In a rare interview, Bashar Assad was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as acknowledging that the toppling of Tunisia's longtime ruler and the protesters that have left Hosni Mubarak's government teetering in Egypt signaled a "new era" in the Middle East.
But he said Syria, which has gradually shed its socialist past in favor of the free market in recent years, was insulated from the upheaval because he understood his people's needs and has united them in common cause against Israel.
So the people of Syria have someone that they hate more than the oppressive Assad regime?
Syria prepares to wage war with Israel (however likely Syria would lose big), floods Syria with propaganda to inflame the people against Israel to deflect their unease with living in a poor and oppressive state, and the regime then makes sure it is hostile to Israel--understanding their need to hate Israel--to maintain that popular support.
At what point does our eager Obama policy of engaging Assad break that cycle? Isn't it yet another fool's errand to believe that if only we do enough that Syria will act nice when Syria's government openly relies on hostility to Israel (and indirectly America) to maintain power?
Look, I'd be more than happy to "flip" Syria. But it has to be on our terms--flip first and only then do we engage and provide help.
Still, Assad doesn't rule a stable state today any more than Mubarak ruled a stable state two weeks ago. Assad hopes he is immune to unrest, but he isn't.
UPDATE: Syrians unhappy with the regime call for a day of rage:
Syrians are organizing campaigns on Facebook and Twitter that call for a "day of rage" in Damascus this week, taking inspiration from Egypt and Tunisia in using social networking sites to rally their followers for sweeping political reforms.
Like Egypt and Tunisia, Syria suffers from corruption, poverty and unemployment. All three nations have seen subsidy cuts on staples like bread and oil. Syria's authoritarian president has resisted calls for political freedoms and jailed critics of his regime.
Will fear keep people away or will hope put them on the streets on February 4th? We know the government will give shoot-to-kill orders if they feel they have to. The question is whether security forces would obey that order.