Did Obama Really ‘Do Nothing’ In Syria? Let’s Debunk This Stupid Right-Wing Myth
Conservatives Claim Obama Did Nothing In Syria. But as Usual, Reality Isn’t On Their Side
The right-wing loves criticizing former President Barack Obama and blaming him for all of their woes. In fact, it’s probably their favorite pastime. And when it comes to Syria’s brutal civil war, which has claimed nearly half of a million lives and has caused the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the second World War, conservatives here in America crank their Obama criticisms up to eleven and then break off the knob.
If you’ve been following recent developments regarding Syria — namely Trump’s decision to lob 59 cruise missiles at the airstrip the Assad regime used to launch their most recent chemical attack — you’ll most likely come across conservative commentary insisting that Obama “drew a line in the sand” and then “backed down.” Those phrases are getting tossed around on the Internet a whole lot by right-wingers. But as usual, their latest mantra is steeped in half-truths and flat-out lies, as one would expect of someone who only gets their news from radicalized sources like Breitbart or CainTV.
In reality, Obama’s response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons was considerably more potent than many probably realized. That point is driven home by the fact that Assad didn’t use sarin again until after President Obama left office, waiting for the weaker, more feeble-minded Trump to take office before throwing those dice.
So what are conservatives talking about when they bring up this “line in the sand” thing? Did Obama really back down in Syria or fail to fulfill his promises? Let’s take a look at this right-wing myth… and then debunk the ever-loving Hell out of it, of course.
Obama Was More Involved In The Syria Situation Than Some Of You Apparently Realize
First, let’s tackle this “line in the sand” myth. Where are conservatives getting this idea from? Why, a bastardized version of an out-of-context off-the-cuff quote, of course. Were you expecting anything different?
President Obama, speaking to the White House Press Corps on August 20th of 2012, said the following:
President Obama: “I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, 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. That would change my equation.”
Chuck Todd: “So you’re confident it’s somehow under — it’s safe?”
President Obama: “In a situation this volatile, I wouldn’t say that I am absolutely confident. What I’m saying is we’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans. We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.”
So no, Obama didn’t “draw a line in the sand.” What Obama did say is that he was monitoring the Syrian situation and would adjust his strategy accordingly if they discovered that the Assad regime was using chemical weapons, or preparing to do so. He was hardly laying down the gauntlet.
Fast-forward one year and one day. On August 21st of 2013, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered a chemical attack using deadly Sarin nerve gas in Ghouta, Syria that took as many as 1,729 lives, with over 3,600 people wounded and unknown long-term causalities.
President Obama could’ve done in 2013 what Donald Trump just did this week, firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at a symbolic airbase — an airbase which, by the way, was fully operational again within 24 hours of Trump’s attack — but instead, he chose a path that completely shut down Syria’s use of chemical weapons for nearly four years.
(No, seriously, look at how little damage Trump’s cruise missile strikes actually did to the airfield!)
Conservatives Didn’t Want Obama to Act In Syria Without Congressional Approval
News broke of the Ghouta chemical attack almost instantly, but who had exactly perpetrated the attacks wasn’t really known at the time. There were a number of players in the region then, as there are today. Was it the Assad Regime? DAESH/ ISIS/ ISIL? Anti-Assad Rebels? Kurdish fighters? Nobody really knew, and the Internet was swirling with conspiracy theories, which wasn’t really helping things along.
Obama had to first confirm that the attack actually happened. To this end, the Obama administration launched an investigation into what actually happened. The official report wasn’t published until August 30th, and in it, the US government asserted that it was indeed the Assad regime that had carried out the attack.
While Americans waited for that report, most conservatives were insisting that Barack Obama not act in Syria, demanding that he seek Congressional approval before taking action.
On Syria, the president has an obligation to consult with Congress and speak directly to the American people https://t.co/JG9XhqUMXU
— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) August 26, 2013
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 27, 2013
LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT
“So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?” – Sarah… https://t.co/0fOkN9KAZj
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) August 30, 2013
Mr. President, military intervention in Syria doesn’t have the backing of Congress or American people. Don’t start another Middle East war.
— Michele Bachmann (@MicheleBachmann) August 30, 2013
Among those critical of Obama taking military action in Syria was none other than Donald Trump himself, who a few years later would fire cruise missiles into Syria without the Congressional approval he had demanded Obama seek.
What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013
President Obama did, in fact, seek out and wait for Congressional approval for military action against Syria, which he received on September 6th 2013. Obama did exactly what those conservatives were demanding of him. Not that those people would’ve ever given him credit for doing so, of course.
Of course, nothing ever came of that congressional approval. Polling at the time indicated that a vast majority of Americans were vehemently opposed to military intervention in Syria, regardless of their use of chemical weapons. And President Obama ultimately listened to the public, just as he had listened to so many Democrats and Republicans who had earlier insisted he not act militarily without congressional approval.
A few days after Obama got his Congressional approval for military action, Assad caved and agreed to allow his chemical weapons stockpiles to be destroyed as a part of a deal with The United States and Russia. Assad wouldn’t use nerve agent weapons again so long as President Obama was in office.
In The End, Obama Got Chemical Weapons Out Of Syria Without Firing A Shot
So while conservatives try to frame it as though Obama were a weak, indecisive leader, history shows us that the exact opposite was true. President Obama, borrowing advice from Teddy Roosevelt, opted to handle the Syrian situation by speaking softly and carrying a big stick, all while seeking out the Congressional approval conservatives so fervently demanded of him, and still managing to avoid a bloody conflict that the vast majority of the American people were against. I don’t know what planet conservatives are from, but here on Earth, we call that winning.
So no, Obama didn’t “draw a line in the sand” which Assad crossed, only to see Obama “do nothing” in response. Like so much else conservatives tell themselves to help them sleep at night, this claim about Obama “doing nothing” is patently false.
What Obama actually did in Syria had more of a lasting effect than what today’s “President” Donald Trump did; a symbolic cruise missile strike that had no impact whatsoever on Assad’s chemical weapon capabilities. a strike that didn’t even manage to disable the airfield it was targeting, which was operational again in under 24 hours. It’s pretty obvious who handled Syria’s use of chemical weapons better, isn’t it? If you just said “Duh, obviously Obama,” treat yourself to a cookie.
Featured photo courtesy of Spencer Platt/ Getty Images