By Saagar Enjeti
Secretary of State John Kerry claims President Barack Obama did not retreat from his chemical weapons red line, even as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad crossed it several times.
Kerry’s contention, laid out in a Tuesday talk at the U.S. Institute of Peace in D.C., is that Obama did not retreat because he was “always ready to bomb” the Syrian government if it did not comply with the 2013 deal struck to get chemical weapons out of Syria.
Kerry conceded to the audience that the notion that the U.S. did uphold the red line has taken hold as a narrative and hurt the credibility of the U.S. in future negotiations on Syria. “Its just not accurate,” Kerry lamented.
The terms of the deal contradict Kerry’s claims.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” Obama told reporters in August 2012. A year later, definitive reports confirmed widespread chemical weapons use by the Assad regime against civilians, including sarin gas.
Despite pressure from his own advisors, the international community, NATO, and U.S. allies, Obama demurred on his “red line.” Obama instead opted for a Russian-brokered deal with the Assad regime, in which Assad would give up his chemical weapons arsenal. “I’m very proud of this moment,” Obama told Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic. Obama elaborated, “I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”
The United Nations Organization on Chemical Weapons confirmed in 2016 that the chemical weapons deal has been repeatedly violated by the Syrian regime, in a major rebuke to Kerry’s claim.