Obama: My decision not to bomb Syria ‘required the most political courage’

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor
Obama speaks after receiving the 2017 Profile in Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston last week. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Former President Barack Obama says his decision not to retaliate following Syria’s deadly chemical weapons attack on its own people in 2013 took the most political courage of his eight-year tenure as commander in chief.

“I actually think that the issue that required the most political courage was the decision not to bomb Syria after the chemical weapons use had been publicized and rather to negotiate them removing chemical weapons from Syria,” Obama said in an interview with Jack Schlossberg, the grandson of President John F. Kennedy, which was published Monday.

That decision has come under renewed scrutiny following last month’s deadly sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad. President Trump subsequently ordered the bombing of a Syrian airfield and criticized Obama for not following through on a threatened military strike after Assad crossed what Obama had said was his “red line.”

“Now, we know subsequently that some [chemical weapons] remained, so it was an imperfect solution,” Obama said. “But what we also know is that 99 percent of huge chemical weapons stockpiled were removed without us having to fire a shot.”

Obama said that, as president, “what you discover is that you generally get praised for taking military action, and you’re often criticized for not doing so.”

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His decision not to retaliate “wasn’t a slam dunk,” Obama added, “but I thought that it made sense for a variety of reasons for us to see if we could actually try to eliminate the prospect of large-scale chemical weapons use rather than the political expedience of a one-time shot.”

The publication of Obama’s interview — which was conducted last week in Boston while he was receiving the Kennedy Award for Political Courage — came on the same day the Trump administration accused the Syrian government of killing thousands of prisoners and burning the bodies in a large crematorium outside the capital.

“We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison,” Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, told reporters.

The State Department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium, the Associated Press reported. U.S. officials believe that as many as 50 detainees are being slaughtered per day at the facility.

Assad, Jones said, “has sunk to a new level of depravity.”

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