Assad looks at the forest instead of the tree

Hazem Saghieh

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The last speech delivered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad betrayed a great deal of arrogance and denial. He reiterated his promises to implement “serious” reforms, implying that the previous ones were not. The speech carried two messages: first, that there will be a military and security escalation on the part of the regime and which will abort all attempts at reaching political accord and second, that he focused on the presence of extremist militant groups in what seemed like a message to the United States and the West, for he is aware that foreign intervention is the only way to end the two-year conflict.

Assad’s stance could be the result of the reported shortage of arms of which the opposition is currently suffering and the parallel enhancement of military support from Russia and Iran and the resulting progress made by state forces in the past few weeks.

As a faithful disciple of a school that despises the people and discards their demands, Assad goes to the spring and looks at the forest instead of the tree. True, the reactions of the United States and Western European countries demonstrate that the president failed at addressing his target audience, yet such statements are not enough and a decisive action needs to be taken in order to resolve this costly conflict.

Assad’s policies of no war, no peace deprived the Levant till 1974 of any chance at reaching political stability within the framework of the nation-state

Hazem Saghieh
In light of this menacing speech and in order to minimize the damage, the opposition should better look at the forest instead of the tree. The first step towards looking at the forest, would be reassuring the International Community that the new Syria would be a democracy. In the mid 1950s, Syria became the first power in the Arab world to seek Soviet military support, even before Nasser’s initiative to eliminate monopoly on arms. Syria defied the nation-state model in the region when it united with Egypt in 1958. When the Baath Party, particularly Hafez al-Assad, came to power, those confrontational policies turned from a hobby into a profession, from fragmented reactions into a systematic methodology.

Assad’s policies of no war, no peace deprived the Levant till 1974 of any chance at reaching political stability within the framework of the nation-state. The consequences were not confined to the suppression of the Syrian people, but took a much graver form in inciting civil war in Lebanon, threatening the security of Jordan, supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, and facilitating the entry of terrorists into Iraq.

Because Syria is an important country, toppling the regime will not resolve the crisis for the historical and ideological legacy of this regime might still be retained. We are facing a situation similar to that of Germany and Japan following World War Two, for both were countries whose domestic affairs are capable of spreading tension on both the regional and the international levels.

The alternatives resulting from such a legacy are not ideal, but there is nothing to be done about them and after all, those alternatives remain the only way out of this blood-stained vicious circle in which Syrian and the Syrian have been entrapped.

For the opposition to win this round, which is probably more critical that any of its predecessors, it will have to face a set of radical demands that are not to be confined to fleeting statements and good intentions. At the end of the day, the world’s forest is not like the tree of al-Nusra Front.

*This article was first published Jan. 8, 2012. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/470222

(Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war.)

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