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March 4, 2005
Assad Still Doesn't Get It

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, an opthalmologist by trade, keeps proving that he can't see his way around the worst political crisis of his career. According to Lebanese political sources at Reuters, Assad will announce a partial withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, according to the Taif Accords that have lain dormant for sixteen years:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to announce on Saturday the pullout of some Syrian troops from Lebanon and the redeployment of the rest close to the border, a Lebanese political source said on Friday.

Assad, who delivers a speech at Syria's parliament on Saturday, is expected to declare the move in line with the Taif Accord which ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, the source said.

Taif stipulates Syrian forces redeploy to the eastern Bekaa Valley and then the Lebanese and Syrian governments agree on a timeline on how long these forces would stay.

The problem with following the Taif Accord is that Taif is dead, killed by Syria's abandonment of it in favor of continued exploitation of Lebanon. The Lebanese have changed the ground situation for good, but Assad wants to pretend that it is still 1990 and he can simply pick up where he left off.

Unfortunately, that won't work any more. The US will not sit back and allow Assad to just tone down the tyranny temporarily, nor will France. Both have shown a unity of purpose rare in this generation to liberate what used to be one of the most cosmopolitan of Middle Eastern states. Egypt and Saudi Arabia want no more people power demonstrations in the street to inspire and motivate their own oppressed populations -- they want Syria to leave immediately as well. Even Russia, Syria's most strategic ally, has told them that the occupation must end now.

Assad is simply stalling for time with this proposal. He wants to make a show of moving uniformed personnel back to the border while his intelligence services try to gin up another puppet government with which to renew the slow, phased withdrawal of Taif. The Lebanese won't stand for it, and the US and France will make their impatience known on Syria's eastern border, using the Iraqi insurgency and Damascus' assistance towards it a well-justified reason to do so. The UNSC will slap crippling sanctions onto Syria, and they won't have a neighboring ally to undermine it as they did for Saddam.

Perhaps Assad thinks of himself so highly that he presumes he can overcome all of these obstacles. If so, he won't remain around long enough to try. Eventually, the same powers that prop him up now will tire of his incompetence, and he will be lucky to find himself making spectacles of anything but himself.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 4, 2005 6:53 AM

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