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. Truth

    Putin pwned Obama plain and simple. America is weak thanks to Mr. It's Not My Responsibility. Worst president ever.

    September 15, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  2. sally

    The end result of the Syrian crisis has been very encouraging and if Syria actually follows through and turns over their chemical weapons, it will be a fine outcome. As for the Republican assessment of Obama, anything they say is distorted, contrived, and often outrageous. The truth is Obama has allowed the Congress to weigh in on the Syrian question because he didn't have popular backing to do the strike. However, this agreement would never have happened if Obama had not made a big fuss about chemical weapons and anybody who denies that is totally partisan!

    September 15, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  3. Charles Nesbit

    Well fine, Obama-bashing seems to be very popular in the US. That's ok in a democraZy, but doesn't change the fact that this President is a heck of a guy and one heck of a statesman. He's smart and knows perfectly well what the idiocies of past 'macho-policies' have really cost the US.

    September 15, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  4. O

    Being a peacemaker in a culture that is hell bent on destruction and war is not easy. Hence, there will always be criticism from the blood-thirsty and the ones who stand to benefit from war. It will also always be covered in some kind of a worry about others and the need to protect them from someone.

    September 15, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  5. Mike

    I give Obama a lot of credit... Its true that he shouldn't have made any ultimatums without thinking through the possibility of having to back it up – but at least he didn't rush into military action just to look good. I think he took a big political risk in order to do the right thing & I think we are all better of because of it. Too bad more politicians don't think that way.

    September 15, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  6. Seize the moment

    Quickly push for a chemical weapons free middle east.

    Maybe Iran & Israel can agree on that.
    They both have lost millions to them.

    September 15, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  7. zappo15

    Folks are getting tired of Obama's goody two shoes pointless preaching. All is not lost. Obama, why not just just start fresh, keep mouth shut and carry a steady stick with thought over direction. Put Kerry and Rice on the shelf and get new smart advisers..

    September 15, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  8. paul ohearn

    Americans do not want another war,but we do not want the people that killed thousands of innocent individuals to go unpunished . Assad like all dictators, is a cruel ruler. He does not care one iota about the people he rules and obviously spends no money to make their lives better. We may not agree with all of the ideas of the people that wish to overthrow Assad, but we know he has to go. I say the hell with the agreement we have with Russia regarding Syria's illigal weapons, lets target ASSAD. He has to go. H e is a terrorist, he kills for his own self gain. Correct me if I am wrong , but the world does not need him, no more than we needed ADOLPH HITLER., who also killed millions of his fellow citizens because the didn't believe in him.

    September 15, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  9. MIckeyOregon

    As usual Obama is all about hearing himself speak and not about substance. At no point in this Syrian debacle or any other effort that he has every done as POTUS has Obama given a rip or even tried to get the substance right. This is more of the same. He postured and posed and kept to his little pedestle for the last couple of years when actions would have had meaning. Now he threatens something unbelievably small in an adventure which will do the US, the Syrians, the region or any one any good. Having zero ethics and no firm foundation upon which to build a policy, any policy, he blathers professorially. He is weak. This latest debacle nailed the point home yet again. At what point will his worshipful acolytes hold him up to any sort of standard whatsoever. The elected a man without a resume of accomplishments, apparently only as an act of affirmative action.

    September 15, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  10. cbp

    President Obama is always in a no-win position with some in Congress and some in this nation. We overlook the bigger picture every time that we go to war. Our war in Afghanistan needed more troops not less when {resident Bush pulled some of them out to fight in Iraq. Both wars have gone on far longer than predicted. Did we underestimating the strength of the opposition? We have given some arms to rebels in Syria. Other nations are giving arms to Syria – namely Russia and China. The have propped up Assad who has a very loyal military. The idea that we would and could target areas in Syria did not set well with Assad. He tried going on Charlie Rose and if you watched any of it you saw a man who knew he did not want the US involved. Putin had a ready-made platform for his proposal.

    People go all-a-twitter by Putin;s Op-ed piece. He was posturing. He was feeing his ego and most fell right in with his plan. He is just a well-known bully and ex-KGB head, WE cannot overlook who the man really is. The NY Times was the patsy this time. The people there have lost sight of the fact that the man gassed his people. Is this a repeat of WWII when papers did not report about the gas chambers?

    September 15, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  11. Michael

    american are so simple minded. they want to talk tough but not back it up and if obama wants to back it up then he is a warmonger. typical american wants to have it both ways

    September 15, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  12. Magister

    I like how people are assuming Putin's in this because he's selling arms to Syria, especially when Assad himself admits to getting his weapons from the late Saddam Hussein.............Sorry, but it IS possible to criticize Obama and be right, even if you are Russian, white, and a right winger.

    September 15, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  13. Patty

    What really matters in life, are 'results'.....remember when you had to clean your room but stomped your feet to make every excuse to convince your parents why going to the mall was more important? IF you had your way, unconditionally–your room would not be cleaned up from the mess you made of it-or your mother had to do it. Obama had a 'room to clean', and instead of going to the 'mall' with people whose only goal is talking bad about others–Obama found a way to 'clean the room' --RESULTS! There is an old saying that those in 'high places' of responsibility and power, live by-"Keep your friends close, and your enemy closer"---learn how to go above the whining, and excuses, and instead tackle the problem that can be workable for both you and the enemy--Seems to me, Obama and Putin understand the meaning of that 'saying'....and instead of Jr. High and High School , they were wise enough to separate the 'he-said, she-said rhetoric from the needed 'RESULTS'........What they accomplished together, in a synergistic way.....was far more effective than most of these comments I have read thus far...........MOST of your comments above are still reflecting the he-said, she said mentality--Together, Obama and Putin, may claim RESULTS--which protects both the US and Russia, and Syria-–without having to invest in yet another unwinable war!!!!!

    September 15, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  14. vidal808

    A leader we can count on. I like Obama's style and leadership on this issue. Diplomacy and more diplomacy. We should all be thankful that he used restrain and worked with Putin on this issue. We don't need another war in the Middle East. Thank you Mr. President!

    September 15, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  15. brett

    obama on the ropes. taking a back seat to bloody dictators. couldn't even put a simple coalition together cause our european allies figured this fool out years ago. and he had the arrogance to call bush a cowboy. what goes around comes around fool.

    September 15, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  16. Tampa Tim

    And the republicans continue to be a dip stick without an engine.

    September 15, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. teaparty is the only tyranny

    Damned if he does, or not. Only truism is that the GOP warhawks Graham and McCain won't be happy until your sons die in another foreign war

    September 15, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  18. Tampa Tim

    I still enjoy free stuff like I – 75, but then again I am a democrat.

    September 15, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  19. snowdog

    Obama has made the US look weak. He is wishy washy and does not know how to lead.

    September 15, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  20. hn

    Client state – Genious.

    Dan, Obama needs no reason to go towar to cover up economy like GW did. The ruin he inherited from Bush is now doing much better. The damage was so bad that it will take generations or technological revolution to make up but Obama came out better with economy inspite of all your hurdles of his plans.

    September 15, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  21. barryinlasvegas

    The American people are grading Obama on performance – and so far he is getting a failing grade, not only on Syria, but his entire foreign policy of leading from behind and of course unemployment and the economy in general. He does get high marks for reading a teleprompter.

    September 15, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  22. The Truth

    Syria to Russia is what Israel is to U.S. This is a no-brainer.

    September 15, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. oh no!

    putin clearly showed up obama to be a complete fool!

    September 15, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  24. Bewatermyfriend

    Thank you Mr. President! Haters gon hate. Neva back down!

    September 15, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. joe saab

    a long way from calling this Amerian Russia brokered deal successful.. HOWEVER, if it does work out, Iran will be sweating it.

    September 15, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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