A despot to be dealt with

By Arnold Beichman
June 27, 2005

The Middle East is rid of one tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Now it is time to get rid of another Middle East despot, Bashar Assad, president of Syria since June 2000.

What are we waiting for? His assassins kill his Beirut opponents in adjoining Lebanon with impunity and his guerrillas kill Americans in adjoining Iraq with similar impunity. I ask President Bush: How long is this supposed to go on?

Bashar Assad, 40, is as much an enemy of freedom as the suicide bombers he sends into Baghdad. He is conducting a two-front war against democratic Lebanon and against Iraq whose citizens have begun democratizing.

Bashar Assad must not be allowed to halt that process. What are we waiting for? Again, I ask President Bush: How long is this supposed to continue? Mr. Bush knows Syria has a hit list of Lebanese officials. Peace in the Middle East means putting Mr. Assad on our hit list, notifying him that the Lebanese people are mad as hell and won't take it anymore.

It's wonderful Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushes for democracy in Egypt. Even more to the point, she has made it clear that an hour's drive away an existing democracy, Lebanon, is threatened by a Syrian aggressor who is helping kill American soldiers in Iraq. What are we waiting for? How long is this supposed to go on?

Said Miss Rice in her inspiring June 20 speech at the American University in Cairo: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

I was even more inspired by Miss Rice's June 21 speech in Brussels, in which she accused Syria of interfering for three decades in Lebanese affairs and told Bashar to "knock it off." I think Miss Rice ought to go to Beirut with a military escort and show the flag, the banner of democracy. That would assure the Lebanese people America is on their side and will not allow Syria to again, as it has for three decades, threaten or abrogate their freedoms. For Lebanon holds fair elections like the one completed last week, and has a constitutional government.

I urge Miss Rice to visit Lebanon at the first possible opportunity and thus make something clear to Bashar Assad about President Bush's policies:

In addition to seeking the globalization of democracy, the American people will support existing democracies like Lebanon or democracies waiting to be born, like Iraq. America supported the rebuilding of a democratic Germany and Italy after World War II in face of the Soviet threat. A similar policy against the Syrian threat ought to be pursued in a Middle East where Arab democratic progress is just beginning to be visible.

The most important immediate action the U.S. could undertake today is to send Miss Rice on a visit to Lebanon and thereby notify Bashar Assad: One false move, brother, and you've had it, see? Any more planted auto bombs, any more assassinations of Lebanese leaders, past and present, and you will be held responsible, with or without the United Nations.

President Bush has made it clear he wants a world of democracies in order to ensure world peace. Lebanon is under the gun, a Syrian gun. With Bashar Assad as a neighbor, Lebanese democracy will always be threatened.

Mr. Bush helped rid the Iraqi people of a tyrant now in Allied custody awaiting trial for three decades of terror and murder. Bashar Assad wants to prevent the continued existence of a successful democracy next door. It is time to consider getting rid of the Assad dictatorship. What are we waiting for?

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times