Washington (CNN) – Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich knocked President Barack Obama on foreign policy Sunday, saying the president is "leading from behind" in the United States-Russia negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons.
"Russian influence just increased in the Middle East dramatically. We are now relying on the Russians. We're now following from behind," said Gingrich, who's now a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire." "This is not a good long-term position."
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Russia and the U.S. announced Saturday they had reached an agreement on a framework for Syria to hand over control of its chemical weapons.
While Obama said in a statement the agreement "represents an important concrete step" forward, he cautioned that the U.S. is prepared to act if the diplomatic option fails.
Echoing criticism from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, Gingrich said Russia has now taken the leading position in brokering the agreement – a position that shouldn't be trusted.
"You have (Russian President Vladimir) Putin playing chess, you have Obama playing frankly a very lucky game of tic-tac-toe," Gingrich said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Putin stepped in, but he didn't step in to save Barack Obama. Putin stepped in to maximize Russia's influence in the Middle East. That is strategically a defeat for the United States - the biggest defeat for us since the 1970s."
Republican Sen. John McCain, joining in the criticism, argued the new agreement is "meaningless" because "there's no penalty for noncompliance."
"There was no agreement on the use of force or sanctions by the United Nations, showing that unless Russia agrees, there's is no punishment for noncompliance for Bashar al-Assad," McCain told reporters.
But others argued that critics were simply overlooking the big picture.
"In the end, we're not going to be dropping bombs over there," CNN political commentator Cornell Belcher said on "State of the Union." "In the end, he's going to get rid of the chemical weapons. We're not going to war, like the American people didn't want to. I think it's a victory."
Neera Tanden, president of American Center for Progress, said the agreement fulfills U.S. national security interests, and those who disagree are simply playing politics.
"Instead of seeing this as an achievement for America's national security interests, conservatives are looking at another way to score points against the president," she said on the same program.
For his part, Obama also seemed to brush off criticism from skeptics. In an interview that aired Sunday, he said he's not worried about the negative reactions over how he's handled the Syria situation, saying Washington tends to make judgments based on style, rather than substance.
"Had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear - they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy," he said on ABC's "This Week." "We know that, 'cause that's exactly how they graded the Iraq War - until it ended up … blowing up in our face."
"I'm less concerned about style points," he added. "I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right."
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