Of course, Nicholas was the last of a 300-year-old dynasty, the ruler of an empire of 130 million, from the Pacific to the Baltic. In contrast, Mr. al-Assad, grandson of impoverished villagers, rules a small but strategically important country in the Middle East.
It's unlikely that anyone will weep for the al-Assads' downfall the way the family of the fictional Earl of Grantham mourned the fall of the czar on the popular BBC series Downton Abbey: In reality, they were grieving for the twilight of the aristocracy, since Nicholas and Alexandra were at the centre of a pan-European family of nobles.
(One of those, Nicholas's cousin, King George V, ultimately refused the family safe harbour in Britain.)
In 1917, with the Imperial government collapsing and revolution in the air, the czar was counselled by foreign envoys: “Is it not my duty to warn Your Majesty of the abyss that lies ahead of you?” asked Sir George Buchanan, the British ambassador.
But Nicholas was deaf to pleas that he must implement fundamental political changes. As Mr. Massie wrote, “He had pledged to preserve the autocracy, and hand it on to his son.”
Western diplomats aren't so tactful when talking to Mr. al-Assad. “Your days are numbered,” the U.S. United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, told the Syrian President through the non-diplomatic channel of CNN. “It is time and past time for you to transfer power peacefully and responsibly. The longer you hang on, the more damage you do to yourself, your family, your interests and, indeed, your country.”
So far, however, Mr. al-Assad clings to power, and the bombardment of Homs continues. And Asma, who shares that Damascus apartment where democratic principles hold sway and a chalkboard registers each family member’s levels of politeness, has not abandoned him to history yet.