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Panetta: Obama's "Red Line" on Syria Damaged U.S. Credibility

KATIE COURIC, YAHOO NEWS: One of his most quoted moments was in August 2012 when President Obama declared if Syria's president Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his people it would cross a red line and trigger American military retaliation. You write about this. Assad did use chemical weapons, and the U.S. did not respond by force. You write: "The power of the United States rests on its word... Assad's action clearly defied President Obama's warnings; by failing toe respond. It sent the wrong message to the world." What kind of impact do you think that mixed message if you will had on U.S. foreign policy moving forward?

LEON PANETTA The president of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief. The most important thing that the president has is the credibility of our word. That carries an awful lot. And, very frankly, President Obama I think was very strong about taking a position on our war on terrorism. He was strong about doing what we did to bin Laden. He was willing to take the risk there. He was willing to lay out very clearly that we had to go after al Qaeda.

When he drew the red line in Syria -- and I guess some people could argue: should we have drawn a read line there?

COURIC: A lot of people did criticize that statement he wasn't going to back it up.

PANETTA: I think the question was, is that what you want to draw the red line? I happen to think it was the right thing to do. But once you drew that line, and he did, then I think the credibility of the United States is on the line. And so once they used chemical weapons, and we had proof that they used chemical weapons --

COURIC: And 1400 people died.

PANETTA: -- and 1400 people -- men, women, children -- died as a result of using chemical weapons, then it was important for us to stand by our word and go in and do what a commander in chief should do. And by not doing that -- I think initially they were going to do that, and then they somehow began to pull back. It sent a mixed message, not only to Assad, not only to the Syrians, but to the world. And that is something you do not want to establish in the world. An issue with regards to the credibility of the United States to stand by what we say we’re going to do.”

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