As Obama considers Syria strikes, Bush and Carter weigh in
August 30th, 2013
09:36 AM ET
1 year ago

As Obama considers Syria strikes, Bush and Carter weigh in

(CNN) – Two of President Barack Obama's White House predecessors offered their views of his impending decision on Syria Friday as global support for strikes in the country faltered.

Former President George W. Bush, in an interview, said Obama has a "touch choice to make" on potential U.S. military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of using chemical weapons against civilians.

"If he decides to use our military, he'll have the greatest military ever backing him up," Bush said in an appearance on Fox News.

The United States and major allies are currently weighing major military action against Assad, though on Thursday British lawmakers voted against joining a global coalition. U.S. officials said after the vote that taking unilateral action against Syria was a possibility.

That option, former President Jimmy Carter said Friday, would be a grave mistake.

"A punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war," he wrote in a statement. "It will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence."

Carter, in his post-presidency, has engaged in global diplomacy in North Korea and the Middle East, and was a vocal critic of the Iraq War.

In his statement, Carter said the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "a grave breach of international law" but that any U.S. action in the country should wait for ongoing investigations by United Nations inspectors to conclude.

"All should seek to leverage the consensus among the entire international community, including Russia and Iran, condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria and bringing under U.N. oversight the country's stockpile of such weapons," he wrote.

Bush, in the Friday interview, was less forthcoming in his views on Syria. A Republican, he led the United States into two wars during his presidency: in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Many say those wars, particularly in Iraq, have contributed to nationwide war fatigue. A poll released Friday showed half of Americans oppose potential U.S. military action in Syria, though support increased when possible action was limited to cruise missile strikes.

On Wednesday, Bush's Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Obama had yet to fully justify any military action in Syria. Rumsfeld led the Pentagon during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There really hasn't been any indication from the administration as to what our national interest is with respect to this particular situation," he said. "When you think about what's really important in that region – it's Iran's nuclear program and the relationship between Iran and Syria, the Assad regime, with respect to terrorists that go around killing innocent men, women and children, including Americans."

Bush said Friday he was "not a fan" of Assad.

"He's an ally of Iran, he's made mischief," he said, declining to speculate any further about the decisions currently looming over the White House.

Bush, who earlier this month underwent a procedure to have a stent placed in his heart, appeared healthy during the interview and said he was feeling "pretty good." He was interviewed at the Dallas National Gold Club, where he was helping launch a gold tournament that raises money for veterans.

"I wish I was a teenager so I could be out on my mountain bike today," he said. "But I'm slowly recovering."


Filed under: George W. Bush • Jimmy Carter • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. ST

    I hope Pres. Obama is not former Pres. Bush and vice versa. Pres. Obama you are not: "you are with us or against us". You are a democrat and he is the republican. You must show the difference among two of you. There were massive reasons why people voted for you not once but twice. If you want to betray all of us who put you in power, you are going to end up in a minus zero approval rating by the end of your term. Don't worry what you said: red line, blue or black line. That were words. What matters is action, of which we, your supporters don't want you to opt to that way.

    August 30, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  2. Dixie

    Guess the decrease in military spending and manpower was a mistake. How do we cut funding then ask them to do more? If this turns into an all out war are we ready? I don't think so. We will be behind the eight-ball playing chatch up.

    August 30, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  3. BILL, WI

    Pres Obama should listen to Carter on this one. Let Assad gas his own people, what concern is it of ours.
    If there really is an humanitarian crisis the UN and the Arab League will take steps to end it.

    August 30, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  4. Tom

    Well at least Bush had sense enough, unlike some of his former cabinet members, to be non-judgmental. Honestly, I don't understand why Obama doesn't just dump this one on Congress. He's already on record as wanting to respond to morally reprehensible acts by the Syrian government. If Congress agrees with him (like that will ever happen) Obama will be off the hook for the blame. If Congress blocks any action on Syria (another day at the office for Congress) then Congress gets all the blame for whatever happens. Obama would win either way.

    August 30, 2013 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  5. much thunder..little rain

    stay out of this ...no more americans need to die in the middle east..

    August 30, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Tom

    Well at least Bush had sense enough, unlike some of his former cabinet members, to be non-judgmental. Honestly, I don't understand why Obama doesn't just dump this one on Congress. He's already on record as wanting to respond to morally reprehensible acts by the Syrian government. If Congress agrees with him (like that will ever happen) Obama will be off the hook for the blame. If Congress blocks any action on Syria (another day at the office for Congress) then Congress gets all the blame for whatever happens. Obama would win either way.
    -------–
    You call that leadership?

    August 30, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Carter is absolutely right.

    August 30, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  8. Kimmeh

    I mean its nice they want to help another country but that means more deaths from OUR nation, that's not right. They need to avoid problems instead.

    August 30, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  9. kirk

    Im embarrassed to be an American. What makes this our problem? Why oh why can we simply not learn a lesson?

    August 30, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  10. Babyboomer

    I agree with President Carter on this one. No more wars that can't be won.

    August 30, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  11. bassman

    In Gov. Palin's latest Facebook post she asked, "Mr. President, please give America justification before you spend blood and treasure to intervene." If Pres. Obama had listened to her and had been making the case for intervention, maybe we would have seen a different vote in Britain's Parliament.

    August 30, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  12. Al-NY,NY

    if he goes...the chicken hawk GOP'ers will call him reckless and without a plan. If he doesn't go in, the rest of the GOP will call him gutless and unqualified to lead. No matter what he does, the righties will slam him. Not that THEY have anything constructive to say anyway

    August 30, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  13. Marry

    Dear CNN – you report just as irresponsible on Syria as you did before the Iraq war started! Like asking people to take a seat, join with you and watch the train wreck! What are you doing? Stocking the fire? (OH, what do you think…yes but how should we strike…of cause, soon…well but where do you think Assad is…oh, you think he might…we have to go to a break…oh here are the headlines…highly anticipated…delema...we think...) WANTING IT TO HAPPEN? Good business for you; never mind if it does any good to the people you report about and pretend to be concerned about????
    Disgusting! Very disgusting! You should be ashamed!
    To shoot is always a LOT easier than to think, find coalitions, and find solutions that actually help! And there are a lot of people in great need of help – already outside of Syria! Geezzz...

    August 30, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  14. Wake up People!

    What's really sad is we have a Congress that's focused on repealing a health care law that helps millions that couldn't otherwise afford it, repealing a 40 year old abortion law and searching under rocks for a reason, any reason, to impeach the POTUS. Not two weeks ago they were urging him to do something in Syria but now they are against it. This reeks of underhandedness. He will be damned if he does, damned if he don't.

    This is a time to be Americans, not Democrats or Republicans. But that will never happen. This is the kind of thing they've been chomping at the bit for since November 2008.

    August 30, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  15. Lynda/Minnesota

    Obama is President, not Bush. Obama is President, not Carter. When all is said and done, this will be Obama's legacy in the exact same manner Iraq will always be Bush's legacy.

    I am not privy to the intelligence gathered (nor do I want to be), thus I leave this decision making to Obama.
    He will absolutely be judged no matter which road he takes. We Americans are quite happy to make our
    opinions known ... whether we know what we're talking about or not.

    August 30, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  16. Kbo

    At least Bush had the approval of the American people and the congress before taking action on Iraq. Obama is about to start up a major conflict with no backing of....well really anyone. If we end up getting in to way more than way bargained for, how does he look at soldiers that don't care for him as commander and chief and say they need to go into a country that is of no threat to them and which no one else in the country want them to fight. Ya'll have buyers remorse yet?

    August 30, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  17. Data Driven

    Carter's advice is boring. It also happens to be absolutely correct. Furthermore, I doubt it will be followed.

    August 30, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  18. Data Driven

    @Dixie,

    "Guess the decrease in military spending and manpower was a mistake. How do we cut funding then ask them to do more?"

    We DON'T ask them to do more - simple.

    I'm awaiting a great political scientist here or elsewhere to explain to me why a military involvement in Syria is in our strategic or even pecuniary interest. Oh sure, there's a vague imperial interest, i.e., "leader of the world, gotta do something", to say nothing of poking a stick at Putin, but I'm not impressed, obviously. Some will make the "but what about Israel?" argument, but I don't see how a bloody war north of Israel helps their interests, particularly. Probably hurts Israel, as it offers more propaganda opportunities for Iran and other bad actors in the region.

    Bottom line: if this was really about war crimes, the world would've gone in 18 months ago or so when Assad started killing his own people. We've got video evidence of that. But the world, as usual, doesn't actually care about war crimes per se.

    August 30, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  19. 2L

    Carter is spot on!!!!

    August 30, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  20. Woman In California

    @ Lynda/Minnesota

    Well said and I couldn't agree more.

    August 30, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  21. Gurgyl

    No more wars–send all the rethuglicans there to Syria, evil goes away.

    August 30, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  22. Durundal

    Considering if we intervene we will be by proxy helping crazy religious fundamentalists achieve yet another theocratic heap, while at the same time supporting a resistance in bed with Al Qaeda. Deranged bloodthirsty despot or not, at least Assad forced a relative peace and prevented religions from squabbling over territory

    August 30, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  23. okie

    Fair is Fair

    Tom

    Well at least Bush had sense enough, unlike some of his former cabinet members, to be non-judgmental. Honestly, I don't understand why Obama doesn't just dump this one on Congress. He's already on record as wanting to respond to morally reprehensible acts by the Syrian government. If Congress agrees with him (like that will ever happen) Obama will be off the hook for the blame. If Congress blocks any action on Syria (another day at the office for Congress) then Congress gets all the blame for whatever happens. Obama would win either way.
    ---–
    You call that leadership?
    -------------------------------------------------

    Fair – I believe congress is responsible for declaring war. As rand paul noted in his op-ed from yesterday, this needs to be discussed. I find it ironic however, that now the chicken hawking, no government regulation, and no tax advocates are now wanting to point out how little power the potus has. Remember these are the same people that approved a war on terror (a war on a verb/adjective). Yet when innocents are dying due to a regimes violation of international law that is a proven fact, you don't want to go in and help. Guess either syria does not produce enough oil for us to be interested in. Really all someone has to do is say the phrase "wmd's are littered throughout syria". And watch how quick the tempermant changes. More than likely the only the house moves on the issue is, if we cut taxes for "job creators" even further, then we can go into a conflict.

    August 30, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  24. Thomas O. Smith III

    While deplomacy is best, we have moral obligation to show the world we will not stand by and watch chemical weapons be used on innocent people. Unlike the British, we are not afraid of threats to our people because that would create a harsher and immediate response. Of course a peaceful world would be to everyones best interest, but the reality is there is always smaller factions that want to take advantage of others for their own personal gain. Protest with voice-not weapons. Use violence of mass slatter, chemical weapons or atomic weapons-suffer the wrath of the USA. Freedom for all!

    August 30, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  25. Silence DoGood

    Mr. President stop the US military actions around the world. You have bombed enough innocent people already in Libya, Pakistan, etc. I wish you would have lived up to that Peace Prize.....

    August 30, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
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