Friday, March 04, 2005

Reversing the Revolution

Charles Krauthammer writing about Lebanon's Cedar Revolution in today's Washington Post:
This could all be reversed, of course. Liberal revolutions were suppressed in Europe in 1848, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Tiananmen Square in 1989. Determined and ruthless regimes can extinguish revolutions.
Is Assad as determined and ruthless as his father? It doesn't seem so. Daddy would never have allowed things to get this far. But more than Syria's grip on Lebanon is at stake. David Frum writes
Syria cannot afford to set Lebanon free. Lebanon is by far the wealthiest portion of the Assad family domains, thanks in part to the Syrian-approved drug trade. Possession of Lebanon, which Syrian nationalists regard as a natural part of greater Syria, is also essential ideologically. Finally - and maybe most important - a retreat from Lebanon under American pressure would be interpreted in Syria and throughout the region as a confession of weakness: which is fatal to any dictatorship.
Fatal indeed. If Syria pulls out Bashar al-Assad may find himself on the wrong end of a coup. Even preparing for a withdrawl could very well lead to Assad's arrest and replacement. Or maybe he just wakes up dead and some hard-ass general starts playing by the Hama Rules. Even if the withdrawl is completed the 14,000 troops that leave Lebanon could head right to the capital and overthrow the cowards who "stabbed them in the back." The leadership in Damascus must know that their very lives are at stake here.

The Syrian politburo biggest fear isn't losing Lebanon per se. It's that the withdrawl will embolden the Syrian street. The Lebanese are united and convinced that people power can force the foreigners out without violence. They seem to be following the Czeckoslovakian model from 1990. However, the Syrian people have been oppressed by Syrians. If they rise up like the Lebanese then there are two possible scripts. One is the Romanian Story with Assad playing the role of Ceausescu - a brief battle between loyalists and revolutionaries followed by the execution of the dictator and his family. Bummer, Bashar. The other is the Tiananmen Story with Assad playing Deng Xiao-ping and ordering his troops to massacre Syrians wholesale. Either way, it seems that Syria's future is, like its past, a violent one.
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