Kerry: U.S. Paid a Price for Not Enforcing Obama's Red Line in Syria

September 2, 2018

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the United States paid a price for not enforcing former President Barack Obama's red line in Syria.

"We paid a price for the way it played out without the red line being enforced by the bombing," Kerry said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

In 2012, during the early days of the present Syrian civil war, Obama drew the now infamous "red line" when he stated the United States would intervene if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people. In the fall of 2013, the Obama administration was working with Syrian and Russian leaders to ensure Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons would be turned over and destroyed. A deal was reached, and the Obama administration and fellow Democrats applauded the achievement. The agreement was struck a year after Obama drew the "red line" but the regime has since been accused multiple times by the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of using chemical weapons.

Despite not enforcing the red line, Kerry said the Obama administration completed it's objective by removing chemical weapons from Syria.

"But we got the chemical weapons out, which was the objective," Kerry said.

"Even though there have been chemical weapon attacks since then?" "Face the Nation" host Margret Brennan asked.

"We knew there were precursor chemicals and we knew that there was chlorine. Those aren't declared. That's just the vagary of the system by which they measure chemical weapons," Kerry said.

"But there have been sarin gas attacks since then, under the Trump administration," Brennan interrupted.

"That's correct. Absolutely correct," Kerry said. "I supported President Trump's response to those partially. I supported use of force, but I don't support just a one-off where you drop a few bombs there's no follow up diplomacy and no additional effort to try to use the leverage you get out of doing that."

In May 2015, Bloomberg reported that Assad used chemical weapons after the Obama administration declared Syria had turned over its entire stockpile. Obama dismissed the report and said chlorine is not "historically" considered a chemical weapon, despite the fact chlorine gas was one of the world's first chemicals weaponized for modern warfare.

Brennan pushed back on Kerry's defense of the administration, saying the administration paid a price for Obama's refusal to enforce his red line.

"You paid a price. The red line moment has come to for many critics of President Obama define his foreign policy and define it as weak for not backing up a threat," Brennan said.

"For many people, that's exactly what I ran into. I ran into that in the Middle East; it is something that I had to push back against for a long period of time. And that's why I say perceptions. Perceptions matter, obviously, in everything. But I don't think it's fair in terms of the president 'being weak,'" Kerry said. "The president took a lot of very tough positions and did a lot of things that shows the president who had very clear moral compass as well as very clear – very clear set of values and principles by which he knew he could protect our country."