The Obama Administration's Dishonesty on Syria
President Trump received a fair amount of ridicule back in February, when he publicly complained that he "inherited a mess" from the previous administration. Because the rhetoric mirrored statements made by President Obama eight years earlier (in regard to Bush and the economic collapse), critics were quick to point out that Obama left the U.S. economy in a much better state than he had found it.
But Trump was not simply referring to the economy. His words were aimed at a multitude of issues (both domestically and abroad) including his categorization of the Middle East as a "disaster." In reference to the situation Trump came into regarding Syria alone, it's difficult to say that he didn't have a point.
One can certainly argue that it's unbecoming of a president to openly complain about the environment he "inherited," whether we're talking about Trump or Obama (who played the Blame-Bush game for the entirety of his first term in office). After all, presidents are hired by the American electorate to address big problems; it comes with the job.
It can also be argued that Trump demonstrated breathtaking hypocrisy last week when he said, "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution."
As many have pointed out, President Trump was an outspoken advocate for not taking action to deal with Bashar al-Assad back in 2013. Trump even went as far as to mock President Obama on multiple occasions for merely considering using our military against the Assad regime. Trump insisted that the situation in Syria was not our country's problem. And in the end, Obama proceeded exactly as Trump wanted him to.
What cannot be argued is that Obama's policy on Syria was a success. It was an extraordinary failure, and the result of that failure has been daily violence, hundreds of thousands of deaths, expanded Russian influence in the region, and a terrible refugee crisis. And as we've recently learned, the 2013 chemical weapons agreement between Syria and Russia — that the Obama administration repeatedly assured us had removed WMDs from the conflict — was an utter joke.
"We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiable give up its chemical weapons stockpile," former national security advisor Susan Rice bragged in an interview back in January of this year.
The horrifying images we saw on television last week of dead children and convulsing victims fighting to stay alive dispelled that myth once and for all. And as it turns out, the Obama State Department likely knew as early as a year ago that the U.S.-brokered agreement was bunk.
In a piece on Monday, The Weekly Standard's Jeryl Bier drew attention to a State Department report from April of 2016 which included the following passages:
"The United States cannot certify that the Syrian Arab Republic is in compliance with its obligations under the CWC. The United States assesses that Syria has used chlorine as a chemical weapon systematically and repeatedly against the Syrian people every year since acceding to the Convention..."
"...the United States assesses that Syria did not declare all the elements of its chemical weapons program, required by Article III of the CWC and that Syria may retain chemical weapons as defined by the CWC."
"In addition to assessed CW use and maintenance of a residual CW capability, Syria failed to meet most of its milestone destruction dates."
"The Syrian declaration contained obvious gaps, discrepancies and omissions, as detailed above, thus placing Syria in non-compliance with the CWC declaration requirements and the additional declaration requirements[.]"
These findings support new statements from former Obama officials who are now admitting that the administration knew all along that there were still chemical weapons in Syria.
Despite that, President Obama himself made this statement in a speech just four months ago [emphasis added]:
"Just think about what we’ve done these last eight years without firing a shot. We’ve rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. That’s not just my assessment, that’s the assessment of Israeli intelligence, even though they were opposed to the deal. We’ve secured nuclear materials around the globe, reducing the risk that they fall into the hands of terrorists. We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical weapons program."
Anyone who still has confidence in our "roll back" of Iran's nuclear program might want to start worrying.
This begs the question: What consequences are there for the Obama administration, having once again misled the American public on a very serious issue? The short answer is likely "none," as was the case with the administration's assurances (while still in power) on Obamacare, Benghazi, I.R.S.-targeting, and more.
For a news-media industry that is always quick to point out President Trump's dishonesty (as it should), it would be nice if some of that aggression could be reserved for the often-more consequential dishonesty that comes from the other side of the political aisle.