September 15th, 2013
09:29 AM ET
5 years ago

Obama on Syria criticism: Washington grades on style, not substance

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama has responded to critics who disagree with his handling of the situation in Syria, saying he's more concerned about the end goal - no chemical weapons in Syria - than about "style points."

In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Obama downplayed the controversy over Vladimir Putin's opinion piece in The New York Times last week, saying "this is not a Cold War" and that he welcomes the Russian president's involvement in the issue.

As for the public perception of his own management of the U.S. response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, Obama said, "Folks here in Washington like to grade on style."

"And so 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 continued. "We know that, 'cause that's exactly how they graded the Iraq War - until it ended up… blowing up in our face."

Asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos whether the recent events changed his view of former President George W. Bush, Obama said, "No, no. What it says is that I'm less concerned about style points. I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right."

Obama got some of his most candid criticism last week from an ally, Republican Sen. Bob Corker. The senator told CNN's Dana Bash that the president has lost his credibility and is "very uncomfortable being commander in chief."

And following a deal reached between the U.S. and Russia on Saturday for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to international control, two Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said the Syria deal "does nothing to resolve the real problem in Syria" and allows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "go on slaughtering innocent civilians and destabilizing the Middle East."

Talking about his relationship with Putin, Obama said he doesn't think his Russian counterpart "has the same values that we do" and that Putin has a "different attitude about the Assad regime." But, he said, both countries "have an interest in preventing chaos" and "preventing terrorism."

"This is not a contest between the United States and Russia. I mean, the fact of the matter is that if Russia wants to have some influence in Syria post-Assad, that doesn't hurt our interests," he said.

"And I think there's a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role in that," he continued. "And so I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, 'I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime, to deal with these chemical weapons.'"

On Iran, Obama said recent negotiations over Syria could still deter Tehran from building nuclear weapons, even though the U.S. did not use force to address the chemical weapons crisis in Syria.

The president confirmed that he and the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, have communicated indirectly through letters. Obama believes Iran understands that the nuclear issue is far more significant to U.S. security interests than are chemical weapons in Syria.

"A nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing," he said. "And so I - my suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck to think we won't strike Iran. On the other hand … what they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically."

"Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy," he added. "But you know, my view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that in fact you can strike a deal."

Filed under: President Obama • Russia • Syria
soundoff (263 Responses)
  1. Liz the First

    Face it, Mr. President, if you walked on water and cured cancer, the repugs would still slam you for it. if you came out in favor of criminalizing abortion, the repugs would suddeny turn pro-Choice. you are dealing with mindless haters who can't see any of the good you are doing.

    September 15, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  2. luckjoe

    Obama can simply look in the mirror and see Style with no Substance.

    September 15, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  3. biglio

    99% of the people here don't even know where Syria is and yet they comment like it's the center of the word. Who cares what happens in Syria really, you didn't care before and you won't care later. Russia has more influence in Syria than us? Good for them! We have more influence over Germany and Japan and probably China. They surely have more influence over most of the central asian "stans".......irrelevant countries......Obama knows the world much much better than all the Republicans that never went out of Texas or Mississippi and is taking care of America's interests a million tmes better than Bush did, face it. He has a problem, his skin color and the fact that he's smart........and he's not bombastic and a guy that promises the moon without delivering, like Carter, who was a much much better president than Reagan and now we are starting to realize it......In the end Putin is right, we think we are exceptional but we are not, the sooner we realize it the later the Chinese and the rest of the world will eat our lunch......

    September 15, 2013 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  4. Evergreen

    Well done Mr. President. Syria is now Russia's problem and the world will hold them accountable for not only the chemical weapons but the continued violence.

    September 15, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  5. Mike Schoppe

    I have envisioned the world President John F. Kennedy challenged us to achieve.

    I am a patriot. A true American.

    President Kennedy instilled his vision in my heart when I was only 4 years old. It has matured for 52 years with God's love and wisdom. And now God has commanded me to make it happen.

    The prophecies of St. John the Apostle in the book of Revelations predicts man's final days. I believe St. John's vision is a warning to man of what would befall us if we failed to learn to love one another.

    God's plan has always been for us to find peaceful solutions to the world's problems. President Kennedy was suggesting, given our ability to destroy ourselves completely, that we use that ability cooperatively for the purpose of keeping the peace.

    I have also seen a New America, freed from the bondage's of violent crimes and gang violence in our cities. Freed from the burdens of a war on drugs that is stalemated against violent drug cartels. I see a true international cooperative effort moving humanitarian aide to those parts of the world needing it most.

    I see a new politics sweeping the nation demanding change. No more politics as usual. Let us return the power of government to the voice of the people. Partisan politics threatens to derail Obama-care funding. I think that would be a mistake. But that seems to be what congress is best at passing.

    God is calling us to learn to cooperate in a new way. As our forefathers intended.

    United, nothing is impossible. Divided, nothing is possible.

    September 15, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  6. InGodWeTrust

    Obama is a president who asks the public opinions and the support of the Senate and the House before he acts in the name of the United States. It's been a very long time that we don't have a president who listens to the people. What's Obama did is perfectly right and proved that he is among the best presidents who think of the safety and interests of Americans above his own interests. He accepts his people's criticisms and acts to protect America! Chapeau to Mr. Obama, you are da man!

    September 15, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  7. Oh Really!

    I would call this hole thing funny except that Putin calls us out for our actions while what he does in Russia is called "internal matters".....but people are still killed by this policy of his. In the House which is controlled by Republicans we have some really odd ducks...they do nothing that needs doing and then they say oh Mr President you have to ask us. This makes us look weak. Our international standing shrinks. And just wait while Iran who funds terrorist groups goes see we can do what ever we want because we have Putin on our side. Mean while in Syria the government has a victory party..........

    September 15, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  8. Common Sense

    The so-called Syrian rebels are the enemies of the American People and anyone who wants to support them is a traitor. The so-called Syrian rebels want our taxpayer dollars and blood to enable them to establish an Islamist state to be used to train al-Qaeda for attacks all over the world.

    September 15, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  9. John

    Putin wouldn't be involved in any kind of negotiation to remove weapons of any kind from anywhere if Obama hadn't been promising to blow them away by himself. .

    September 15, 2013 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  10. Catherine

    Nero fiddles while Rome burns

    September 15, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  11. Perry Tanko

    the Putin/Obama affair in one 4koma...
    Putin looks to Assad, looks to Obama, looks to Obama, *eye roll* in front of Kremlin.

    September 15, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  12. nope

    selling hope = pedaling apathy

    September 15, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  13. Brian Smith

    Putin got all 10's in style. And he actually accomplished something. I suggest Russia take the front diplomatic position on Israel since they have proven to achieve results quickly, where the USA has failed for the past 20+ years.

    September 15, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  14. Abdul Majeed

    Syria's Chemical weapons = Iraq's Weapon of Mass Destruction

    Arab spring is a fire brunt by America + Israel.

    September 15, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  15. Mary1972

    Ann Terhune, well said. The end result should be what we are interested in and it worked out that way. The complainers will complain about Obama either way and so, take what they say with a pinch of salt.

    September 15, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  16. bigjohnpudd

    I don't know why these uneducated leaders are backing the "holy war"? read a book or educate yourself before you guys blow us all up!! besides the 'holy lands " are place where people can pray or vacation not to run around like mad men and kill each other. I mean don't you want tourists in these areas? one more thing the crusaders up and left with all the goods a long time ago!!

    September 15, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  17. Alex Kassel

    Really? Obama made us look bad? Doesn't anyone else see here the continuing disaster left by the last President/administration that snookered all of us and the rest of the world with all the talk, half-truths and outright lies about "mushroom clouds" and WMDs that didn't even exist? Have we learned NOTHING from that? The US' international credibility went down the toilet in 2003 with the attack on Iraq. We are seen as liars. And no one can blame others for seeing us that way. It would be foolish for any country to join with us now against Syria, chemical weapons or no chemical weapons. Every President will have to deal with international credibility whenever we seek int'l coalitions.
    But I would much rather that we 'look bad' now rather than rushing into battle, killing even more innocents, all based on false 'intelligence' like the WMDs. We do not want to end up supporting a band of rebels that includes al Quaeda operatives and other jihadis, which is a real possibility if we were to go into Syria to help the rebels there.

    If this deal works out Syria loses all its chemical weapons, stops their continued production, and folks there can continue their civil war if they so choose. I expect a President to act in our best interests. And that is what I see happening here. No US troops on the ground. No more chemical weapons. And if Syria uses them yet again, woe unto them. Way to go Barak. You look good and you make me proud!

    September 15, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  18. Lori

    So Putin cannot opine about the world leadership of this country? Why is that, Mr. Obama. Aren't your shoulders broad enough to take deserved scrutiny and criticism of just how "exceptional" the US of A very really is? Now we don't know who is telling the truth about the state of our world, or not. Trust Obama just because and end up in another world war. Or trust Putin and end up in the very same place. ALL I KNOW is Obama has spent the totality of his time as a world leader COMMANDING a war. And the countries he was supposed to be aiding and assisting are imploding right behind him. Mr. Putin – who knows. I know he has every right to freely speak. And I know for a fact the US of A ain't one bit exceptional. At all.

    September 15, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  19. Altschuh

    Good relations between Putin (Sheriff) and Obama (Deputy).

    September 15, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  20. Bamabegone!

    Obama BLEW this big time, as he has EVERYTHING since he was "eleacted." He is a failure top to bottom, but now his spin idiots will start their garbage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our "president" is not "flexible" – he's an idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 15, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  21. Matthew

    Soooooooooooo he does realize that he's being graded by the country and not by people in Washington, right? Obviously not.

    September 15, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  22. Prasad T

    It seems The President used a threat to force a dialogue, that could hopefully prove to be a very inexpensive way to at least solve a part of the problem here. He was brave enough to change his course, when he found that the Syrians and the Russians were ready to have a meaningful dialogue. Not sure what he could have done differently here. To me, this sounds like a very prudent course, especially when dealing with Middle East. Looks like good leadership to me.

    September 15, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  23. Natrldiver

    If Obama grades on class, then he better give himself an F. Putin is more of a diplomat and leader than Obama has shown to be. Of he would stop all the vacations, world tour campaigns and TV media hopping, he might actually have enough time to do the job he was elected to do. The list of epic failures grows yet the liberal left continues to drink the kool-aid. America needs to wake up and demand answers from those in DC.

    September 15, 2013 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  24. justachick

    So here's a different spin on what's going on – and one that none of the major news agencies in the US will cover.

    Has anyone stepped back to think why the US wanted to go to war over Syria? What possible reason could they have for wanting to go to war? Furthermore – why on earth does Putin want to throw such aggressive rhetoric back and forth?

    1 – Qatar is the worlds largest natural gas provider
    2 – There was supposed to be a pipeline that would flow directly to Europe from Qatar to Syria
    3 – Russia is a major energy exporter to Europe – in fact Russia has had a monopoly on that market
    4 – Both the Saudi's and the USA want to open that pipeline to Europe – freeing them from Russia's monopoly ( as they both stand to profit )
    5 – Since Assad is against this – it's plain and simple. The USA and the Saudi's as well as most of Europe need Assad gone. Russia needs Assad to stay to maintain the profits they are making off of their monopoly.

    Therefore this war is about money – and has nothing to do with the people of Syria.

    So for all of the right-wingers who think Obama is somehow a crazy leftist... doesn't this fall in line with the type of agenda the USA has always had? I'd say – it's not so different to be honest.

    September 15, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  25. justachick

    just one correction : 2 – The pipeline would flow to europe from Qatar through syria.

    September 15, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
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