By Ray Fleming

“B eing in denial” is a phrase often used to describe someone who will not or cannot recognise the reality that surrounds him or her. We don't often see national leaders who are clearly in denial but President Bashr al-Assad of Syria seemed to be in this condition in the TV interview by Barbara Walters of ABC News earlier this week. His claim that more members of the Syrian armed forces have been killed by civilians than civilians by the armed forces was only one of a number of statements divorced from what is known of recent events in Syria.

Even stranger was his assertion that he has no control over the Syrian army, given that the country's Constitution states clearly that he is Commander-in-Chief. “We don't kill our people,“ he said, “no government in the world kills its people unless it's led by a crazy person.” Is it possible that President Assad is being held incommunicado by other powerful elements in the Syrian government and genuinely does not know what is really happening? That seems unlikely, although the Syrian Army has always been a law unto itself. All the same, Assad's demeanour during the interview seemed odd and uneasy. Were the questions put to him by the veteran Barbara Walters taking him into unfamiliar territory? Was his interview a cry for help to the outside world?

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