Chris Suellentrop has an interesting piece in Slate entitled, “Bashar Assad – The evil moron who’s running Syria.”

Recently, the Jerusalem Post floated two other possibilities to explain Assad’s head-scratching decision to support Saddam: Either Bashar is “not rational,” or his plan is “designed not only to eventually tighten his grip on power in Damascus, but ensure the U.S. will not turn their smart bombs and bunker-busters on him next.” In other words, Assad is either insane, or he’s a genius. But there’s a third possibility: He’s rational, but he’s also an idiot. Meaning, Assad believes he is acting in his own self-interest, but he’s badly misjudged what his self-interest is.

Saddam, after all, surely thought he was acting in his own self-interest all the time, too. But if he had been better at gauging what was actually his best course of action, he might not have invited two catastrophic wars with the United States upon his country and his regime.

So, in the short run, you can see why Assad could think his gamble has paid off. His anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric has endeared him to both Arab nationalists and Islamic radicals in his country and in the region. “He’s now the most important Arab leader,” says Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle East history at the University of Haifa.

But if Assad is now the most popular figure in the Middle East among Arabs of an anti-American stripe, it’s worth noting that before Assad, that figure was Saddam. For Assad’s sake, and for ours, let’s hope Assad is smart enough to remember how that turned out.

True. The good thing about rational leaders is they are generally able to apply Bayesian logic. Just because they start out wrong doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. That is decidedly irrational.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.