2016-03-18

Bashar al-Trump

While there is no shortage of comparisons between Trump and various autocrats, most are either overdone or just plain hysteric. Still, some interesting parallels can be drawn. Here are two similarities between Trumps campaign for president of the USA and Syrian presidents al-Assads campaign for survival.

The first parallel. "He is attacking the good guys!"

During the Syrian civil war, a preference among government forces became increasingly obvious. They would concentrate efforts on the "moderate rebels" of FSA (Free Syrian Army) and related groups rather than IS (Islamic State). Some of this was surely driven by geography as the government sought to defend its core territories and retake first those areas where the population was more likely to accept its rule.

But of course there was a political calculus behind this targeting preference as well. While the more moderate groups were generally weaker on the battlefield, they were more dangerous as potential recipients of Western aid and military support. Whereas the more extreme elements were only acceptable to GCC countries and Turkey - which limited the outside power they could draw in.

And in Trumps campaign too, a similar pattern can be seen. Among the other Republican candidates it was first Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio that were targeted with the strongest, most sustained attacks. Even when Bush had dropped to the bottom of the polls, the attacks were kept up until he ended his campaign. And in the recent primaries, Trump made sure to humiliate Rubio in Florida while accepting the risk of Ted Cruz winning other states.

While we should not expect any open discussion of campaign strategy from the candidate, I think Trump chose his targets for much the same reasons as Assad. To remove the moderate or establishment or opponents first. So that when the conflict narrowed down, outside actors would be forced to choose between him and someone just as (or even more) bad.

The second parallel. "Trump or we burn the party!"

An infamous slogan during the early parts of Syrian uprising was "Assad or we burn the country" (and they did). Its message was the willingness of government supporters to face the horrors of civil war rather than accept a new government. But it also showed that those who were loyal to Assad were loyal to him personally, not to some ideology or sect that he led.

And so it is with Trump, many of whose supporters have switched parties or openly declared that they will not support any other candidate regardless of primary outcome. They follow Trump. Not Republicans or conservatives, many of whom are seen as traitors and internal enemies. They would rather break the Republican party than allow establishment candidates to lead it.

Interestingly, the Republican establishment seems to feel the same way. With open attacks on Trump, talk of brokered convention and promises to vote for Hillary Clinton if they lose control of the Republican nomination.


While Assad has pretty much secured his rule over core Syria, how far Trump will get remains to be seen. But this summer certainly promises to be interesting.

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