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Lessons in leadership from Bashar al-Assad

It turns out that when you threaten to kill someone when making a job offer, it's difficult to guarantee their loyalty. Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab announced his defection from the regime Monday and vowed to support the opposition. He probably never wanted the gig in the first place: As the Associated Press reports, "Assad offered him the post and an ultimatum: Take the job or die."

Thuggish threats seem like the former opthamologist's preferred leadership style. One Sunni businessman, an opposition supporter close to the regime's inner circle, told me last year that Bashar has "anger-management issues." Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druze leader, in 2005 relayed Assad's threat to "break Lebanon" if the world tried to force the Syrian military to stop occupying its neighbor.

The International Crisis Group's latest report on Syria also contains this anecdote:

On 8 May, Bashar met with over twenty leading Sunni businessmen from the capital. He said that he had heard that some of them were supporting the revolution. He said that, if it was true, he was willing to do to [the historical commercial hubs of] Hamidiya and Madhat Pasha what he had done to Baba Amro. He wanted them to know that this would pose him no problem whatsoever.

Somewhere in Damascus, there is surely a lamppost with Bashar's name on it.

LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/GettyImages

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If we keep saying candidate trips abroad are a tradition, they will become one

In an article written around the time Mitt Romney departed for Europe, I noted that the media was treating his foreign sojourn in the midst of campaign season as a completely normal and expected thing for him to do, while it was considered bizarre and novel four years ago when Barack Obama did it. ABC, for instance,  touted Romney's trip as the "First Foreign Trip of His Candidacy" as if it was it was weird that he had taken so long.

As another example, I was struck by this opening line from Steve Coll's recap of the piece in the New Yorker

The humid lull between the party primaries and the party conventions is the traditional moment for a Presidential challenger to peacock abroad as a prospective Commander-in-Chief. Four years ago, Barack Obama cruised the Iraqi war zone in a helicopter, dazzled throngs in Europe with his then fresh rhetoric of change, and charmed American soldiers in a Kuwaiti gymnasium, where, with preternatural nonchalance, he lofted a three-point shot toward a distant rim. He drained the three, the soldiers roared, and, somewhere back home, John McCain slumped deeper into gloom.

Coll doesn't mention any other precedents other than Obama, and as far as I've found, there aren't really any. A few candidates -- George McGovern, Harold Stassen -- have taken quasi-campaign trips before oficially declaring their candidacy, but Obama was the first to head overseas after winning the primary.  

Can something really be "traditional" the second time it happens?

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images