In a news conference meant to promote his four years as the top US diplomat, Kerry said Obama did not backtrack on his promise to bomb the Syrian government if it ever used chemical weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference at the State Department headquarters in Washington, DC, January 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
In 2012, Obama said any use or movement of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and draw a US military response.
The president came under intense pressure to respond after the foreign-backed militants accused President Bashar al-Assad’s government of launching a chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, 2013.
Damascus strongly rejected the accusations, saying the Ghouta attack was carried out by the militants themselves as a false-flag operation.
“The president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, did decide to use force and he announced his decision publicly and he said we’re going to act, we’re going to do what we need to do to respond to this blatant violation of international law and of warnings and of the red line he had chosen,” Kerry said on Thursday.
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on April 18, 2013. (Photo by AFP)
“Now, we were marching towards that time when, lo and behold … [then-] Prime Minister David Cameron went to the parliament … and he sought a vote for approval for him to join in the action that we were going to engage in. And guess what, the parliament voted no, they shot him down.”
British members of parliament voted 285-272 at the time to withdraw support for planned US strikes, sending diplomatic shock waves across the Atlantic.
Many US lawmakers had also voiced their reluctance to approve the use of American force in Syria.
“So as we were briefing Congress – and I was on one of those briefing calls with maybe a hundred members of Congress on the call – many of them were saying, ‘Well, you’ve got to come to us. You’ve got to go through the constitutional process, get permission from us to do something,’” Kerry recalled.
Former British prime minister David (AFP file photo)
The elaborate explanation of the sequence of events was an attempt to deflect criticism over an issue seen by some as the worst stain on Obama’s legacy.
The top diplomat, nevertheless, acknowledged that the perception that Obama backed down under pressure “hurt” US credibility at home and abroad.
"I don't think it's fair because I don't think it actually reflected the decisions that he (Obama) made and it doesn't reflect the reality of what we were able to achieve," he said.
It has been particularly hard for Obama ever since to convince US allies that his administration maintained a credible threat of force in response to aggression elsewhere.
In September 2014, Obama authorized a campaign of airstrikes against purported Daesh (ISIS / ISIL) positions in Syria, Press TV reported.