, and powerful institution of government. The rich enjoy their near monopoly. Since they have a vested interest in maintenance of the status quo, they are referred to as the Old Guard. Your efforts to liberalize Syrian politics were unnerving to them. The idea that people could gather together and discuss political matters posed a real threat. The concept that the press could say anything it wanted posed an even greater threat. Soon after these reforms were rolled out, the Old Guard brought pressure to bear on you, and made it very clear how things would work. You greatly curtailed the freedoms of the press and the freedom to gather. Again, jails began to fill with political prisoners. In Syria, not even you are free.

Contemporary Politics

From this point on, you approached things from a different angle. For many years, you were quite popular with the people, this drove home the notion that you could not change Syria single-handed. Instead, you turned towards the economy of Syria, hoping to liberalize the economy and open it to international markets. While this has been a slow process, you have made many gains. One of these key gains has been made diplomatically with Turkey. Relations between Syria and Turkey had greatly improved, and trade was on the rise. In 2005, bowing to international pressure, you withdrew all Syrian troops from Lebanon, allowing for Lebanon to pursue a freer political path. However progressive these moves may have been, they are slow and incremental. It is important to understand that the upwelling of pressure against your military's presence within Lebanon was a result of the assassination of Rafic Hariri. It is believed that you ordered his assassination when he began to move Lebanon away from Syria. You are still a dictator, and you still rely on the Old Guard for support. This has been made all the more clear by the current crisis which has engulfed your nation.

It is important to understand that you are bound to the Old Guard, just as they are bound to you. When protests began in Syria, it was clear that there were two heads of the Syrian government, yourself and the Old Guard. In early March 2011, the Arab Spring spread to Syria. You promised that no Syrian blood would be shed; while, at the same time, the police were given the order to fire on protestors. As protests grew, you attempted to quell them diplomatically. You released detainees and repealed the emergency law, which limited civil liberties and activities and gave you virtually unlimited power. Hypocritically, your military used snipers and deployed tanks into the city of Hama. Either you are completely insane, or there are two interests at work in Syria, with two different views of the people. You are surely not insane; rather, you attempted to quell the protests politically while the military attempted to quell it through other means. You have been forced to side with the military. The Old Guard is formed by the high-ranking members of your political party, the Baath party. They are a mixture of Sunnis and Alewites; however, the Alewite minority is disproportionately represented in the higher ranks of your government. They are also disproportionately represented in your military. The bond that binds you to these two organizations is religion. The Alewite minority, 20% of the Syrian population, is supportive of you. These organizations represent them in government. Should this 20% of the population flag in its support of you, then you would be easily removed. However, so long as they are behind you, any move to remove you from power would elicit a sectarian civil war....or so you hope the world believes. Not keeping this sect happy would result in the loss of your power base.

In an effort to appease this lone loyal base, you have now stepped away from the political tact you used before, and have branded all protesters as Islamic extremists, gangs, or Israeli agents. The Syrian military has been deployed in force to quash the uprising and to this date has largely succeeded. While protests continue, they are denied the ground they need to reach critical mass. You have also reached out to your greatest political ally, Iran. Iran has sent extra arms and munitions to you in order to ensure the survival of your regime. However, regardless of the thousands you have killed, the protests continue. Not growing, but also not dissipating.

It is also important to maintain your links with your key trading partners. These include Russia, India, The EU, Lebanon, and Iran. It is unlikely that you will be able to maintain relations with the EU, as they are already writing up sanctions. However, Russia, Lebanon, and Iran serve as much more useful places to expend your energies. Russia is slow to intervene in other countries, and given the mission creep that occurred in Libya it is unlikely they will sanction a security council resolution condoning violence. However, if mass killings become too obvious, their hand will be forced. Lebanon and Iran are much more tightly linked to Syria. It is highly unlikely they will condemn Syria. Iran has actually stepped up its supplies of weapons to Syria during this crisis. Still, use of force on to grand a scale (for example mass executions), would force their hands.

One of your chief goals will also be to rebuild your Image. While trying not to lose control of your country you must also keep your allies. The recent turmoil has damaged your credibility and made you appear weak. You must make it possible for allies to appear close to you, without damaging their own reputation. Your presence is currently so toxic that even Hasan Nsrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is moving away. You must look at your current political situation and determine what your allies interests are and how your current predicament impacts them. Nasrallah is dependent on Syrian aid. If it looks like your government will fall then he will support whoever the possible successor would be. In this way he would be able to protect his supply-line from Syria. To keep Nasrallah you must make it clear you are not going anywhere. Above we discussed trade partners. Which of these countries would support you if it appeared that you would lose power? None. You must make it clear that you are in control of Syria.

Backlash

As was alluded to, your heavy-handed approach has led to grave political difficulties. The United States has imposed personal sanctions on you, prohibiting you from travel through their airspace and freezing all of your investments in U.S. jurisdictions. Here, you should note that the U.S. cannot ban you from attending the United Nations. Travel to the U.N. by member nation's heads of state is irrevocable, for obvious diplomatic reasons. However, the United States has long imposed sanctions on Syria. The new imposition of sanctions has little real effect, because of the extensive pre-existing sanctions already placed by the Americans. However, the EU's ban on the import of oil does have a biting economic hit. The EU was one of your best customers, and they have now barred the importation of Syrian oil. This is a major hurdle for you, as oil revenues are a major source of liquidity for your government. The EU has also imposed personal restrictions on you, and most of your government. Still worse, Turkey, the country with whom you had strived to tighten relationships, has condemned your actions. Turkey has warned that it has seen as much bloodshed as it can tolerate at its doorstep. In the 1990s, Syrian sponsored terrorism almost brought these two countries to war. It has been a long road back to where relations were before this current uprising. While Turkey has only threatened sanctions, it is clear that it is coming to the end of its rope. Turkish sanctions would have a truly crippling effect on the Syrian economy. Furthermore, Turkey brings to bear a true military challenge. Often overlooked, its military is perhaps the best trained and armed in the region and it shares a border with Syria. While no overt threats have been made, there have been hints that intervention is possible to avoid a Libyan scenario.

Israel and the Golan Heights

This is a simulation in which the crux of the matter is Israel. For years, you have been a truly popular ruler with your people. They saw you as separate from the government that was suppressing them. Your main source of popularity came from your tough stance on Israel. This one issue gained you much good will. At the center, of the Israeli-Syrian conflict is the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights are a long and broad ridge line which runs about the length of the Syrian-Israeli border. The Golan Heights rest well within the Syrian border from before the 1967 war, and under international law, are considered part of modern Syria. However, since the 1967 war Israel has occupied the Golan Heights. Their rationale for this is that to ceding the Golan Heights would create indefensible borders for Israel. The elevated nature of the Heights and their rocky composition creates a perfect position for artillery emplacements. However, the true threat lies in the fact that the Golan Heights are higher than the land on either side of them. This allows for aircraft to approach from one side, unseen by the radar on the other side. Fast-moving aircraft could then strike faster than interceptors could be launched. Whoever owns the Golan Heights can install radar there, which can survey a huge swath of the other country's airspace. You have pledged to gain control of the Golan Heights. While, on paper, you have a military which outnumbers the Israelis, your military is a paper tiger. The discrepancy in technology, between your military and theirs, means that you cannot hope to win in an offensive war. In a defensive war, Syria could hold its own. However, in an attack, the chances of success are next to nil. Thus, diplomacy is the only answer. You have voiced your openness to talks several times; however, Israel has constantly refused with the excuse of “security concerns.” These concerns are largely trumped up. Advances in Israeli air-power and ground forces renders even the Golan Heights as an ineffective tool of attack. However, Israel has invested much money in this land. The true reason for Israel's desire of the Golan Heights probably does in part stand in military considerations and in part with the 20,000 Israeli citizens who call the Golan Heights home. Relocation of these citizens would be an unpopular and costly move, something which Israel would be unwilling to do. Still, this is your chief diplomatic concern.

Palestine

The next most pressing concern is the Palestinians. Given the current state of your country, it is unlikely they will be willing to work with you or be seen to be on your side. While they would undoubtedly accept funds, you cannot hope for public thanks or the support that was once the source of your popularity. Even the Palestinians are subject to public pressure. In the Arab world, you are now seen as a murderer and a tyrant. You have tried to distract your people with attempts to use the Palestinian issue. Early this year, it is suspected, that you organized Palestinian marches from Syria across the border into Israel. The Israelis opened fire on the border-crossers and evoked international condemnation. You of course came out at the head of this condemnation. However, this failed to help your public standing. Too much blood had been spilt by your hands, and you had lost the moral high ground over Israel. It is important that you are not seen to be cutting support for the Palestinians, as this would evoke even more of a backlash. However, you should not hope to gain any support from your people for dealing with the Palestinians.

You have also gained much popularity for your support of those who fight against Israel. Syria's close relationship with Lebanon has led to its funding of groups which resist Israeli occupation. Syria serves as a conduit for advanced Iranian weapons to groups such as Hezbollah as well as the Lebanese military. Syria also funded Hamas. However, Hamas failed to support the Syrian government when the current uprisings broke out. Hamas allowed anti-Syrian protests to take place in Gaza. Since then, Syria has cut funds to Hamas. While this is a financial burden for Hamas, it is a political blow for the Syrian government. To be seen to bribe Hamas, unsuccessfully, is a true blow to your credibility.

Being Assad

I understand, that in real life, you are probably a good person who would never harm another human being, you are no longer that person. You have been given the task of representing a cold and calculating murderer. While you would not tell troops to fire on unarmed protestors, Assad would. Below is a sketch of the thinking used by Assad, and the ways in which he hopes to quell the uprising. This includes deception, mass arrests, and indiscriminate firing into crowds of unarmed civilians. It is not that Assad believes that what he is doing is good, but he believes that what would occur if he did not do it is worse.

You are in a tight spot politically. How then do you handle this? Syrians are conducting protests every day to call for your resignation. Many nations, including the U.S., have said that it is time for you to resign. One thing is certain; you feel that resigning would not solve anything. There is a reason why you feel that resigning is such a bad idea; your country is divided along sectarian lines. You are an Alawite, a member of a sub-sect of Shi'a Islam. Your country is predominantly Sunni. Should you leave power it is feared that a sectarian war will break out in Syria. Thus, you believe that you must maintain power at all costs. For you, losing power is framed as more than your own demise or imprisonment, but the retribution of the subjugated Sunni majority upon the Alawite minority. You believe that you can and must handle things on your own to protect the Alawites. The Syrian Arab News Agency(SANA) has been your primary tool for handling international politics. The first thing you must remember is that these are not normal protesters in the streets. When Britain criticized you, you replied that your citizens are being forced to protest by armed terrorists who have entered your country in the hopes of defeating you. This is of course untrue. However, through the use of SANA, a news agency you own, you have been able to get out this one-sided story. Where possible you must attempt to discredit those who criticize your use of force through this and other news agencies. The riots in Britain gave you a chance to do this. In your country, or so you say, it took terrorists to force your people into the streets; however, in Britain rioters took to the streets for four days for no other reason than to steal from shops. Here, we see how those who condemn Syria can be just as prone to its problems. Here, we can also see how you have utilized an outside event to rationalize your actions. How would other nations react if there were armed terrorists organizing protests in their country? You must also not be seen as disconnected from your people. This means saying that Syria is perfect is perhaps a bad idea. Rather, you must be seen to make an effort to address the problems of your country. So far this has come through promises of a national dialogue, the repealing of the emergency law, and the release of prisoners.

However, most importantly, you must not lose control. Syria faces the real threat of going the way Libya has, to civil war. You understand that anything is preferable to this outcome, and any means of avoiding it is acceptable. You have a much larger and more loyal armed forces than did Gaddafi, and they are better trained and better armed than their Libyan counterparts. Any protest that threatens your control of a city or town must be met with force. You know that losing control of a town will create a staging ground for a rebellion. You saw this happen, just months ago, in Libya. For you, Libya is a case study in what not to do. Twice it has almost happened in Syria. This is why you must continually brand these protesters as terrorists and fakes. You say that true Syrians, with real grievances, would work through the government and the established system. They would take advantage of the national dialogue you have promised, not take to the streets. Your rationalization is that people who do not take advantage of the opportunities you have made are terrorists. They have tried to take over Daaraa and Homs, but both times brave police forces have saved these cities from the terrorists. Remember, it does not matter if these things are true, videos can be fabricated, lies can be told, witnesses can be bribed. You must do your best to convince the international community that you are fighting against terrorists and making a real attempt to address the legitimate grievances of your people. You must create for yourself the space needed to put down the protests. It is also important that when a protest is small, you do not use force on it. These small protests can be useful; portray them as legitimate protests and use them to contrast against those which threaten your power over a region. It shows that Syria is willing to allow protests; only those in which terrorists take part are targeted. Remember that you have a media outlet directly under your control. While you can't control Aljazeera, you can release your side of the story, however fictional it may be.

Above, compromise and subterfuge were outlined as ways of dealing with the protesters. However, do not shy from the sword. Joseph Stalin perhaps said it best, "Death solves all problems - no man, no problem." The sick but accurate assumption behind this reasoning is that there are only a finite number of people willing to champion a cause, and more than enough ammunition to kill them. You understand this lesson all too well; your father's nickname was the Butcher. Thousands of civilians were killed to preserve his rule. The lesson you took from your Father's rule is that violence works. You do not hesitate to kill your political enemies, when possible. Rafic Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, was beginning to move away from a pro-Syrian stance. He died in a very mysterious car bombing. It is believed that Hezbollah was behind this bombing, and the assassination of three other anti-Syrian activists. It is very likely that you were behind them. However, this taught you an important lesson about assassinations. The death of Hariri caused a public outcry in Lebanon, which forced you to withdraw your troops. Murdering people abroad, or in areas which you do not control, is a dangerous affair. It creates a chance for unforeseen blowback. However, killing them in Syria is a different matter. Major nations will not move against you in a military capacity. You have preserved the peace between Israel and Syria, gaining you a degree of insulation from both Israel and the U.S., who fear what will replace you. Iran needs you as a key regional ally, and Lebanon is reliant upon you for trade. This means that so long as you do not jeopardize these nations' interests, you will likely be able to use force on your own people at will.

The ability to use force means that you have the ability to maintain your government by forcefully implementing your will. Thus, far you have been selective in the use of force. Your military is not large enough to be everywhere. Your main concern is maintaining the allegiance of the Alawite minority. This means targeting Sunni areas, and ensuring that security in Alawite areas is maintained. With the Alawite minority behind you, any attempt to remove you from power would devolve into a long and bloody civil war. Here, it should be pointed out that Alawites make up only 20% of the Syrian population, but they make up 70% of the military. This means that you have a much broader scope in which to use power on the Sunni majority. For your military, they are killing people who would threaten their families’ privileged status, and are defending their way of life.



Selected Resources
http://english.aljazeera.net/English/archive/archive?ArchiveId=3821
http://www.meforum.org/article/517
http://www.slate.com/id/2081612/ (editorial)
http://www.iraqinews.com/people_al-assad.shtml

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