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Old 04-09-2017, 04:31 PM   #49
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Join Date: Oct 2009
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For Obama, Syria Chemical Attack Shows Risk of ‘Deals With Dictators’

The New York Times By PETER BAKER

Although friends and foes alike faulted him for not following through on his threat to retaliate when Syria gassed its own people in 2013, Mr. Obama would counter that he had actually achieved a better result through an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons.

After last week, even former Obama aides assume that he will have to rethink that passage in his memoir. More than 80 civilians were killed in what Western analysts called a sarin attack by Syrian forces — a chilling demonstration that the agreement did not succeed. In recent days, former aides have lamented what they considered one of the worst moments of the Obama presidency and privately conceded that his legacy would suffer.

“If the Syrian government carried out the attack and the agent was sarin, then clearly the 2013 agreement didn’t succeed in its objective of eliminating Bashar’s C.W.,” or chemical weapons, said Robert Einhorn, who was the State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control under Mr. Obama before the agreement. “Either he didn’t declare all his C.W. and kept some hidden in reserve, or he illegally produced some sarin after his stock was eliminated — most likely the former.”

Other former advisers to Mr. Obama questioned the wisdom of negotiating with Mr. Assad and said last week’s attack illustrated the flaws in the agreement, which was brokered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as a way to prevent the United States from using force.

“For me, this tragedy underscores the dangers of trying to do deals with dictators without a comprehensive, invasive and permanent inspection regime,” said Michael McFaul, who was Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Russia. “It also shows the limits of doing deals with Putin. Surely, the Russians must have known about these C.W.” ...

... Even before last week’s chemical attack, many veterans of Mr. Obama’s team considered his handling of Syria his biggest failing and expressed regret that their administration could not stop a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead and millions displaced.

Many of them even praised President Trump for taking the very action that Mr. Obama refused to take four years ago, by ordering a cruise missile strike against Syria. “Donald Trump has done the right thing on Syria,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning in Mr. Obama’s State Department, wrote on Twitter. “Finally!! After years of useless hand-wringing in the face of hideous atrocities.”

Tom Malinowski, an assistant secretary of state for human rights for Mr. Obama, wrote in The Atlantic, “The lesson I would draw from that experience is that when dealing with mass killing by unconventional or conventional means, deterrence is more effective than disarmament.”

Mr. Obama spent much of his tenure grappling with Syria but resisted being directly drawn in, for fear of thrusting America into another Middle East quagmire without solving the problem. The most searing moment came in 2013, when Mr. Assad’s forces killed 1,400 civilians with chemical weapons, brazenly crossing what Mr. Obama had said would be his “red line.”

Mr. Obama prepared a military strike to retaliate, but hesitated amid domestic opposition in both parties and asked Congress to decide whether to proceed. When it became clear that Congress would not give its approval, he grabbed onto a political lifeline from Mr. Putin, who proposed a deal in which Mr. Assad would give up his chemical weapons arsenal. ...

... But from the start of the agreement, there were discrepancies in Mr. Assad’s declarations of his weapons. In February 2016, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, told Congress that “we assess that Syria has not declared all the elements of its chemical weapons program.” ...

... Critics say Mr. Obama oversold the agreement with Russia. “The defense was that he got all the C.W. out, and now that defense is shown to be plain false,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush. “If Obama administration officials knew that at the time, they were deliberately misstating the facts. I think Obama will never live this down, nor should he.”
[BOLD mine - for the hard of reading.]
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