Speaking to reporters on Monday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad insisted that Syrian society was “much better than before” as far as diversity and inter-ethnic cohesion, according to a New York Times report.
“He claimed that the social fabric of Syria was stitched together ‘much better than before’ a chaotic civil war began more than five years ago,” the Times reports, before quoting part of an extended tirade about his global notoriety, prompted by years of human rights abuses against Sunni Muslims in opposition communities and his persistent rule following a rigged election.
The Syrian civil war that began in 2011 has split the nation into barely governable regions controlled by the Islamic State, the Kurdish People’s Democratic Union (PYD), and Assad. Major points of conflict include Raqqa, the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate, and Aleppo, an anti-Assad stronghold that Assad and the Russian government have nearly leveled to the ground through civilian airstrikes. The United Nations estimates that nearly half a million people have died since the war began.
“I’m just a headline — the bad president, the bad guy, who is killing the good guys,” Assad reportedly said. “You know this narrative. The real reason is toppling the government. This government doesn’t fit the criteria of the United States.”
Assad rejected the idea that the Syrian people wanted to replace him, claiming that it would be impossible for him to remain in power for so long if the people did not want him because Syria is a free society. “Let’s suppose that these allegations are correct and this president has killed his own people, and the free world and the West are helping the Syrian people,” he argued. “After five years and a half, who supported me? How can I be a president and my people don’t support me?”
Assad “won” reelection with 88 percent of the vote in 2014, in an election the U.S. State Department called a “sham” at the time.
Speaking on Monday, Assad argued that his support was a product of Syrians learning “the value of the state.”
Pressed on how to solve the current crisis, Assad argued that Syrian needed a new “operating system,” removing Islamization and replacing it with secular rule.
Assad’s tone in this new interaction with reporters is consistent with his previous interviews and media appearances, in which he has repeatedly accused the United States of being responsible for the deaths of civilians in Russian-bombed cities.
“I believe that the United States is not genuine regarding having a cessation of violence in Syria,” Assad told the Associated Press in September. “The United States doesn’t have the will to work against al-Nusra or even ISIS, because they believe that this is a card they can use for their own agenda.”
In July, Assad lamented that he could not choose one candidate over the other in the U.S. election because “none of them had any experience,” while praising himself as “the man who protected his country, from the terrorism and from the intervention, and saved its sovereignty.”
Assad’s wife Asma has also echoed the family’s talking points in interviews. In a chat with the Russian propaganda outlet Russia Today, Asma al-Assad blamed “the West” for the death of Aylan Kurd and the severe injury of Omran Daqneesh, Syrian children whose images — one drowned fleeing to Europe and the other covered in ashes in Aleppo — circled the world.
While the Russian/Iranian/Assad alliances have insisted that the campaign in Aleppo is against “terrorists” and necessary to suppress the Islamic State, there is no significant ISIS presence in that city.