2009’s Most Valuable Player
As the decade comes to a close- and as people worldwide celebrate the New Year with friends, family, and a whole lot of Champagne- I have decided to unleash my MVP of 2009. Drum-roll please…….and the winner is….Mr. Bashar al-Assad.
The winner might come as a surprise to some, but when dissecting all of his accomplishments over the past year, there is no other statesman in the world that deserves the credit and recognition of doing so much with so little .
Bashar al-Assad has not only transformed his country overnight, but he has done so in such a way that only a skilled politician could match. The Syrian economy is finally starting to improve, thanks to some innovation that was previously overlooked by the elder Assad when he was in power. Declining oil productivity has forced- and is continuing to force- the Syrian Government to address the natural-resource dependency that so many Arab regimes in the region take for granted. With the price of oil fluctuating, you would think Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States would follow the Syrian model.
Without a doubt, the greatest accomplishment of President Assad has been his political talent. Despite his government’s horrible human-rights record, he has the United States and Saudi Arabia- two countries that have been historically ambivalent to Damascus- crawling to his doorstep. Regardless of which country we are talking about, Syria is more important than ever. The West is trying to convince Assad to limit his strategic alliance with Iran, and the Islamic Republic is countering this demand with incentives for the Syrian regime. The question for the future, of course, is whether Assad is talented enough to make the right decision.
And what about his popularity among Arabs as a whole? Well, thanks to Israel’s debacle in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Assad has been credited as one of the main players that brought about Israel’s “defeat.” For all of their ideological and religious differences, many Sunnis and Shias portray Assad as a primary defender of Arab rights. In fact, a recent poll within the Arab World concluded that Mr. Assad is currently the most popular politician in the Middle East…an amazing development considering the globe’s persistent outcry over human rights abuses and his financial support for terrorist groups.
There is one more thing that could have contributed to Assad’s current standing; internal security. Domestically, Assad’s regime has been able to boast unity and security in an area that is frequently held hostage to violence and radicalism (a.k.a. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to some extent, Iran). Obviously, security comes at a price; Syria’s intelligence service is known for its ruthless espionage, and crack-downs on political activists are routine. But it is security nonetheless.
Do not be surprised if Assad gains even more stature in the coming year. With the Iranian nuclear program only increasing in significance and attention, Syria’s position will be all the more crucial. My prediction is that the Syrian regime will probably remain silent, especially if a military-strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is in the works. But either way, I do not see how Syria could lose.
To everyone out there, HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
-Daniel R. DePetris