Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser to President Barack Obama, said she approved of President Donald Trump’s decision to inflict a military strike on Syria after a chemical weapons attack on civilians.
“I think it was the right thing to do and I think taking out, in particular, that R&D [research and development] facility in Damascus is significant,” Rice said Monday at the annual convention in Washington, DC, of J Street, a progressive Jewish organization.
Rice was asked about the military strike on Friday conducted by the United States, the U.K, and France following a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma. The Western coalition believes that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attack.
Rice responded with the same talking points she and other members of Obama’s administration have used to defend its foreign policy stance in Syria by claiming that a deal with Assad and Russia was secured to remove all chemical weapons stockpiles.
“After Syria committed in 2013 to declare and eliminate its entire chemical weapons stockpile and shipped out 13 metric tons we and others in the international community thought that we had eliminated at least it’s declared weapons stockpile,” Rice said.
It was in 2012 that Obama famously declared a “red line” in Syria.
“Speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, Obama noted that he has not authorized military operations against Syria. But he said that any effort by President Bashar al-Assad to use chemical weapons would have significant consequences,” the Washington Post reported at the time.
“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,” Obama said. “That would change my calculus.”
After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack in 2013 that killed more than 1,300 people, Obama “considered launching an air campaign in an attempt to depose Assad,” Business Insider reported in 2016.
That campaign was delayed when Obama decided to put it to a vote in Congress. It was thrown out altogether when Russia — Assad’s ally — offered to dispose of Assad’s chemical-weapons arsenal if the U.S. refrained from launching airstrikes.
But after chatting with Denis McDonough, the president’s chief of staff “Obama surprised nearly everyone by deciding to force a vote in Congress on whether to do so, effectively putting the military action on hold.
“According to Thrush, neither Secretary of State John Kerry nor then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel were consulted before Obama made his decision to delay military action in Syria,” Business Insider reported. “U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice was also kept out of the loop.”
In her remarks at the J Street conference, Rice said she thought that Trump was “correct” to order a military strike following the first Assad chemical attack more than a year ago and went on to claim that Trump’s “unpredictable” nature could have been advantageous at that time.
“I think that was a missed opportunity because for all of our handwringing and justified concern about President Trump’s temperament and how he may respond in a crisis situation he could have played those concerns to our advantage,” Rice said. “Had he wanted to be demonstrably unpredictable and deliberately unpredictable and use that to try to wrest a diplomatic opening with the Russians.”
Russia has been a longtime supporter of the Assad regime since the start of the Civil War in Syria more than seven years ago, including denying the most recent chemical attack came from Assad forces. Russian president Vladimir Putin called the military strike “an act of aggression against a sovereign state.”
Rice also admitted in her remarks that the Assad regime apparently did not destroy its chemical weapons.
“It became evident last year that, in fact, either Syria had not destroyed its entire stockpile or had reconstituted it to some extent,” Rice said.
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