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Ex-CIA chief Michael Hayden ‘reluctantly’ supports military strikes in Syria

Says Obama’s ‘red line’ puts nation on the hook

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Former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said Thursday that he "reluctantly" backs a military strike against the Syrian government and that President Obama painted the United States into a corner by saying the use of chemical weapons represented a "red line" for his administration.

Mr. Hayden, who served under President George W. Bush, told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Mr. Obama's comments put the prestige of the nation at risk and limited the amount of time the Obama administration now has to build international support for a military response to Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged used of chemical weapons against rebel forces in his nation's ongoing civil war.

"It was an unwise comment," Mr. Hayden said. "It has consequences, and it has put us on the line that we would act in the face of these kinds of actions."

Mr. Obama said on Wednesday, "I didn’t set a red line; the world set a red line." In 2012, Mr. Obama said that "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."  

"That would change my calculus," he said at the  time. "That would change my equation."

Mr. Hayden said that the purpose of the airstrikes will be to deter the Assad regime from using those kinds of weapons again. 

But he said the strikes are unlikely to degrade Mr. Assad's ability to carry out a similar attack in the future and could provoke a response from Syria; Iran; and Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon.

"They are going to want to show after we act that these kinds of actions on our part are not cost-free," Mr. Hayden said. "We should expect some kind of response from them."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution Wednesday that limits Mr. Obama by giving him 90 days to act, and also pushes him to take steps to help the rebel forces that are fighting against  

Mr. Hayden said it is in America's strategic interest to play a larger role in the Syrian conflict.

"We have been hands off for far too long," he said. "As hard as it would have been, this would have been easier to influence and effect 18, 12 or six months ago then it will be now."

Asked about Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who argue that the push for limited airstrikes is too late, Mr. Hayden said that lawmakers have to face the reality before them.

"At the end of the day, this is the least worse option we now have, and it would be near catastrophic, I think, for American influence in the world and the American Congress not to support this," he said.

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