Syria’s embattled dictator Bashar Assad was quoted by his own official news agency SANA Feb. 7 saying he found President Trump‘s stance on the war in his country to be “promising.” This word was headlined by Reuters, but it is worth noting the full quote. Assad told a group of Belgian reporters: “What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it’s still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it’s still early to judge it.”
Two days later, Assad sat down for an “exclusive interview” with Michael Isikoff for Yahoo News at a presidential office in Damascus—with the full transcript proudly displayed on SANA. Assad was unabashedly playing to the Trump crowd—and especially to the now-official xenophobia and Islamophobia. Referring to Trump’s freeze on admitting refugees, Isikoff asks if some of the Syrian refugees seeking admission to the US are “in your view, aligned with terrorists.” Assad unhesitatingly replies: “Definitely.”
“You can find it on the Net,” the dictator helpfully offered. “Those terrorists in Syria, holding the machine gun or killing people, they [appear as] peaceful refugees in Europe or in the West.” When pressed by Isikoff, he said he couldn’t estimate how many there might be, but he added: “You don’t need a significant number to commit atrocities.” He said the 9-11 attacks were carried out by “fifteen” (in fact, it was famously 19) “out of maybe millions of immigrants in the United States. So it’s not about the number, it’s about the quality, it’s about the intentions.”
As for the future of Syria’s nearly five million refugees, Trump would be justified in keeping them out of the US, Assad said: “For me, the priority is to bring those citizens to their country, not to help them immigrate.” Translation: forcibly repatriating them to face a genocidal regime.
Assad also said he rejected Trump’s call for “safe zones” inside Syria as “not a realistic idea at all.” But he added that he could see a role for US troops in Syria to fight ISIS, with his government’s approval and as part of a “rapprochement” with Russia.
This “rapprochement” is clearly in the works. We noted back in November that Trump’s election was a “green light” for the destruction of Aleppo. It may yet facilitate Assad’s pledge to reconquer all Syria.
Finally, in another to file under #OrwellWouldShit, Assad dismissed the recent Amnesty International report of thousands of mass secret hangings in his prisons over the past five years. “You can forge anything these days,” he said. “We are living in a fake news era.”