Bashar Assad must feel as though he’s auditioning for a remake of The Lonely Guy this week, as his international political support has crumbled in a flash. The Egyptians earlier today alluded to Saudi expectations for a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and now the Saudis have spoken for themselves (via Instapundit):
Saudi officials told Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday that he must fully withdraw troops from Lebanon and begin soon or face strains in Saudi-Syrian ties. Assad promised only to study the idea of a partial withdrawal by later this month.
The kingdom took a tough line as Assad met with the Saudi leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, and other officials in Riyadh. So far, Damascus has resisted Arab pressure for a quick pullout from Lebanon.
Saudi officials told Assad the kingdom insists on the full withdrawal of all Syrian military and intelligence forces from Lebanon and wants it to start “soon,” according to a Saudi official who spoke by telephone from Riyadh.
The Saudis probably never had much love for the Assad regimes anyway, as their socialist and mainly secular military dictatorship doesn’t appeal to the traditional notion of Islamic monarchy favored by the House of Saud. Nonetheless, this demand has not been heard in the past from Riyadh, and the Saudis have never been all that keen on supporting native democratic reforms, for good reason; successes — as we see now — tend to provide momentum in other countries for the same purposes.
The Saudis don’t want to see a native Syrian popular revolt for democratization, as having one in Iraq provides enough destabilization for their taste. They want Assad out of Lebanon in order to localize the phenomenon to Lebanon and keep it far away from Saudi Arabian borders. They also want Assad’s meddling and his sponsorship of terrorism to stop providing the West a casus belli.
It hardly matters to Assad, though, what the Saudis want. Their blunt demand to retreat from Syria only piles the pressure on Damascus, and if enough of it builds up, Assad may have to flee for his life as Syrian power brokers rethink their support for his regime.
UPDATE: Clarity update; I implied that Syria borders Saudi Arabia, which it doesn’t.