by Austin Bay
April 19, 2011
It may rank as one of the most ill-timed feature articles
ever published. Peel away the gobs of glamor lingo, and Vogue Magazine's recent
article lauding Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, is
little more than haut couture propaganda.
Vogue described Mrs. Assad as "young and very chic --
the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," who "is on a mission
... to put a modern face on her husband's regime."
But prose lipstick and cosmetic patois cannot camouflage
Syria's blood-splattered legacy and its ongoing horror. Just as the Vogue
article appeared in late February, Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution began to shake
Mr. and Mrs. Assad's regime. Two months later, Syria continues to quake. The
regime has killed around 200 demonstrators since the end of February, though no
one knows for sure, since Assad's government has restricted access within the
Vogue kowtowing to Asma? Swank, baby. The BBC interviewing
anti-regime protestors? Suddenly the Vogue mask drops and the Assad regime's
hard face appears.
That hard face has quite a history. Troublemaking in
Lebanon, common cause with Iran and relentless war with Israel are part of that
history. But the Assads' longest-running war has been against the Syrian
people. Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, ordered the February 1982 massacre in
the city of Hama. Regime security forces murdered between 7,000 and 20,000
people; Syrians I know claim that one day the mass graves will be excavated and
the 20,000 figure will be ratified.
Bashar took charge in 2,000, after Hafez died. He was a
fresh face with a bit of style. But like father, like son, the secret police
remained employed and the jails remained filled. Like father, like son, the
body count, inside and outside Syria, continued to mount. A U.N. investigation
of the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri
found evidence of Syrian involvement. Former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam
later told the German magazine Der Speigel, "I am convinced that the order
(to kill Hariri) came from (Bashar) Assad."
Under Bashar, Syria continues to arm Shia Hezbollah and
Sunni Hamas. Hezbollah gives Assad a way to exert backdoor control over Lebanon.
With Hezbollah and Hamas as allies, together Syria and Iran wage a war of
political and economic attrition against Israel.
Bashar, like Hafez, wears the hard face well. Despite secret
police intimidation and the mass deployment of security forces, however,
demonstrations in Syria have not subsided. Still, 200 killed in 2011 isn't
1982's slaughter of 20,000. What gives?
Videos of the protests, taken by Syrian activists, are
cropping up on the Internet. New media may have given Bashar's regime pause.
Bashar is clearly not repeating Moammar Gadhafi's mistake of threatening the
mass murder of dissidents. Bashar claims he will lift Syria's state of
emergency. It has been in effect since 1963 -- again, like father, like son.
Bashar, however, balances the carrot with a stick. In
exchange for ending the permanent emergency, he says demonstrators must cease
and desist. He has almost accused Israel and U.S. of stirring the unrest.
StrategyPage.com recently reported that "Iran is
apparently helping out, with security experts who have recent practice in
suppressing public demonstrations ..." StrategyPage indicated the
Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah gunmen provide Syria with "some dependable
muscle against anti-Assad crowds."
Bashar al-Assad is likely pursuing a strategy of quiet
strangulation instead of massacre -- so here the son differs from father in
method, though not in goal. He will buy time to strangle his people by
threatening to ignite civil war in Lebanon or war against Israel -- two of his
father's favorite tactics.
Meanwhile, Vogue tells us Asma recently visited Paris
"to discuss her alliance" with the Louvre Museum. A museum? Her
husband's vicious regime ought to be tossed into the dustbin of history.