Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions took a shot at President Barack Obama for his handling of the Syrian crisis on Friday, declaring that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would not have used chemical weapons on rebel forces if George W. Bush were still president.
Sessions also compared Obama’s decision to seek out authorization from Congress to hit Syria to his 2011 action against Libya, in which he did not seek the same authorization from Congress but instead sought approval from international bodies, including NATO, the Arab League and the United Nations.
“I remember my exchange with Panetta, the Secretary of Defense [Leon] Panetta that went viral on the TV,” Sessions said, at a town hall gathering in Wetumpka, Alabama on Friday that CNN carried live. “I was shocked. In Libya, they didn’t ask Congress. They just did it. So I asked him, I said, well, what about — well, he said, well, we’ve been to NATO and the Arab League and we’re talking to the U.N. and we’ve got all these things. Then, if we choose, we’ll talk to Congress. That was basically the testimony. And I said, I’m just speechless.”
“The Constitution said the one people you need to ask is the United States Congress if you want to go to war or a military hostility,” he continued. “The one group to be talking with is the United States Congress. We cannot cede our sovereign authority through world bodies. And in one of our briefings, the people said that, I wanted almost like that wasn’t what you were saying when President [George W.] Bush, and he saw Congress’s vote they did on both wars and got U.N. resolutions and support and had 40-some-odd countries going to war with us. If wasn’t as if it was a total go-it-alone things. Anyway, I’m really unhappy with where we are there.”
Sessions’ most damning condemnation of Obama came when he argued that had Bush still been in office, the United States wouldn’t be facing the dilemma of how to act against the Assad regime because Bush’s presence would have deterred Assad from using chemical weapons.
“I’ll say one more thing,” Sessions said. “I don’t mean to be partisan about it. We’ve only got one president. We don’t need to weaken the president or the office of the president. But I believe if President Bush told Bashar Assad, you don’t use those chemical weapons or you’re going to be sorry, we’re coming after you, this will be a consequence you don’t want to bear, I don’t believe he would have used them. And so we get an uncertain trumpet. This was about the 11th time, they tell us, that some poison gas has been used in Syria, about the 11th time.”
“I guess they figured we weren’t going to do anything so they really killed a bunch of people then. I guess, doesn’t that validate what so many of us were raised with, that peace through strength is a solid principle,” he continued. “People didn’t see strength in the president’s red line. They didn’t believe it. Now they went on and killed 1,400 people. I believe that’s solid intelligence. They go out and kill people like that and then now we got to go to war or not go to war. It would’ve been better had he never used the weapons. It would have been better if they feared. I don’t know. So we’ll go back. I’ll be talking with my colleagues and we’ll be wrestling with how to handle this. I’ve got good friends on both sides of the issues.”