Liberal Praise for Syrian Chemical Weapons Removal Turns Out to Be Premature

May 19, 2015

Numerous liberals in government and the media declared premature victory when Syria handed over the last of its declared chemical weapons stockpiles last summer. Now, reports surface that the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime is at it again, and the U.S. government has known for months. Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. government was informed months ago that an international monitoring body found traces of chemical weapons that President Bashar al-Assad had promised to turn over, including sarin gas -- a clear violation of the deal he struck with President Obama after crossing the administration’s "red line" two years ago.

Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told the Obama administration early this year that its inspectors had found traces of two banned chemical weapons during an inspection of the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center in the district of Barzeh near Damascus, two administration officials told us. A report by Reuters May 8 said that OPCW inspectors had found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at the site in separate inspections in December and January.

The report by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin said Obama had not yet decided how to respond to this. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged the discovery of the banned chemicals last week, saying, "We're aware that the OPCW continues to receive credible allegations that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is still taking place."

In September 2013, after Assad violated Obama's red line without military consequences and a Russian-brokered deal became the catalyst for the removal of Assad's declared stockpiles, MSNBC's Alex Witt asked whether Obama would be the "big winner" in the saga. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D., N.Y.) responded he was a "big, big winner."

Last June, as the final declared weapons were being removed from Syria and destroyed, the Atlantic's Steve Clemons called it "an enormous success for the White House" and that it deserved "enormous credit" for its role in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. Maddow said, "The chemical weapons are gone," while also conditioning her conclusions with the fact that only Assad's declared stockpiles were being destroyed.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf also called it a huge success in an MSNBC interview with Chris Hayes that night.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) told Fox News Sunday on June 1 "we're getting the chemical weapons out of Syria," and Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said on the same program on July 6 that "we should commend the administration for the result that they got."

As recently as Feb. 24, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "we got, as you know, last year all the chemical weapons out of Syria."

The liberal New York Times editorial board praised the deal and call its critics "wrong," writing the "chemical weapons are now out of the hands of a brutal dictator — and all without firing a shot," in a piece entitled, "They Said It Couldn't Be Done." ThinkProgress, acknowledging these were the only the "declared" weapons, wrote a post June 23 entitled, "Nobody Thought Syria Would Give Up Its Chemical Weapons. It just did." Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione co-penned a piece declaring the elimination of the stockpiles "a major victory."

All three pieces admitted that Assad's potential undeclared stockpiles could still pose a threat, and it looks like they were right.