UNITED NATIONS – In the New Yorker interview published over the weekend, President Obama misrepresented his actions when he stated he vetoed a plan for the U.S. to intervene militarily on behalf of the rebel forces in Syria fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
Interviewer David Remnick failed to challenge Obama with evidence the United States is supplying the rebels in Syria with arms after pressing Congress to approve military intervention. The congressional lobbying effort failed after the United Nations was unable to corroborate Obama administration claims that the Assad regime was responsible for chemical attacks against Syrian civilians.
“I am not haunted by my decision not to engage in another Middle Eastern War,” Obama told Remnick.
“It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq.”
Obama, however, went on to affirm that the U.S. was financing and arming the opposition to Assad.
The president said that when he hears people “suggesting that somehow if we had just financed and armed the opposition earlier, that somehow Assad would be gone by now and we’d have a peaceful transition, it’s magical thinking.”
In the next section of the interview, Obama appears to contradict himself by asserting that the CIA could not find a single instance in which U.S. financing and supplying of arms to an insurgency turned out well, implying he decided not to aid the rebels in Syria.
“It’s not as if we didn’t discuss this extensively down in the Situation Room,” Obama said. “It’s not as if we did not solicit – and continue to solicit – opinions from a wide range of folks. Very early in this process, I actually asked the CIA to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”
Then, in another apparently contradictory explanation, Obama tips off his inclination to intervene in Syria. He argued his motivation is humanitarian, while stressing the U.S. is working to stop any financing and arming of the rebels in Syria because he is worried they could become radicalized, as did the U.S.-backed mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“And the truth is that the challenge there has been, and continues to be, that you have an authoritarian, brutal government who is willing to do anything to hang on to power, and you have an opposition that is disorganized, ill-equipped, ill-trained, and is self-divided. All of that is on top of some of the sectarian divisions,” Obama said.
“And, in that environment, our best chance of seeing a decent outcome at this point is to work the state actors who have invested so much in keeping Assad in power – mainly the Iranians and the Russians – as well as working with those who have been financing the opposition to make sure that they’re not creating the kind of extremist force that we saw emerge out of Afghanistan when we were financing the mujahedeen.”
On Sept. 10, 2013, in a nationally televised address, Obama reversed his previous policy by calling off a planned military strike on Syria, deciding instead to ask Congress to authorize the use of force.
With his statement, Obama “evolved” in his foreign policy regarding Syria, steering away from a commitment he appeared to make at a White House press briefing Aug. 20, 2012. At that time, Obama said any attempt by Assad to move or use Syria’s chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” triggering a direct U.S. military response.
After failing to convince Congress to authorize force against Syria, Obama decided finally to order, on his own authority, the CIA to supply arms to the Syrian rebels.
“The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures,” wrote Ernesto Londoño and Greg Miller in the Washington Post Sept. 11, 2013. “The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear – a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.”
The collapse of Obama’s Syrian foreign policy has drawn comment from Washington observers generally favorable to the Obama White House.
“It’s hard to pinpoint just when, exactly, Barack Obama’s Syria policy fell apart. Was it in December, when Islamists humiliated U.S.-backed rebels by seizing what limited supplies America had given them?” asked Michael Weiss in Politico Magazine Jan. 2.
“Was it back in September, when Obama telegraphed his reluctance to enforce his own “red line” after the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people? Was it in the months beforehand, when the administration quietly and mysteriously failed to make good on its pledge to directly arm the rebels? Or did it collapse in August 2011, when Obama called on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go, only to do almost nothing to make it happen?”
Kerry pushes Congress to approve attack on Assad
In August, Secretary of State Kerry accused the Assad government of covering up the use of chemical weapons in what Kerry characterized as “a cowardly crime” and a “moral obscenity” that shocked the world’s conscience. Kerry maintained that the Obama administration had “undeniable” evidence that the Assad government was culpable in the use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria the previous week.
On Aug. 26, 2013, WND published video evidence from reliable Middle Eastern sources that indicated the sarin nerve gas attacks were launched by the rebel forces, not by the Assad government.
Assad rejected Kerry’s charges, labeling allegations that his government forces used chemical weapons as “preposterous” and “completely politicized.”
“How is it possible that any country would use chemical weapons, or any weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its own forces are located?” Assad asked in the interview with Izvestia, according to a translation provided by Syria’s official news agency and published by the Los Angeles Times. “This is preposterous! These accusations are completely politicized and come on the back of the advances made by the Syrian Army against the terrorists.”
On Sept. 3, 2013, WND reported United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced samples collected by the U.N. inspection team in Syria were being transferred to chemical laboratories for inspection.
“The whole process will be done strictly adhering to the highest established standards of verification recognized by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nerisky told reporters in New York.
On Sept. 4, 2013, WND reported Kerry, joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, appeared before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to explain why the Obama administration wanted congressional authorization to launch what Obama had described as a limited military attack on Syria.
Kerry explained that, even though the war in Syria is a civil war, U.S. credibility was still on the line.
“We are talking about the credibility of America as a global power,” Kerry said. “We’re talking about sending a clear message to the dictators in Tehran and Pyongyang that there will be serious consequences for flouting the will of the international community and that the U.S. backs its words with action.”
Kerry insisted the CIA had indisputable proof the Assad regime has authorized and engaged in chemical weapons attacks, though the Obama administration has yet to make the evidence available to the American public or to the international community for examination.
Our intelligence agencies have assessed with high confidence that these innocent civilians were killed by sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the U.N. Security Council and outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993. They have also concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the Assad regime is responsible for the use of these horrific weapons.
I strongly agree with President Obama that the United States must respond to this flagrant violation of international law with a limited military strike to deter the further use of chemical weapons and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use them again.
Kerry suffered a major loss of credibility after WND reported on Sept. 6, 2013, that in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had relied upon a Georgetown University graduate student to make his argument that the United States should attack the Assad regime.
Kerry cited Elizabeth O’Bagy, a 26 year-old graduate student currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Arab studies and political science at Georgetown University who was working on a dissertation on woman’s militancy. She argued that the war in Syria was “not being waged entirely or even predominately by dangerous Islamists and al-Qaida die-hards.” On the contrary, she insisted, “the struggle is being led by “moderate opposition forces – a collection of groups known as the Free Syria Army.”
U.N. report doesn’t blame Assad
On Dec. 12, 2013, the United Nations, by refusing to assign blame, delivered the final blow to the Obama administration attempt to pin the chemical weapons attacks against civilians on the Assad regime.
The U.N. report found clear and convincing evidence chemical weapons had been used in Syria against civilians, including children, in at least five instances. But the U.N. declined to attribute responsibility to either the Assad regime or to the rebel forces.
In a searing criticism of the Obama administration, investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh published an article titled “Whose sarin?” in the London Review of Books on Dec. 19, 2013. He charged the administration misled the U.S. public in not disclosing the CIA knew the Syrian army was not the only party in the civil war with access to sarin gas.
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a “ruse.” The attack “was not the result of the current regime.”
He went so far as to accuse the Obama administration of falsifying information to push its claim the Assad regime was responsible:
A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analyzed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’