As Obama considers Syria strikes, Bush and Carter weigh in
August 30th, 2013
09:36 AM ET
8 months 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. Rudy NYC

    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. ... ... ...
    ------------
    I agree. Call their bluff. They've crying for a vote, so tell them to get on with it. But, knowing the war mongers on the right, they will construe any vote to approve military action as an order to do so. Personally, I say it is Russia's problem. Between the Russians and the Chinese, Assad's allies, they do not plan to do anything, nor wish to see anything about it. Smear the egg on their faces, instead of your own.

    August 30, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  2. Anthony

    Data Driven, I am not a great political scientist, but the credibility of the United States is at stake. The strategic interest involved is the credibility of the United States. If we back down now, there will be more crises in the future that pose greater threats to the U.S. You draw a line in the sand against chemical weapons because you don't want to deal with something worse. A full-out war is not necessary, but Syria and others need to know that their actions have consequences.

    August 30, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. Peace

    Mr. President don't worry about kids or people in Syria dying of chemical use. Our kids and their parents here at home are dying of not getting the healthcare they need. Dying is dying, whether is of a chemical, bullet or not getting healthcare. Mr. President, you can't leave your own house burning at home, and run to distinguish the fire of a far person who doesn't care at all of the people he leads.

    August 30, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Hammerer

    This is the results of the "loose cannon" in the White House and the press without the ability to sell his snake oil to the world. In over his head again!
    And he is supposed to be Einstein jr.

    August 30, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  5. Rudy NYC

    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.
    ----------------------–
    What nonsense. We don't have any moral obligation to be the world's police force. Our only international obligations are to support our allies and conform to international law. The rest of that yada-yada is complete nonsense. It's a dogma pushed by people who are in the business of making profits off of war and selling weapons of war.

    August 30, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  6. Fair is Fair

    @ okie -

    Please read Tom's original post... all Tom wanted was a political "win" for Obama. My reply was simply asking Tom if he felt that "dumping" the problem on congress was showing leadership. It was not intedned as a slight towards Obama in the least.

    August 30, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  7. sonny chapman

    W. is RIGHT. America does have the best Military in the World. It should be used WISELY, which doesn't include invading, regime change & half-ass occupying a country w/no Plan B.

    August 30, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  8. Rick McDaniel

    Most people who understand things, are against taking any action. They know it will accomplish nothing.

    August 30, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  9. Data Driven

    @Anthony,

    Well-written post. I disagree almost completely. In my opinion, the United States has no credibility among the bad actors of the world. Why didn't Mubarak and Assad and Ahmedinejad do what we asked them to do in the first place, if we had all this credibility of which you speak? As for the "good" actors of the world, it appears that they tolerate us because no one else wants this sort of responsibility. They follow our lead because they can. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the United Nations - the elusive idea of internationalism championed by Pope Innocent in the 1000's, Cardinal Wolsey in the 1500s, and Woodrow Wilson in the 1900s - is just not in everyone's "strategic interest". Therefore: they look to a leader like the U.S. to solve the world's problems. But why must we ALWAYS acquiesce?

    In any case, Assad has already demonstrably broken Geneva Conventions protocols by killing his own people with conventional weapons, so the whole "chemical weapons" thing is moot.

    August 30, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  10. timverba

    "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."

    It seems that Mr Rumsfeld just expressed America's interest in this particular situation. Who wants to allow a regime go around killing innocents?

    August 30, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  11. Hector Slagg

    These things are supposed to be decided in the United Nations. But for all practical purposes the United Nations are worthless. Tough choice indeed when very few are taking any responsibility.

    August 30, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  12. RUDY HAUGENEDER -- CANADA

    This headline in one of Canada's largest right-wing newspapers says it all:
    "British vote on Syria demonstrates deep western weariness with Middle East"
    National Post – - British 'no' vote on Syria ratchets up pressure on Obama. The United States found itself with only one major partner – France – in its plans to strike Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, after its staunchest ally Britain had to beg off following a ...
    We are weary. Only Jews and Palestinians and Arabs really care anymore. After seven decades, the rest of us are sick of it/sic/sick/sick. Either make peace among yourself or commit mass suicide, but leave the rest of us alone.
    And blow up Jerusalem, and Mecca, while you're at it in order to get rid of those Jewish, Muslim and Christian symbols that have caused so much death, destruction and war throughout history and into today.

    August 30, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  13. Steveo

    @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.
    -------------
    Disagree! Who gets the blame for Iraq and Afghanistan now, Bush or the Congress?. Here 's a hint...it is NOT the Congress!

    August 30, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. Steveo

    @Hector Slagg

    These things are supposed to be decided in the United Nations. But for all practical purposes the United Nations are worthless. Tough choice indeed when very few are taking any responsibility.
    --------
    China and Russia will veto any action!

    August 30, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  15. Steveo

    @Rudy NYC

    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. ... ... ...
    ----
    But, knowing the war mongers on the right, they will construe any vote to approve military action as an order to do so.
    ----------–
    Who drew the "red line"?

    August 30, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  16. Evergreen

    We are all basing our opinions on the limited information being provided by the media. I am sure our Preident is working behind the scene with other countries to come up with a solution. My guess is that what he is doing is very close to what Former President Carter has suggested. After all, President Obama was compared to the former president during the last election.

    August 30, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  17. sonny chapman

    Stop the CHEST BEATING: What is the Security THREAT to AMERICA here ? We told Iran that they CANNOT have a Nuke. That would create unacceptable instability in the Mid East to Israel & Saudi Arabia. We & the World get lotsa OIL there. We told Syria, no chemical weapons or an attack. Iran is watching. We've got to attack.

    August 30, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  18. Rich

    Are you serious? "Many say those wars, particularly in Iraq, have contributed to nationwide war fatigue." Oh, so it is Bush's fault that Great Britain and others won't support President Obama. Sheesh.

    August 30, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  19. Becker

    I am sure Obama will send over a few bombs to placate both sides with absolutely no results. Both sides in Syria hate the US so he would be better off doing nothing but politics as usual will get in the way. Bush got mauled even with Congressional approval and major support from other nations so we all know its a no win situation. Spend the money on the veterans that desperately need help and forget Syria.

    August 30, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  20. Fair is Fair

    sonny chapman

    Stop the CHEST BEATING: What is the Security THREAT to AMERICA here ? We told Iran that they CANNOT have a Nuke. That would create unacceptable instability in the Mid East to Israel & Saudi Arabia. We & the World get lotsa OIL there. We told Syria, no chemical weapons or an attack. Iran is watching. We've got to attack.
    -------
    Sigh... sadly, you might be right. Iran is watching. And Syria is their proxy. Iran has also promised retaliation should we do attack. And they have scads of goons known as Hezbollah to do their dirty work for them, against our interests in the region and around the world. What a mess.

    August 30, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    "Who drew the "red line"?"

    President Obama drew the red line to keep the right wing and war mongering crittics at bay. They've been hounding for direct military involvement in every little flare up in the middle east.

    August 30, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. Anthony

    Data Driven, the United States has no credibility because the bad actors of the world assume that they can get away with doing things. Assad assumed he could get away with using chemical weapons. We should stop him, before someone else decides that he can get away with using nuclear weapons.

    There is an article from Wall Street Journal today, which normally does not support Obama on anything. The article explains that Russia has ruled out direct military intervention from the start, because it does not want to get into a war with the U.S. The article is too long, and I suspect that CNN will not publish a long excerpt.

    Unlike Assad, Putin knows that he does not want to get into a war with the United States. The United States still has credibility with Russia. Let us keep it that way.

    August 30, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  23. sonny chapman

    Fair: One might call this the initial skirmish of the U.S.(& hopefully a few others) v. Iran.

    August 30, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Call congress back from their stupid, 5 week vacation and make them do their jobs.

    August 30, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  25. Steveo

    Rudy NYC

    "Who drew the "red line"?"

    President Obama drew the red line to keep the right wing and war mongering crittics at bay. They've been hounding for direct military involvement in every little flare up in the middle east.
    ----------
    And you know the reason for the red line, how? I have never seen that anywhere! Regardless, that red line is now additional pressure NO ONE needs.

    August 30, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
1 2 3 4