Middle East Corleones
Which Middle Eastern country is like a Mafia family with a seat at the United Nations? It might seem like there could be multiple answers but there's really only one: Syria.
Now we have "The Truth about Syria," by Barry Rubin, to explain how the ruling Assad family is not only a mafia but bears a remarkable resemblance to the Corleones of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather."
As Rubin writes, the Assads, like the Corleones, have dispatched their enemies with brutality, "making sure they slept with the fishes." The list includes Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed with a car bomb embedded beneath a street planted by Syrian operatives. It also includes the 1982 massacre of some 10,000 people in Hama, the third-largest Syrian town.
Syria's President Bashar al Assad is the incarnation of Michael Corleone. When Bashar's father, President Hafez al Assad, died in 2000, Bashar was plucked from his career as an eye doctor and quickly groomed to take over as president. Like Bashar, Michael Corleone was not a Mafioso until his father was shot. Both Bashar and Michael both went on to become brutal dons.
There are other mafia similarities. The recent congressional visits to Syria, for example, look like the result of the Syrian protection racket. Bashar created havoc by supporting the Iraq insurgency (resulting in hundreds of killed and injured U.S. servicemen), and by providing Hezbollah with rockets to attack Israel (as they did last summer, causing civilian casualties and millions of dollars in damages).
Now, several prominent members of Congress are so scared they seek to offer Syria positive reinforcement for so-called cooperation, even though the violence is Syria's fault in the first place. Assad is looking for a payout.
Syria's presence in Lebanon is also a racket. Though the occupation of Lebanon has officially ended, Syria still manipulates the country through intelligence operatives and illegal businesses. And Assad has Lebanese politicians paid-off, while Hezbollah terrorists and Syrian spies work as his enforcer thugs. Syria continues to pilfer Lebanon and pad its own pockets.
Rubin's book is a breath of fresh air, compared with analysis from other Syria "experts" like the University of Oklahoma's Joshua Landis, Flynt Leverett at the New America Foundation and Patrick Seale, the Syrian regime's court biographer. These other analysts stubbornly insist that Syria can be a U.S. ally. Rubin, however, explains the futility in reaching out to Syria, just as one cannot simply ask a Mafia to stop its criminal activity.
"The Truth About Syria" is relentless and unapologetic. It shows how Syria is backing Palestinian terrorism and the Iraqi insurgency, murdering Lebanese patriots, lying to American diplomats and committing a host of other offenses that Americans should learn about if they are to prevent their elected representatives from further missions of folly.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, directs policy for the Jewish Policy Center. He wrote "Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror."