Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that President Obama damaged U.S. credibility by drawing a “red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons and then failed to back it up with military force when Syria crossed the line.
“It was damaging,” Mr. Panetta, who also served as CIA director for Mr. Obama, told Yahoo News.
Mr. Panetta said he supported drawing the red line as a warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons was “the right thing to do” but failing to enforce it was a mistake.
Mr. Obama instead opted for a Russian-brokered disarmament plan after Mr. Assad, tightening his grip on power in the face of a popular uprising and civil war, used chemical weapons to kill as many as 1,400 people.
“I think the credibility of the United States is on the line,” Mr. Panetta said. “It was important for us to stand by our word and go in and do what a commander in chief should do.”
He said Mr. Obama “sent a mixed message, not only to Assad, not only to the Syrians, but [also] to the world. And that is something you do not want to establish in the world, an issue with regard to the credibility of the United States to stand by what we say we’re gonna do.”
Since Mr. Obama backed away from his “red line” in 2012, the Syrian civil war helped give rise to the terrorist army that calls itself Islamic State, which controls a huge swath of territory in Syria and Iraq. The advance of Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, prompted Mr. Obama to launch a campaign of U.S. airstrikes and organize an international coalition to try to stop it.
Mr. Panetta gave the interview while promoting his new book, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir or Leadership in War and Peace,” which he touts as an insider’s account of national security disputes in the Obama administration.