SYRIA SEPTEMBER 19, 2013
The funniest thing about Bashar al-Assad's interview with Fox's Dennis Kucinich and Greg Palkot was not Dennis Kucinich, surprisingly. It was the fact that Assad, a man responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 of his subjects, for the largest chemical weapons attack in recent history, and for doing it all with absolutely no remorse, speaks softly and carries a big lisp.
In fact, he's overwhelmingly reminiscent of Monty Python's rendering of Pontius Pilate in "The Life of Brian."
As for the substance of the interview, well, there wasn't much. It was Kucinich and Palkot, framed by a giant, decadently paneled room, asking Assad pointed, specific questions, and Assad doing what his "Russian friends" do so well: talk words until they mean nothing.
About having or not having chemical weapons, he insisted that Syria had never said one way or another—this was a very important point for him—though, yes, now he could say that, yes, Syria has chemical weapons.
Asked about their disposal and when and how this can be done, he spoke gibberish. "Yes, but we have to discuss these details with the organizations," Assad said. He said he didn't know "how much fast they can be." Then he used another well-known tactic, what the Russians call, "turning the arrows." "The time is not our problem. The problem is the organization." The Syrians, in other words, will provide an accounting of their arsenal—though now there's talk that they may miss their very first deadline—and will simply sit back, leaving the problems of locking the weapons down or destroying them to someone else. Good luck, world.
Assad had insisted the world wait for the U.N. report before drawing conclusions, and now that it has, he insisted that conclusions cannot be drawn because what is evidence anyway?
"That information is different from evidence," he said.
"You have to wait till you have the evidence. You can agree or disagree when you have the evidence," he said. "We have to discuss it with them…We cannot disagree without having the opposite evidence." He then, like his Russian friends, went on to construct a theoretical argument about the implausibility of any such evidence, much like Putin and the Russians have done: take physical evidence into the realm of theory, subject it to a barrage of counterfactuals and how-do-we-knows, watch the evidence disintegrate, then shape its ashes into your own version of events, that, for some reason, you insist, is far more plausible. (Tellingly, Assad's main objection was why would he use chemical weapons in close proximity to his own soldiers? He wouldn't want to hurt the soldiers. Has anyone thought about the soldiers?)
Here's a choice bit of arrow-turning dialogue from the interview. Palkot asks Assad about the rocket trajectories that indicate the chemical weapons were fired from the headquarters of Assad's Republican Guard:
Assad: Everything you mentioned is part of the report?
Palkot: Excuse me, sir?
Assad: Everything you mentioned is part of the report, or mixture?
Palkot: They’re all part of the report. These are all facts.
Assad: The report didn’t mention it regarding the Republican Guard, or things like this.
Palkot: They gave the azimuth tracking of the trajectory, and people have extrapolated from the trajectory, that that is where it was coming from, northwestern Damascus.
Assad: First of all, the sarin gas called the kitchen gas. Do you know why? Because anyone can mix sarin in his house.
Oh, and, uh, has Assad read the U.N. report? "No, not yet We have to look at it, we have to discuss it." (Sounds a lot like Putin's "steer the discussion back toward negotiations," does it not?)
As for the mass of video and photographic evidence of the chemical attack, Assad said: "No one has verified the credibility of the videos and the pictures," Assad said. "We live in a world of forgery."
In other words, nothing is knowable. Except for the things we're telling you. Everything else is muddy water and speculation, except for our speculation.
It's a familiar tactic, and hearing Assad go on like this adds another dimension of the Russian-Syrian relationship: arms, naval base, sticking it to America aside, there seems to be a real affinity in their world views. No wonder Assad spoke in the interview about how his own evidence is buttressed by Russian satellite images and other things the Russians had deduced. No wonder "those evidences have been turned over to the Russians," rather than to the U.N.