After stumbling in Syria, NSC pushes blame on to Obama

Leaks to the NYTimes reveal dissatisfaction with Obama amongst his national security team after indecision burned both advocates and critics of military action.

October 24, 2013 00:36
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama briefing press about gov't shutdown, October 16, 2013.

Obama talking about gov't shutdown 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

WASHINGTON – Leaks to The New York Times in an article published Wednesday reveal one thing for certain that was previously unknown: President Barack Obama’s national security team is not at all happy with his handling of the Syria crisis.

A top-secret letter meant for the eyes of the president, and yet obtained by the Times, makes Secretary of State John Kerry look “prophetic” in the words of its authors. The June letter was characterized as a warning that the repeated use of chemical weapons would be a “green light for continued use” if gone unpunished.

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Indeed, after multiple recorded instances of small-scale chemical weapons attacks throughout the spring and summer of 2013, a massive gas raid on August 21 outside Damascus killed over 1,400 civilians and forced Obama to respond.

At the time, when the president shocked the world by going to the US Congress for authorization for the use of force in Syria after building up forces in the eastern Mediterranean, the White House said that a heated debate among his national security advisers was quickly followed by unanimous support for the president’s choice.

But such support does not lead to the types of leaks that made the October 22 Times piece. The article is a product of dissatisfied presidential aides and confidants choosing to speak. Officials are choosing to provide journalists with that top-secret letter and with anecdotes of the president quibbling.

That may well be the majority of his National Security Council: Those who wanted to avoid military action were forced to mobilize and to publicly justify an action they did not actually endorse. On the other end, those who fought for punitive strikes against Bashar Assad’s forces missed out serendipitously, after a slip of the tongue by Kerry led to historic policy and a Nobel peace prize for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Kerry was most burned by the sequence of events that unfolded throughout late August and into September.

He led the charge for action against Assad, only to harness the blame for haphazardly revealing the way US foreign policy is actually forged – occasionally off the cuff. Given the way their boss has been cast, it seems likely that a significant number of these leaks originated from the State Department.

In parsing the president’s body language – the report refers to Obama slouching, scrolling through his Blackberry and chewing gum during crisis meetings on developments in Syria – the article provides insight into just how intent the US president is on removing Assad from power.

There are no plans to bolster covert operations in Syria, the report claims. And if the presence and promise of the OPCW provides insurance for Assad, then may that be the cost of forging policy off the cuff.

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