Obama Campaign Downplays Syria, Soft-Pedals Iran

Obama for America surrogates barely mention Syrian bloodshed during call

July 23, 2012

Former Obama administration officials were tightlipped about the escalating violence in Syria and declared that there is "time and space" to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program during a press call organized by the president's reelection campaign Monday.

The call featured Obama for America senior adviser Robert Gibbs as well as campaign surrogates Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of Defense for policy, and Colin Kahl, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

Kahl made a perfunctory mention of Syria during the campaign’s conference call, which was intended to criticize Mitt Romney’s upcoming overseas trip.

"The Assad regime appears to be losing control," Kahl said before quickly moving on to other issues such as Israel and Iran.

The glancing mention of Syria is part of a pattern of White House ambivalence toward the rebel fighters who have been struggling for over a year to topple the murderous regime of President Bashar al-Assad, foreign policy experts said.

"The Obama administration has mishandled Syria for 17 months now, since the revolt began," said Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser for George W. Bush.

"Their main goal has appeared to be kicking it down the road until after the U.S. election, rather than helping the rebels remove the Assad regime," Abrams said. "Of course they don’t want to talk about it much, because they can’t really explain why it was in the interest of the United States to stand back, watch the bloodshed rise, and do nothing but make speeches."

Others viewed the omission of Syria as proof the administration has not settled on a concrete policy.

"If Obama had a policy [on Syria] they would talk about it and defend it," explained Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert and former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. "The fact they won’t talk about it is a sign they are asleep at the switch."

Syrian opposition leaders have petitioned the Obama administration to provide its troops with desperately needed weapons. The administration has not yet commented on the opposition’s request and has mostly avoided discussing the issue in public forums.

"The Obama campaign strategically wants to avoid any discussion of Syria because it’s one of the most striking failures of this administration," explained one senior foreign policy adviser on Capitol Hill.

"There’s as much blood on this administration’s hands as on Russia’s hands," said the source, referring to Russia’s repeated attempts to block action on Syria. "After more than a year of murder in the streets and crimes against humanity, they’ve done nothing to stop that violence."

Discussing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Obama advisor Kahl maintained that there is still "time and space to solve this problem diplomatically" despite the failure of negotiations over the issue earlier this month.

Negotiations over Iran’s uranium enrichment activities ended in a stalemate earlier this month, as the Obama administration and Western negotiators failed to convince Iranian officials to back down from its aggressive stance regarding its nuclear facilities.

Iran maintained that "enrichment is an inalienable and chartered right" and refused to forfeit the elements of its clandestine enrichment program that have caused the most concern, including an underground facility believed to be housing a weapons program, according to the Iranian proposal that was presented last month before the P5+ 1, a coalition of Western nations involved in the negotiations.

The Pentagon has also noted that Iran is aggressively working to improve the range of its missiles, and to develop nuclear weapons-related technology.

Obama’s continued faith in negotiations with Iran reveal that he is falling for the regime’s empty promises, Rubin said.

"They dangle the prospect of talks in front of the Americans, while pursuing their nuclear program 100 percent," he said. "Obama is falling for this hook, line, and sinker."

Much of the Obama call focused on Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel, a destination President Obama has avoided in his global travels during the past four years.

Though many reporters noted the Obama administration’s repeated flare-ups and run-ins with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, campaign officials touted what they described as the president’s total commitment to the Jewish state.

Officials cited Obama’s funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program as proof of the administration’s commitment to Israel.

The administration originally sought cuts to other Israeli missile defense programs. The funding was later restored by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.