Fouad Ajami wrote April 25th in the Wall Street Journal about the latest iteration of the "Arab Spring" that was started when a college grad fruit & veggie vendor in a small town in Tunisia incinerated himself after local bureaucratic thugs took away his license and confiscated his entire inventory.
After regimes tumbled in Tunis, Cairo, and wobbled in Manama and Sana'a – Libya is now in a full-scale civil war with NATO helping the [relatively] unarmed civilized Eastern half centered on Benghazi. Strangely for those who are close to Middle East politics (I was a State Department Arabist, a political officer in Beirut and Saudi Arabia, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Middle East Institute after I retired), the US and Egyptian Armed Forces have staged a biennial exercise in the Egyptian Western Desert close to the Libyan border called "Bright Star" for decades and could reactivate quickly – unless political unrest in Misr continues to froth and bubble. But the hesitant Obama and a timid JCofS make any actual use of US military on-the-ground unlikely. But here's my former tenant (I was his landlord for a year when he first fetched up at SAIS) Fouad Ajami expounding on the ongoing drama in Syria, the latest and very deserving candidate for violent overthrow of a hated regime:
Hama was one of the principal cities of the Syrian plains. With a history of tumult and disputation, this Muslim Sunni stronghold rose against the military rule of Hafez Assad in 1982. The regime was at stake, and the drab, merciless ruler at its helm fought back and threw everything he had into the fight.
A good deal of the center of the inner city was demolished, no quarter was given. There are estimates that 20,000 people were killed.
After Hama, Hafez Assad would rule uncontested for two more decades. Prior to his ascendancy, 14 rulers came and went in a quarter-century. Many perished in prison or exile or fell to assassins. Not so with that man of stealth. He died in 2000, and in a most astonishing twist, he bequeathed power to his son Bashar, a young man not yet 35 years of age and an ophthalmologist at that.
When I was PolMil Officer in Saudi Arabia, our USIA chief in the Embassy was Isa Sabbagh, who was Kissinger's favorite translator and who went along on the famous "shuttle diplomacy" charades of the mid-70s. Sabbagh (and later, another colleague Skip Gnehm, who was stationed in Damascus at the time) told me that Kissinger frequently confided in him that Hafez al-Assad was his favorite Middle East leader, now that Golda Meir was going downhill, because he was super-intelligent and one could count on him to keep the animals in his cage under control. According to Sabbagh, the first half-hour of every session between Henry the K and Assad was relegated to hilarious jokes about how pig-headed the Israelis were (Kissinger) and how stupid the Arabs were ([Hafez Assad). Sabbagh would repeat some of the best, provided they were "not for attribution." And they were hilarious.