THE BLOG
09/11/2013 08:22 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

Did Al Assad Lie to Charlie Rose?

Even by the current debased standards of political discourse, the rhetoric about Syria has been both exceptionally childish and petulant.

Steve Coll gave me respite. And then I got an email with the above title from Paul Ekman. Dr. Ekman knows about lying. He wrote the book.

It wasn't a fair match. Assad and Charlie Rose were playing by different rules. Rose was after a truthful admission of what Assad had done - poison gassing his own people. Assad had no intention of admitting the truth, the trick was how to do that without having to lie - never say anything he knew was false, and which could easily be proven to be so. Instead he smothered Rose with every conceivable possible explanation other than the true one, challenging Rose to disprove each one. An impossible task.

Only once was Assad forthright -- asserting that he would not say whether or not he had poison gas stockpiles. The Israelis don't admit that they have nuclear weapons; why should he have to acknowledge possessing poison gas? In my terms, he was claiming the right to keep that secret.

Assad was a master of evasion, dodging, weaving, demanding absolute certainty; he treated the interview as a game of chess, making the necessary moves to avoid having to admit the evidence he knows (I believe) is there.

Only once did I see Assad slip. About the eighth minute of the interview when Assad claimed that his soldiers were attacked with chemical weapons, a very fast micro expression of enjoyment leaked, what I call duping delight. He was having fun forcing Rose to disprove that possibility. Ten minutes later when they discussed the "red line," a micro expression of contempt slipped out. Assad was superior to Rose and Obama. A better game player.

In the last minutes of the interview Assad's demeanor changed completely. He told, what I think, he believes is an accurate description of the situation in Syria, and his role as the rescuer of his country. Grant him his interpretation of events in Syria and it will be nearly impossible to persuade him to ever end the killing.

In the bleakness of the choices we as responsible adults sometimes face, intelligent and insightful perspectives are a blessing. If you're reading this, you're smart enough. I don't need to explain the gift Paul has shared.

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