Lynette Nusbacher
Devil's Advocate

Assad’s West Wing

Killing kids is easy, but you still need to have some fun to break the tension

I think that if I applied for a senior foreign policy job in the Syrian government they probably wouldn’t take my application seriously. For one thing, my Arabic is awful. Which is a pity, because right now it must be great fun to work around Assad.

Not all the time, of course. There was probably a really sweaty moment last year when Swiss bank account numbers were being checked and hotel suites in Klosters were being booked on Expedia. Syria’s Alawis were probably very concerned about their Sunni compatriots coming for them after years of oppression.

Now, however, I can only imagine Bashar’s policy wonks sitting around in conference rooms with their feet up, watching foreign ministers talk tough in front of the UN building. I’ll bet they can even smoke in their offices in the Syrian Ministry of Presidential Affairs while they watch via satellite as the members of the Security Council achieve absolutely nothing.

They must have games where people put realist foreign policy quotes up on the whiteboard and everyone else has to guess whether they’re lines from Henry Kissinger or Sergei Lavrov.

And if Aaron Sorkin ever decided to turn it into a TV show, Edward Norton would be a shoo-in for the role of Bashar. (courtesy Paramount Pictures)
And if Aaron Sorkin ever decided to turn it into a TV show, Edward Norton would be a shoo-in for the role of Bashar. (courtesy Paramount Pictures)

The other game would happen when you’d get texts on your CrackBerry promising piles of money if you defect. Whoever got the lowest offer would have to get the next round of drinks.

Sometimes, during late night targeting sessions in the office, you’d play Assad’s interview with Barbara Walters on YouTube, and when he says “no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person,” everyone in the room shouts, “crazy like a fox!” Killing kids is easy, but you still need to have some fun to break the tension.

Then Kofi Annan comes and tells Bashar to do something and Bashar smiles and nods, like one of those toy dogs with a spring-loaded neck. Yes, of course, Kofi. Two hours a day to allow enemies of the State to be evacuated by the Red Crescent, Kofi. Of course we’ll have a cease-fire and stop killing enemies of the state, Kofi.

Then Kofi leaves and everybody falls about laughing. As if Kofi friggin’ Annan is going to talk Ducky and Emma Assad into facing a firing squad!

The press says that Bashar is committing human rights violations? Who cares! Foreign reporters infiltrate and get themselves killed? Who cares!

Imagine that: Working at the top of a government where you don’t care what independent media thinks. Your own press says what you tell it to and the rest can just… talk to the hand.

Of course after a while the foreign press just gets jaded and starts reporting from a country where they’re not going to get a 240mm mortar round through the roof of the press center. There are lots of those, many with hotels easily as good as the Commodore in Beirut.

Ducky and Emma (photo credit: AP Photo/Michel Spingler/File)
Ducky and Emma (firing squad not pictured)

I mean, obviously, if Madame Assad comes into the room when you’re having a giggle everyone has to make sure to keep the jokes in Arabic so she doesn’t understand. I imagine she doesn’t have much of a sense of humor about being barred from Paris, and buying Louboutins online isn’t nearly as pleasant as being fawned over in the atelier. Also, you’d have to remember not to call her “Emma” to her face.

Taking the mick out of Mme Assad is a no-no, but Luna Chebel’s office is right down the corridor and you could tease her about having her emails hacked.

“Hey, Loony! What’s your password?”

Or, if you were really cruel, “Luna, Al Jazeera on line three with a job offer!”

It can’t be all fun and games in Assad’s office. It must be somebody’s job to write up those tedious resolutions for the UN Human Rights Commission and email them off to Geneva. It’s a job for a pretty junior dude just learning the policy ropes, but resolutions condemning Israel don’t just write themselves.

Briefing the president would be one of the best parts of the job. So and so many enemies of the state killed today. So and so many enemies of the state killed so far. The Turks are cheesed off because enemies of the state are spilling over into Turkey. Somebody from the UN phoned to ask when the cease-fire will start. (Obviously you wouldn’t mention the prank phone calls from Uncle Rifaat.)

At the end of the briefing, Ducky would pass around a box of Cuban cigars and everyone would throw darts at a sweet potato carved to look like Mubarak.

Then, before going home in the evening, somebody would go to the big “Arab Spring” calendar on the wall and cross off one more day.

About the Author
Dr Lynette Nusbacher is a strategist and devil's advocate. She is Principal at Nusbacher & Associates, a strategy consultancy. She has been a senior national security official in the United Kingdom, was Senior Lecturer in War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and served as a military intelligence officer.