Agree with him or not, accuse him of destroying Syria; condemn him for the death of hundreds of thousands, but Bashar al-Assad has been consistent throughout.
Yes, he’s a dictator. And yes, you might say he’s responsible for the break up of his country for the sole purpose of preserving his regime, but Assad has shown to be a tenacious ruler.
You might say he instigated the violence and is undoubtedly the architect of the civil war that’s torn his nation, but Assad has been upfront about his intentions through and through.
Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising this March four years ago, Assad made it clear that he will defend his rule regardless of the consequences.
‘Apres moi le deluge’
He was straightforward; if he had to go, so does the country. The collapse of this regime would mean the collapse of the state regardless of the costs for Syria and Syrians.
And when faced with the possibility of an international intervention to halt the violence, Assad warned of an “earthquake” and “tens of Afghanistans”.
The man didn’t sugarcoat or mince his words. He wasn’t coy or implicit. He explicitly threatened to fight with all means at hand until the end.
Aside from the use of chemical weapons, the Assad regime improved on the barrel bombs strategy that has proved no less deadly and perhaps more destructive than chemical weapons. Packed with TNT, oil and pieces of steel, the barrels are dropped from the air on Syrian towns like Aleppo with terrible cost to people and property.
Assad has been adamant from the beginning that he would do what it takes to meet his desired ends. And he waged a terrible campaign of death and destruction under the pretext of fighting the terrorists.
And with half of the country under siege and the other half displaced, Assad is unflinching.
A democratic dictator
What started four years ago as peaceful protests demanding limited justice and reform soon turned into a national upheaval demanding political change. But instead of easing the repression and reconciling with the opposition, the Assad regime struck back with iron fist. In reaction, the protest movement armed in defense and the conflict grew ever more violent and chaotic.
Is he in total denial? Or is he just as obstinate a leader as his father was during three decades of dictatorship, reckoning that if one maintains one's position, the world will eventually come around?
But for Assad, the Syrian uprising, dare I say the Syrian revolution, was a “farce” – a “fake spring”, a conspiracy against Syria for which the Arab and the Europeans will “pay a heavy price”.
After all, Syria was nothing like Tunisia or Egypt. Syria was governed by a nationalist popular regime that Assad led personally. To prove his point, Assad changed the constitution and insisted on running for elections.
And once again Assad proved unswerving.
Just as the deaths count skyrocketed to an incredible 200,000 Syrians, the proud tyrant headed to the ballot box. He presumably won 88.7 percent of the vote when only a few could or would want to vote.
The inauguration ceremony was a total success just as the entire nation was falling apart, with millions displaced, hurting and dying. It featured happy crowds celebrating and cheering the triumphant leader – the saviour of his people. I N C R E D I B L E.
But hey, how bad could things get? Alas, “Syria is entering the dark ages, literally and metaphorically”. As one group of scientists have concluded, 83 percent of the lights in Syria “have gone out” since the start of the conflict.
And 2014 proved to be the worst year yet for Syrian civilians according to aid agencies. The nation’s wealth, infrastructure, institutions and much of its workforce have been “obliterated”.
The death toll climbs, the casualties mount, the outrage grows louder, but Assad remains defiant with an ever-growing penchant for violence.
Clean and clinical
Four years, four million refugees and hundreds of thousands of casualties have changed Syria forever, but not Assad. He’s the same. He remains fit, well-dressed and well-shaved.
As BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reported last month: “I was expecting the president to exhibit some sign of strain. But he had not noticeably changed since the last interview I had done with him, in 2010.”
He added: “Western leaders often age noticeably in office … But President Assad, who is 49, did not seem to have been worn away much, physically, by the past few years.”
Could it be clear consciousness? Assad categorically denies the use of barrel bombs that’s been well documented. He also denies blocking humanitarian aid to the Syria people despite claims to the contrary by some 21 aid organisations. In short, Assad denies any responsibility for the ongoing Syrian catastrophe.
Is he in total denial? Or is he just as obstinate a leader as his father was during three decades of dictatorship, reckoning that if one maintains one’s position, the world will eventually come around?
Alas, some are indeed making the absurd claim that since Assad is part of the problem, he’s part of the solution. That is sure to send a message across the globe that if you kill enough people, you might just save your dominion.
Perhaps, Assad is projecting certainty and steadiness just like other wartime leaders do in difficult times. But I suspect, from looking closely into his rhetoric and comportment, Assad harbours absolutely no doubt about the rightness of his path.
That’s the type of dangerous perhaps fascist mindset shared by ISIL leaders that’s not only destroyed a country, but also paved the way for the undoing of the entire region.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.