[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.
- “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