Obama WMD Intelligence Failure

Susan Rice said Assad had given up all his chemical weapons.


A minivan drives past a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, April 7.

A minivan drives past a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, April 7. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

When the Bush Administration failed to find the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was thought to have, opponents used the intelligence failure to discredit the war in Iraq and call George W. Bush a liar. Will there be any even remotely similar accounting after the Obama Administration’s intelligence failure in Syria, where Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons we were told he didn’t have?

On Tuesday at least 85 civilians, including children, were killed by a gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. The World Health Organization says the attack likely involved banned nerve agents, with other medical experts pointing to sarin as the culprit.

Why is this an intelligence failure? Because the Obama Administration assured the world that it had forced Mr. Assad to give up all chemical weapons. In an interview with National Public Radio on January 16, Susan Rice, then the White House national security adviser, was unequivocal: 

“I think the President [Obama] stated the U.S. view, which is the use of chemical weapons is not something we’re prepared to allow to persist, and we didn’t. We managed to accomplish that goal far more thoroughly than we could have by some limited strikes against chemical targets by getting the entirety of the declared stockpile removed.” The residents of Khan Sheikhoun beg to differ.

Ms. Rice’s assurances were part of the Obama Administration’s foreign-policy victory lap as it ended its time in office. But did she or others know at the time that Mr. Assad still had stockpiles of sarin gas? Were there dissenting intelligence reports raising doubts about the Assad-Russian pledges that the regime had turned everything over to United Nations monitors?

Reuters reported on April 6 that “U.S. intelligence agencies suspect Assad did not turn over all chemical weapons stockpile—intelligence official.” No kidding, but did Ms. Rice not know this a mere two months ago when she gave that interview to NPR?

Then again, perhaps Ms. Rice was so preoccupied with reading the summaries of intelligence reports on the Trump campaign or transition officials that she didn’t have time to dig into the Syrian chemical threat. Maybe the House and Senate intelligence committees can add these questions to their list of what to ask Ms. Rice when she testifies about her habit of “unmasking” the identities of Americans surveilled by U.S. intelligence.

Appeared in the Apr. 08, 2017, print edition.


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