Is the problem with Assad not that he’s a bastard but that he’s not our ( The West’s ) bastard?

Franklin D Roosevelt is alleged to have said that a particularly nasty South American politician may have been a bastard but at least he was ‘our bastard’ I’m wondering if herein lies the explanation for what seems to be an inexplicable policy adopted by the USA and the UK towards Syria. The policy appears to be one of establishing a coalition of moderate forces instead of the minority Alawite regime. ‘What’? I hear anyone who knows anything about the middle east exclaim. A coalition? There has never been a successful coalition government in the Arab world. It is a tribal world in which the dominant tribe rules alone and extracts the spoils of government for itself and its tribe. Surely Western Governments’ know this?

They know, or their diplomatic specialists do, that Middle Eastern culture is barren ground for western political institutional life. That is not to patronise the Arab world. It is a fact. Democracy and coalitions are unknown abstractions which have no roots in the Middle East. Tyrrany is the state form which works for them. A coalition is a fantasy. Assad can only be replaced by chaos or a new tyrant. If the tyrant changes the behaviour doesn’t. The new tyrant maximises his spoils and distributes them to his tribe. Just like the old tyrant.

President Assad has shown himself willing to break all decent norms to hang on to power and the West has declared him unfit to govern Syria. Yet we seem to be happy to support the Saudi Royal Family and President Sisi of Egypt. How fit are these guys?

But at least they are our bastards. ( For now — look out for assiduous courting to keep them so. )

If the West manages to get rid of Assad — Putin’s bastard — and replaces him with one its own don’t expect the behaviour to get any better. Governance in the Middle East does not aim at improving the condition of the people— it is an ‘excercise in rent seeking operations demanding a cut of every exchange taking place in the society’.

Edward Said, in his book ‘Orientalism’, was wrong. The Middle East is different. The difference is culture and it was history and geography that made it so. Notice that I did not say religion. Islam has presided over societies as innovative, tolerant and humane as any in history. There is too much talk of religion when we should be focussing on the human factors for which it provides a convenient cloak.

For an informed perspective on the Middle East please read the brilliant book ‘Culture and Conflict in the Middle East’ by Philip Carl Salzman. The quote above is from this book.