"We Must Fight," Bashar's Speech, Nov. 10 2005
President Asad just gave his speech to the nation at the University of Damascus. It was tougher than anyone could have imagined. It was a declaration of war.
He said that Syria and the region had only two choices: to resist or chaos. Resistance is the least costly option.
We will play the game of Mehlis that they have set out for us – and he stressed that the investigation is but a game – but we will resist the larger plan that “They,” America, has set out for us.
In the end we are going to win, even if this struggle lasts a long time.
“President Bashar,” he said, “will not bow his head to anyone in the world.”
For years the strategy of America has been to insist that either Syria” kill itself” or “we will kill you.” It is not a real choice, he insisted.
President Asad introduced these fighting words by explaining that “this is an attack on our national identity and values” as Arabs. They want to destroy our Arab identity as they destroyed Iraq’s Arab identity. They call Arabism and nationalism a racist ideology, but it has nothing to do with race. It is about a shared history, a desire to cooperate, shared interests, a shared language and past. Syria is a mosaic of peoples and religions – each one partakes in this Arab culture and history. It is not racist. They want to destroy our identity, divide us, and subjugate us.
He explained that America’s strategy would be to try to separate the Syrian people from the state. They will attack my reputation and try to denigrate the government accusing us of making mistakes and being weak, but there was no correct way to respond to this American plan, which is designed to destroy us and which is built in the interests of Israel.
He called on the Syrian people to stick together as one family. He explained that some countries of the region fall apart and shatter when they confront external pressure – in a reference to Iraq. Others will find more solidarity and pull together. Syria will pull together and find itself stronger as a result of this foreign attack.
He explained that when a smaller and weaker person is confronted by a big bully, the smaller person tries to move away and avoid conflict, as did Syria over the last several years. Then the bully follows the smaller person to attack him again. The small guy retreats to his house among his family members. But the bully pursues him to his home and begins to attack his family, one by one. This leaves the smaller person with no choice but to fight.
President Asad made the simile between his own self and family and the nation and Syrian family very clear. He implied that they must stick together as a family and fight.
He then set out very briefly an agenda for internal reform claiming that the government would open up greater dialog with the people and be more transparent so that the Syrians will understand what is going on.
He spoke specifically about the Kurdish issue, and said they would get their nationality. He referred to the recommendations of June’s Baath Party Congress as bold and courageous. He said they would be pushed through the political process.
He said almost nothing about how Syria would deal with the Mehlis investigation other than that it would “play the game.”
He explained that some Syrians would repeat the foreign criticisms, attacking the government and Syria when the foreign press did. He explained that this would be a sign that they were agents of the West. He was referring to the Syrian opposition and made it clear that they will be attacked as traitors if they try to divide the nation. He called on the young generation to build its future and not to give into despair or apathy. He said nervousness is natural and good if it leads to hard work and awareness. But getting scared is bad. Syrians will not give into fear. They will be strong and rise to the foreign challenges that confront them.
He explained that Syria is in a great battle, not just to protect itself but to protect the entire region. America will go after each Arab country one by one. The Arabs should stand together to avoid being divided. They must resist this overarching plan to destroy them, erase their identity, and undermine their unity.
My mother-in-law called after the speech to say how excited she was and that Syria had no option but to fight. My wife is of the opposite view. She is filled with anxiety and wonders how little Syria can take on the world. She foresees very dark days ahead for her country. "Thank God we are going back to America," she allowed. A businessman from Deir az-Zor just called to ask me what I thought. He said he never expected such a tough speech. "It was very hard," he said. He had wanted Syria to get with the program to cooperate with the West and go through "radical change from top to bottom," opening up the economy and getting rid of the security state and corruption. Not much likelihood of that now.