Obama moving cautiously on reports Syria used chemical weapons
BY LYNN SWEET April 25, 2013 9:28PM
George W. Bush Library Dedication Attended By President Obama And Former Presidents
Updated: May 29, 2013 7:29AM
WASHINGTON — While President Barack Obama was attending the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on Thursday — prompting stories about former President Bush plunging the U.S. into the controversial Iraq War — he was moving cautiously on U.S. intelligence reports of “varying degrees of confidence” the Syrian government is using chemical weapons.
Obama doesn’t want to get Syria wrong.
Especially when the U.S. may be heading to a showdown with Iran.
The situation in Syria is heating up at a time when Obama is trying to nail down big legacy accomplishments — not foreign policy debacles. Recently he was stymied by Senate Republicans on a big domestic priority, gun-control.
I’m told that Obama was especially interested in visiting the Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University near Dallas. The dedication, I’m told, is serving as a catalyst for him to start thinking about his own future library, which will be the repository of the history of the two-term Obama administration.
Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco informally holds the Obama post-presidential portfolio, I’m told. The University of Chicago has been making a play for an Obama center, and I confirmed that Susan Sher, a U. of C. executive — and former chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama — who has already scoped out other presidential libraries — was at the Bush Center dedication on Thursday.
All this to say that Obama — elected in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War — knows how Bush got it wrong with Iraq and claims of weapons of mass destruction that never materialized.
The past intelligence failures inform the present.
That’s why Obama is moving with caution on Syria, despite some cries from congressional hawks, notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
At issue is whether Syrian President Bashar Assad has crossed the red line Obama drew last year — and repeated during his recent trip to Israel — that the U.S. would act if there was evidence Assad was using chemical weapons.
The problem is the Obama administration is not sure and wants more evidence.
A White House official conducting a background briefing on Syria on Thursday said,“We want to continue to investigate above and beyond those intelligence assessments to gather facts so that we can establish a credible and corroborated set of information that can then inform our decision making.
“. . . So we are continuing to do further work to establish a definitive judgment as to whether or not the red line has been crossed to inform our decision making about what to do next,” the official said.
Much is going on right now.
Congress and the White House are grappling with massive immigration and budget issues and fallout from the horrible Boston bombings — over how Tamerlan Tsarnaev slipped through the national security system after being flagged by Russia.
Another foreign policy crisis per se won’t derail Obama’s legacy agenda. Unless he makes a wrong move. That’s why getting Syria right is so critical.
Said the White House official, alluding to Iraq: “I would say that given our own history with intelligence assessments, including intelligence assessments related to weapons of mass destruction, it’s very important that we are able to establish this with certainty and that we are able to present information that is airtight in a public and credible fashion to underpin all of our decision-making.
“That is I think the threshold that is demanded given how serious this issue is.”