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Assad, the very very bad boy



It is not easy to have a bad kid.  The kind of kid who does bad things. Very bad things.

The kind of kid who tapes firecrackers to frogs. Drops kittens in scalding water. Pulls the wings off insects.

The kind of kid you leave alone to do his worst, so long as nobody knows. So long as he doesn’t cause any embarrassment.

The kind of kid like Bashar al Assad. A boy who can’t really grow a moustache. Who drops barrel bombs on schools and hospitals. And who, when he feels cocky and forgets himself, gets the poison gas out.

Russia and America have for some time lived with this bad boy in the basement. He is the enemy of America’s enemy, and so gets a long leash. A leash that was some time ago handed to Russia because, well, they’re willing to do it.

There is no use recounting the endless list of crimes committed by the Assad regime, abetted by its active bad uncle Putin and given relatively free reign by sleepy Uncle Obama.  Trump – elected with help from Putin and very likely a part-time operative for Putin – must have seemed to Assad to be the perfect replacement for Obama. Obama had been relatively passive, indecisive and unthreatening; Trump was downright friendly by comparison.

Time for some fun in Syria.

That is why Assad allowed his gang to go back to the gas – because he thought he could.  So if you’re wondering why Syrian kids are dying of a gas attack, it’s not complicated.  It is the product of decades of tolerating a monster. If his behaviour is a little worse this week, you can blame the Trump voters for the ghastly scenes on your TV and computer this week. They gave Assad the green light (or so he thought).

But this is awkward, very awkward. It is one thing to torture defenseless creatures in the relative dark of the Syrian basement. It is another, altogether, to massacre children on television. That presents very unpleasant pictures and shines a very bright light on the morally indefensible position of the U.S. (and Russia, and others) to the Syrian conflict.

And so, it has become necessary to give the bad, bad boy Assad, a time out. A cruise missile strike on an airbase. Symbolic, but relatively harmless. A minor punishment, loud and noisy enough to appear real but focused and small enough, to do no lasting damage to the regime.

Everyone should feel better now, we did something about Syria. And if that has the added benefit of changing the conversation from “Russia runs Trump”, or creates the false impression of some distance between Donald and Vlad, all the better.

Trump is wagging the dog this week. Next week, Assad will go back to torturing it.

In the basement.




“Politics is a spectator sport with gravely serious consequences. 
Think of it as “The Hunger Games” with less attractive players and much higher stakes.”    

David ben Shmuel


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