The latest interview with President Assad seems interesting and important, especially in the way that it remarkably unveils his world and how he sees Syria’s future.
It is usually interesting to read or watch interviews with authoritarian personalities like Assad by Western media outlets. Delusion, denial, disingenuity and deception constitute the backbone of their responses to the questions. They expect and assume what they say and argue will be believed and accepted in the international arena. For instance, we see this in Saddam Hussein’s interviews when he tried to convince the interviewer that everyone is happy and prosperous in Iraq and that he had the full support of the citizens in the country.
The staged performances of obedient officials, the disciplinary politics of the propaganda department and the personality cult that was constructed distance these personalities from reality. In domestic politics, they achieve a significant degree of control over their citizens through these instruments or they believe so. Studies, such as Lisa Wedeen’s ethnographic work on the Assad regime (during the reign of Hafez al-Assad) demonstrated that propaganda and indoctrination do not always work as expected. Many in these countries act, just “as if” they believe the myths, stories and legends about the regime leader. Even in some instances, the creators of the official rhetoric and discourse do not believe in what they are doing.
Assad in his latest interview demonstrated all of these dimensions of an opportunistic and delusional character. On the one hand, he stated he presented the most delusional dimension of his character by stating, “The Syrian people are still with the unity of Syria; they still support the government.”(A deception worse than Kim Jong-un’s fake grapefruits in the movie “The Interview.”) There was a lot of denial. Assad even said that some of his soldiers were detained because they used force against protesters, after bombing his own people with chemical weapons. Inconsistencies were all over the interview. After saying that every government, every person, including himself and his regime, can make mistakes, he actually explains why he was never wrong. And on top of all that, he had many scapegoats to blame for what happened in Syria. Turkey was the most frequently cited one throughout the interview. While making these claims about the situation in Syria, on the other hand, he also seemed to try to take advantage of the international context and war against ISIS by suggesting that what Syria was fighting against the last three-and-a-half years was terrorism, and moreover, Syria can be a panacea for the West’s effort to destroy ISIS.
Tepperman also stated that he was surprised to see Assad so relaxed and comfortable and satisfied with the current state of the conflict. It was very obvious in the interview that what made him so relaxed was partly the policy of the U.S. He was particularly fond of President Obama’s view about the armed opposition in Syria. By referring to President Obama’s comments from last summer – that it is a fantasy to assume that arming the opposition could make a difference in the Syrian conflict – Assad demonstrated that he is closely following the views of the U.S. administration on Syria. (Oh and also in responding to a question in regard to statements by U.S. officials, Assad said, “They always say things, but it’s about what they’re going to do.” He might get this idea in part from the “red line” statement and its aftermath.) He was even comfortable enough to say Syrian troops can be the ground troops for the international coalition to defeat ISIS. Moreover, Syria talks in Moscow and the statements of support for the meeting by the U.S. side and a recent statement by Kerry that foregoes the condition of “Assad must go” are also among other reasons that make him so relaxed now. But again, after all he still assumes that things will go back to normal in Syria. After killing more than 200,000 people, he thinks he can change the tide. He believed that he could gain legitimacy. After all the nightmares he generated, he is saying that he has a dream of a unified Syria under his leadership and his control. Somehow, it reminds us of the expectations of the notorious Gen. Aladeen of the movie “The Dictator.”
After coming back from his interview, Tepperman said contrary to what some “optimists” believe nowadays, Assad will not approach any form of political solution. According to Tepperman, it is a real fantasy. Maybe it may be appropriate to quote him directly so that those who are trying to find a solution “with Assad” can take it into account. “For Assad’s very effective facade of rationality and reasonableness, this is a profoundly unreasonable person who is either in deep, deep, deep denial to an extent that suggests serious psychological issues or he is extremely and unhesitatingly deceptive and mendacious. The second is that he is utterly utterly unrepentant about everything that has happened in this four years of horrible fighting and the incredibly long catalogue of abuses of his government for which he is directly responsible. And the third is that he is as rigid and as inflexible as he has been from the very beginning. … He will never do anything to yield power. He will not make any concessions either to the West or the rebels.”
This article was originally published in the Daily Sabah on February 1, 2015.