The Obama administration responded with a May 31 background briefing by “senior administration officials” who were unable to answer even the most basic questions about whether there would be any U.S. response. In a June 13, 2013 briefing, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. intelligence community had “high confidence” the Assad regime had used chemical weapons multiple times during the last year. But still there was no action.
Then came the brutal August 21 chemical weapons attack killing more than 1400 people; the mobilization of the U.S. military to deliver what Obama said would be a “shot across the bow”; and Obama’s last minute decision to call it off and to refer the matter to Congress. It was not long before Obama was asserting he hadn’t set the red line — “the world” had — and that his credibility was not at stake, Congress’s was.
They will be studying for years how Barack Obama turned his August 2012 red line into something that wasn’t red and wasn’t (according to him) even his.
The collapse of Obama’s credibility at home and abroad over the last year is an exceedingly dangerous development. Both his own citizens and the citizens of the world have noticed he is an inadequately clothed emperor, enamored of his own words, always believing he can convince you they didn’t mean what you know they meant. Iran knows the Syrian red line was not simply a press conference remark but a message delivered last year by Obama to Iran to deliver to Syria, and Iran undoubtedly drew the logical conclusion from watching Obama’s later efforts to redefine his words and make every effort possible not to enforce them.
Yesterday, Kerry told David Gregory:
We always said — President Obama has been crystal clear — don’t rush, we’re not in a rush, we need to get the right deal, no deal is better than a bad deal.
But if France and Israel had not spoken out, this weekend the U.S. would have signed a very bad deal, a sucker’s deal. The president and his secretary of state would have told us it was a good deal, an exercise of smart power, a sign the tide of war is receding, another triumph just like Syria.