A darkly amusing moment from today’s interview with AFP. Assad has always spun his war on Syria’s Sunnis as a battle against “terrorists,” knowing that that’s an ideal way to soften up international opinion of his regime, especially in the west. And there’s truth to it, of course: As always happens in Middle Eastern sectarian clusterfarks, jihadis like ISIS and the Nusra Front emerge as “protectors” of the local Sunnis. You’ll find him referring to his enemies as “terrorists” throughout here.
Mentioning the “deep state” when he’s asked about Trump (at 6:40 below) is a minor surprise, though, tailor-made for American audiences.
Question 6: So, can we say that the US strike changed your opinion on Trump?
President Assad: Anyway, I was very cautious in saying any opinion regarding him before he became President and after. I always say let’s see what he’s going to do, we wouldn’t comment on statements. So, actually, this is the first proof that it’s not about the President in the United State; it’s about the regime and the deep state or the deep regime in the United States is still the same, it doesn’t change. The President is only one of the performers on their theatre, if he wants to be a leader, he cannot, because as some say he wanted to be a leader, Trump wanted to be a leader, but every President there, if he wants to be a real leader, later he’s going to eat his words, swallow his pride if he has pride at all, and make a 180 degree U-turn, otherwise he would pay the price politically.
Question 7: But do you think that there will be another attack?
President Assad: As long as the United States is being governed by this complex of military industrial complex, the financial companies, banks, and what you call deep regime, and works for the vested interest of those groups, of course. It could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.
“Deep state” is of course a term in vogue among Trump’s base after a stream of leaks from U.S. intelligence sources in February and March undermined the new White House. Newt Gingrich claimed he’d discussed the “deep state” with Steve Bannon; Hannity took to using the term on his show. Russian media likes it too. You can understand why. “Intelligence community” is an anodyne phrase that raises no alarm; every country needs and has an intelligence community. A “deep state,” though, is subversive, something a proper democracy isn’t supposed to have. An “intelligence community” serves the people. A “deep state” usurps them, dictating events below the radar. They’re a hallmark of authoritarian third-world regimes.
Assad is obviously using the term advisedly here, hoping to play off suspicions on the populist right that Trump has been coopted by the foreign policy establishment and manipulated into attacking Syria by the same sinister intel operatives who had been leaking against him. And that jibes with his other dubious claim, that the Idlib chemical attack was a false flag perpetrated by “the terrorists” themselves. He’s essentially calling Trump a stooge of the same forces that have been trying to undermine him all along — the word salad above about the military-industrial complex and the banks is a nice flourish — hoping to widen the already widening rift between Trump and his base over the Syria strike. It’s pretty clever. I wonder if he came up with it himself or if Russia nudged this talking point at him. They surely have a better sense of American public opinion, especially on the populist right, than Assad does.
You’ll also find him wondering here if the many dead children in the videos shot after the Idlib attack are actually dead or just faking. The crux of his “false flag” claim is that he had neither the means nor motive to use gas, but that’s not true — and in fact, his interviewer gives a hint to the contrary when he asks towards the end about Syrian forces having pushed most of the rebels into Idlib. Assad has them together (mostly) in one place, but he lacks the foot soldiers at this point to pulverize them on the ground. Solution: Terrorize them from the air with a sarin attack and hopefully weaken the local population’s support for the rebellion. As Trump’s own White House put it the other day, “At that point the regime, we believe, determined that with its manpower spread quite thin… chemical weapons were necessary to make up for the manpower deficiency.”