September 6, 2013

Fact Checker: Obama and the 'red line' on Syria's chemical weapons

How can the president say he did not create a 'red line' when his statement last year about a 'red line' is one of the most famous statements of his presidency?

By Glenn Kessler / The Washington Post

(Continued from page 2)

"Some have tried to suggest that the debate we're having today is about President Obama's red line. I could not more forcefully state that is just plain and simply wrong. This debate is about the world's red line. It's about humanity's red line. And it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw.

"This debate is also about Congress's own red line. You, the United States Congress, agreed to the chemical weapons convention. You, the United States Congress, passed the Syria Accountability Act, which says Syria's chemical weapons are — quote, 'threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States.' "

Kerry reiterated the point later in the hearing: "This really is not President Obama's red line. The president drew a line that anyone should draw with respect to this convention that we have signed up to, and which has been in place since the horrors of World War I."

White House aide Antony Blinken used similar language on Thursday when CNN asked about the president's contradictory remarks: "There's an international red line that goes back almost 100 years. There's a congressional red line that goes back well over a decade."

To sum up, the president made an ill-considered rhetorical statement a year ago, without consulting his aides. But the White House staff decided they could not take it back and even considered it a useful example of firm presidential leadership when they needed to inform Congress of evidence of chemical weapons use by Syria.

But the president apparently was never comfortable with his own words. So when new talking points were crafted to make this line seem less like an "Obama red line" and more like a world-backed red line, the president bungled the language again. He made it appear as if he was denying he had called it a red line, when that was obviously not the case.

If he had used Kerry's language, it would not have been as much of an issue: "The line I drew is the same one that the world has had for nearly 100 years." Or something like that.

Of course, he didn't say that. Some may find the president's apparent discomfort with his own words more meaningful than any potential misstatement.

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