Setting the Record Straight on the Obama Administration’s Chemical-Weapons Deal with Syria

April 20, 2018 | Matthew Continetti
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Responding to Syria’s murderous poison-gas attacks on its own people earlier this month, Matthew Continetti looks back to the reporting on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpiles five years ago:

I spent a few hours after the [recent] attack rereading the ludicrous coverage that greeted President Obama’s announcement in 2013 that, rather than taking military action, he had entered into an agreement with the Russians to remove and destroy Bashar al-Assad’s chemical stockpiles. The Obama administration knew at the time that the deal would leave Assad plenty of armaments, but officials were happy nevertheless to make statements that left the public with a different and mistaken impression. These statements were often lawyerly, sophistic, and deceptive, using weasel-phrases like “declared chemical weapons.” They assumed that the everyday voter would not recognize that the word “declared” signified a loophole Assad could drive a tank through.

What followed was a dress rehearsal for the Iran nuclear deal of 2015: the agreement was bad and not subject to congressional oversight or approval, the media happily retailed the Obama administration’s message, and now that we are dealing with the fallout in lives and lost credibility from a bad deal deceptively marketed to the public, no member of the Obama-media echo chamber wants to be reminded of his colossal misjudgment and credulity. Let’s remind them. . . .

Assad began transferring weapons to international authorities in the summer of 2014. As liberal pundits and journalists celebrated this supposed victory of diplomacy, they made sure to include caveats allowing that Assad and the Russians—perish the thought—might be lying. . . . On December 6, 2016, Barack Obama bragged, “We’ve eliminated Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program.” But eliminating declared programs does not matter if an undeclared program exists—as Assad demonically revealed in 2017 when he used chemical weapons to attack a town in northern Syria.

Even after the deal was exposed as a farce, however, Obama’s friends were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. On April 7, 2017, a New York Times headline read, “Weren’t Syria’s Chemical Weapons Destroyed? It’s Complicated.” . . . Also last spring, [another] article in the New York Times quoted Tony Blinken, the former national-security adviser to Vice-President Biden. “We always knew,” Blinken said, “we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration.”

Now they tell us.

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