05/28/2012 04:25 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2012

What World Figures Said About Bashar al-Assad -- An Enlightening Reminder

The Syrian situation continues to unravel, as has been outlined so many times in this blog. The violence in Syria will dwarf anything that we have seen until now in the rest of the Middle East. The Hulah massacre, as horrendous as it was, is not going to the be last, and others will follow.

This is what an existential struggle for survival in sectarian-plagued state as Syria looks like. The only ray of light for the oppressed Sunni people of Syria is that the latest massacre intensifies the pressure on the dictator and his henchmen. No immediate results, but the noose is tightening around their necks. The regime is prone to this kind of atrocity, and the civilized world's patience is running thin.

With the horrors becoming a household story, at least in the west, it is useful to remind ourselves what prominent world figures said about Bashar Assad until very recently. There is a lot to be learned, at least for those who want to understand both the way a Middle Eastern dictatorship is run, and how perverted its image can be among many in the democratic western world. This is why this short list (just a selection) of quotations does not include the usual suspects, such as Hugo Chavez, some Russian politicians, British M.P. George Galloway, Arab sycophant fans of Assad, surely not his "genuinely" Syrian admirers. In the old days, the main theme in the Bashar Assad praise book was him being a "reformer," now there are more and more, in the Arab world, surely in Syria, and in the west, who relate to him as Al-Jazzar (the butcher).

Damascus once had its Jazzar, the Ottoman Ahmad Basha (1775-1804). The current Jazzar by far exceeds any of the excesses of the previous one. But back to fantasy land, here are some enlightening quotations about our hero:

David Lesch, U.S. biographer of Bashar, February 15, 2006: "President Bashar Al-Assad is a national leader with a strategic vision, clear ideas, which he formulates strongly and quietly on the basis of his people interests and firm political interests."

John Simpson, a famous BBC TV presenter, October 9, 2006: "He is clearly trying to introduce a new approach to the exercise of power... persuading people that they should not see their president as super-human and all-powerful."

Le Figaro, France, July 11, 2008: "President Bashar Al-Assad is self-confident, humble, and fond of dialogue; he masters the art of listening before making decisions and knows how to bet; he has won the bet in international politics."

Martin Asser, BBC NEWS, December 8, 2008: "Once again the road to Damascus is Jammed with foreign dignitaries coming to hold court with President Bashar Al-Assad."

Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President (did any one really believe that Carter would miss the opportunity to praise an Arab dictator?), January 2009, Forward Magazine: "President Bashar Al-Assad very popular in his own country."

Nicholas Soames, a British Conservative M.P., February 27, 2011: "I have touched the great trust of the Syrian people in President Bashar Al-Assad, who is committed to carry out huge reforms in his country."

Ahmet Davotuglou, Turkish Foreign Minister, May 29, 2011: "His Excellency President Bashar Al-Assad is very popular as the beloved President by the masses of the Syrian people."

Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Congressman, June 27, 2011: "President Al-Assad is highly beloved and appreciated by the Syrians whom I met."

Andrew Gilligan, editor Sunday Telegraph, October 30, 2011: "From conversations with residents in Damascus at least, it does in fact seem to make Assad somewhat Better esteemed by his own people than many other Arab rulers."

Last but not least, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 27, 2011, CBS NEWS: "There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of Both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months believe he is a reformer."

Clinton, to her credit, recanted this statement very quickly, and of all those cited above, and the many whose outrageous statements were not quoted, is the only one who can do something to stop the carnage and remove the "man of reform," the "popular" Bashar from his current position. What could be done to achieve that is beyond the scope of this article, but it is firmly in the scope to offer possible explanations to the blindness of so many when referring to Syria and Bashar.

To start with, the writing was on the wall for a long time, for those who wanted to read. Under Bashar, Syria was no less totalitarian, poor and corrupt than under his father Hafiz Assad. But then Bashar and his wife Asma speak good English, so they are by definition "our good guys." Foreign journalists and dignitaries were going where the regime took them, and on top of all that there is the unexplained but so well-known fascination of good-meaning, democratic, western leaders/journalists with dictators, who have the skill to charm their guests, while hiding the atrocities committed by them. A list like this was in place in the 1930's, referring to Adolf Hitler. In fact, Time magazine had him as the man of the year for 1938, citing Munich, which at that time seemed as the dawn of "peace in our time"...

And yes, there was also Kristallnacht, but why spoil the peace celebrations?

So, there are in the world many who need to apologize to the suffering Syrians for their upholding the Bashar Assad personality cult, while ordinary Syrians were oppressed. Many of these people will never do that, but students of history should remember the simple lesson, that a dictator is a dictator, even if he pretends to be a "reformer."