On your first day in office, you call a special session of the People’s Council and announce extensive reforms, loosening central government control while taking measures to ensure the protection of minorities.
Skeptics both at home and abroad accuse you of naïveté, and opportunists seek to take advantage of your perceived softness by carving out power for themselves. But through deft political maneuvering, the judicious application of force, and the support of neighboring democracies, you navigate the transition. Eventually, you proudly hand the office of president to your freely elected successor. You like to imagine that your father would be proud of you for shepherding a strong, intact Syria into the modern era.
History’s judgment is more complex. As the years pass and the Syrian people come to view themselves as citizens rather than subjects, they realize they can vote themselves money from the public treasury, in terms of both tax cuts and public spending. At the ballot box, politicians who claim that the country can afford massive tax cuts or ballooning spending easily defeat those who counsel thrift.
Gradually, public debt grows to the point that the global financial community turns on Syria and declines to finance additional debt at anything but the most usurious rates. Runaway inflation erodes the savings and earnings of Syrians to nothing, the economy collapses, and restive breadlines begin to grow.
And, in an isolated barracks at the edge of the Syrian Desert, a young, charismatic Air Force officer begins convincing his comrades, first one at a time but then in larger and larger gatherings, that he alone has the vision and force of will to impose order and security on the country’s chaos.