September 15th, 2013
09:29 AM ET
12 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. Gregory

    Steven in SD -Nobody on these boards have any idea what they are talking about, including you and me. Unless you hold a position of power and make decisions regarding Syria, the comments on these boards are meaningless rhetoric that has no impact whatsoever – comment away though, be my guest.

    September 15, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. Dreamer96

    Ironic that Putin can submit a article to our open press, that criticizes our President Obama, while Putin would never allow a article to be printed in a Russian news paper, that criticized him....

    Obama had to make the promise of a military strike to drive home to Putin he was serious...

    Putin knows that if the US did strike Syria ....that Assad might lose 1/3 of his tanks, and heavy artillery, many fighters, his air strips, his fuel depots, his weapons depots, his command and control and communications systems near the sea, and that Damascus itself was within striking distance...

    Putin does not want to see a dramatic change in Syria, and wants to keep his only warm water Russian Sub base, that base is in Syria...

    And Putin has his own terrorists to worry about, and does not want those chemical weapons to fall into the wrong hands and be used against his country....

    So Putin acted on something that has been discussed for a year now..removing the chemical weapons from Syria...

    September 15, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. jp

    Obama has a good head on his shoulders. Mr McCain, you cant bring the dead back, no matter if you go there and bomb,be thankful you didn't have to send your sons and daughters. Be thankful did this not escalate and aggravate the situation. Be thankful you have a good man in office that keeps an eye on spending. Wars cost money that you cant afford to spend unnecessarily.

    September 15, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. Jeff Kelly

    Obama, the "King of Spin".
    Never miss an opportunity to paint the perception in your favor even if you are the one who has failed miserably.
    The only part of Obama that is transparent.

    September 15, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  5. James

    Obama gets an "F" on style and substance–

    September 15, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  6. McBob79

    Snore... funny to hear about style points from the spin-doctor in chief. It's his bread and butter... he's all style and NO substance.

    September 15, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  7. scott in ga

    If all the Republican leadership can do is call the President names and remark on his lack of solving Syria's problems...then I think that's an obvious sign that they are clearly left without a credible argument. As usual, they stand together as a party of defeat and obstruction, as the country will see again with the coming budget fiasco. The Republicans should really begin thinking about why they have consistently been on the losing side of American history for over a decade now.
    Congratulations to the President and his administration for finding a diplomatic solution to Syrian CW's while working with our former cold war foe, with the inclusion of the UN, and without firing a single shot. It is the very best outcome possible.

    September 15, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  8. Padraig

    Corker is an ally of the president? Who wrote this article? Corker is a right-winger who is mad because an auto company which opened a plant in his state has embraced a union, and he is afraid it will start a trend. Yep. God forbid workers have any rights in Tennessee. That would be all socialist and stuff.

    September 15, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  9. Lorraine

    Mr. Obama – get back to us all in about a years time – about any criticism of Mr. Putin.

    Mr. Obama – you are on a recklessly strung high wire here. After you stepped out and almost upset it all – the entire nation's safety and security – when you jerked your knee and wanted war, war, war. And nothing else. I would caution World Leader Obama to not critique than which you are not competent to opine upon. Seeing how the USA is the last nation on earth that should be judging – anyone. But then my comments are probably being vetted out and sent over to our nation's "National Security Agency" as I post them here. So what's at stake for me, sir – if you lie here, there and everywhere about every other nation...

    September 15, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  10. oh no!

    russia's president putin saved a LEADERLESS and failing america from taking another beating it cant afford!

    September 15, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  11. historyspeaks10

    oh my has this got the republican panties in a bunch! i cant help but laugh at the response from the political right wing! obama was played, obama isnt presidential like, obama isnt a commander in chief.....etc etc. the boys in the ceo offices of raytheon, flir, westinghouse and blackwater are all twitterpated that the USA hasn't launched missiles yet. so funny to watch them squirm and shout trying to get obama to launch away. i'm betting my paycheck micheele told him to get approval fro congress so any escalation would be laid at the feet of congress.

    September 15, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. oh no!

    russia's president putin saved a LEADERLESS and failing america from taking another beating it cant afford!..

    September 15, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  13. Pab

    Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, indecisiveness and inaction by Mr. Obama have led us to this mess. Moreover, no one can categorize the President’s track record in the middle east as anything other than an abysmal failure. Now that a way out of this crisis is feasible, the President is taking advantage of it by maintaining pressure on Syria which is the right thing to do. But if anyone is inferring that this possible solution offered by Mr. Putin was President Obama's plan all along, they are delusional.
    It was the President’s inattention to foreign policy that led to events where a DICTATOR like Mr. Putin can take advantage of a "mistake" by Mr. Kerry, (as categorized by the WH) to expose President Obama as a weak leader in the first place.
    Blind loyalty should never trump the truth.

    September 15, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  14. Christian

    America just wants to dominate the world the way Hitler's Germany did. Doesn't matter how much better/nicer America thinks it is and how much they believe they are different and best suited to do it, and 'deserve' to do it, It's still the same old domination game that puts America on the same level as Hitler's Germany.

    I'm sure I will called names but what can I expect when the truth is harder to swallow than for me to dish out.

    September 15, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    So I have to ask what secret trade did B0 make to get the agreement with Putin? Kennedy traded missiles in Turkey and Italy to get the Russian missiles out of Cuba in a secret deal. It didn't come out until years later, made Kennedy look like a hero at the time. Google Jupiter missile and see Wikipedia.

    September 15, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  16. BobE

    With all due respect, these message boards allow people who know little of what they are talking about seek their 15 minutes of fame. None of us knows what goes on behind the scenes and none of us get to call the shots, polls or no polls. So, sit back and enjoy the ride while the people we elected make whatever decisions they're going to make – all this BS on social media accomplishes nothing.

    September 15, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  17. Wirius

    So the president takes the proposal of war to congress (constitutional), gets Russia to get involved and take some responsibility, and makes Assad give up his chemical weapons without a pint of blood drawn. Yep, horrible leader. Where's my impeachment button?

    September 15, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  18. jod

    What a joke. We're supposed to blindly trust the Syrians and the Russians to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons arsenal? How is that a victory? It's a ruse. Meanwhile, Syrians are being massacred daily, and our enemies are emboldened by our ignorance and unwillingness to confront evil effectively.

    September 15, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  19. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Don , your an IDIOT, the economy has been coming back for five years!!!where have you been, in spite of GOP attempts to sabatage it !!!!!!

    September 15, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  20. blakenaustin

    Obama is concerned about one and only one thing. Obama. He wants to save face in this situation. He couldn't care less about the people of Syria or American interests.

    September 15, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  21. john

    When this is written into the history books it will read something like: President Obama, working with Russian president Putin, averted armed conflict in Syria through diplomacy. The result was the destruction of the chemical weapon arsenal of Syria and its agreement to join those nations who disavow the use of chemical weapons.

    Only wish Obama listened to Gorbachev and pulled out of Afghanistan, instead of the silly "surge."

    September 15, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  22. bear

    So now because we have a possible agreement with Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons we are sure we know how to handle Iran and its nukes? LOL There is no way that threatening Iran with military force is going to get them to stop working on nukes. They are not in the middle of a civil war. They are not Putin's lap dog. They have hidden their weapons producing facilities underneath population centers. Iran will get nukes and nobody will stop them. The only way would be to invade and we are not going to do that. Bush did nothing. Obama has done nothing. No President will do anything. We need to prepare for the day we face a nuclear armed Iran.

    September 15, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  23. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Ahhhh... Ummmm....

    Did "I" not TELL you that "I" am just too AWESOME !!!

    FORWARD >>> >>> >>> >
    To a diminished america !!!
    Fundamental Transformation feels so good !!!

    September 15, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  24. vinster76

    "Folks here in Washington like to grade on style" – maybe so, but you are not fooling the rest of America who believe you don't have a clue what you're doing, nor a backbone to back up your mouth.........

    September 15, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  25. Steve

    I really don't understand why it's wrong to kill 1400 people with chemical weapons, but apparently okay to kill tens of thousands with attack helicopters, fighter and bomber planes, tanks and heavy artillery, is some kind of precedent being set here?

    September 15, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
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