Barbara Walters calls Syrian dictator a ‘mild-mannered ophthalmologist’
ABC News personality Barbara Walters went to Syria this week to interview dictator Bashar al-Assad about his deadly crackdown on protesters and came back to report that he was “not a wild, crazy man.”
“Bashar al-Assad is a dictator by accident, a mild-manner ophthalmologist,” Walters told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Wednesday. “He studied medicine in England and found himself being thrust into the role of being Syria’s leader after the deaths of his dictator father and older brother.”
Earlier this month, the United Nations estimated that at least 4,000 protesters had been killed in demonstrations against Assad, including over 300 children.
“Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?” Walters asked the dictator, assuming that some form of crackdown was appropriate.
“They are not my forces,” Assad replied. “They are military forces [that] belong to the government.”
“But you have to give the order,” Walters noted.
“No, no, no,” Assad insisted. “No one’s command. There was no command to kill or be brutal.”
After viewing a portion of the interview, Stephanopolous observed: “We heard similar things from [former Libyan dictator] Gaddafi.”
“This man is not like Gaddafi,” Walters explained. “First of all, Gaddafi, his whole demeanor was that of a wild man. This man is highly educated, very calm as you can see, and as far as he’s concerned — well, Gaddafi did say he had the support of his people — but there’s just a whole difference in the way that he handles himself.”
Perhaps it should not come as a surprise that Walters would go easy on Assad since she returned from a 2008 vacation with the dictator and his family to tell her co-hosts on The View that he was “charming and intelligent.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday that the interview “either says that he’s completely lost any power that he had within Syria — that he’s simply a tool — or that he’s completely disconnected with reality.”
“It’s either disconnection, disregard, or, as he said, crazy. I don’t know,” Toner added.
“I vote for disconnect,” Walters said on Nightline Wednesday. “He’s not crazy.”
Watch this video from ABC’s Good Morning America, broadcast Dec. 7, 2011.