Obama's 'I didn't set no stinkin' red line' assertion leads to near universal incredulity

Yesterday, editor in chief Lifson reported on the astonishing claim by President Obama that he didn't set a redline for chemical wepons in Syria and that his credibility was not on the line.

Lifson pointed to a meeting of Obama's political team where the message on Syria was being massaged. If this is the best they could come up with - simply denying reality - then the president is in a world of hurt.

The reality, as Jean Kaufman (Neo-Neocon) points out this morning at PJ Media is undeniable:

"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."

But in his statement back in August of 2012, Obama unequivocally and undeniably did set a red line. Watch the video, and note especially around 2:07-2:08 when he gestures to himself and says, with emphasis, "us," and his back-and-forth use of the terms "we," "us," and "I" to mean the same thing: himself, or his administration with himself in charge. At no point does he cite the international community, except earlier in his statement when he speaks briefly and generally about the international community's role in a possible eventual transition from the Assad regime to a new government in Syria.

Kaufman takes apart Obama's answer from his press conference in Sweden. Here it is in its entirety:

Let me unpack the question. First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war. Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation titled the Syria Accountability Act that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for. And so, when I said, in a press conference, that my calculus about what's happening in Syria would be altered by the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There was a reason for it. That's point number one. Point number two, my credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.

The reaction to this statement has been near universal incredulity.

Stephen Green:

It's clear from his "red-line-not-red-line" statement from last year that Wiggleroom didn't want a war. It's also clear that he doesn't want to look like a total ass on the world stage. But he already has the latter, and he's probably going to get the former in his increasingly desperate attempts to deny the obvious truth of the latter. What we have here isn't a rush to war, so much as a stumbling into war.

Red line, schmed line. Did say it, didn't say it, might have meant it, might not have meant it. It's 3AM. The phone is ringing. And there's nobody there to answer it, nobody at all.

Bryan Preston:

To be frank, Barack Obama has no credibility to lead the nation into war. He has no track record of treating facts as facts. He has no track record of being honest with the American people, from Fort Hood's "workplace violence" to his new shift on the "red line." Words mean things, unless they're uttered by Barack Obama, and in that case, they mean whatever he happens to want them to mean at the time. You can count on him changing the meaning whenever it suits him.

He also has no track record of success in war. His legacy at this point, nearly five years into his presidency, is chaos. He abandoned Iraq prematurely for political reasons, and it is sliding slowly toward civil war. He pledged no boots on the ground in Libya, yet waged war there, and it is now a failed state. Egypt is well on its way to becoming a failed state. He is pledging to abandon Afghanistan without regard to what happens after our troops leave. Is there any reason to believe that he will not turn Syria into another failed state, if he is allowed to wage any "kinetic action" there?

Ed Morrissey on "the world's red line":

That's certainly true, but it is equally true that the international "red line" on this issue was set through the UN, which is now claiming that only the multilateral organization has the authority to enforce it.  UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon warned yesterday that military action outside of the UN's auspices would also violate international law -- and would at the very least undermine Obama's argument here.  If Obama strikes Syria without even bothering to ask the UN for support, then how can he rely on the UN's "red line" as justification?

James Taranto:

In the olden days, they used to call the president "the leader of the free world." Today the president disavowed responsibility for his own policies and told a reporter to take it up with "the world."

If so, the world did a bad thing and will need to be punished. But we hope that whoever has authority over such matters will have a little compassion for the world's predicament. It isn't easy carrying the weight of Barack Obama on your shoulders.

Obama shrugged.

Of course we could be wrong. Maybe Obama really didn't set a red line. It could have been a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps on Aug. 20, 2012, the world sneaked into the White House, donned an Obama mask, strode into the press room and took questions.

Twitchy delivers the snark: "President Pass-The-Buck." and Obama on the 'red line': I didn't draw that. Somebody else made that happen.

Predictability, liberals accepted Obama's flip flop at face value:

Ron Chusid:

Obama did not claim there was a red line which would automatically lead to war in 2012. In response to a question at press conference Obama said: "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." It makes sense that this would change his calculus and lead to the consideration of options he was not considering at the time, but he did not commit to going to war.

While I am skeptical of the remaining arguments for taking military action, it is good to see Obama clearly say that preserving his credibility over the red line is not a reason to go to war. Feeling obligated to take military action based upon a comment made at a press conference would certainly be foolish.


Such a transparent, even childish ploy, to avoid responsibility for his own words has already damaged his credibility on Syria. The president has become an object of international amusement, as well as late night comic's jokes:

"Syria's President Assad referred to President Obama as weak. Obama is so angry he plans to ask Congress for permission to come up with a good comeback." -Conan O'Brien

Just keep in mind we have three years, four months, two weeks and two days of Obama's presidency to go. By the time he's finished, we're liable to see his entire presidency redefined as some kind of golden age for America and not the nightmare it is rapidly becoming.