In one of the most fascinating foreign policy interviews of all time, Fox News aired an unedited, lengthy and exclusive interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday.
The in-depth interview focused on diplomacy, chemical weapons, the death toll from the two-year-old war, the rebels’ goals, future governing and the region’s stability.
Assad appeared calm, comfortable and yet delusional, talking in almost perfect English, as he consistently labeled the rebels as “terrorists,” claiming that 80 - 90% of the opposition fighting against his military was comprised of Al Qaeda supporters and other jihadists.
In talking about the origins of the conflict, Assad failed to recognize that the war started with simple government opposition to his policies and a lack of freedoms in Syria.
Assad was straight-faced and tranquil when he deceived the viewers by claiming “civil wars start from within…we don’t have these lines.”
The Syrian president was unequivocal in his consistent assertion that he was fighting foreign extremists in his country.
“We are against the violence. But what would you do when the terrorists attack your country and kill the people?”
Assad then went on to say it was the law of any government to fight back and protect its citizens, laughably comparing his actions to those of the United States government.
He asked, “What did you do in Los Angeles in the 90’s, when you had rebels? Didn’t you send your army? You did.”
Assad went on, however, and seemingly admitted that his decisions weren’t completely peaceful. He admitted that he had helped “the majority of the people … but sometimes in certain circumstances … you have to take the less harmful decision.”
He said after the conflict is over, serious challenges remain for Syria.
“Extremists … have left so many side effects within the hearts and minds at least in the young people in Syria … what would you expect from children that’s been watching beheading and bar-b-quing heads … I’m sure it has a lot of psychological side effects.”
Fox News’ Greg Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot pushed past Assad’s spin, focusing on his failed policies and asking the Syrian president about the hope many had after his father’s death that he would help usher in a new form of government in Syria. Assad responded by saying that reform is a long social process but that “I’m still a reformer.”
Palkot continued to challenge Assad by asking if he had waged a war of attrition for more than two years by shelling Syrian cities and bringing the Syrian people to their knees. The president responded by saying that the terrorists were the ones living in these areas and that everyday Syrians had been terrorized by the extremists and had mostly fled.
Assad also challenged every fact Palkot and Fox News contributor, former Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, tried to use against him, saying that estimates were not facts and that it was impossible to know the actual numbers.
Assad lied about his country’s intentions to give up its chemical weapons by characterizing Syria’s 2003 suggestion to the United Nations Security Council that it would support a chemical weapons free Middle East. Contrary to what Assad is now claiming, Syria’s 2003 suggestion wasn’t an admission of chemical weapons but an attempt to get the U.N. to force Israel to give up its weapons.
Assad challenged Obama and Kerry’s actions as “a blatant lie” despite complimenting the American people on several occasions and instructing Obama to “listen to the common sense of your people” on air strikes.
Assad said “Sarin gas was used in March” by the rebels but committed his country to turning over and destroying the chemical weapons he has acknowledged it has.
He even said, it “doesn’t matter where they go” (to be destroyed) because using chemical weapons is “a crime.”
Despite the fact that the U.N. and others have confirmed that the Assad government was the one using the chemical weapons, Assad responded by rambling about the fact that his army didn’t use them when they were losing ground to the rebels, which must mean that they also didn’t use them now when they are winning.
Kucinich helped secure the exclusive Fox News interview with Assad conducted with Fox News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot. The two traveled to Syria with Executive Vice President of News Michael Clemente, a former producer for ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings. Clemente oversaw the interview conducted at the Presidential Palace in Damascus.
Charlie Rose of CBS and PBS interviewed Assad earlier this month but no other U.S. outlet has been able to secure an interview with the Syrian president since 2011.
ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos traveled to Lebanon recently under the impression that he, too, would get an interview with Assad but it never happened.
Assad’s performance was chilling considering he so easily and comfortably lied about his government’s actions and intentions. And yet, his demeanor was so measured that he appeared to be anything but angry about the chaos around him. He is clearly feeling empowered by the Russians’ diplomatic success.
Richard Grenell is a Fox News Contributor. He served as the spokesman for four U.S. Ambassadors to the U.N. including John Negroponte, John Danforth, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad.