Syrian dictator Bashar Assad sat down for an interview with Iranian television over the weekend, and proved less than enthusiastic about the Obama Administration’s muttered pleas for him to “transition” out of power.
“If one man would merely make it known to the world that he doesn’t have to be part of the long-term future, he’ll help manage Syria out of this mess, and then go off into the sunset as most people do after a period of public life,” Kerry mused last week, right before the Russians started bombing Assad’s U.S.-backed opponents.
Assad’s interview, as transcribed by the Syrian Arab News Agency, made it clear he has no intention of doing any such thing. First of all, as the loaded questions from the Iranian interview make clear, Syria, Iran, and Russia are standing hard and fast behind the narrative that all Syrian rebels are “terrorists.” There is no room in this political formulation for Assad to concede that he’s the problem, and solve it by departing.
That would grant legitimacy to the rebels and undermine the narrative that all of them are deranged terrorists. Later in the interview, Assad expressly makes that point by rejecting the notion of sitting down at the negotiating table with representatives of the armed groups fighting his regime. He will, however, be pleased to accept their surrender:
It is self-evident that no state in the world conducts dialogue with terrorists, because terrorists, like other citizens, should be subject to the laws and should be brought to account. However, the state might conduct dialogue with terrorists in one case, when the objective of the dialogue is for the individuals who carried out terrorist acts to lay down their arms and embrace the state and the law.
Assad directly addressed the notion of his “transition” from power, essentially dismissing such talk as Western propaganda, and inviting his Iranian audience to do the same:
For us in Syria, we cannot take these statements seriously, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, for many reasons. I believe that our Iranian brothers, including Iranian officials, share our view on this. In other words, both of us do not trust Western officials. As to their recent statements about a transitional period and other issues, I would like to be very clear: no foreign officials might decide the future of Syria, the future of Syria’s political system or the individuals who should govern Syria. This is the Syrian people’s decision. That’s why these statements mean nothing to us.
But what is absolutely certain is that Western officials are in a state of confusion and their vision lacks clarity. At the same time, they are overwhelmed by a sense of failure concerning the plans they drew and didn’t achieve their objectives. The only objective of course is what you mentioned in your question, i.e. destroying Syria’s infrastructure and causing a great deal of bloodshed. We have paid a heavy price, but their objectives were subjugating Syria completely and replacing one state with another. They aimed at replacing this state with a client state which implements the agendas dictated by foreign governments.
Assad is cavalierly assuming Iran does not trust Western officials after Obama completely capitulated to Iran’s nuclear demands. Looks like the President’s obsequious fulfillment of Iran’s desires didn’t buy him any credibility in Tehran.
Assad exploited the Administration’s weak indecisiveness by portraying himself as the victor over a crumbling American edifice of lies, and portrayed the migrant crisis drowning Europe as a predictable outcome of their duplicity:
At the same time, the lies they propagated at the beginning of the events in Syria, in order to promote their positions to their audiences, have started to unravel. You cannot continue to lie to your people for years. You might do that for a limited period of time. Today, as a result of technological advances in the field of information, every citizen in every part of the world could know part of the truth. These parts have started to come together in the minds of their people, and they have found out that their governments have been lying to them concerning what has happened in Syria.
They have also paid the price either through terrorist operations, the terrorism that started to affect those countries or through the waves of migrants coming to their countries, not only from Syria, but from different countries in the Middle East. All these factors started to effect a change, but I would like to stress once more that we cannot trust Western positions regardless of whether they were positive or negative.
President Obama might trust his loyal U.S. media to make Americans forget about all that WMD “red line” Assad-must-go rhetoric from a couple of years ago, but Syria, Iran, and Russia have not forgotten.
Assad further portrayed U.S. policy under George Bush and contemporaneous European leaders as an effort to enlist Syria in a giant scam to trick Iran out of its sacred uranium, a storyline that will sell fairly well in many parts of the Middle East, given that Obama ultimately capitulated to Iran and effectively conceded that the anti-nuclear sanctions against it were unjust.
The Syrian dictator also embraced Iran’s “Great Satan” ideology by portraying the United States as the “master” of Europe, the “American maestro” who orchestrates all of the Western world’s actions – with the ultimate goal “ensuring Israel’s security” while undermining “the cause of Palestine.”
That might sound amusing to anyone familiar with the actual state of U.S.-European relations, but again, it fits neatly into the mythology of the emerging Russo-Iranian axis. Assad flatly accused the Western powers of being the puppet masters behind “terrorism” in the Middle East, by which he means ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the “moderate Syrian rebels” he portrays as thinly-veiled operatives of those Sunni terror groups. He hit the Sunni – Wahabbi terrorism angle hard, railing against their “perverted” interpretation of Islam, and calling on the United States to join the Iranian-Russian-Syrian battle against terrorism by going after its allies in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and, especially, Turkey.
He also accused the Western powers (and their Sunni allies in nations like Saudi Arabia) of fomenting the Syrian civil war to dethrone him, modestly admitting that he should have pushed harder for some reforms earlier in the crisis, but fingering “foreign money” as the fuel for violent unrest.
“They wanted to personalize the issue, in order to say that the whole problem in Syria is caused by one individual, and consequently he, and not the terrorists or the regional and Western states which seek to destabilize Syria, is responsible,” charged Assad, before retreating to the standard dictator dodge that if the Syrian people want him out of office, they will vote him out.
“The fact today is that the most important terrorist leaders in Syria and Iraq are Europeans,” Assad asserted. While he admitted that “probably the largest number of terrorists comes from Muslim countries,” he portrayed them as an army of darkness trained and directed by leaders from “northern Europe, which is relatively far from our region, and has a rich and sophisticated society.”
Yes, he blamed Europeans for unleashing terrorism on the Islamic world. He will say it again after his Russian and Iranian partners secure his throne. Victory in battle is a megaphone for ideology.