TEL AVIV – In an interview with Politico published on Wednesday, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes admitted that the White House did not have the ability to back up the president’s infamous “red line” threat against Syria.
In August 2012, Obama warned his thinking would change on whether to use military force in Syria if Bashar Assad’s regime or other players on the ground started using chemical weapons.
In a statement widely interpreted as a threat to utilize military force, Obama said: “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, 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.”
Following the perceived threat, Assad’s forces and rebels acting in Syria were accused of using chemical agents on numerous occasions.
Besides international criticism, the Obama administration was panned domestically across the political spectrum for its indecisiveness on Syria and its failure to enforce the “red line” threat.
Politico conducted an extensive interview with Rhodes, which the news site published under the title of “What Worries Ben Rhodes About Trump.”
In the interview, Rhodes conceded Obama’s hands were tied in regard to acting in Syria, stating that “he (Obama) tested every possible option, and at no time was there a viable military option to make things better in Syria.”
“Does that imply that his mistake in the ‘red line’ episode was drawing the line in the first place?” asked Politico’s Michael Crowley.
Well, drawing the line actually did provide the basis for a diplomatic effort to remove the chemical weapons program peacefully. I don’t know how we could have started a military conflict with Assad that we didn’t feel compelled to try to finish by taking out Assad. Even if you do that, there’s no reason to believe that people would have simply reconciled with one another because the United States was a party to the conflict. And never mind the fact that we had no international support. The only country in the world that was prepared to join us was France. And we had no domestic legal basis. We actually had Congress warning us against taking action without congressional authorization, which we interpreted as the president could face impeachment.
Rhodes was asked to clarify whether the prospect of impeachment was actually a factor.
That was a factor. Go back and read the letters from Boehner, letters from the Republican members of Congress. They laid down markers that this would not be constitutional. If we got drawn into a conflict in Syria without congressional authorization, without international authorization, without international support, you can see very clearly how that could have completely derailed this entire presidency.
Rhodes statements about having no “domestic legal basis” and fearing the possibility of impeachment was a far cry from a claim made by lame-duck Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month when he appeared to blame the British parliament’s vote against military action in Syria for Obama’s inability to act.
The Telegraph reported on Kerry’s statements on the matter at a January 6 press conference:
Asked about the moment Mr Obama decided not to enforce his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Mr Kerry said on Thursday that the British vote meant the US President felt he had no choice but to secure approval from the US Congress.
“We were marching towards that time when, lo and behold, on a Thursday of a week before the Friday decision, Prime Minister David Cameron went to Parliament … he sought a vote of approval for him to join in the action that we were going to engage in. And guess what? The Parliament voted no. They shot him down.”
Parliament voted 285-272 against the strikes in August 2013.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.