Syrian President Bashar al-Assad suggested President-elect Donald Trump could be an "ally" in his regime's declared fight against terrorism. Assad has presided over a hideous civil war that's ravaged his nation's cities, led to some half a million deaths and the displacement of roughly more than half the country's population. But his fight against dangerous rebel factions like the Islamic State won him tepid sympathy from Trump, who has argued that the United States should focus on defeating the jihadists rather than consider regime change.
Assad, in an interview with a Portuguese state broadcaster, said he didn't quite know what to expect from a Trump administration but hoped that it would aid Damascus and regional allies Russia and Iran in defeating its extremist enemy.
"We cannot tell anything about what [Trump is] going to do," said Assad. "But if, let’s say if he is going to fight the terrorists, of course we are going to be ally, natural ally in that regard with the Russian, with the Iranian, with many other countries who wanted to defeat the terrorists." (You can read the full transcript here.)
The Assad regime has spent years bombing its own civilians in rebel-held pockets of the country, most recently with the support of Russian sorties. The Obama administration has refused to take decisive, punitive action against Assad's forces in part because of the stunning geopolitical complexity of the conflict in Syria, where a complicated array of militias and foreign powers are all part of the battle. Still, for the limited role it has played in supporting a handful of rebel groups, Washington has earned Assad's opprobrium.
The Americans, suggested Assad, "think they are the judge of the world; they’re not. They are sovereign country, they are an independent country, but this is their limit; they don’t have to interfere in any other country."
This is rhetoric that isn't so distant from various comments Trump made over the course of the election campaign, where he decried American interventionism in the Middle East, celebrated the right of secular strongmen to brutally suppress their Islamist opposition, and suggested that Americans didn't have the moral high ground to criticize the authoritarian behaviors of other governments.
As my colleague Liz Sly wrote in a lengthy analysis piece on what the Middle East in the era of Trump may look like, all indications suggest that anti-democratic despots will feel no less comfortable in their posts:
Assad’s government is exulting over Trump’s election because of his pledges to join forces with Russia against the Islamic State and Syrian rebels, according to Bassam Abu Abdullah, a professor at Damascus University who supports Assad. The expectation in Damascus now is that Washington will sever support for Syrian rebels, join in bombing them alongside Russia and perhaps restore diplomatic relations with Assad, he said.
“Absolutely this is good for Syria,” he said. “This means the U.S. will not be looking for regime change.”
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