'Special Report' All-Star panel reacts to Assad interview

Analysis of talk with Syrian leader


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad sitting down with Fox News for nearly an hour. A wide ranging interview. There is a lot of things to talk about and analyze in this interview. Our thanks to Greg Palkot, Dennis Kucinich, and the entire Fox crew for their efforts in bringing this to us.

Let's bring in our special expanded panel tonight. Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard; Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen; Juan Williams, columnist with The Hill; and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Plus, another opportunity to make your voice heard on this panel. The Bing SR Pulse begins now in our expanded panel segments through the rest of the hour. You can join in the conversation at bing.com/politics. You can vote on what this panel is saying. Just log on to have your own seat on the panel.

OK. This interview. We will break it down in three panel segments.  Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Bashar al-Assad has a reputation, has had for over a decade that he's been in power, for being simple and stupid as opposed to the father who was a wily dictator.

I think if you watched him for this hour you'd have to conclude the exact opposite. He is very smart, extremely sophisticated, and one of the great liars of all time. He spoke for almost an hour. I don't think there was a true word in anything he said including the words "and" and "but."

I'll give you two examples. One is he talked about the terrorists as being sort of at the start of the war, the reason he began the war, the reason he's leveled all the cities. It began as a demonstration by school children in Daraa who he then tortured. And it remained a popular uprising for at least a year before any of the so-called terrorists arrived.

And secondly, when you watch him and you get the sense of this sincerity and the warmth of the softness of the voice of a guy who cares about how the terrible terrorists, meaning the Al Qaeda types, the jihadists, have come into his countries and infiltrated it with a terrible ideology, Assad is the guy who created and supported Al Qaeda in Iraq after America entered Iraq.

He was the one who channeled all of these elements who we now decry so sincerely in order to go into Anbar, into Iraq and to kill Americans. So he is getting the blow back of the people he invited and with whom he was completely comfortable as long as the task was to kill Americans.

But, look at his success, how smart he is. We are sitting with him for an hour, treating him like a great statesman, a month after he ordered an entirely criminal chemical weapons attack which killed 1,500 of his people and he did it without any qualms whatsoever.

I say he's a brilliant diplomat and a war criminal at the same time.

BAIER: Juan, he did a delicate rhetorical dance around the chemical weapons question at first. Eventually got that he had them. And that he would adhere to the Russian proposal saying, whichever country is ready to take the risk of those materials let them take them.

Your thoughts on this interview.

JUAN WILLIAMS, THEHILL.COM: That's an interesting point because he said that the U.S. can have them. It's going to take a lot of money, billions.  He said it could take a year to remove these weapons. But he didn't, at all, withdraw from the deal. To the contrary he said he is fully committed as a party to this deal, and to all aspects of it. The inspectors and the like. He said in fact he thought the U.S. had forced the inspectors to cut the inspections short.

I think the news that came out of this was that he said there was sarin gas used. But the lie that he then tells, he said the use of the sarin gas, it's despicable, it's a crime. He then says, however, that it's used by the terrorists. And he says the Russians have evidence from their satellites that it was a different trajectory coming from a different place, not what the weapons inspectors, not what Western powers and the U.N. say.

So he contradicts that and then he says that 80 -- I believe he said like 80 to 83 countries, Bret, have supplied these rebels that have come in. That this is not grass roots opposition that he's fighting. He's fighting people he said that come from the United States, from Britain, from Qatar.  He says this is the supply of rebels.

Well, this is just nonsense. This is just not true. But he has made this up now that he is defending the Syrian people. So he is delusional on this point.

BAIER: James, you just traveled with Secretary of State Kerry as he made his efforts to solidify the allies overseas. Your thoughts on this interview.

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS: Well, first again, as you did, I want to congratulate the Fox News team that pulled this off. This kind of thing is not easily or often accomplished. And this is a terrific accomplishment for our whole team.

Most broadly it struck me as another example of what Hanna Arendt called the "Banality of Evil." And that's why it's so valuable to hear from this man at this kind of length because it is a reminder that even the most monstrous criminality is yet just another subset of human behavior. That's a profoundly troubling fact to grapple with but it is a fact.

And it is also what makes this not an act of propaganda to show this interview in its entirety. He struck me, as Charles was mentioning, as a skilled rhetorician. He is adept at questioning the premises of questions, challenging those premises, attacking specific word choices, broadening out his answers to questions that were framed much more specifically.

He appears sincerely to believe that 90 percent of the opposition are comprised of jihadis and that he is in what he is doing standing steadfast for the Syrian Arab Republic and, in response to a specific question from Congressman Kucinich, likened himself to a surgeon who is kind of excising a cancerous wound.

Two final points. He called America the greatest country of the world and said that that is self-evident, which is an assertion that puts him at odds with his patron, Russian President Vladimir Putin who in the New York Times op-ed questioned the concept of American exceptionalism.

And finally, I predict that you may see calls from viewers, from critics, et cetera, for us to give a like amount of airtime to the Syrian opposition. Having just acquainted the American people in a very valuable way with the mindset of the Syrian regime it may be seen as incumbent on us to make sure that the Syrian opposition is heard, if not in equal measure, in some kind of measure.

BAIER: We will talk to the second floor in New York about that, James.  Thanks.


ROSEN: I will leave it to you.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, General Salim Idris has given an interview to Fox News. I believe it was just last week. So he's already had some time if not a full hour.

Look, I think, to pick up on what Charles, and James, and Juan have said, Bashar Assad did himself some good in this interview. It's not difficult to see why U.S. officials have been touting him as a reformer. If you just listen to what he said, if you haven't been following the sort of ins and outs of what's been happening on the ground in Syria over the past two years, if you're just tuning in and you're willing to take what he says at face value, he presented a pretty compelling case.

The problem, of course, is that everything he said -- virtually everything he said was untrue and there were hints in his presentation, I think, of the problems with the case that he made. On the first reference to the potential use of chemical weapons, I think there was a slip there. I think he said he was describing the prospect of an American attack. And he said the American attack would have been to punish the Syria -- I'm paraphrasing, punish Syria for using chemical weapons again.

Interesting way to -- for him to do it. Unprompted. That's how he brought it up. There were times at which he was totally nonsensical. There was one passage where within -- literally within a minute he says -- he was downplaying the use of sarin gas.

Look, any rebel can make sarin. First of all, any rebel can make sarin, basically saying this is no big deal. Anybody can do it. You can do it in the kitchen. Literally a minute later, he says that it couldn't have been the Syrian Army because chemical weapons can only be used by specialized units.

I mean, gross contradiction within the space of a minute. Obviously the man is not telling the truth. It's clear that he is lying and trying to make up for the problems that he is facing from the international coalition.

BAIER: More from the panel and from President Obama in the past day on this issue. Where is U.S. policy heading now?

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This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 19, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.