Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave an interview to Russia’s RT television on Thursday in which he said the United States is “losing its cards” on the civil war battlefield and must withdraw all forces from his country or risk a conflict with the Syrian military and Russian forces.
Adding insult to injury, Assad claimed the “cards” lost by America were terrorist groups like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which he thinks the United States was setting up as a “moderate” battlefield ally until the truth of its al-Qaeda connections became impossible to conceal.
“They looked for another card. This card is the SDF now,” the dictator said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, which currently controls about a third of Syria’s territory.
He leveled an even more vicious version of the same charge against Israel, describing al-Qaeda and ISIS as their “dear ones,” the instruments Israel used in a failed effort to tear Syria apart.
Assad said he would attempt negotiations first with the SDF, “because the majority of them are Syrians, supposedly like their country, they don’t like to be puppets to any foreigners.”
If that does not work, Assad said he would “resort to liberating those areas by force.”
“We don’t have any other option. So, this is our land, it’s our right, and it’s our duty to liberate it, and the Americans should leave, somehow they’re going to leave,” he declared.
If the Americans do not withdraw from positions they currently hold in Syria, or if the United States conducts more punitive airstrikes against the Damascus regime, Assad predicted there would be “direct conflict between the Russian forces and the American forces.”
“Fortunately, it has been avoided, not by the wisdom of the American leadership, but by the wisdom of the Russian leadership,” he added. (In fact, there has been at least one direct conflict between American and Russian forces in Syria, and it went very, very badly for the Russians.)
Assad whined that American punitive strikes in response to his chemical weapons deployments “trampled over the international law,” and warned that “so long as you don’t have an international law that could be obeyed by the United States and its puppets in the West,” such attacks could be carried out anywhere.
Assad bizarrely claimed that he could not possibly have used chemical weapons because “the battle in Syria was about winning the hearts of the civilians, this is the main battle and we won it.”
Even leaving chemical weapons aside, the number of Syrians killed, injured, starved, and dislocated by Assad’s regime is staggering. The civil war started with Assad tossing hundreds of dissidents into torture chambers, and it will end with at least half a million dead. The United Nations stopped counting the casualties after it hit 400,000 in 2016, and even that number was at least a year out of date.
If Bashar Assad is winning the hearts of the surviving Syrians, he did it by stopping a horrific amount of hearts and driving 13 million people out of their homes, half of them leaving the country entirely. The death toll would be even higher if other countries did not step in with humanitarian assistance to ease the pain of Assad’s reckless evil.
The Syrian dictator absurdly denied that Iran has a military presence in Syria, and accused Israel of killing “tens of Syrian martyrs” rather than Iranians when it destroyed missile launchers in Syria that were used to launch an unprovoked attack on Israel in early May after President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
“We do not have Iranian troops. We never had, and you cannot hide it,” Assad insisted. “Like we invited the Russians, we could have invited the Iranians.” He then admitted there might be a few Iranian advisers working with the Syrian army here and there.
Assad topped off his RT interview with a little schoolyard taunt at President Trump, who famously labeled him a “gas killing animal” in a tweet that also castigated Russia for supporting Assad and accurately predicted Syria’s Russian-made air defenses would be unable to stop American missiles:
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Asked if he had a similar nickname for Trump, Assad replied: “This is not my language, so I cannot use similar language. This is his language. It represents him, and I think there is a well-known principle, that what you say is what you are.”
Behind Assad’s evasions and bluster lies the unlovely truth that Russian and Iranian intervention appears to have secured his position in Damascus after years of bloody civil war. Syrian forces are systematically choking out rebel strongholds and forcing militia factions to negotiate surrender terms individually after Russian diplomatic interference prevented the West from forcing Assad to sit at a table and bargain with them all collectively last year.
The SDF is the last great obstacle to Assad regaining control over most of the country. Ironically, he can count on his old adversary Turkey to help him deal with the Kurdish problem.
The epilogue to the Syrian civil war may involve Russia and Iran squabbling over the spoils of war. Assad did not dwell on it during his RT interview, but Russia is making moves to muscle Iran out of Syria to preserve regional stability, avert a destabilizing conflict between Israel and Iran’s terror proxies, and grab the lion’s share of Syrian reconstruction business for Russian firms. The last thing Moscow wants is for its expensive investment in propping up Assad to be lost because Iran launches a war with Israel from Syrian soil.