September 15th, 2013
09:29 AM ET
7 months 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. Nathan

    Bottom line: Obama's threat of force seems to have moved us a few steps closer to a still distant political settlement, and it has forced Putin to take some responsibility for Assad and his regime. It has forced people who were not dealing with each other to working together to solve a problem. There are no guarantees it won't all fall apart, but we are in a better place than a month ago.

    September 15, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  2. Ryan lee rivers

    Point made. I stand with you Mr.president

    September 15, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  3. observer

    Obama is just an extremely weak President. Full stop.

    September 15, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  4. EatYouAlive

    About time the US had a leader that does not place the American ego in front of geopolitics.

    September 15, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  5. Name

    Y would they give the chemicals to Russia he mite gas us I don't trust puttin he is on asads side I don't know much but I think were in for a spuprise with Russia

    September 15, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  6. hedy

    Even though I am not a fan of President Obama, I give him credit for his wisdom and joining President Putin on Syria.
    Just look at the map and the borders of Syria. One strike on chemical weapons will effect the regions of Turkey and part of Europe which is unwise and self serving. The region is exploding from terror of revolution. Do we know who is spreading it and supporting it. Oceans apart in distance and culture, we know very little. Let widom prevail, it not a sport competiton, it life and death.

    Hedy

    September 15, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  7. John

    After years of no talking, bikering and disagreements Russia and the US are able to work together and avoid getting another military conflict, governments are also taking notice of public opinion and no longer going head first into a fight, hats of to Mr Obama for taking a step back form a difficult position.

    September 16, 2013 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  8. coderjones

    bob corker needs to worry about his own state – and learn to follow his commander in chief

    September 16, 2013 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  9. Abraham Yeshuratnam

    Obama has sidetracked the main Syrian issue. Putin used the chemical weapons card to divert Obama from the main issues of bloodbath and refugee problem in Syria. The West wanted to intervene in Syria on these issues only, as Cameron and Sarkozy did in Libya to oust Gadhafi. . During the two years of fighting in Syria , more than 100,000 people have died and more than two million have been displaced. Syria's neighbors now host one of the largest and potentially most destabilizing refugee crisis in the world. Obama wanted to intervene in Syria on these main issues. Now he has washed his hands and harps on the minor issue of chemical weapons. Chemical weapons can be easily scrapped after the liberation of Syria. Now what will happen to the millions of refugees, including school children, camped in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt?That's how Purtin has fooled Obama

    September 16, 2013 02:06 am at 2:06 am |
  10. d

    I live how every Obama hater has all of a sudden become an ex-commie lover. My Putin, indeed!

    September 16, 2013 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  11. josephine

    at least, he really does not like war.. ate least no blood in his hands, unlike putin who is supplying arms to syria. he has innermost reasons. maybe he is just after the people's opinion also.. they donot like war again... too much failures.. led to no nothing. just waste of money... and the nations who were war sruck, till now, not yet recovered. no total peace...let God be the judge in men's action.. He is the Only one who can say who is right, who is wrong.. God bless america and the whole world.

    September 16, 2013 03:30 am at 3:30 am |
  12. truthbetoldagain

    This is one extremely weak President on record.

    (A disgrace to the U.S.A how he has been out-maneuvered by Putin!! And no, it is not about striking or not striking. It is all about the Presidency. He just painted himself into a corner and got himself out-maneuvered!!)

    September 16, 2013 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  13. truthbetoldagain

    This is Putin:

    1) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, former KGB spy.
    2) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, leader of birds.
    3) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I can ride a horse.
    4) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I can show off my 4'11" body.
    5) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I can put little punk girls in prison.
    6) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I can steal SuperBowl Rings.

    You forgot the following:
    7) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I out-maneuvered the President of U.S.A.
    8) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, I managed to make the President of the U.S.A look extremely weak.
    9) Look at me: I'm Vladimir Putin, in fact I managed to make the whole of the U.S.A looked weak and lame.

    September 16, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
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