In 66-Paragraph Masterpiece, WSJ Details 'Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons' in Obama White House

It was bound to be overshadowed by breaking news of the fatal Washington Navy Yard shooting this morning, but today's Wall Street Journal front-pager, "Inside White House, a Head-Spinning Reversal on Chemical Weapons," would have likely gone unnoticed by the liberal broadcast and cable media regardless.

In a 66-paragraph masterpiece, Journal reporters Adam Entous, Janet Hook, and Carol Lee gave a behind-the-scenes look of how, "Through mixed messages, miscalculations, and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it." Among other things disclosed, "The same day [Secretary of State John] Kerry made his fateful remark" that Syria could simply give up its weapons to the international community, "the State Department sent Congress a memo detailing: 'Russian Obstruction of Actions on Syria.'" It really is a great exploration of the Keystone Kops nature of the Obama team's bungling of Syrian foreign policy.  Here's a taste (emphasis mine):


When President Barack Obama decided he wanted congressional approval to strike Syria, he received swift—and negative—responses from his staff. National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned he risked undermining his powers as commander in chief. Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer pegged the chances of Congress balking at 40%. His defense secretary also raised concerns.

Mr. Obama took the gamble anyway and set aside the impending strikes to try to build domestic and international support for such action.

He found little of either. Congress's top leaders weren't informed of the switch until just an hour or so before Mr. Obama's Rose Garden announcement and weren't asked whether lawmakers would support it. When the president's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, announced the decision on a conference call with congressional committee leaders, some were so taken aback they seemed at first to misunderstand it.

Outside the U.S., Arab leaders privately urged the U.S. to bomb, but few backed Mr. Obama publicly. The United Kingdom pulled the plug on a joint operation two days after indicating to the White House it had the votes to proceed. Compounding the confusion, the same day a potential breakthrough emerged via a diplomatic opening provided by Russia, the administration sent a memo to lawmakers highlighting why Russia shouldn't be trusted on Syria.

This account of an extraordinary 24 days in international diplomacy, capped by a deal this past weekend to dismantle Syria's chemical-weapons stockpile, is based on more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. The events shed light on what could prove a pivotal moment for America's role in the world.

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.'s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Obama saw the unintended outcome as better than the alternative: limited strikes that risked pulling the U.S. into a new conflict. It forestalled what could have been a crippling congressional defeat and put the onus on Russia to take responsibility for seeing the deal through. U.S. officials say the deal could diminish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical stockpile more effectively than a strike, though it leaves Mr. Assad and his conventional arsenal in place.

"I'm not interested in style points," Mr. Obama told his senior staff in a closed-door meeting Friday, according to a participant. "I'm interested in results."

Not everyone is pleased. Mr. Obama infuriated allies who lined up against Mr. Assad and his regional backers Iran and Hezbollah. French officials, who were more aggressive than the U.S. in urging a strike, feel they have been left out on a limb. And Russia has been reestablished as a significant player on the world stage, potentially at the expense of the U.S.

You can read the full story here.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters