Kerry: Obama Has Prosecuted al Qaeda With Unprecedented Intensity

November 10, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry claimed President Obama had prosecuted world terrorism with unprecedented effort Sunday on Meet the Press, while also taking an unsubtle shot at the Bush administration.

"He's also the president who has prosecuted al Qaeda with an intensity and terrorists generally with an intensity unprecedented and way beyond the last administration," Kerry said.

Kerry's remarks may have raised some eyebrows given the looming specter of last year's deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The Obama administration has been fiercely criticized for not bringing any of the attackers or plotters to justice for the death of four Americans.

Kerry also claimed Obama's "decision" to use force in Syria after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons, which never actually came about due to its public unpopularity and fierce opposition in Congress, wound up forcing an arrangement with Russia that led to the removal of Assad's stockpiles.

The deal was actually prompted in part by an off-the-cuff suggestion by Kerry that Assad could avoid a strike from the U.S. if he turned his weapons over to the Russians. Kerry also committed a serious gaffe when he said any military action against Assad would be "unbelievably small." In the end, the Russians, a key ally of Assad, brokered the deal that was widely regarded as a diplomatic embarrassment for the Obama administration.

Full exchange:

DAVID GREGORY: There is a broader criticism that goes beyond this, that no doubt you've confronted in your extensive travels throughout that region. Let me sum it up this way. It amounts to this criticism that the president appears reluctant to exercise power on the world stage. It's not just Israel. It's Egypt, it's Saudi Arabia. There is a feeling that the U.S. has abandoned critical friends in that region, in part because you're moving toward a deal with Iran which could provide them tremendous economic relief when at the same time critics would say their major client, Syria, has gotten a pass to murder their own people as long as they don't use chemical weapons. So that all of this is amounting to this reluctance to really exercise U.S. power. That is my description of that criticism, and please respond to it.

JOHN KERRY: Well, let me respond very directly to it, David. I couldn't disagree with it more. The President of the United States made his decision. He decided to use military force in Syria. He also made a decision to respect the requests of many members of Congress to come to them. And guess what? When he did, it was the members of Congress, as you know better than anybody, who bought very significantly with the exception of the foreign relations committee of the United States Senate which took the lead, but the House clearly indicated a very, very strong reluctance to be engaged. The president, before he had to make a decision of whether or not he would use force, anyway, succeeded in getting an arrangement with Russia to remove the chemical weapons altogether. That would never have happened, that deal would never have come about if the president had not made his decision to use force. The president used force in Libya. The president has been willing and made it clear that he is prepared to use force with respect to Iran's weapon, and he has deployed the forces and the weapons necessary to achieve that goal if it has to be achieved.

GREGORY: And yet, there's an AP headline tonight --

KERRY: Let me just finish. The president has continued in Afghanistan. He has sought a security agreement in Afghanistan that is in the throes of being agreed on, that will continue American presence to complete the task in Afghanistan. I just think we can't let mythology and politics start to cloud reality here. This president has made it clear. He's also the president who has prosecuted al Qaeda with an intensity and terrorists generally with an intensity unprecedented and way beyond the last administration.