The Man in the Coffin
The New York Daily News
Friday, June 16, 2000
By A.M. Rosenthal
The man in the new coffin is what he has always been. He is a mass murderer of his countrymen and of foreigners, the creator of torture squads in his own land and the protector and dispatcher of terrorists abroad, the suffocating occupier of a neighboring country, a proudly self-proclaimed
block to Mideast peace and the destroyer of liberty and prosperity for all under his power.He is  not was. His ways of exercising power are his legacy to the military and civilian servitors he put in position to rule the country. It is they who will decide whether the son he announced as his successor will remain in office or if he shows signs of going his own way, not his father's  will be killed.

How long, and at what price in blood, Syrian dictator Hafez Assad will reign from the coffin will depend on the willingness of Western nations to tear away the cloak of prettifying legends that were put around him in life and now cover him in death — how clever, wise, trustworthy, reliable he was.
Despite the proclaimed enmity and antagonism of dictators, and decades of wars with them, free governments, eager to make deals, keep giving them the respect they do not merit and will not ever merit, even when they take residence in the grave. Members of the Chinese Politburo are greeted with embraces in Europe and America. Obituaries of people like Deng Xiaoping oozed with admiration. To my knowledge, only one journalist wrote in protest: "But he was a killer."
Christians and Jews dance at Washington embassies of countries where they are not allowed to live or even pray. Fidel Castro is cute and charismatic, and Asian despots are praised for their acumen just before they are thrown out by their people.

And now the Clinton administration is telling the world that Kim Jong Il, the dictator of North Korea whose terroristic regime has brought his country to starvation and who diverts international food relief to his military and political forces, has qualities we never noticed before: courage and vision!
This astonishing judgment was made after Kim was driven by his fears of revolution to try to save his head by getting political and economic payoffs from South Korea and the U.S.

President Clinton did not go to the Assad funeral or send the vice president, given the fact Syria is on the American terrorist list and Assad's operatives were involved in killing hundreds of American soldiers and civilians. Then Clinton said that although he had differences with Assad, he respected him. Respected? A man whose prisons put specially designed torture machines into the orifices of prisoners?

Somehow, Western culture has brought us to the point where although we would not shake hands with a person guilty of one vicious murder, we invite the perpetrators of thousands of murders to White House banquets. Our governments lie almost automatically about how respectworthy our favorite dictators are, what partnership material they are. That, of course, perpetuates their atrocities, demeans us and soils our democratic values, if you will forgive the phrase.And let's not start slobbering over newly anointed heirs before they earn it with their accomplishments or courage, which do not necessarily come when the sperm meets the egg.

If Bashar Assad, the new Syrian leader, wants respect, he can start earning it by taking some obvious steps, despite the objections of his father's henchmen and paid killers:
Get out of Lebanon, which is held down, milked and made a terrorist preserve by the occupying forces sent in by the man in the coffin.
Accept the Israeli offer to give back the Golan Heights to Syria, which lost it in the 1967 war against Israel. Such a deal may not come again:
Syria gets the heights, giving its rocket troops a magnificent, reachable view of Israel, while Israel gets a pat on the back from the U.S. Though it is most feared by the henchmen-terrorists, give Syrians at least some taste of what they have never had   freedom of discussion and press, freedom from being tortured and/or shot for dissent.
From a recent report by the valuable Middle East Forum in Philadelphia, here are some things the United States could do:
Demand the end of the occupation of Lebanon, the country that other countries love to forget; its victimization has been too painful to remember. (The man in the coffin had promised officially to pull his troops out,  promised three times. Still, the Western legend that good old Assad kept his promises lives on.) Until Syria pulls out, send no money to the Syrian economy that the Assad dictatorship made ever more ramshackle, even for the Mideast. If Bashar refuses or cannot deliver, help Lebanese democrats, there and in the U.S., and call an international conference to free Lebanon.
For all we know about Bashar Assad, he may have the courage to leave his father's policy in the coffin, or he may run from the idea in terror. Either way, saying what we should say and doing what we should do, and cutting out the embarrassing lickspittle hypocrisy, will increase our respect  for ourselves.