Click here for a photo of Assad and his wife Asma playing with their children. Assad is not an inherently evil man. Neither were Caligula and Nero in my opinion. Assad was not genetically programmed for slaughter. His problem is that he had what it takes to handle the power he inherited from his father.
Assad chose to accept the power that his father had. From there he could have taken the path of liberalizing the Assad regime, and he took a step or two in that direction back in 2000-01 — the so-called "Damascus Spring." But members of his family, it seems, talked him out of it. His purpose in pulling back from liberalization was to preserve power — a common response by those who don't owe their power to democratic processes. He would have been exceptional had he done otherwise.
Next he was challenged by peaceful protests. His regime saw the protests as a threat and began killing the dissidents, hoping to frighten others from dissenting. Those in his military who defected rather than kill dissidents were also targeted, and Assad rationalized. He saw himself and all those who supported him as on the side of legitimate power against people he described as terrorists and influenced by hostile foreign forces. In an interview with Barbara Walters he denied that he was a dictator and denied that he was responsible for what his regime's military and supporters were doing.
Today he speaks of his responsibility in carrying on what he is doing and asks how he could still be in power if he did not have the support of the majority of Syrians — a delusion about the extent of his support and a denial that armed suppression has anything to do with his still being in power.
Thus it is that a man who plays with his children can play a leading role in the slaughter of other people's children and become another of history's hated personages.
Had Assad not accepted power and instead chosen to continue his career as an ophthalmologist, he might have lived with his wife and children to an old age in peace and with respect.
Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.