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Delusional waffle

“First, we cannot carry out internal reform without dealing with facts as they are on the ground, whether we like them or not. We cannot just hang on to a straw in the air. Neither the straw nor the air will carry us. This means falling. Under the pressure of the crisis, some talk about any solution and call for any solution. We shall not give ‘any’ solution. We shall only give ‘solutions.’ Solutions mean that the results are known beforehand. ‘Any solution’ will lead to the abyss.”
 
Delusional or supremely manipulative? Take you pick. Few of the sentiments in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s 15,000-word speech delivered on Tuesday to his supporters at the Damascus University, capture so perfectly the nonsense of Assad’s rambling reasons for why his regime has chosen the path of genocide rather than wholesale political reform.
 
The “facts as they are on the ground,” whether he likes them or not, show that his country is falling apart. After months of procrastination, months of ignoring the insistence of the international community that he stop murdering his people; after nearly three weeks into the catastrophic Arab League mission to assess the level of violence in the country and after a body count that by conservative estimates has exceeded 5,000, he can only resort to the hollow and outdated rhetoric of an era the Arab world is aching to leave behind.
 
His level of desperation was evident when he sought to link the killing and mayhem that has plagued Syria since March to the creation of Israel and the imperial reshaping of the Middle East. “What is taking place in Syria is part of what has been planned for the region for tens of years, as the dream of partition is still haunting the grandchildren of Sykes–Picot.” This has to be straw-clutching at its most sublime, a cynical attempt to reach deep into the souls of people whose lives have been shaped.
 
Assad tried to convince his people in the cobweb-ridden idea of Pan-Arabism that his regime was a beacon of Arab unity. “Arabism is a question of civilization, a question of common interests, common will and common religions.” These are fine words but in the last 40 years, his regime has operated outside this stirring narrative. He talks of “diversity” and “common interests” but the reality is that he, like his father before him, has created a system more akin to organized crime than that inspired by Pericles.
 
How else does one explain the recent car bombs in Damascus and Wednesday’s death of a French TV reporter? The regime thinks by creating a sense of chaos, the world will take its side. Assad talks of foreign intervention and of terrorist mayhem. He even warns of the apocalyptic repercussions should his rock solid regime fall. But why should the Arab Spring not be a genuine awakening? It is one thing to protect a popular bona fide democracy with genuine political freedoms, transparency and human rights from any destabilizing elements. But Assad, in delivering his colorful speech, has clearly forgotten (it has, after all, been 40 years since his father seized power) that his country has suffered under the yoke of his family’s absolute rule, corruption and repression for too long. He has become the most destabilizing element of all.
 
The Arab League has done its bit but has found itself wanting. Indeed, there is a body of opinion that questions if the Arab league is in fact the proper body to hand out lessons in human rights, an argument raised by Assad in his Tuesday speech. “Imagine these countries that want to advise us about democracy! Where were these countries at that time? Their status is like the status of a smoking doctor who advises the patient to quit smoking while putting a cigarette in his mouth.”
 
It has done more than it ever has in its short history, but it is now time to cede the Syrian crisis to the UN, which must take a firm lead in ensuring that its already fragile reputation is not sullied further by its lack of action on what is rapidly turning into a humanitarian disaster.
 
Those Syrian people who have decided to forgo sectarianism and self interest in the name of freedom, care not one jot for the illusion that is Arabism; for Syria’s equally mythical lead in taking the fight to the Zionist enemy; Assad’s laughable paternal metaphors – “The state is like the mother who opens the way for her children to be the best every day in order to maintain security and avoid bloodshed” – nor his caution that reform is a defenseless “straw in the air.” They want freedom and they want an end to four decades of tyranny. They want a country and they want self-determination. How that self-determination eventually manifests itself is not for Assad to decide. His time is over. His departure cannot come soon enough.