Whitewashing the 'Red Line,' Part 1: WaPo 'Fact-Checker' Kessler Discounts Obama's 'Offhand Statements'

As expected, the establishment press's excuse-makers have come out to defend the indefensible, claiming that President Barack Obama's Wednesday assertion in Stockholm that "I did not set a red line" with Syria and chemical weapons doesn't contradict his oft-quoted August 2012 "red line" statement.

I didn't think that the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler to be among those trying to explain it all away; (meanwhiile, PolitiFact has predictably weighed in; its post is the subject of Part 2). While he has been a bit heavier in handing out the "Pinocchios" in situations involving Republicans and conservatives than to Democrats and liberals, Kessler has rarely tried to convince readers that they didn't see or hear what the really saw and heard. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he did in this instance by giving the obvious contradiction "no rating." Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine; HT Hot Air):


President Obama and the ‘red line’ on Syria’s chemical weapons

“I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line.”
– President Obama, news conference in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
– Obama, remarks to reporters, August 20, 2012

ObamaLarge... The “red line” has been rhetorically troublesome for the president ever since he uttered those words about a year ago — apparently to the surprise of his aides. Let’s see what the fuss is about.

Obama’s initial comment was prompted by ... (a question which asked, in part) ... "whether you envision using U.S. military, if simply for nothing else, the safe keeping of the chemical weapons, and if you’re confident that the chemical weapons are safe?”

Note that the question has to do with whether the Syrian government has enough controls on its stockpile of chemical weapons that such weapons would not fall in the hands of terrorist groups.

... Obama’s formulation is very loose and informal, focused mainly on the question of movement of chemical weapons: “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”

So Obama expanded his answer beyond the scope of the question. Why does that matter? What about the word "utilized" ("to put to use") don't you understand, Glenn?

Continuing:

When The Fact Checker was a diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, one rule of thumb was that prepared statements should be given more weight than off-hand statements at news conferences.

In other words, if it's not part of "prepared statements," it shouldn't count — even if that statement is made by the President himself.

How quaint.

What a load of rubbish.

Kessler's conclusion:

... 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.

Glenn, Obama said he didn't "set a red line." There is no "made it appear" involved. How many free "bungles" is Obama allowed on the world stage in matters involving military involvement and national security? (Obvious answer: A heck of a lot more than any Republican or conservative.)

Kessler also tries to claim that Secretary of State John Kerry's formulation — referring to a "line" the world has drawn for a century — is acceptable, when it's not. But that doesn't fly either, because, as Hot Air's Ed Morrissey notes: "[T]he world has never — never — set a red line for military intervention for just the use of chemical weapons."

Finally, Kessler indicates that he is "inclined to leave this question to our readers."

What a cop-out.

And all of this is before considering the possibility that it was the rebels who "utlized" the chemical weapons.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.