Red Lines and John Kerry: the Obama Policy

By | September 8, 2018

[September 8, 2018]  A year ago I criticized U.S. policy on the use of Chemical Weapons by Syrian President Assad.  Although he denied it, a red line was drawn by U.S. President Barack Obama.1  Confirmed by his Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote in his new book Every Day Is Extra (2018) that Obama’s failure to enforce the red line caused a series of problems for the United States.

During an interview on Face the Nation, host Margaret Brennan asked John Kerry about the red line.2  She reminded him that Sarin gas attacks did continue under President Trump’s administration yet Kerry admitted that he did support Trump’s response to those chemical attacks “partially” as well as that Obama “should have taken similar action.”

“You were sent around the world to rally support for other countries to stand with the United States to say that this red line on use of chemical weapons needed to be enforced. How difficult was that for you given that the president blinked? He decided not to go through with those military strikes,” – Margaret Brennan, Face the Nation, September 2, 2018.

John Kerry’s response is interesting because he hedges his comments.

“I thought we were going to go forward. I thought that weekend was the weekend. I expected the phone call to be telling me that he had decided we were striking that night or whatever was going to happen, and it wasn’t,” John Kerry in same interview

It should be remembered that politically established red lines carry two important components that make them effective.  First, the red line should be made with absolute clarity and why it is being made.  Second, the specific punishment that will penalize anyone who crosses that red line.

To establish a red line and then fail to enforce it means you will lose credibility.  John Kerry admitted this as much.  There is little doubt that the Obama administration made Kerry’s diplomacy more difficult and this book confirms that assertion.

The problem, however, is less of an issue directly for the United States (loss of face and credibility) but for the citizens of Syria.  They have been the victims of Sarin gas attacks notwithstanding the deal Pres. Obama made with Russian Pres. Putin in lieu of enforcing the red line.

When senior leaders fail, the price is often high.  In this case, a lot of Syrians died.  Yes, John Kerry should regret what happened … but past Pres. Obama should be doubly ashamed.


  1. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground [in the Syrian War], that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.  That would change my calculus.  That would change my equation.” – U.S. President Barack Obama, August 20, 2012
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Red Lines and John Kerry: the Obama Policy

  1. Willie Shrumburger

    As of this morning, John Kerry’s book had only one review (a 5-star on Amazon). I don’t think the reader is anything other than a mindless follower who would have given it a high score if the pages were all blank.

  2. Martin Shiell

    I haven’t read John Kerry’s book but I will. In a few weeks, it will be in the discount bin at my local bookstore. That’s when I will pick it up. I can’t imagine there being much of a surprise. He is clearly trying to change the history of his own dishonorable behavior. He is a successful man; very successful indeed. But that doesn’t make him an honorable man. In fact, many still consider him a traitor.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      He deserves the traitor label. He should carry it to his grave and be reminded of it every day. What we do in life does echo throughout history.

  3. Gil Johnson

    We used to say “don’t cross this line in the sand.” I like it better than “red lines.” But that’s me holding onto old ways of doing things. Red lines should not be crossed unless there is compelling reason to do so. I had several bullies who told me to give them money. I refused. So I crossed a small red line. I got beat up a few times for it but it was worth it at the time. I never gave up my money.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      I liked your story about standing up to bullies.

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for a great summary of red lines.

  5. Ronny Fisher

    Another good Saturday morning read that goes well with a cup of coffee, donut, and sleeping dog.

  6. Dale Paul Fox

    Thanks for a second good article on ‘red lines’ and how they are to be used.

  7. Andrew Dooley

    I admit that I never liked John Kerry after the Swift Boat info came out about his duplicity and dishonesty. Kerry just needs to fade away and stop talking. His book is an attempt to rewrite his dismal legacy.

  8. Army Captain

    Excellent summary of strategic level thinking and how it can succeed and fail and the results of failure.

    1. Billy Kenningston

      Worm is an insult to worms. He is a traitor, a thief, crazy liberal nutjob.

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