It’s been a rough week for the Obama Doctrine. First, Assad unleashed a chemical weapons attack in a stark reminder of Obama’s failure to remove Syria’s weapons stockpile. Then, President Trump promptly responded with airstrikes, following through on the red line that his predecessor backed down from.
Now, a stray remark from National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is raising uncomfortable new questions. From the transcript:
And the one thing that I will tell you though, there was an effort to minimize – to minimize risk to third-country nationals at that airport – I think you read Russians from that – but that – and we took great pains to try to avoid that. […] And then there were also measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas, so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else.
If this strike was arranged to avoid hitting sarin storage facilities, the question arises: did the Obama Administration know that such depots still existed after its “historic” deal that supposedly removed all Syria’s chemical weapons?
The signs point to yes. In Congressional testimony last February, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged “gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration,” validating reports that Syria was still hiding banned chemicals at undisclosed locations. And on its way out the door in January of this year, the Obama Treasury quietly introduced new sanctions against Syrian officials involved in chemical warfare. Buried in the language sanctioning a particular official was a telling admission: “As of 2016, Abbas has continued operating at locations in Syria associated with chemical warfare-related missions.”
Whether or not the Obama Administration knew of this particular sarin facility, then, they clearly knew that Syrians were still clinging to their stockpiles at several locations. They knew what Adam Garfinkle has been saying all along: that Obama’s deal to remove chemical weapons was not a historic diplomatic triumph but an unenforcable sham that the Syrians and Russians never intended to comply with.
Indeed, as Defense One reports, internal critics of Obama’s policy were so aware of its folly that they are now embracing Trump for conducting the airstrikes that their former boss refused:
“This shows the moral depravity of the last administration,” said one former Obama administration official. “I am stunned.”
“Many of us are pretty darned happy about this, ” said a second former administration official. “This is the action that many of us were hoping for years ago.”
Paging President Obama: are you still “very proud” of walking back from your red line?