This does not mean that any of these claims should be treated seriously, nor even that we should be paying too much attention to the person of Assad as people often make the mistake of doing. But it is to note that Assad’s own statements regularly betray the vacuousness of his narrative, as when he admits his reliance on the thousands of foreign troops fighting for him (stating that “Syria is for those who defend it”), a shameless admission incidentally for a “nationalist” leader who had spent the past 5 years stating that his enemies were all foreign extremists (even during the days of peaceful protests, the lie of course repeated by every other Middle Eastern regime, but credit to Assad’s loyal military he survived long enough to allow his mukhabarat to turn the fantasy of a “foreign jihadi” invasion into something on the ground) – or when stating that millions within his population are providing “refuge” to the “terrorist plot” (blaming it on a society-wide “ethical breakdown” – which presuming that was the case has been a society ruled over by his family for 40 years).
However, ultimately Assad’s a puppet and a figurehead. When Assad denies the use of barrel bombs (though he doesn’t deny the use of an airforce on urban centres inside his own country, saying “casualties are expected in war”) he may be a psychotic liar or he may not even know the full extent of what’s happening in his country. That’s not to excuse him, he is a person who would have used the same counter-insurgency 100 times even if he knew what the results would be down the line, but to state that he is not the central issue in the Syrian conflict [as the US has incidentally been trying to make out over the past 5 years, in order to limit the scope of the rebellion and potential change to a state with which it has had a stable, 40-year old collaborative relationship (yet a state with a resolutely radical and anti-colonial society, stemming from a century old Arabist tradition), which is why incidentally that Syrian civil society has since 2012 rejected the US’s “diplomatic/political solutions”, and their “there is no military solution for the rebels” bullshit, which seek to maintain the regime and sacrifice the figurehead, a la Egypt]. But it is to note that it is not Assad himself who has been willing to torture, rape, drop bombs from the sky on a 4-year daily basis and kill hundreds of thousands of people in his country, it is an entire set of state intelligence, hateful sectarian loyalists and security apparatuses. They can keep Assad if they think they’ll keep those as well.