DAMASCUS—During a meeting to review the body counts from his latest initiatives to retake rebel-held regions of the country, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad shared an extended laugh with his top military leaders on Thursday over the time in his life when he wanted to be a doctor and help people. “Oh man, can you even believe there was a period when I actually wanted to heal people, to help end their suffering?” said Assad, pausing the discussion of chemical weapons deployments to recall his youthful dream of providing lifesaving medical assistance to the sick and injured between gasps of laughter. “And it’s not like it was just a brief phase or something. I spent over a decade training. I even went to London for postgraduate study. God, there was even a point where I seriously considered working to help children. That’s so crazy.” After more than a minute spent clutching his abdomen in boisterous laughter, a beaming Assad reportedly emitted a few final chuckles, wiped away a tear of glee from the corner of his eye, and authorized sarin gas attacks on several villages outside the city of Hama.