Arguably some of the most significant events since the eight-year long war's start have played out in Syria with rapid pace over just the last month alone, including Turkey's military incursion in the north, the US pullback from the border and into Syria's oil fields, the Kurdish-led SDF's deal making with Damascus, and the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All of this is why a televised interview with President Bashar Assad was highly anticipated at the end of this week.
Assad's commentary on the latest White House policy to "secure the oil" in Syria, for which US troops have already been redeployed to some of the largest oil fields in the Deir Ezzor region, was the biggest pressing question. The Syrian president's response was unexpected and is now driving headlines, given what he said directly about Trump, calling him the "best American president" ever – because he’s the "most transparent."
“When it comes to Trump you may ask me a question and I’ll give you an answer which might seem strange. I tell you he’s the best American president,” Assad said, according to a translation provided by NBC.
“Why? Not because his policies are good, but because he is the most transparent president,” Assad continued.
“All American presidents commit crimes and end up taking the Nobel Prize and appear as a defender of human rights and the ‘unique’ and ‘brilliant’ American or Western principles. But all they are is a group of criminals who only represent the interests of the American lobbies of large corporations in weapons, oil and others,” he added.
Syrian President Assad said on Thursday that President Trump is the best type of president for a foe due to his open talk of annexing Middle Eastern oil. pic.twitter.com/B9AZdnwoRK— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 1, 2019
“Trump speaks with the transparency to say ‘We want the oil’.” Assad's unique approach to an 'enemy' head of state which has just ordered the seizure of Syrian national resources also comes after in prior years the US president called Assad “our enemy” and an “animal.”
Trump tweeted in April 2018 after a new chemical attack allegation had surfaced: “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
A number of mainstream outlets commenting on Assad's interview falsely presented it as "praise" of Trump or that Assad thinks "highly" of him; however, it appears the Syrian leader was merely presenting Trump's policy statements from a 'realist' perspective, contrasting them from the misleading 'humanitarian' motives typical of Washington's rhetoric about itself.
That is, Damascus sees US actions in the Middle East as motivated fundamentally by naked imperial ambition, a constant prior theme of Assad's speeches, across administrations, whether US leadership dresses it up as 'democracy promotion' or in humanitarian terms characteristic of liberal interventionism. As Assad described, Trump seems to skip dressing up his rhetoric in moralistic idealism altogether, content to just unapologetically admit the ugly reality of US foreign policy.