Bashar al Assad defended himself publicly to the U.S. in an interview with Charlie Rose, claiming that the U.S. doesn't have "a single shred" of evidence tying him to the August 21 chemical attacks, and that we should "expect every action" in retaliation if the U.S. does execute military strikes against him.
The first glimpses of the interview — Assad's first with an American anchor in nearly two years — debuted Monday on CBS This Morning. The full conversation won't be available until Monday evening, when it airs on PBS's The Charlie Rose Show. Assad was calm and collected for a leader who is accused of killing more than 1,400 people with poison gas and who is facing a military strike from the U.S., possibly with the help of an international coalition in the "double digits," according to Secretary of State John Kerry. But, of course, Assad maintains his government is innocent and accused the U.S. of trying to start another false hunt for W.M.D.s:
"He presented his confidence and he presented his convictions," Assad said of Kerry. "It's not about confidence, it's about evidence. The United— sorry, the Russians have completely opposite evidence that the missiles were thrown from area where the rebels controlled. That reminds me — about what Kerry said — about the big lie that Colin Powell said in front of the world on satellites about the W.M.D. in Iraq before going to war when he said, 'This is our evidence.' Actually, he gave false evidence. In this case, Kerry didn't even present any evidence. He talks, 'we have evidence,' and he didn't present anything, not yet. Nothing so far... not a single shred of evidence."
Assad also claims his soldiers were chemically attacked, but that no video evidence exists because of social media:
"Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically, our soldiers. They went to the hospital, as casualties because of chemical weapons. But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We're not there. Our forces -- our police, our institutions don't exist. How can you talk about what happened if you don't have evidences? We're not like the American administration. We're not social media administration or government. We are the government that deals with reality."
If the U.S. does attack, Assad warned about potential consequences. "You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government," Assad told Rose, in what's being called a reference to allies in Iran and with the militant Hezbollah in Lebanon. Assad warned that the Syrian government is "not the only player in this region." As to what condition the region would be in post-an American strike, Assad implied there would be chaos: "It's difficult for anyone to tell you what is going to happen...everything is on the brink of explosion," he said. Assad has never publicly acknowledged whether his government has chemical weapons or not, despite stacks of evidence that says they do. Regardless, he was coy with Rose when asked if chemical weapons could be used in any potential retaliation. It would depend on "if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have [chemical weapons]. It could happen, I don't know. I am not fortune teller," Assad said. Assad was also asked why his country hasn't sign the international charter against chemical weapons. "Not yet. Because Israel has yet to sign," he said.
His answers with Rose show a very distinct strategy of trying to raise concern about the potential repercussions of an attack, playing on fears that a larger international conflict will explode, and comparing the Obama administration unfavourably to the ghosts of the Bush years that Democrats would love to avoid. Whether or not that works, or if it will backfire on Assad, will only be known after Congress tally its votes.
Until then, Secretary of State John Kerry will continue his push to drum up support for a strike. Kerry spoke at a press conference in London while the Assad interview aired, his last stop on his European tour before returning to the U.S. on Monday to help push a Syrian vote on Capitol Hill. "The evidence is powerful and the question for all of us is what are we going to do? Turn our backs? Have a moment of silence?" Kerry told reporters on Monday. "I don't believe that we should shy from this moment: the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting," he said.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.