State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had some fun at the expense of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad during a press briefing on Thursday. Nauert needled the Syrian strongman for behaving like an ordinary head of state, even as his brutal operation in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta grinds to its bloody conclusion.
Asked for a status update on Eastern Ghouta, Nauert said the humanitarian situation “remains dire.”
“We’ve seen the reports of many thousands of people attempting to leave. We’ve also heard reports about people attempting to leave and then being killed as a result,” she said. “We continue to call for the ceasefire that was supported by 15 other countries at the United Nations Security Council almost a month ago.”
After correcting a slight misstatement to note that it was in fact 14 “other countries” plus the United States that supported the ceasefire, Nauert continued:
Most importantly right now, aside from that ceasefire, is getting the humanitarian aid in that needs to be gotten in. By the way, did anyone see that video of Bashar al-Assad driving around Syria, as though it was a normal place, like he was just some normal dude going out for a drive? It was like Car Talk.
I don’t know what was up with that, but what that man should do is stop killing his own people–stop killing innocent civilians, adhere to the U.N.-led ceasefire resolution that was passed by 15 countries.
The video clips Nauert sarcastically referred to ostensibly show Bashar Assad dressed in business casual attire and driving his own Honda Accord through the outskirts of the contested Ghouta suburb to visit Syrian government troops, for all the world like the owner of a modest contracting business touring work sites to make sure his guys remember to don plastic booties before entering the homes of their customers.
He starts off dealing with rush-hour Damascus traffic and ends up driving through the bombed-out shells of buildings.
“The painful thing, despite the pride and happiness of this visit, is to see people who have been forced out of their homes and to live rough, because of the war and the terrorists,” Assad remarks as he arrives at one military checkpoint.
The point of the videos, which were uploaded to the Syrian president’s YouTube account, is to demonstrate Assad’s confidence in his command of both the Ghouta situation and Syria as a whole. He has very minimal apparent security during the drive and is not shown receiving any special traffic privileges as he tools along. Presumably, Assad also wished to send a message that conditions inside the Ghouta suburb are not quite as bad as international observers maintain.
Besides the urgent need for a cease-fire, Nauert stressed the importance of “holding someone responsible for the use of chemical weapons,” a task she said was much more difficult due to Russian interference.