Hey, why not trust Bashar al-Assad? Hillary Clinton thinks he’s a reformer, after all. What could go wrong? AFP published a one-on-one interview with the Syrian dictator this morning, after teasing the highlights on Twitter:
#BREAKING Syria's Assad says army 'gave up' all chemical weapons
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 13, 2017
#BREAKING Syria's Assad says chemical attack '100 percent fabrication'
— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 13, 2017
The BBC has the video from the exchange
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) April 13, 2017
“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication… Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” Assad said Wednesday, in his first interview since American cruise missiles hit a central Syrian air base.
Well, there are only a few minor issues with this statement, one of which is the idea that Syria actually complied with the 2013 agreement to surrender its chemical-weapons program. The UN specifically debunked that last summer in a report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the task group assigned to investigate violations of international accords on such munitions. They determined that Assad’s military conducted chemical weapons attacks in April 2014 and March 2015, and suspected them of using chemical weapons in three other attacks across that same time frame. Assad claims in the interview that not only did he give up all those weapons in 2013, he’d never used them at all before or since — two shabby lies that had been disproven well before the April 4 attack.
The second is that Donald Trump wanted a “pretext for the attack” on his military base at Shayrat. That’s an accusation that might have stuck better to George W. Bush or even Barack Obama rather than Trump, who ran on a policy of non-intervention specifically on Syria. It’s true that Trump criticized Obama last year for his lack of immediate response to Assad’s crossing of the 2012 “red line” a year later, but Trump has consistently argued against US military intervention in all contexts except the fight on ISIS — which this has clearly complicated, necessarily or not. The thrust of Trump’s foreign-policy strategy until last week was to improve relations with Russia at the expense of China. In one week’s he’s had to reverse course on that strategy, and his non-interventionist base is at the very least alarmed about the abrupt 180.
Third, the US now claims to have intercepted specific communications that proves Syria’s military conducted the attack in Idlib last week. John will have more on this later, but the intel surfaced after the attack as part of a large amount of data that had been scooped up and later analyzed. If that’s accurate, it may have been part of Rex Tillerson’s presentation in Moscow to Sergei Lavrov and Vladimir Putin yesterday, and could have contained some intel on “outside support” from a rather familiar source too. CNN’s report suggests that the Russians not only have knowledge of Assad’s continuing chemical weapons program but have boosted it. If Assad wants to keep claiming that the US is making it up, it might force us to expose Russian fingerprints on the program — a message that Tillerson could have also delivered yesterday.
Fourth, Turkey’s medical teams have already confirmed the use of sarin on the victims of the attack. Turkey is very antagonistic toward Assad for lots of reasons, but they have invited OPCW to review the evidence, and their teams are on their way right now to complete that work. What will Assad claim next — that the US gassed Idlib to create a false flag for an operation Trump didn’t want to conduct?
Basically, Assad has offered a couple of Internet conspiracy theories and a “trust me” after decades of Assad dynastic dictatorships brutalizing his own people. There may be 100% fabrications going on, but the safe bet is that Reformer Assad is the one concocting them.