Obama's National Security Team Once Praised Assad

Monday, 02 Sep 2013 06:11 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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A few years ago, when they were still senators, President Barack Obama and members of his national security team were praising President Bashar Assad, not demonizing him, and opposed former President George W. Bush administration's actions against the dictator.

Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Vice-President were all senators on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during the Bush administration, reports The Washington Times

Kerry was especially a vocal backer of Assad's, praising him and saying the dictator would change for the better.

But in March 2011, when Kerry told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that Assad had been "very generous" with him " in terms of the discussions we have had," pro-democracy demonstrations started in Syria, leading to its civil war.

Kerry has changed his words about Assad, now calling him a "thug and murderer."

Hagel is now assembling forces in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to launch cruise missiles at the Assad regime, and Obama and Biden are seeking congressional approval for an attack.

But in the mid and late 2000s, when the Bush administration called Assad a "bad actor" after he succeeded his late father as dictator, Washington had high hopes that the young leader would shift his country away from terrorism.

However, Assad increased ties to terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and grew closer to Iran.

He also began helping al Qaeda by allowing jihadists to pass through Damascus on their way to safe houses and into Iraq.

The Bush administration demanded Assad stop aiding terrorists, and refused to engage him in peace talks, angering Kerry, Hagel, and Biden, among other senators.

And when then- Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice explained the administration's position to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 2007, Biden, who at that time was the committee chairman scolded her for the Bush administration's stance that negotiating with Iran and Syria would equal extortion.

"The proper term... is diplomacy," he said. "The fundamental responsibility of the Department of State, to engage in such diplomacy, as you well know."

Obama, while a senator, backed unconditional direct talks with the leaders of Iran over nuclear weapons, and also balked talks with Assad.

Kerry also became a main emissary to Damascus once Obama took office in 2009, and traveled there again in 2010, marking four visits to that country as a senator.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had also served on the Foreign Relations committee, said the United States did not need to consider taking military action against Syria, hailing Assad as "a reformer."

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