Obama’s Revisionist History on Syria

Scott wrote earlier this morning on President Obama’s just-concluded summit with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and his press conference yesterday. One topic that came up in the press conference deserves special mention.

President Obama’s “red line” on Syria is one of his administration’s historic failures. In 2012, Obama said that “a red line for us is” if Assad’s regime starts using chemical weapons; that “would change my calculus” with regard to the use of military force. As the world knows, Assad crossed that “red line” repeatedly, and nothing happened. This was one of the events that contributed to the Obama administration’s loss of credibility around the world, especially in the Middle East.

In yesterday’s press conference, Obama was asked about the Syrian government’s recent use of chlorine gas, and whether Obama would use military force if that renewed use of chemical weapons is confirmed. Obama replied by construing his famous “red line” as a success. He claimed that Assad had turned over his stockpiles of chemical weapons. But what about the chlorine gas that Assad has repeatedly used against civilians? Obama asserted, absurdly, that chlorine “historically has not been listed as a chemical weapon.” You almost have to see it to believe it:

Obama’s suggestion that chlorine gas historically hasn’t been considered a chemical weapon is ridiculous. It is, in fact, the original chemical weapon: we have just passed the 100th anniversary of the Germans’ first use of chemical weapons–chlorine gas–at Ypres. Chlorine is, of course, a chemical with many uses; if you have a swimming pool you probably have some chlorine on hand. But chlorine gas is the classic chemical weapon.

NPR talked about Assad’s use of chlorine gas with a chemical weapons expert last month:

SIEGEL: The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says that chlorine is delivered in barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. It’s widely believed that pro-Assad regime forces have the arsenal and the aircraft to do that. For more on the effects of chlorine gas and how it evidently remains on the battlefield despite Syria’s agreement to dispose of its chemical weapons, we turn now to chemical weapons expert Amy Smithson. Thanks for joining us once again.

AMY SMITHSON: My pleasure to be with you.

SIEGEL: And, first, what does chlorine gas do to its victims?

SMITHSON: Well, chlorine will cause you to cough and have respiratory difficulties if you inhale it. And it can release fluid into the lungs. It’s kind of like drowning on dry land. It’s a horrible, horrible way to die.

What causes Barack Obama to say such foolish and indefensible things? Some would say it’s just ignorance; see, e.g., Don’t Know Much About History. Another factor, no doubt, is Obama’s knowledge that no matter how crazy his excuses may be, reporters won’t call him on them because they are Democrats, too. I would add a third possibility: Obama subscribes to the narcissist’s theory of epistemology: if it would be helpful to Barack for X to be true, then X must be true. In the moment, at least, he actually believes it.