Asma Assad is standing by her man. “I’ve been here since the beginning and I never thought of being anywhere else at all,” Syrian President Bashar Assad’s wife told Russian TV.
Her rare interview was intended not only to end speculation about her whereabouts, but even more important, to further the regime’s public relations campaign by portraying a sense of normalcy amid the widespread destruction engulfing Syria.
Speaking from the Assad home in Damascus, she said she had turned down offers “to run from Syria” with her three children. “It doesn’t take a genius to know what these people were really after. It was a deliberate attempt to shatter people’s confidence in their president,” she said. “I stood by him because my conviction did not tell me otherwise.”
While Bashar, too, has given preference to Russian media to convey his messages, there has been some selective use of the English-language media as well. A group of American and British journalists came in October to hear directly from the president.
“It was a surreal meeting for me after years of writing about a devastating and intractable war that has reduced several of Syria’s grand city centers to rubble,” wrote Anne Barnard, the Beirut-based New York Times
correspondent. “While hundreds of thousands of Syrians are besieged and hungry, here was Mr. Assad, secure in his palace because he has outsourced much of the war to Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces.”
That was six weeks before Assad proclaimed “history was made” in the “liberation” of Aleppo. In Bashar’s fanciful world Syria has two enemies – the “terrorists” and Israel.
Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, addressing the UN General Assembly in September, said the world owes Assad a big thank you for standing on the front line against terror.
“We, in Syria, are combating terrorism on behalf of the whole world,” he said. “Every time the Syrian army kills another foreign terrorist, it spares the lives of many innocent people who could have died in a terrorist act carried out by the same terrorist upon returning to this country.... Our valiant army deserves to be commended and supported.”
Syrians who have directly suffered the brutality of the Assad regime would disagree with the perspectives of president and Mrs. Assad, from whose Damascus sanctuary have come the directives that, so far, have left more than 500,000 Syrians dead, and half the country’s population dispersed as refugees inside and outside Syria. Survivors of the Aleppo siege await, along with other Syrians – the inevitable next targets of Assad and his eager Iranian and Russia partners in evil.
Precious few have called out the perpetrators of the massacres by name. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism,” US Ambassador Samantha Power told the UN Security Council when the siege of Aleppo intensified a couple of months ago. “Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Last week she spoke even more passionately about who is responsible and should be held accountable. “Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil,” Power declared at the Security Council, as Assad and Moscow proclaimed “victory” in the ruined city. “It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” she said. “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you?”
Words uttered with clarity in the sanctuary of UN headquarters, however, are no match for the countries that have disregarded the appeals of so many around the world to end their willful destruction of apartments, schools, hospitals and lives.
Yes, some have rightly questioned President Barack Obama’s response to the Syria crisis. But during the presidential debates the Syria issue was hardly mentioned at all. One candidate embarrassingly stated he didn’t know where Aleppo was. Even now, President-elect Donald Trump has offered no suggestions other than joining with Russia and Assad in supporting their alleged fight against Islamic State (ISIS).
But as The Wall Street Journal
’s Yaroslav Trofimov observed after ISIS recaptured Palmyra during the “liberation” of Aleppo, “neither the regime nor Russia have been particularly active against the extremist group.”
It is unclear what Assad’s vision is for the country he has led since his father’s death in 2000, and has systematically destroyed since 2011. Still, as the Times’ Barnard reported, Assad “radiated confidence” as he tried to convince the invited journalists that he is “secure in his position as the custodian of Syrian sovereignty.”
The fantasy that infuses Assad has proven deadly for Syria, the region and the world. The need to stand up to him is clearer than ever.
“We know all too well from history the tragic consequences of governments that failed to find the will to act in the face of such unspeakable crimes against humanity,” AJC CEO David Harris said. “Watching the boundless tragedy of Syria in real time only heightens the severity of the crisis and urgency, however late in the day, of a constructive, coordinated international response.”
The world mostly ignores the plight of the Syrian people, and in Assad’s world of evil incarnate, that may be the ultimate punishment.The writer it the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.