President Barack Obama’s former foreign Middle East adviser said in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the United States should have launched an assault against Syria back in 2013 for its use of chemical weapons.
Philip Gordon, who served as an adviser on the National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, said Obama was wrong to back down from his promise of attacking Syria if President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons.
Obama issued his warning. Assad then used sarin gas and killed around 1,300 people in 2013. Obama reneged on his promise and passed the matter off to Congress, instead.
Rather than this being a source of shame, Gordon says Obama at the time was proud he contradicted standard Washington policy and resisted the use of military force against Assad.
As Gordon put it, Obama believed the “Washington playbook” relied far too much on military solutions to problems that could be solved using other means.
But Gordon thought this was emphatically the wrong move. Once you lay down the law, you have to follow through to maintain credibility.
Ultimately, Obama hasn’t been terribly successful at avoiding the “Washington playbook,” Gordon noted, and the Obama administration ended up intervening in Syria after all, and not to just a limited strike. The administration has been dragged into pushing for regime change and shipping weapons to anti-government rebels.
“My view was that while achieving a comprehensive political transition in Syria was a noble goal, we were not succeeding and we were unlikely to succeed and therefore the costs of pursuing that goal—dead people, refugees, destabilizing neighbors, radicalization, instability in Europe—were becoming far greater than the costs of de-escalation,” Gordon said.
Gordon at the time believes the U.S. should have conducted a limited strike after Assad tested the limits when he deployed sarin gas, even though in general Gordon is known for being reluctant to strongly intervene in the region. This wasn’t about going to war. This wasn’t about forcing a regime transition. For Gordon, a limited strike was nothing more than preserving U.S. credibility on the international scene.
“Well, I thought at the time that it was important to act, because if not we’d pay a price,” Gordon said.
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