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April 17, 2003

Bashar Assad:The evil moron who's running Syria.

A Slate article on the nutter running Terror R Us (Syria)
[...]While Assad's Syria isn't as repressive as Saddam's Iraq, it's still the kind of place where democratic dissidents get jailed. Assad has also proven to be wildly and vocally anti-Semitic. Less than a year after coming to power, he declared that Israelis "try to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ and in the same way they tried to kill the prophet Muhammad." He also said the election of Ariel Sharon proved that Israel was "a racist society, even more racist than the Nazis." When he came under international criticism for the remarks, he remarked, "I was talking about Israelis, not Jews."

Comments like those create the worry that Assad is not just pandering when he attacks the war in Iraq as a Zionist plot: He may actually believe it. Recently, the Jerusalem Post floated two other possibilities to explain Assad's head-scratching decision to support Saddam: Either Bashar is "not rational," or his plan is "designed not only to eventually tighten his grip on power in Damascus, but ensure the U.S. will not turn their smart bombs and bunker-busters on him next." In other words, Assad is either insane, or he's a genius. But there's a third possibility: He's rational, but he's also an idiot. Meaning, Assad believes he is acting in his own self-interest, but he's badly misjudged what his self-interest is.

Saddam, after all, surely thought he was acting in his own self-interest all the time, too. But if he had been better at gauging what was actually his best course of action, he might not have invited two catastrophic wars with the United States upon his country and his regime.

So, in the short run, you can see why Assad could think his gamble has paid off. His anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric has endeared him to both Arab nationalists and Islamic radicals in his country and in the region. "He's now the most important Arab leader," says Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa.

But if Assad is now the most popular figure in the Middle East among Arabs of an anti-American stripe, it's worth noting that before Assad, that figure was Saddam. For Assad's sake, and for ours[more]