(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday accused the Obama administration of having “invited” the Russians to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war, by having “them come in and pretend to be chemical weapons inspectors.”
Asked during an interview with the Wichita Eagle whether the Russians have “been able to fill the power vacuum that was created by the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria” in recent weeks, Pompeo drew attention to the previous administration’s Syria policies.
“I remember who invited the Russians into Syria: It was President Barack Obama,” he said. “I mean, he didn’t just let them come in. He invited them in. He had them come in and pretend to be chemical weapons inspectors. He, he actively worked with the Russian leadership, said ‘no, come on in, come on into Syria.’”
Pompeo was later asked whether President Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria – ahead of a Turkish military offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters allied to the U.S. – had “undercut U.S. credibility.”
After describing the premise as “insane,” he asserted that “the word of the United States is much more respected today than it was just two-and-a-half years ago.”
Pompeo again pointed back to Obama’s policy in Syria, specifically what became known as the “red line” episode, contrasting it with Trump’s decision to punish the regime for chemical weapons use.
“The previous administration said, ‘boy, if you use chemical weapons, that’s going to be bad,’ and the president drew a red line,” Pompeo recalled. “President Obama drew a red line. He then duly ignored it.”
“This president [Trump] said, ‘if you use chemical weapons, I’m going to take action.’ And we fired Tomahawk missiles in to take down that threat, to let them know that the cost – the cost of violating, this massive violation of human dignity, these massive human rights violations by using chemical weapons – that there would be a cost imposed for that.”
(After chemical weapons attacks blamed by the U.S. on Bashar Assad’s regime, Trump twice ordered limited cruise missile strikes on regime targets, in April 2017 and April 2018.)
‘We’d like to see the Russians make a constructive contribution’
In August 2012, Obama told reporters that the use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict would be a “red line for us.”
A year later to the day, more than 1,400 people were killed in a sarin gas attack in Ghouta, near Damascus.
The U.S. blamed the Assad regime but, after signaling plans for punitive airstrikes, Obama instead agreed to a Russia-brokered deal under which Assad pledged to surrender all his declared chemical weapons.
The administration portrayed the deal as a diplomatic coup, far more effective in dealing with the problem of chemical weapons use than limited military strikes would ever have been.
Under the agreement, an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-United Nations joint mission was set up to oversee implementation. Among the inspectors who took part in the mission, were Russian nationals.
(“Russia also announced the availability of its staff to participate in inspection activities and other forms of international presence, which can be offered by the joint mission,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in its 2013 yearbook. “Moscow sent the OPCW a list of 13 Russian inspectors to be included in the group on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria.”)
Russia’s formal military intervention in Syria began two years later, with an airstrike campaign launched on Sept. 30, 2015.
Two days earlier, Obama had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in New York.
Ahead of that meeting, a White House reporter noted Russian moves to deploy militarily in Syria, and asked press secretary Josh Earnest what Obama’s message would be about “possible U.S.-Russian military cooperation on Syria.”
“President Obama will make clear once again that Russia doubling down on their support for the Assad regime is a losing bet,” Earnest replied.
“President Obama will encourage President Putin to consider constructive contributions to the ongoing counter-[ISIS] effort,” he added, referring to the U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS which had begun in Syria in September 2014.
“There are more than 60 nations that are involved in implementing a strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy [ISIS], and we’d like to see the Russians make a constructive contribution to that ongoing effort,” Earnest said.
As its own air campaign began, Moscow claimed to be targeting ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists. However, the U.S. noted that it was mostly bombing other rebel groups opposed to Assad.
Russia’s intervention, along with the support of Iran and its Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’ite proxies, is widely credited for turning the conflict back, in time, in Assad’s favor.
‘A factual observation’
Pompeo has spoken before of Obama having “invited” the Russians into Syria.
At the Aspen Security Forum in July 2017 then then-CIA Director said Obama, rather than enforce his red line after the Ghouta attack, “instead chose to invite the Russians in.”
“That’s not a political statement, it’s a factual observation,” Pompeo said. “It was a major turning point in the capacity of America to influence events in Syria.”
When the event moderator asked Pompeo to clarify the claim that Obama “invited the Russians into Syria,” Pompeo replied, “Yeah, he had them come solve the chemical weapon problem.”
On October 30, 2015 – one month after the Russian airstrikes began – the Obama administration announced plans to deploy “up to 50” Special Forces troops in northern Syria, to help what it called “moderate opposition forces” in their fight against ISIS jihadists.
In April 2016, Obama said he was sending up to 250 more troops to Syria, taking the total number to 300.