His new Middle East neighborhood cannot make Syria's dictator Bashar Assad very happy. Turkey is democratic to his north. A million Arabs vote in Israel to the south. Palestinians are near civil war to establish democratic rule — their own terrorists more a threat to the newly elected Abu Abbas than are Israeli tanks.
Iraq to the east is settling down under its new autonomy, forging through blood and fire the Arab world's first true democracy. Lebanon is now afire with anti-Syrian sentiment, equating its occupation with the last obstacle to a democratic renaissance.
Beyond Syria's borders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement that he may be forced to act as if he will hold real elections is not welcome to Assad. Nor is the strange behavior of once-kindred Col. Moammar Gadhafi and all his unexpected talk of giving up forbidden weapons and letting Westerners back into Libya.
When Wahhabist Saudi Arabia promises municipal elections, or Afghan women line up at the polls for hours, then the world has been turned upside down. Syria's worst nightmare is not an American invasion, but an Arab League that is dominated by nascent democracies.
Thugocracies and kleptocracies, however, die hard. So will that of Bashar Assad. His henchmen probably blew up former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in fears that the Westernized entrepreneur dreamed of an open Arab Singapore or Monaco on the border. Now they are planning to unleash enough 1970s-style violence to terrify the Lebanese into preferring Syrian order to their own messy freedom. Hand-in-glove with fellow pariah Iran, Syria hopes to keep sending enough cash and expatriates back into Iraq to stop the democracy contagion before it infects any more.
Assad has a catastrophe on his hands, and there is little he can do. He tried the typical silencing technique that dictators approve, only to discover that fear didn't work anymore. Changes have been set into motionin the region that cannot be stopped--particularly in the usual violent way, since it will only facilitate the demands for freedom and democracy. In the end, these yearnings will do him in.
Read Hanson's entire post over at VDH Private Papers.