It’s strange to watch a leader of a country answer questions for an American audience, knowing that the United States is mulling over a decision to send rockets his way. What did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad think he could get out of Monday night’s interview with Charlie Rose — a chance to warm Americans to his perspective, a chance to scare them away from conflict in the country with talk of retribution?
During the interview, Rose, stoned-faced as ever, asked a person whom many consider to be a ruthless dictator with the blood of a hundred thousand citizens on his hands, point blank: “Why do you have such a stockpile of chemical weapons?”
For the record, Assad denied responsibility for the Aug. 21 chemical strike that reportedly killed some 1,400 people. He wouldn’t comment on whether Syria had a stockpile of chemical weapons. He said he “didn’t know” if chemical warfare is comparable to a nuclear attack because “we haven’t tried either (laugh).” He thinks those U.S. intelligence reports that say he did, indeed, try chemical weapons are “nonsense.” Of the Aug. 21 attack, here’s his exchange with Rose:
BASHAR al-ASSAD: We — we’re not in the area where the al — where the — where the alleged chemical attack was happened, as it alleged. We’re not sure that anything happened because —
CHARLIE ROSE: Even at this date, you are not sure that chemical weapons, even though you have seen the videotape, even though you’ve seen the bodies, even though —
ASSAD: No, I have —
ROSE: — your own officials have been there.
ASSAD: I haven’t finished. Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically. Our soldiers. They went to the hospital — as casualties because of chemical weapons. But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We’re not there. Our forces — our police, our institutions don’t exist. How can you talk about what happened if you don’t have evidences?
But perhaps the scene-stopper of the interview came when Rose asked Assad what he thought about Obama’s red line, or the world’s red line, on chemical weapons. Without pause or affect, Assad replied, “What red line?”