Why Are We Taking Syria Seriously?

I can say, without much fear of contradiction, that Bashar al-Assad is a punk.  Back in the day, Sinatra could have taken the guy!  Yet, here we are, eighteen months into the Arab Spring, and he’s still kicking around.  Muammar’s gone; Hosni’s on his last legs; and both of those boys ate ruthless for breakfast.  Yet there’s old Bashar, still bashing away at the opposition as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  He looks like Monty Python’s idea of an accountant, for God’s sake!  And he didn’t even seize power like a proper tyrant; he inherited it from his dad!  Just like you and I got the gold watch and the antique power tools.  So why is he getting treated like the bogeyman he never was?

The problem is everybody’s taking Syria seriously.  We’re all acting as if Bashar dines at the Head Table.  He doesn’t!  In any place other than Damascus, the waiters are shouting, “Ba’ath, Party of none.”  (In case you’re keeping score, Assad’s Syrian Ba’ath Party is the last fragment of a crowd of regional secularists, whose only other claim to fame was Saddam Hussein.)  The country might be strategically placed in the Middle East and have a few powerful friends, but that’s about it.  Syria hasn’t been a player on the world stage since right around the time Nero was getting his first violin lesson.  So let’s just put things into perspective, historically speaking, shall we?  This is the decaffeinated version, but it’s close enough for our purposes.

Syria sits on a multitude of ancient civilizations.  Humans have thrived there since before we quit hunting and gathering and started planting cash crops.  The brag is Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth.  It’s easy to believe, since Syria sits on the crossroads of the old land routes from Egypt and Africa to Europe and the Far East.  Two millennia ago, it was so important that Rome sent Pompey the Great to conquer it, which he did in the 1st century BCE.  At one time, Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, right behind Alexandria and Rome itself.  In the 3rd century AD, there were two (and perhaps even three) Roman Emperors born in Syria.

However, on the “What have you been doing lately?” front, when the Roman Empire collapsed so did the fortunes of Syria.  Across the next two thousand years, the local environs were a battleground for any itinerant thug with an army.  For one brief, shining moment after the Moslem conquest, Damascus flourished again, but that came to a screaming halt on a sunny day in 1260 when a horde of Mongols showed up and put the boots to the whole area.  (Mongol devastation was so complete that it wasn’t until the early 20th century that Syria regained its pre-Mongol population.)  After another couple of centuries of chaos, the Ottomans came calling, around 1510.  However, by then, the trade route from Europe to the East had shifted to the sea.  Syria became a backwater, where it languished for 400 years.

In the early 20th century, the Ottomans were falling apart at the seams.  To complete the decline and fall, they allied themselves with Germany in World War I.  Syria was once again conquered by a marauding adventurer – this time, Lawrence of Arabia.  After the Ottoman surrender, the entire Middle East was chopped into bite size by British and French colonial bureaucrats, and Syria was given to France.  One World War later, the French went home; Syria was on its own for the first time since 64 BCE.  Not surprisingly, they weren’t very good at governing themselves: for the next twenty-five years, they pretty much played presidential musical chairs.  In 1970, Defence Minister Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s daddy) said, “To hell with this noise!” and took control of the country — permanently.  He died in 2000, and here we are.

History shows us that Syria has always been easy pickings for anybody with a sword and an attitude but the plain truth is that, for the last forty years, it’s been punching way above its weight class.  Syria’s powerful “friends” have been using it as a surrogate; first Nasser and his Pan Egyptian nonsense, then the Soviets and now the Iranians and their minions.  Separated from its benefactors, Syria has neither the economic nor military heft to be anything more than a pain in the ass – even regionally.  I don’t know how we forgot that Bashar and his cohorts are nothing more than street corner gangsters, but we better remember that soon.  The guy’s a punk and he’s capable of anything he can get away with.  That makes him dangerous.

 Last Week’s Puzzle Answers

Here are the answers to last week’s puzzle.  I’ve left a space after the first two in case you want to go back and try your luck again

24 H in a D
24 hours in a day

90 D in a R A
90 degrees in a right angle





Zero A in a F H
Zero atheists in a fox hole
There are 2 S to every A
There are 2 sides to every argument

6 S. on a S S
6 sides on a Stop Sign

3 S and you’re O
3 strikes and you’re out

There are 8 N in an O
There are 8 notes in an octave

8 P in the S.S. plus P
8 planets in the Solar System plus Pluto

1 P is worth 1,000 W
1 picture is worth 1,000 words
7 W of the A W
7 Wonders of the Ancient World

1 W on a U
1 wheel on a unicycle

64 S on a C B
64 squares on a chess board

20,000 L under the S
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

G and the 3 B
Goldilocks and the 3 Bears

1 is the L N
1 is the loneliest number

12 L of H
12 Labours of Hercules

28 D in F except in a L Y
28 days in February except in a Leap Year

Every C has 9 L
Every cat has 9 lives

12 D of C
12 days of Christmas

4 S in a S D of C
4 suit in a standard deck of cards

2 is C; 3 is a C
2 is company; 3 is a crowd

76 T led the B P
76 Trombones led the Big Parade

12 M in a Y
12 months in a year

K 2 B with 1 S
Kill 2 birds with 1 stone

13 in a B D
13 in a Baker’s Dozen

3 B M
3 blind mice

1001 A N
1001 Arabian Nights

4 H of the A
4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

3 P in a H G
3 periods in a hockey game

40 D of R in the G F
40 days of rain in the Great Flood

4 Q in a D
4 quarters in a dollar

6 P on a S F
6 points on a snow flake

12 S of the Z
12 signs of the Zodiac

S W and the 7 D
Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs