From the outside looking in, this past Monday, Sept. 9, might have been the busiest day for President Obama on the issue of building support for a limited military attack on the Syrian regime.
After a week of trying to convince rank-and-file Democrats of the need for a strike and of phone calls to and meetings with individual members of Congress on the necessity of enforcing the ban on chemical weapons, Obama spent a big portion of Monday previewing his case to the American people.
Obama was not the only president drumming up support in public for his position, nor was he the only leader feeling the pressure from within his country. Syrian President Bashar Assad — a man that Slate’s Joshua Keating rightly characterized as “one of the world’s most banal evil-doers” — hit the airwaves with Charlie Rose of PBS on the same day as Obama’s media blitz, attempting to cast away dispersions that his forces had anything to do with the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians the previous month.
The only problem, of course, is that it’s difficult to believe anything that Assad says, given his abysmal international credibility and the absolute opposition from a vast segment of his own people.
The interview, nonetheless, was interesting for a number of reasons — not for his answers of course, which tended toward the well-known and conspiratorial, but for a conclusion that anybody paying attention to the Syrian conflict can easily make: Assad is the second iteration of his brutal, iron-fisted father.
Regarding the issue on everyone’s minds, the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that occurred in the eastern Damascus suburbs of Ghouta, Assad sticks by the same old story, discounting any possibility that his government had ordered, launched or participated in the attack.
The strong moral case and intelligence that Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryTillerson met with top State official: report The Hill's 12:30 Report Snap hires Kerry aide to run global public policy operations MORE and the Obama administration have presented, including those horrible pictures and videos on social media and a reported communications intercept between Syrian commanders after the attack, is ignored or bashed by Assad as evidence that is unverified or deliberately staged. Indeed, he seemed to get flummoxed, if not irritated, at the very question that Rose posed at the beginning of the interview.
Viewers don’t learn much in the way of new material after the nearly hourlong interview, despite Rose’s persistent questioning on the attack (at some points, Rose looked visibly frustrated with Assad’s predictable answers, as if he was going to get anything different). But what we do learn — and what the Obama administration most likely concluded long ago — is that Assad is someone who truly believes that he is saving his country and his people from an opposition that he views as a bunch of al Qaeda lunatics. Never mind the deaths of innocent protesters, the gassing of infants, the bombing of apartment buildings or the wreckage of entire cities — whatever force is needed in order to combat these “terrorists,” Assad will employ.
This depiction is a far cry from the perception that much of the world had toward Assad when he inherited the presidency from his father in 2000.
Back then, Assad was spoken of by some as a person who was at least a part of a younger generation of Arab rulers; a tech-savvy urbanite who married a glamorous British-Syrian woman whom he’d met during his studies in London. These traits, it was hoped, would bring some type of political openness to a country that was long dominated by a rough and brutal security and intelligence establishment.
Fast-forward 13 years, 100,000 deaths and millions of refugees later, and Rose seems to confirm to all of us that Bashar was neither of those things. He is, rather, the offspring of his father, the late dictator Hafez Assad.
Clearly, the Assads have a unique set of family values.
DePetris is a researcher for Wikistrat Inc. and an independent foreign policy analyst.