The similarities between Syria and Iraq may be pretty superficial, but judging by the excerpts of tonight’s Charlie Rose interview with Bashar al-Assad released by CBS, the Syrian president wants the American public to have 2003 in mind.
On the chemical weapons evidence presented by John Kerry:
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 Iran before going to war when he said, “This is our evidence.”
First of all, we have the president — precedent of — Colin Powell 10 years ago when he showed the evidence, it was false and it was forged.
On the Obama administration’s foreign policy in general:
I would then tell the president when he have the option ’cause we were disappointed by their behavior recently because we expected this administration different from Bush’s administration. They are operating the same doctrine with different accessories.
On Congress’s decision this week:
The first question that they should ask themself, what do wars give America? Things we have [unintelligible] till now, nothing. No political gain, no economic gain, no good reputation. United States is at all-time, credibility is at all-time low. So this war is against the interests of the United States. Why?
On the potential for yet another Middle East quagmire:
CHARLIE ROSE: Will there be attacks against American bases in Middle East if there is an airstrike?
BASHAR AL-ASSAD: You should expect everything. You should expect everything — not necessarily from the government. It’s not only the government are not the only player in this region. You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now. So you have to expect that.
Assad has always had a fairly good read on U.S. popular opinion. As Rose himself notes later in the interview, it hasn’t been that long since he was seen by many as a promising reformer. Right now, U.S. popular opinion—shaped as it is by recent military engagements in the Middle East—is working in his favor.
Americans who haven’t paid close attention to Syria until now may tune in to PBS tonight expecting Qaddafi-style anti-American diatribes, but instead be treated to an hour in the presence of one of the world’s most banal evil-doers, albeit one with a working knowledge of U.S. political talking points. As with last month’s Izvestia interview, he seems to pick—and time—his rare media availabilities well.