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What Syria’s Assad Teaches Us about Rules and Law- Part 2

September 30, 2013


Of course, Obama has to act. It would be immoral for the US to remain silent when a tyrant is gassing his own people to death; all the more so, when the President’s red lines have been crossed.

In a move that befuddles anyone who understands the Separation of Powers in the US Constitution, Obama decided that he was going to consult Congress as to what to do. (Sarcasm Alert!) Kudos to the President for showing the world that the US has a system of checks and balances. I’m sure the Arab World and the Iranians were super impressed.

On the other hand, to the President’s credit, he has no good options. He can’t exactly invade Syria. The rebels are such a wild card that weakening Assad is to no one’s benefit. At last, Russia is going to broker a deal for Syria to surrender their chemical weapons.

As an attorney, I’m skeptical of a deal of this kind, but we’ll have to see.

Which brings me to the point of the article: what we can learn about rules and law from this situation.

See, I’ve lived in the Middle East for 11 years and one thing that I have learned is that the rules here are not the rules (the way we think about them in the US).

Here’s my example (and I can bring a thousand more): the way Israelis park their cars v the way Americans park their cars.

In the US, if you park your car in two spots you’ll get a note or your windshield asking you to be more courteous (the language may not be so gentle). If you park particularly egregiously folks will take a picture of your car and post it on calling you some choice names. They’ll do this even if it doesn’t prevent them from parking where they want to. They do this because they care about the rules. The rules have some secular sanctity to them that people are offended when they are broken EVEN IF IT DOES NOT AFFECT THEM.

In Israel, people routinely take two spots when they park and no one is bothered by it…unless it affects them (which is almost never, since they just find a different oftentimes illegal place to park). However, in the big cities, where the police give tickets, drivers parks within the rules (at least most of the time).

Three conclusions about the Middle Eastern mentality regarding rules:

1.       Without consequences, people don’t follow the rules.

2.       No one is bothered by the rule breaking unless it affects them.

3.       With consequences, people will make an effort to follow the rules, but only, to avoid the negative consequences.

Now, I know there are three objections that are brewing in my readers minds:

1.       How are you comparing Syria to Israel? And,

2.       How are you comparing deploying chemical weapons with parking? And,

3.       Why would a dictator follow any rules?


1.       Although Israel and Syria have been at war for 65 years, they both share the Middle Eastern mentality. If you think I’m wrong and Syrians view this situation like Americans do, read the US State Department Travel Advisory on Syria. See

2.       I agree this is a wild comparison, but the analysis is valid. A person needs to park his car and a dictator needs to put down a rebellion. Each has a problem that needs a solution. Will you follow the rules or not?

3.       This is a good question. But, none of the three bloodiest dictators of the 20th century broke the warfare chemical weapons rules: Hitler, Stalin and Mao. So, there is something to dictators of a certain ilk following these rules. (I reiterate the fact that Hitler did use poison gas to kill millions of civilians.)

To conclude, Assad is a true Middle Easterner. He will only follow rules if there are consequences to not following them. So far, there have been none.


From → Law

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