On October 29th, 2019, Mr. Sam Dagher, former senior correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, came to IWP to speak about his book, Assad or We Burn the Country: How One Family’s Lust for Power Destroyed Syria. Mr. Dagher worked in the Middle East for more than 12 years and was the only Western correspondent living and reporting full time in Damascus.
Mr. Dagher started by commenting on the most recent events in the region and how they pertain to his book’s central theme. Mr. Dagher spoke on how the brutal Assad regime has maintained a motto that either it stays in power or all else burns. Mr. Dagher was inspired to name his book based on Arabic graffiti he saw in Syria, which was drawn by loyalist groups on abandoned and war-stricken buildings. Furthermore, through the research done for his book, Mr. Dagher found that the Assad regime has been sponsoring terrorism externally, and showing no mercy to its citizens internally. Regarding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mr. Dagher argued that al-Baghdadi was a product of the corruption of the Syrian state that the U.S. has essentially backed for years. Mr. Dagher mentioned the United States’ 2007 attempt at countering insurgency in partnership with the Sunni tribes. That partnership was cited as a success in some respects, because it brought a calmer, less violent climate to Iraq, yet there are still some deep-rooted issues that must be addressed by the U.S.
During the Obama administration, the revolution began in Syria, and Bashar al-Assad violently attempted to end it. The release of jailed protesters and Assad’s attempts to cooperate with the U.S. resulted in the emergence of ISIS in 2013. According to Mr. Dagher, after the emergence of ISIS, the regime did everything within its power to facilitate the rise of ISIS. Additionally, Mr. Dagher mentioned that the terrorism that arose through ISIS was actually a product of the Assad regime and others like it. An example of the similarities between ISIS and the regime can be seen in the language used between both groups, according to Mr. Dagher. Mr. Dagher said that today, we are at a point where the United States is letting other nations, such as Iran and Turkey, attempt to solve the regional conflict on their own. He argued that U.S. policy towards Syria is very confused and forgetful of the history of the regime.
The current situation, according to Mr. Dagher, is particularly problematic because the U.S. is indirectly backing continued violence in the region. Unfortunately, Mr. Dagher fears that although the U.S. is stepping out of Syria, it seems like the need to go back will arise in the future because of the continued threat of regional war.