Ex-CIA Chief Felt 'Embarrassment' When Obama Backed Away From 'Red Line' in Syria

Patrick Goodenough | May 2, 2014 | 8:05pm EDT
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Former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s decision to hold off on military action against the Assad regime after signaling that it was on the cards in response to last summer’s chemical weapons attack made the U.S. “appear weak,” former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Thursday.

“My raw emotion, watching it from the outside, was just embarrassment,” he said.

“Sometimes the certainty of an action is far more powerful than the severity of an action,” Hayden told the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ annual forum in Washington.

“We’ve made everything uncertain, which actually makes you appear weak at some times, but also then demands that when you want to appear strong, you may have to be overly severe to overcome the uncertainty. It’s just bad all around.”

Hayden, speaking after being honored with the FDD’s George P. Shultz Award, said the Syria “red line” episode “just cost in so many ways.  And that sounds judgmental and it probably was, but – and I try not to do that, being an intelligence officer – but I just don’t understand.”

He recalled watching Secretary of State John Kerry deliver a speech on Friday, August 30, making a case for limited military action to punish President Bashar Assad for the chemical attack.

“I mean, that was a presidential speech.  I mean, it really was, and a good one, I mean if you were going to go to war,” he said. “And so we were all geared up for the Saturday morning announcement the next day, where the president would have said: ‘I’m informing the American public that two hours ago …’ and so on and so forth.

“And he didn’t. What he said was, [Chief of Staff] Denis [McDonough] and I took a walk on the South Lawn last night and we decided we’ll toss this to Congress. They’ll decide,” Hayden said.

Almost exactly one year before the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus – in which more than 1,400 people died, according to the administration – Obama raised the “red line” as he addressed concerns that chemical weapons could be used in the Syrian civil war.

“We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people,” he said then.

“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.”

The military strikes signaled by the adminstration after the attack never took place. The White House says the threat worked, however, in that Syria agreed – prodded by its ally Russia – to surrender its chemical weapons stockpile.

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