State Department spokesman John Kirby and Associated Press (AP) reporter Brad Klapper clashed Wednesday in several testy exchanges about the Obama administration’s Syria policy.
Klapper repeatedly told Kirby that the Obama administration’s weak policy has failed, while Kirby, instead, blamed Russia for the problems in Syria.
Eventually, when Klapper pressed Kirby on the United States’ lack of sanctions for their role in the Syrian conflict, the State Department spokesman told the reporter to “calm down,” which the reporter described as a non-responsive “cheap shot.”
The Q&A at the State Department briefing began with Klapper asking a question about whether the United States was planning to do anything differently from the now-established pattern of expressing “moral outrage.”
“What is the goal of all of this? I mean, we’ve been hearing the same message for many months; in fact, for years. Yet nothing has really changed to stop it. So what is the goal right now of kind of laying all the blame on Russia?” Klapper asked. “What are you doing differently to stop the war now?”
“It’s not like the goal is to lay the blame on Russia,” Kirby replied, adding:
The responsibilities are rightfully being applied to Russia because they’re the country with the most influence on Assad. We’ve seen it when they can and are willing to use that influence; we’ve seen it work positively. And just as much as recently, we’ve seen when they’re not willing to do it, we end up where we are right now in Aleppo.
Kirby refused to acknowledge that the Obama policy on Syria had any role in the way the current situation in Aleppo has developed, instead arguing that Russia’s support of Assad was “the real failure here.” Asked pointedly whether the United States had “failed” in Syria, Kirby replied, “The failure is on the part of the regime and its backers, including Russia and Iran, for the way they continue to try to find a military solution to what should be a political one. That’s the real failure here, and the Syrian people are the ones caught in the crossfire, quite literally.”
That response was in part a reply to Klapper once again trying to ask his question: “So what are you doing differently to prevent more of the same?”
Clapper also sparred with Kirby’s attempt to reframe his question:
MR KIRBY: We’re going to continue to try to get a political outcome that is – that will serve the people of Syria that – and what we’re going to try to do is continue to prove the point that – I think by “different” you mean military – that that’s not the right approach. That’s not the right approach.
QUESTION: I didn’t say military, so don’t bring the strawman into this. I didn’t say military, but if you have military options, I’d love to hear them.
When Klapper pointed out that the administration appeared to be unwilling to change its approach on Syria, Kirby accused the reporter of trying to get the State Department to “telegraph” tactics in the years-long Syrian conflict:
QUESTION: But on the other hand, you have, what, four or five weeks left in office. You’re not describing any different kind of approach or anything you’re going to do to somehow change the equation. So why should anyone expect anything different to happen in the time you still have left in office?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to telegraph changes in the days and weeks ahead, one way or the other.
QUESTION: You’ve been saying that for a couple years now. So you’ve telegraphed nothing because you did nothing.
MR KIRBY: But we – there – we have a range of options at our disposal, Brad. I’m not going to get into decisions that haven’t yet been made. And you can —
Later in the briefing, Kirby told the same AP reporter to “calm down” in an attempt to shut down questioning about why the United States had not pressured Iran more for their support of Assad in Syria.
“This is not about state sponsorship of terrorism. This is about their support for the Assad regime’s military activity,” Klapper argued, to which Kirby replied that “we have been honest about that role.”
“Look, Brad. Brad. Brad. Calm down,” Kirby told the reporter after he repeatedly challenged his claim. “You don’t need to get so upset.”
Klapper referred to the command to “calm down” as a “cheap shot.”
“I’m just debating a point with you and I’m disagreeing vigorously,” he explained.
Watch the second exchange between the two below: