Patrick Henningsen: President al-Assad’s recent interview came at a crucial juncture in Syria’s eight-year long conflict

Patrick Henningsen, global affairs analyst and executive editor of 21st Century Wire argued that President Bashar al-Assad’s interview given to the Syrian and Alikhbaria TV channels on October 31, 2019, was an extremely important media event, and came at a crucial juncture in the country’s eight-year long conflict.

“ The interview was one of the most comprehensive and thorough discussions with the President to date, with in-depth coverage of military affairs, domestic and societal issues, the Kurdish question, international relations, constitutional reforms, the state’s fight against internal corruption, and Syria’s struggling economy,” he told the Syriatimes e-newspaper in response to a question about his comment on the interview.

Henningsen added that the two journalists also served up some pretty challenging questions to the President to which he seemed undeterred.

He asserted that the interview was a seminal event in Syrian politics, and a few significant points definitely stood out during the 90 minute programme.

“Firstly, President Assad appeared to be very much on the front foot, and projected more confidence and policy vision than in some of his previous interviews. Perhaps that’s because of some of the recent gains made by Syrian army as of late. Nonetheless, the president demonstrated a similar political dexterity to President Putin in this interview – appearing unfazed and totally comfortable transitioning between some relatively tricky areas of discussion like defense, geopolitics, political betrayals, internal reforms, and the economy. He also tackled the complex issue of reintegrating previously lawless, terrorist-held areas back into the national fold and the ongoing dialogue with armed militants,” he said.

The analyst affirmed that the president of Syria was not evasive, nor was he at all vague or falling back on platitudes or political rhetoric when addressing what can only be described as a litany of problems facing his leadership and the country right now. “The discussion on Turkey and President Erdogan was particularly revealing, with Assad describing the current ruling clique’s “crazy ideology,” apparently referring to Erdogan’s AKP Party, its Neo-Ottoman vision and support for various Islamist extremist factions being hosted on Turkish soil and deployed to fight in Syria. During this part of the exchange, the Syrian leader didn’t leave much to the imagination as to his true feelings towards Erdogan, but also made it equally clear that he is ready to engage diplomatically with Turkey, and therefore would not place his personal feelings about Erdogan, as unsavoury as they may be, ahead of Syria’s national interest, namely stability and good relations with its neighbour to the north.”

He pointed out that President al-Assad’s assessment of the United States included one of the most stunning depictions of President Donald Trump drawn by any world leader to date, as he described the rambunctious American leader as “the most transparent president” ever, and in the politest possible way, extolled Trump’s own counterintuitive ability to discard Washington’s usual ornate diplomatic mask - now completely off, and thus revealing the unadulterated imperial nature of America’s motives and objectives normally kept veiled underneath. 

International relations  

He, in addition, indicated that President al-Assad has underscored a few important points in terms of overall international relations.

“Firstly, the President more or less dismissed any significance of Geneva in Syria’s political future going forward, and clarified any speculation as to what the western powers’ objectives are in terms of their desired involvement in dictating the terms of a political settlement for Syria, and its Constitutional Committee. Assad accused any such western involvement as part of an effort to weaken the Syrian state, and to make it more vulnerable to external interference. The main international actors he is referring to here are the UN, US, UK, France and Turkey. Assad likened their vision for Syria’s future as something more akin to a return to the days of the colonial mandate. “They aim to weaken the state and transform it into a state which cannot be controlled from within and, consequently is controlled from the outside,” said President Assad. After this discussion, western leaders should be under no illusions that any past similar games played in during multilateral forums in places like Geneva, such as with Libya, will not be entertained this time around.”

“This is another clear indication that the old geopolitical center of gravity has shifted eastward now, away from Geneva, and towards Sochi and Astana. He acknowledged that Syria will still be meeting and talking with many parties during the coming political phase, but the President has made it abundantly clear here that Damascus will not leave its national destiny and national sovereignty to any other constituents besides those which reside inside the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

As for as the country’s ongoing military conflict, the President made it clear that the liberation of Idlib is the top priority. Aside from this region being the last major terrorist stronghold, the President views this operation as a key fulcrum towards gaining a decisive upper hand over Turkey who has been using the province as an appendage, while playing what Assad described as an “opportunistic” game, while continuously providing various levels of support for the thousands of Al-Qaeda terrorists currently entrenched there. 

“After watching this interview, it’s very clear as to the Syrian government’s intentions and policies moving forward, but also as to its resolve, attempting to beat the odds under extremely adverse economic conditions as a result of international sanctions, all of which the President laid out in detail. If the Syrian leadership is able to deliver on most of the areas, then the country stands a good chance to regain some of its former footing, which will be a tremendous achievement, considering what the country has endured since this crisis began,” Henningsen concluded.

Basma Qaddour

Share