I am worried about the future prospects of Bashar al-Assad, M.D. I'm not sure that his background as an opthalmologist has adequately prepared him for what a dictator needs to do.
His father was a kind of model dictator. When there were symptoms of unrest in Hama, he razed the city and killed 20,000 people, and after that, there was hardly a peep out of the entire land of Syria. The Syrians knew what to expect out of Assad, Sr. If Daddy were alive now, he would have sent troops to Dara and leveled it to the ground and killed tens of thousands.
Instead Junior handles the crisis by trying to put out individual fires and that does not work. Oh sure, he has allowed the army to kill a hundred or two demonstrators, but that does not solve the problem. It merely stokes the fires of hatred against his regime. It's the way of previous kings and dictators, from Louis Philippe of France to Mubarak, have temporized in the past only to be overthrown for lack of a decisive use of force. Unfortunately, Dr. Assad does not seem to have the stomach for being a dictator. He would have preferred to be a dictator-reformer, but as other dictator-reformers have learned the hard way, the most dangerous time is precisely the time he tries to introduce measured and limited reforms. He just was not properly trained for the stuff a tyrant needs to do.
Daddy Assad had trained his older son, Rafiq, to follow in his footsteps while allowing Bashar to go off to London to be educated and become a doctor. I'm sure Rafiq would have become a dictator to make his father proud where not a peep would be heard from his completely intimidated countrymen, but he alas, he has gone off to the land of the seventy virgins and I am sure he is now in a better place.
But poor Dr Assad was never properly trained in dictatorship techniques , and really became the heir to the autocracy by accident. I can imagine that horrible phone call from his father when poor Rafiq drove his BMW over a cliff. "Son, I know you love your medical practice in London, but I'm afraid with Rafiq gone, you now have to come home and get involved in the family business. I have no one else to leave it but you. Really, I only killed those 20,000 people in Hama for you and your brother, and now that he is dead . . ."
I'm not sure that Junior has the stomach for the kind of brutality that a dictator, particularly one coming from a hated minority ethnic group, must be capable of in order to stay in power. Maybe if Dr. Assad had been trained as, say, a dentist, he could relate more easily to torture as an instrument of policy. Perhaps by taking 100 demonstrators and publicly and personally poking their eyes out, Dr. Assad would demonstrate to the Syrian public not only that he means business, but also that Opthalmology training can be a positive attribute for a dictator. Maybe 21st century dictators would follow his example and go to medical school first if they wanted to become ruthless tyrants.
Of course, if he does poke out the eyes of his enemies, he will undoubtedly loose his British medical license and be censured by the British Opthalmological Association. The BOA would probably argue that his Hypocratic Oath requires him to do no harm. I suspect that unfortunate prospect troubles his conscience, a fact that explains why, to date, he has been capable only of half measures and not the kind of brutality the current situation requires if he wants to keep power the way his father did.