The photograph taken in Damascus last Thursday of 6’ 2” Syrian President Bashar Assad standing beside the visiting 5’ 2” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad conjured up memories of two characters from America’s first daily newspaper comic strip, “Mutt and Jeff.” But there was nothing funny about these two men — nor the reason for their coming together, along with many other leaders sharing a common goal. An ominous wind blew through Damascus last week as these two heads of state — known supporters of terrorism — congregated with the likes of Hassan Nasrallah (head of Iran’s terrorist proxy group Hezbollah), Khaled Meshal (General Secretary of the terrorist group Hamas), and leaders from ten other Palestinian movements.
The timing and location of this get-together of terrorist thugs was a direct slap in the face to the Obama Administration. Trying to improve relations, Obama had recently sent senior diplomats to meet with Assad and had nominated a US ambassador to Damascus to serve for the first time after a five year hiatus. Ironically, Washington had also just lifted a travel advisory warning Americans of security concerns in Syria — only to find Damascus days later crawling with the biggest names in the terrorism industry.
The Obama Administration’s intent in cozying up to Syria was to drive a wedge between Assad and his spooning buddy, Ahmadinejad. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had even called Assad the day before Ahmadinejad’s visit to encourage Syria to move away from Iran. The Syrian strongman quickly rebuked the effort when questioned about Clinton’s call announcing, with Ahmadinejad by his side, his long-standing alliance with Iran remained strong.
Assad’s rebuke of the US initiative should come as no surprise. Thirty-five months earlier, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Syria, against State Department advice, returning home to report Assad “was ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel” and that “the road to Damascus is a road to peace.” But the road she described encountered roadblock after roadblock with no progress towards peace being made. Additionally, the month after Pelosi’s visit, the Syrian government launched an accelerated crackdown on free speech and peaceful activism, arresting several dissidents within a three-week period. Some, whose only “crime” was signing a declaration calling for improved Lebanese-Syrian relations, received harsh sentences. Assad made it clear Syrians were not to express political opinions — despite the right to do so being guaranteed by an international agreement to which Syria was a party. Assad’s point was clear: Pelosi’s “road to peace” would be one “less traveled.”
Just as Assad left no doubts about his intentions to maintain tyrannical control in Syria after Pelosi’s trip, he has left no doubt about his intentions to maintain close ties with Iran after Clinton’s effort at rapprochement. Assad’s actions after Pelosi’s visit were a matter of self-survival; so too are his actions after Obama’s initiative.
When international pressure forced Syria out of Lebanon in 2005 following its perceived involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, Damascus lost a major revenue source. Syria was siphoning an estimated $10 billion a year out of Lebanon — which comprised almost half Syria’s GDP. Such a drastic cutback endangered Assad’s survival at home. Recognizing this, Tehran stepped up to the plate to provide Syria with financial support, effectively buying Assad’s cooperation and loyalty.
But not only money buys Assad’s loyalty. While difficult to envision the towering — relative to the diminutive Ahmadinejad — Assad fearing his Napoleon-esque Iranian counterpart, he clearly is intimidated. He knows Ahmadinejad to be a man on a mission who believes his destiny, as ordained by Muhammad, is to establish Islam as the world’s supreme religion. Assad knows nothing will stand in Ahmadinejad’s way to achieve this. Assad knows should he oppose Ahmadinejad, he becomes expendable. As the Iranian bully continues to succeed in intimidating world powers to achieve his goals, Assad remains on the bully’s side. Thus, the 4000 year old concept of the “lugal” (dating back to the days of the Sumerians)—i.e., the strongman who is both feared and revered—remains alive and well in this part of the world (explaining too why Assad keeps a picture of Ahmadinejad on his desk). Thus, the only way Assad will jump Ahmadinejad’s ship is if it sinks through the (unlikely) united effort of the world community. Until then, Assad remains Ahmadinejad’s lap dog.
This brings us back to the Ahmadinejad-mandated meeting in Damascus attended by a relative who’s who in the world of terrorism. There is little doubt as to its purpose. Ahmadinejad knows his ship is close to reaching port –i.e., attaining a nuclear arms capability. He senses some members of the world community oppose his entry into that port and are weighing the war option to stop him. That option would force Ahmadinejad to navigate unchartered waters as, for the first time, he would be challenged. Therefore, the topic of discussion led by Ahmadinejad within this cabal of terrorist leaders in Damascus last week was most likely the respective role each would play should hostilities break out. Rest assured a topic not discussed was the Iranian theocrat’s intention to discontinue his nuclear arms program.
Thousands of years ago, a massive road network built by ancient Rome gave rise to the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” That network was built to facilitate troop movements throughout its empire. Today, a similar network of roads exists to facilitate the movement of terrorists — one giving rise to the saying, “All roads lead to Tehran.” The road to Damascus is but one of many terrorism’s byways for doing so.