The war in Syria has cost the lives of more than 470,000 people and displaced nearly half the country’s population. Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, is a tyrant and a liar.
Last week al-Assad appeared in an interview with German television and spoke as if he supported the current truce in hostilities:
“We will do our part so that the whole thing works,” he told German public broadcaster ARD. Lie number 1: Al-Assad has no intention of keeping the peace.
“We have refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give (a) chance for the agreement to survive. That’s what we can do, but at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side.” Lie number 2: Al-Assad will undermine the truce and blame those fighting him for any subsequent breakdown.
Al-Assad offered a “return to civilian life” to opposition fighters who handed in their weapons. “The most important thing for me, legally and constitutionally is that you’re not allowed, as a citizen, to hold machine guns and hurt people or properties. This is the only thing that we ask… We give them full amnesty.” Lie number 3: If the civil war comes to an end and al-Assad remains in power, he will ruthlessly hunt down and murder as many of the opposition as he can get away with.
In “Before we negotiate with Assad, he has to stop the atrocities against Syrian civilians” (The Guardian 28 September 2016), Kenneth Roth wrote:
“The Syrian war has been so extraordinarily ugly because Assad has chosen to fight it not by simply targeting opposing combatants – the essence of wars fought in compliance with the Geneva Conventions – but by conducting indiscriminate attacks against civilians in opposition-held territory. His tools have ranged from denying civilians food and medical care to his notorious barrel bombs. The result has been the utter devastation of broad swaths of Ghouta, Aleppo, Idlib, Daraa and other areas held by the opposition. This warfare against civilians is a central reason for the flight of Syrian refugees, since it means that many can find no safe place within their country.”
The BBC’s veteran Middle East reporter Jeremy Bowen also interviewed Al-Assad. The Guardian published its view on “Bashar al-Assad’s BBC interview: the lies of a tyrant” (10 February 2016):
“Watching Mr Assad smugly commenting in an almost casual way about this ongoing calamity sounded like an exercise in denial. There were no words of empathy for a population that his troops have massacred, leaving whole cities, including Homs and Aleppo, in a state of ruin reminiscent of such 20th-century horrors as Guernica or Dresden. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of Syrians have been detained and tortured, some to death, in Mr Assad’s dungeons. Behind the slick images of an interview in a presidential palace, a whole country is being methodically and ruthlessly sacrificed to the interests of the Assad dynasty. This is a leader who feels, or wants to appear to feel, able to discuss regional politics like any other regional leader. This is an impression that is both flawed and problematic.”
And on the ceasefire itself The Observer commented (14 February 2016):
“Syria’s war began as a localised, peaceful protest against Assad’s unthinking repression. It has spiralled into the biggest crisis of our time – both political and humanitarian – and a watershed test for the international community. Thanks to Assad, the future cohesion of the EU is increasingly in doubt as it struggles, so far unsuccessfully, to deal with uncontrolled mass migration. Thanks to Assad, Turkey, a key western ally squeezed on all sides, is close to implosion. Thanks to Assad, in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf the talk is of military intervention in support of Sunni brothers, an eventuality that would certainly bring a dangerous riposte from Shia Iran.”
The refugee crisis is nothing to the horrific events waiting in the wings. We know that conflict and killing are always sustained by misinformation, disinformation, and lies. From Hitler to Bush, from Pinochet to Blair, from al-Bashir to al-Assad, political leaders distort, manipulate, and lie without shame. Al-Assad flaunts his murderous intentions in the world’s face and for political expediency, for economic advantage, for lack of moral uprightness, the world looks the other way.