A friendly advice for Dr. Bashar Al Assad
By Ziad K. Abdelnour
September 2000

Dear Bashar,

I guess assuming the presidency of any country at age 34 has got to be daunting. All the more so when your country is an economically bankrupt, ethnically fractured, diplomatically isolated, militarily dominated, politically corrupt and inhumanely repressive state like Syria. Here are a couple of pointers that I hope you will seriously take into account if you want to stay in power for the next few years.
1. Make up your mind.. very fast: Do you want to be feared, like your old man, or admired? Unless you are willing and capable of slaughtering thousands of your own countrymen just to show how tough you are, I  recommend trying the latter route. In the Internet age, keeping your nation  repressed and completely isolated is going to become ever more difficult. So think again about your country's future: you do not have to walk into Hafez's footsteps. Having said that, act swiftly before the Old Guard gets rid  of you. Hence, start by firing some of your staff such as Mustafa Tlass, Farouk Shara and Assef Shawkat as of today before they turn you into another "renegade" in the eyes of the Western world.

2. Keep your family and friends close and your enemies closer. Having said that, promote Rifaat to a prestigious position overseas before he gets back to you with a vengeance.

3. Get the hell out of Lebanon. It's a quagmire that will ensnare you in years more of internecine infighting among the Palestinians, the Christians, the Druze and the Shi'ite fundamentalists, and bring you into endless conflict with either Israel or Iran, or both. In order to snuggle up to Washington, you're going to have to abandon the Lebanese drug trade, anyway and open a Syrian embassy in Beirut.

4. Try Turkey as a regional ally, instead of Iran. The country is a regional powerhouse just beginning to awaken. Ankara can open doors for you in Washington and, down the road, it can help broker a rapprochement with Israel. The Turks have water, too. Best of all, by ending the historic enmity between Syria and Turkey, you'll scare the living daylights out
of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

5. Get closer to King Abdullah of Jordan and the other Arab moderates and stay away from Mubarak, Arafat and Arab oil money. They have been nothing but trouble for your father for the last 30 years and they are not about to change.

6. Explore the world as much as you can. Your father hardly ever traveled outside his little castle in Damascus. This led to mental myopia (which as an ophthalmologist is something you should understand). A little exposure to democratic culture and values and some personal, frequent contact with Western counterparts should do wonders for your generation of Syrian

7. Find yourself a nice girl, of appropriate Arab lineage, with Western ties, just like King Hussein did. Big, international weddings are great for reputation building and expanding Syria's almost nonexistent relations with the free world. And don't forget to send a wedding invitation to Jerusalem.

Ziad K. Abdelnour
U.S Committee for a Free Lebanon, Inc. www.freelebanon.org

PS: Please help Jamil Al Sayyid, Ghazi Kanaan and all of your "intelligence services" agents in Lebanon find a "real" job before it is too late . Look what happened to all of the KGB agents when the Soviet Union was dismantled. They all ended up either mentally or physically distressed on the streets of Moscow. Nobody wants to see our 1,000 Syrian agents in Lebanon becoming a burden to the new "Middle East society" shaping up. They can be beautifully