President Obama has been under fire from both Republicans and Democrats for what they view as a weak and shifting policy on Syria, as well as the deal he made with Russia to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons.
“It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of whether it will be enforced or not,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of Obama’s early backers on Syria, said yesterday. “[Russia] will not agree to the use of force no matter what [Syrian President] Bashar Assad does.”
At the same time, the critics are accusing the president of giving up leverage over Syria by refusing to include military options in the deal.
“Not one ounce of chemical weapons came off the battlefield, but we’ve given up every ounce of our leverage when it comes to trying to solve the broader Syrian problem, because we’ve taken away a credible military threat,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Now comes an unlikely ally: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published Monday, praised the president for his Syria policy.
When asked by Der Spiegel if Obama made the right choice by calling off the strike, Rumsfeld said, "Yes, he did do the right thing."
But Rumsfeld was far from effusive in his praise for the president – blaming Obama for allowing things to deteriorate this far. “I think he might have been better off if he had helped some of the non-radical elements among the Syrian rebels early on, not with U.S. troops, but with weapons, intelligence and humanitarian support," Rumsfeld said.
But he hedged, saying that Obama had to make an agreement with Putin. The former defense secretary said, “I think moving away from his proposed military action could be a good thing. President Obama accepted the Putin proposal because there were no good options left. I suspect the president wishes he had not gotten to this point.”
The interview soon became contentious, with Der Spiegel and Rumsfeld trading barbs about George W. Bush’s responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan. But eventually the discussion returned to Obama, with Rumsfeld offering one last piece of advice for the president.
“The president has to provide leadership to gain support. It's not too late. He will need to lead,” Rumsfeld said. “It is worth reminding us all that being president is a tough job for anybody, and particularly so in the information age.”