In France, President Hollande is calling for the constitution to be amended to allow for increased security and surveillance to “eradicate” potential terrorists at home.
In a clarion call to arms in the French parliament, he declared: “France is at war!”
Mr Hollande’s words come as French police continue to raid sites across the country in an effort to head off further attacks.
In the early hours of this morning, officers were involved in a siege in northern Paris, in which one woman is reported to have blown herself up during the stand-off.
The speed of these raids is made possible, in part, by Hollande’s decision to immediately declare a state of emergency in the country on Friday night.
This enables the French government to act in ways that would not normally be permitted. Individuals judged dangerous, may be placed under house arrest, whilst searches and seizures may be conducted at any time.
If prolonged beyond 12 days, it must be authorized by Parliament — and that, in essence, is what Monsieur Holland is pressing for.
He’s asking French politicians to pass legislation that would give the government more flexibility to conduct police raids and place people under house arrest without needing a warrant. He is also considering broader surveillance powers.
The full story of how the U.S. ended up allied with some Sunni extremists in Syria – while at war with others – is a convoluted tale dating back to President George W. Bush’s neocons venturing off into Vice President Cheney’s “dark side” to work with violent jihadists, writes British diplomat Alastair Crooke.
By Alastair Crooke
When, in early August, the Pentagon’s former highest ranking intelligence official, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, said that it had been a “willful decision” by the “West” to back the establishment of “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” in order to bring pressure on the Syrian government, and then went on to confirm that the recently declassified 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report on the rise of ISIS in Syria, had explicitly warned of the possibility of “an Islamic State” being declared “through a union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” there was almost silence in the mainstream media.
No one wanted to touch the “live wire” of possible U.S. collusion with Caliphate forces. But it was clear enough what the American General was saying: the jihadification of the Syrian conflict had been a “willful” policy decision, and that since Al Qaeda and the ISIS embryo were the only movements capable of establishing such a Caliphate across Syria and Iraq, then it plainly followed that the U.S. administration, and its allies, tacitly accepted this outcome, in the interests of weakening, or of overthrowing, the Syrian state.
Many in the West found General Flynn’s comments hard to believe – in spite of his direct knowledge of events. How could this be? It must have seemed so counter-intuitive to most viewers or readers. And it is something which touches on a still suppurating wound to the Western psyche: 9/11.
But now, with Russia and Iran’s military intervention, the Syria mess in which the West finds itself is only too evident: Russia is providing air cover to the Syrian army, intent on severing the insurgent supply lines from Turkey, on the one hand, and to cutting the Mosul to Aleppo supply route, on the other – as a precursor to the strategic defeat of ISIS.
But in face of these actions, Western leaders are widely seen to be prevaricating, and even seem to wish to impede, and to inflict direct pain, on Russian and others’ attempts to defeat the radical Caliphate forces, by endorsing a wave of TOW missiles and MANPADS reaching Syria from their Gulf suppliers. So where exactly does the West stand?
The forces which the 4+1 Alliance (Russia, Syria Iran and Iraq plus Hezbollah) has to defeat sometimes are not ISIS, but Al-Nusra and Ahrar ash-Sham — jihadist, Caliphate forces, in short, that have absolutely no interest in any political settlement other than their own victory. Yet Western leaders shout “foul,” and imply that these are somehow “our boys” and should not be attacked.
The West’s Mess
The “mess” that the West is in is apparent to all across the region: the U.S. and its allies are both ostensibly “at war” with head-chopping, radical Sunni forces, and “in bed” with them, at the same time. How could this have happened? How can this mess be resolved?
The roots to U.S. ambivalence towards fired-up radical Sunni Islam (as I have previouslynoted) lie primarily with the group of American neoconservatives who formed an influential “Cold-Warrior” nexus around Vice President Dick Cheney, and who were obsessed with rolling-back Soviet influence in the Middle East, and in overturning the Arab socialist-nationalist states who were viewed both as Soviet clients, and as threats to Israel.
David Wurmser, Cheney’s Middle East adviser, stressed (in 1996) that “limiting and expediting the chaotic collapse” of Ba’athism must be America’s foremost priority in the region. Secular-Arab nationalism should be given no quarter, not even, he added, for the sake of stemming the tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
In setting the destruction of secular nationalism as its overwhelming priority, America by default found itself compelled to be allied with the Gulf Kings and Emirs who traditionally have resorted to Sunni jihadism as the inoculation against democracy.
But America’s (and Britain’s) use of radical Sunni jihadist movements for their “greater geo-political ends” was already well-embedded long before 1996. When asked whether he regretted the CIA giving covert support to jihadists in Afghanistan six months prior to the Soviet military intervention (at Kabul’s request), President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbig Brzezinski,replied:
“Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul [the Soviets intervened on Dec. 24, 1979]. And that very day, I wrote a note to the President in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid [to radical Islamic forces] was going to induce a Soviet military intervention [in Afghanistan].”
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war, and looked to provoke it?
Brzezinski: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn’t believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don’t regret anything today?
Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War …
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic mujahedeen, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?
Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.
The Neocon Scheme
Though the principle of using fired-up Sunni jihadism for U.S. geopolitical ends was already well-established, the roots to today’s American Syria imbroglio lie more with the events of 2006 and 2007: the 2003 war in Iraq had not brought about the pro-Israeli, pro-American regional bloc that had been foreseen by the neocons, but rather, it had stimulated a powerful “Shia Crescent” of resistance stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean — and Gulf leaders had become frightened.
The Sunni states “were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq,” a U.S. government consultant said at the time. “We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it.”
It had been Israel’s failure in its 2006 war to seriously damage Hezbollah, that had been the straw, as it were, that broke the camel’s back — so unnerving Israel and Gulf leaders. And it provoked, too, a fierce debate within Washington:
“It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals,” Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Seymour Hersh: “The Saudis and some in the administration, have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran; and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.”
It was also, in a sense, a victory for the closely, Saudi-aligned Sunni leadership of Lebanon, which over the preceding years, had deepened its connection with Sunni extremist groups that espoused a militant vision of Islam (such as Fatah al-Islam), and were hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
These covert allies of March 14th [a Lebanese anti-Syrian coalition named after the date of the so-called Cedar Revolution ] were viewed by the Lebanese Sunni élite as the putative foot soldiers – “war experienced” from the Iraq conflict – who could be nurtured, and eventually would rise sufficiently in their capabilities, to take on Hezbollah militarily in Lebanon: they were to be March 14th’s Sunni shock-troops, in other words, who would contain Shia influence, and perhaps even ultimately defeat it.
This Lebanese experience was held up to the U.S. administration by those such as Jeff Feltman (then U.S. ambassador in Beirut) as the “pilot” strategy for what could be achieved in Syria. March 14th leaders argued that they could safely manage these radical elements: that despite inclining towards an al-Qaeda orientation, they stood somehow within the broad Sunni “tent,” erected and led by Saad Hariri and Saudi Arabia.
The fall of Syria held out the prospect of a wedge being jammed in between Iran and Israel’s nemesis: Hezbollah. It was a prospect that enticed the U.S. administration: “This time, the U.S. government consultant told me,” wrote Seymour Hersh, “Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that ‘they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was “We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.” It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at— [they should throw them at] Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians – [should] they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.’”
‘Sick and Hateful’
Not all Saudis however were so sure: one former Saudi diplomat, speaking to Hersh, accused Hezbollah’s leader, Nasrallah, of attempting “to hijack the state,” but he also objected to the Lebanese and Saudi sponsorship of Sunni jihadists in Lebanon: “Salafis are sick and hateful, and I’m very much against the idea of flirting with them,” he said. “They hate the Shiites, but they hate Americans more. If you try to outsmart them, they will outsmart us. It will be ugly.”
Cheney and his team nevertheless were intrigued by Bandar’s ideas for Syria, but remained cautious: “We need to do everything possible to destabilize the Syrian regime and exploit every single moment they strategically overstep.” (As Cheney famously said, “We also have to work – though sort of on the dark side – if you will.”)
In an interview with the Telegraph in 2007, David Wurmser (former adviser to Cheney and John Bolton) confirmed, “that [this] would include the willingness to escalate as far as we need to go to topple the [Syrian] regime if necessary.” He said that “an end to Baathist rule in Damascus could trigger a domino effect that would then bring down the Teheran regime.”
Bandar had boasted of his ability to manage the jihadists: “Leave that aspect to me.” Cheney’s then National Security Adviser, John Hannah, later noted the consensus at the time: “Bandar working without reference to U.S. interests is clearly cause for concern. But Bandar working as a partner … against a common Iranian enemy is a major strategic asset.”
This point – the entry of Saudi Arabia into a major initiative against Syria – also marked the start of the strategic alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, united in their common hostility to Iran.
In fact, the former Saudi diplomat had been right. Neither Hariri, nor Prince Bandar, was able to control the inflamed Caliphate forces with which they were working. What moderates there were, simply kept migrating politically towards the Al-Qaeda and the ISIS Caliphate camp – and CIA-supplied weapons migrated too. The Syrian conflict was becoming, in character, increasingly jihadist, just as General Flynn was warning – as early as 2012.
President Barack Obama is clear that, from the outset, he never believed in the notion of “moderates.” In 2012, he told Jeffrey Goldberg, “When you have a professional army that is well-armed and sponsored by two large states who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict — the notion that we could have, in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces, changed the equation on the ground there was never true.” (Emphasis added).
Obama did not believe in the moderates, but was under pressure from the “hawks,” including his own envoys, Fred Hof and General Allen, to expedite President Assad’s ouster. But the President was adamant that “We’re not going to just dive in and get involved with a civil war that in fact involves some elements of people who are genuinely trying to get a better life but also involve some folks who would over the long term do the United States harm.”
The answer – as so often – was to move to more covert means in order to mollify the “hawks” by increasing the clandestine operations in support of the opposition – including the jihadists:
President Obama: And it is our estimation that [President Bashar al-Assad’s] days are numbered. It’s a matter not of if, but when. Now, can we accelerate that? We’re working with the world community to try to do that. (…)
Goldberg: Is there anything you could do to move it faster?
President Obama: Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough. (Laughter.)
No ‘Clean Way’
But plainly, the administration could see how others – not in “a clean way” – were changing “the equation on the ground.” In 2014, Vice President Biden was rather more candid:
“The fact of the matter is the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was — there was no moderate middle because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers …
“And what my constant cry was that our biggest problem is our allies — our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks … the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world …
“And we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they had seen the Lord [that is to say, the Gulf States said they would join a coalition against ISIS]. Now we have – the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor – it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.”
Paradoxically, John Hannah – perhaps with the benefit of experience – had this to say about Obama’s Syria policy, referring to Obama’s June 2015 meeting with Gulf leaders at Camp David. Hannah noted that having “stressed his understanding of the threat Iran poses to the region”:
“[Obama] let loose with this little gem: The Arabs, according to the president of the United States, need to learn from Iran’s example. In fact, they need to take a page out of the playbook of the Qods Force — by which he meant developing their own local proxies capable of going toe-to-toe with Iran’s agents and defeating them. The president seemed to marvel at the fact that from Hezbollah to the Houthis to the Iraqi militias, Iran has such a deep bench of effective proxies willing to advance its interests.
“Where, he asked, are their equivalent on the Sunni side? Why, he wanted to know in particular, have the Saudis and their partners not been able to cultivate enough Yemenis to carry the burden of the fight against the Houthis? The Arabs, Obama suggested, badly need to develop a toolbox that goes beyond the brute force of direct intervention. Instead, they need to, be subtler, sneakier, more effective — well, just more like Iran.”
To which John Hannah reflected (clearly now with the benefit of experience):
“Think about it. Feeling threatened, desperate, uncertain of U.S. support, and in an existential death match with an intensely sectarian Shiite Iran, who do you think the Wahhabis are most likely to turn to as potential proxies in a pinch? AQAP in Yemen? Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria? The Islamic State in Iraq? Impossible, you say? Maybe. But maybe not.
“The past isn’t necessarily prologue, but it’s certainly reason to proceed very, very cautiously. The president appears to have a special infatuation with the relatively low cost, under-the-radar utility of black ops, covert action, and paramilitary activities. He also seems eager, even desperate, to ease the burdens of U.S. global leadership by compelling difficult allies to step up and police their own neighborhoods.
“Combine these impulses together and it all sounds great in theory as a means of countering Iran. But this is the Middle East and the coming jihad vs. jihad sectarian conflagration is only just getting started. So be careful what you wish for.”
Hence the nature of the mess in Syria: Sometimes it is just not possible to “square a circle” by conceding a little to all sides – to domestic “hawks,” to the Special Ops industry, to Gulf allies – whilst trying to hold on to the line of no decisive U.S. military intervention. Semantics and “horse-trading” aside, no matter how frequent the re-branding, Al-Qaeda/Al-Nusra and their ilk (Ahrar Ash-Sham, etc.), cannot be conceived as “moderate” in a peculiarly British “Weybridge” sense, nor in any other sense.
Tom Friedman put it well: “Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.”
Not surprisingly, then, some in America are (cautiously) beginning to see President Putin’s military initiative as the only way to cut the Gordian knot and release President Obama from his “knot” of ambivalence: Let Russia and its allies defeat ISIS, and let “the farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict” – in Obama’s words – become somehow assimilated into the political process.
Now that could become an “achievement.”
Alastair Crooke is a British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. [This article previously appeared at the Conflicts Forum’s Web site and is republished with permission.]
President al-Assad to the Italian TV Channel RAI UNO: ISIS has no incubator in Syria…Terrorists are main obstacle in front of any political progress
Damascus, SANA-President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Italian TV channel RAI UNO,
Following is the full text;
Question 1: Mr. President, thanks for the opportunity of talking to you. Let’s start from Paris. How did you react to the news coming from Paris?
President Assad: We can start by saying it’s a horrible crime, and at the same time it’s a sad event when you hear about innocents being killed without any reason and for nothing, and we understand in Syria the meaning of losing a dear member of the family or a dear friend, or anyone you know, in such a horrible crime. We’ve been suffering from that for the past five years. We feel for the French as we feel for the Lebanese a few days before that, and for the Russians regarding the airplane that’s been shot down over Sinai, and for the Yemenis maybe, but does the world, especially the West, feel for those people, or only for the French? Do they feel for the Syrians that have been suffering for five years from the same kind of terrorism? We cannot politicize feeling, feeling is not about the nationality, it’s about the human in general.
Question 2: There’s Daesh behind that. But from here, from this point of view, from here from Damascus, how strong Daesh is? How do you think we can fight terrorists on the ground?
President al-Assad: ISIS has no incubator in Syria
President Assad: If you want to talk about the strength of Daesh, the first thing you have to ask is how much incubator, real incubator, natural incubator, you have in a certain society. Till this moment, I can tell you Daesh doesn’t have the natural incubator, social incubator, within Syria. This is something very good and very assuring, but at the same time, if it’s becoming chronic, this kind of ideology can change the society.
Question 3: Yes, but some of the terrorists were trained here, in Syria, just a few kilometers from here. What does it mean?
President Assad: That’s by the support of the Turks and the Saudi and Qatari and of course the Western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways since the beginning of the crisis, of course, but that’s not the issue. First of all, if you don’t have the incubator, you shouldn’t worry, but second, they can be strong as long as they have strong support from different states, whether Middle Eastern states or Western states.
Question 4: Mr. President, there are speculations in the West, that say that you were one of who supported Daesh in the beginning of the crisis, because of dividing the opposition, because of dividing the rebels. How do you react?
President al-Assad:Al Qaeda was created by the Americans
President Assad: Actually, according to what some American officials said, including Hillary Clinton, Al Qaeda was created by the Americans with the help of Saudi Wahabi money and ideology, and of course, many other officials said the same in the United States. And ISIS and al-Nusra, they are offshoots of Al Qaeda. Regarding ISIS, it started in Iraq, it was established in Iraq in 2006, and the leader was al-Zarqawi who was killed by the American forces then, so it was established under the American supervision in Iraq, and the leader of ISIS today, who is called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he was in the American prisons, and he was put in New York in their prisons, and he was released by them. So, it wasn’t in Syria, it didn’t start in Syria, it started in Iraq, and it started before that in Afghanistan according to what they said, and Tony Blair recently said that yes, the Iraqi war helped create ISIS. So, their confession is the most important evidence regarding your question.
Question 5: Mr. President, watching the map of Syria, it seems that Syrian-Iraqi borders doesn’t exist anymore. Which part of Syria do you really control at the moment?
President Assad: If you’re talking geographically, it’s changing every day, but the most important thing is how much of the population are under the government’s control. Actually, most of the area that’s being controlled by the terrorists has been evacuated either by the terrorists, or because the people fled to the government control. There’s the question of how much of the Syrian population still supports the government? Militarily, you can win ground, you can lose some area, but anyway the army cannot exist everywhere in Syria. But looking to the map that you described, and what I see from time to time in the Western media, when they show you that the government controls 50% or less of their ground, actually 50 or 60% of Syria is empty ground, where you don’t have anyone, so they put it under the control of the terrorists, while it’s empty, fully empty.
Question 6: Yes, I spoke about the borders between Syria and Iraq.
President Assad: Exactly. After Damascus toward Iraq, it’s empty space, it’s empty area, so you cannot talk about its control. But regarding the borders, it’s only related to the terrorists; it’s related to the governments that supported the terrorists like the Turkish government first of all, and the Jordanian government. Both governments support terrorists, that’s why you have loose borders, because when you want to have controlled borders, it needs to be controlled from both sides, not from one sides.
Question 7:Well, the last weekend there have been two very important meetings talking about the situation in Syria, in Vienna and in Antalya. Most countries are talking about the transition in Syria. There are different positions, but basically most of the countries agree with the idea of elections in 18 months. But they also say that in the meantime, basically, you should leave. What’s your position about that?
President al-Assad: The main part of Vienna statement is that everything regarding the political process is about what the Syrians are going to agree upon
President Assad:No, in the statement there is nothing regarding the president. The main part of Vienna is that everything that is going to happen regarding the political process is about what the Syrians are going to agree upon, so the most output of that phrase is about the constitution, and the president, any president, should come to his position and leave that position according to constitutional procedures, not to the opinion of any Western power or country. So, as long as you are talking about the consensus of the Syrians, forget about the rest of Vienna. Regarding the schedule, that depends on the agreement that we can reach as Syrians. If we don’t reach it in 18 months, so what? You have many things that I think are trivial now, or let’s say, not essential. The most important part is that we’re going to sit with each other then we’re going to put our schedule and our plan as Syrians.
Question 8: I understand, but do you consider it an option, the possibility to leave power? I mean, do you imagine an electoral process without you?
President Assad: It depends. What do you mean by electoral? Do you mean at the parliament or the president?
Question 9:At the parliament.
President Assad:At the parliament, of course, there’s going to be parliamentarian elections because the parliamentarian elections is going to show which power of the political powers in Syria has real weight among the Syrian people, which one has real grassroots. Now, anyone can say “I’m opposition.” What does it mean, how do you translate it? Through the elections, and the seat that they can get in the parliament will tell how much they can have in the coming government, for example. Of course, that will be after having a new constitution. I’m just putting a proposal, for example, now, I’m not giving you the thing that we have agreed upon yet.
Question 10:And about the presidential [elections]?
President Assad: The presidential… if the Syrians, in their dialogue, they wanted to have presidential elections, there’s nothing called a red line, for example, regarding this. But it’s not my decision. It should be about what the consensus is among the Syrians.
Question 11:But, there could be someone else that you trust, participating in the process of elections instead of you.
President Assad:Someone I trust? What do you mean by someone I trust?
Question 12:I mean someone else in which you trust that can make this job.
President Assad: [laughs] Yeah, but it looks like talking about my private property, so I can go and bring someone to put in my place. It’s not a private property; it’s a national issue. A national issue, only the Syrians can choose someone they trust. Doesn’t matter if I trust someone or not. Whoever the Syrians trust will be in that position.
President al-Assad: Terrorists are main obstacle of any real political advancement
Question 13:Let me see if I understood well. Which is the real timetable, which is exactly your timetable, I mean the realistic timetable to get out of this crisis?
President Assad: The timetable, if you want to talk about schedule, this timetable starts after starting defeating terrorism. Before that, there will be no point in deciding any timetable, because you cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria, and they’re going to be – they are already they main obstacle of any real political advancement. If we talk after that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition. It’s enough. I mean if you want to talk about first of all having a new constitution, then referendum, then parliamentarian elections, then any kind of other procedure, whether presidential or any other thing, doesn’t matter. It won’t take more than two years.
Question 14:There’s something else about the opposition; in these years, you said that you couldn’t consider as an opposition those who are fighting. Did you change your mind?
President Assad: We can apply that to your country; you don’t accept any opposition that are holding machineguns in your country. That’s the case in every other country. Whoever holds a machinegun and terrorizes people and destroys private or public properties or kills innocents and whoever is a terrorist, he’s not opposition. Opposition is a political term. Opposition could be defined not through your own opinion; it could be defined only through the elections, through the ballot box.
Question 15:So what do you consider opposition at the moment? Political opposition?
President Assad: I mean, ask the Syrians who they consider opposition. If they elect them, they are the real opposition. So that’s why I said we can define, we can give definition to this after the elections. But if you want to talk about my own opinion, you can be opposition when you have Syrian grassroots, when you belong only to your country. You cannot be opposition while you are formed as person or as entity in the foreign ministry of another country or in the intelligence building of other countries. You cannot be a puppet, you cannot be a surrogate mercenary; you can only be a real Syrian.
President al-Assad: Every Syrian citizen who leaves this country, is a loss to Syria
Question 16:Now in Europe, in Italy, we see so many Syrians coming, Syrian refugees, they are refugees. What would you like to tell these fleeing people, to you escaping people?
President Assad: Of course I would say everyone who leaves this country, is a loss to Syria. That’s for sure, and we feel sad, we feel the suffering, because every refugee in Syria has a long story of suffering within Syria, and that’s what we should deal with by asking the question “why did they leave?” For many reasons. The first one, the direct threat by terrorists. The second one is the influence of terrorists in destroying many of the infrastructure and affecting the livelihood of those people. But the third one, which is as important as the influence of terrorists, is the Western embargo on Syria. Many of those, if you ask him “do you want to go back to Syria” he wants to go back right away, but how can he go back to Syria while the basics of his life, his livelihood, has been affected dramatically, so he cannot stay in Syria. The embargo influence of the West and the terrorist influence has put those people between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Question 17:But don’t you feel in any way responsible for what has happened to your people?
President Assad: You mean myself?
Question 18: Yes.
President Assad:The only thing that we did since the beginning of the crisis is fighting terrorism and supporting dialogue. What else can we do? Does anyone oppose the dialogue? Does anyone oppose fighting terrorism? If you want to talk about the details, and about propaganda in the West, we shouldn’t waste our time. It’s just propaganda, because the problem from the very beginning with the West is that they don’t need this president, they want this government to fail and collapse, so they can change it. Everybody knows that. The whole Western game is regime-change, regardless of the meaning of regime; we don’t have a regime, we have a state, but I’m talking about their concept and their principle. So, you can blame whoever you want, but the main blame is on the West who supported those terrorists who created ISIS in Syria and created al-Nusra because of the umbrella that they gave to those terrorist organizations.
Question 19:So no responsibility?
President Assad: Of course, as a Syrian, no, I’m not saying that we don’t do mistakes. You have mistakes on the tactical level that you do every day in your work, and you have strategies. And the strategies, we adopted these two approaches, but on the tactical level, you do many mistakes every day. Every Syrian is responsible for what happened. We are responsible as Syrians, when we allow these terrorists to come to Syria, because of some Syrians who have the same mentality, and some Syrians who accepted to be puppets to the Gulf states and to the West. Of course we’re taking responsibility, while if you want to talk about my responsibility, it’s something you talk about details. I mean it’s difficult to judge now.
Question 20:I would like to ask you: how was your trip to Moscow?
President Assad: It was a trip to discuss the military situation, because it happened nearly two weeks after the Russians started the airstrikes, and to discuss the political process, because it was, again, a few days before Vienna 1. It was very fruitful, because the Russians understand very well this region, because they have historical relations, they have embassies, they have all kinds of necessary relations and means to play a role. So, I can describe it by fruitful visit.
Question 21: From Rome, from the Vatican, the Pope said that killing in the name of God is a blasphemy. And the question, first of all, is this war really a war of religion?
President Assad: No, actually, no. It’s not a religious war. It’s between people who deviated from the real religion, mainly of course, Islam, towards extremism, which we don’t consider as part of our religion. It’s a war between the real Muslims and the other extremists. This is the core of the war today. Of course, they give it different titles; war against Christians, war about other sects. This is only headlines the extremists use to promote their war, but the real issue is the war between them and the rest of the Muslims, the majority who are mainly moderate.
Question 22: Even if they kill in the name of God? They kill saying Allah Akbar?
President Assad: Exactly, that’s how they can promote their war. That’s why they use these holy words or phrase, in order to convince the other simple people in this region that they are fighting for Allah, for God, which is not true. And some of them, they use it with knowing that this is not true, and some of them are ignorant and they believe that this is a war for God. That’s the deviation, that’s why I said it’s a deviation; they are people who deviated from real Islam with knowing or without knowing.
Question 23: And what about the future of Christian people in Syria, in your country?
President Assad: Actually, this region, I think most of the Italians and many in the West know that this is a moderate region, a moderate society, especially Syria, whether politically or socially and culturally, and the main reason why we have this moderation is because we have this diversity in sects and ethnicities. But one of the most important factors is the Christian factor in the history of Syria, especially after Islam came to this region14 centuriesago. So, without them, this region will move more toward extremism. So, their future is important, but you cannot separate it from the future of the Syrians, it’s not separated. I mean, if you have a good future for the Syrians, the future of every component of our society will be good, and vice versa.
Question 24: Okay, so there’s a future for them here, because there seems to be a target in this war on Christian people.
President Assad:Not really, actually the number of Muslims that have been killed in Syria is much, much more than the Christians, so you cannot say there’s a target. Again, it’s only used by the extremists in order to promote their war, that it’s against the “atheists” and it’s for God and so on, but in reality, no.
Question 25:Mr. President, before the end of this interview, let me ask you one more question. How do you see your future? Do you consider the more important the future of Syria, or you staying in power?
President Assad: It’s self-evident; the future of Syria is everything for us. I mean, even my future cannot be separate, as a citizen. As a citizen, if my country is not safe, I cannot be safe. If it’s not good, I cannot have a good future, so that’s self-evident. But again, if you want to put them against each other, it’s like saying “if the president is here, the future of Syria is bad. If the president leaves, the future of Syria is good.” That’s the Western propaganda. Actually, that’s not the case within Syria. Within Syria, you have people who support that president, you have people who don’t support that president, so when my future is good for Syria, if the Syrian people want me as president, the future will be good. If the Syrian people don’t want me, and I want to cling to power, this is where for me being as president is bad. So it’s very simple. So, we don’t have to follow the Western propaganda to answer according to that propaganda, because it’s disconnected from reality. I have to answer you according to our reality.
Journalist:Okay, thank you, Mr. President. Thank for this opportunity.