David W. Lesch: What Could Shake Syria's Regime

David W. Lesch is professor of Middle East history at Trinity University in San Antonio. Among his books are: "The New Lion of Damascus: Bashar al-Assad and Modern Syria"; "The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History"; "The Middle East and the United States: History, Politics and Ideology"; and "1979: The Year That Shaped the Middle East". His website is: www.trinity.edu/departments/history/html/faculty/lesch.htm

(CNN) -- Of the many occasions that I met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from 2004 to 2009, this one seemed different.

He was always very affable and unpretentious, certainly not the profile of the brutal Middle East dictator that he appears to be today with the violent crackdown against Syrian protesters. But in a February 2006 meeting, he was much more confident than usual in discussing the state of U.S.-Syrian relations; in fact, he was almost cocky.

He knew by then that he had survived the intense pressure the United States and its allies had applied on him following the U.N. investigation into the assassination the previous year of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which initially had implicated the Syrian leadership.

His new-found confidence lasted. A few months later in a follow-up meeting, he triumphantly remarked that, "I don't want the United States. I don't need the United States."

After successfully weathering that storm, Assad and his cohorts may well believe that they can once more emerge intact from a major challenge to their regime....

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