Had Bashar introduced a limited package of political reforms upon his arrival to power, and had pulled the Syrian troops out of Lebanon earlier on and on his own initiative, he would have been hailed as a hero by now, both by the Syrian people, most opposition groups included, and the by the international community. The EU would have rewarded him with the signing of the Association Agreement in addition to a generous aid package, and the Bush Administration would have found it virtually impossible to isolate him.
The only reason why Bashar does not find himself in this situation right now is his own lack of imagination, his own inability to be a real statesman. If he was pushed to the wall, this happened on account of his own mediocrity, and the parallel mediocrity of all his supporters and advisors in that narrow decision-making circle he set up for himself. When push came to shove, none had a clue as to what could be done other than falling back on old habits, which naturally, included crackdowns and assassinations. By enabling this process, Bashar was trying to posit himself as a credible leader to the people in his own little circle, as well as to some figures in the Old Guard as well.
Indeed, ever since Bashar’s rise to power, he was hard pressed to prove himself to those that enabled his accession. Satisfying them was his primary concern, the demands of the opposition or the expectations of the Syrian people were not very high on his agenda. Concern for the well-being of people is never high on a dictator’s agenda anyway.
This is why he was so willing to turn his back on the opposition mere months after his (s)election. This is why he was always unwilling to even consider dabbling with the existing system of decision-making in the country, be it on the political, economic or security level.
Indeed, he did seem to have sincerely believed that the country’s economy can be reformed by decrees, another testament of his naivety to say the least. But the failure of this amateurish and wishful attempt of his put him face-to-face with his real dilemma: the regime is the major impediment to reform, yet reform is a regime-ender.
Ever since then, that is ever since Damascus Spring came to an end, Bashar could do nothing but run in circles, circles with a continuously shrinking diameter, transforming himself into a wall-hugging dictator. Bashar’s story with the Wall began long before Hariri and Jumblatt’s rebelliousness. It might have begun ever since he was born really, after all he was a dictator’s son, and his second choice.
The only thing that kept Bashar in power all this time, and that still keep him in power today, is the fact that others in regime were no less mediocre than he is. They are even too mediocre to organize a coup for crying out loud, albeit a well-packaged coup has a good change of receiving both internal and international approval.