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Obama fostered spread of nuclear weapons because of his naivete, says head of Council on Foreign Relations

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President Obama fostered the spread of nuclear weapons due to a weak foreign policy and an inability to appreciate “the capacity for evil” on the part of Syria and Russia, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a harsh critique of “Mr. Obama.”

Haass spoke at the 92d Street Y on January 10. When Peggy Noonan asked him, how much did Obama’s Syrian red line hurt America’s standing in the world, Haass said:

An extraordinary amount…. The United States warned repeatedly that if Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons, that would constitute the crossing of a red line, and there would be serious consequences. He proceeded to use chemical weapons several times, and there were not serious consequences. Instead, the United States ultimately worked with Russia on a diplomatic solution to getting rid of the chemical weapons.

But the fact that we did not react was terrible for several things. One is it changed the dynamics of the Syrian civil war. In my view, it emboldened the government and undermined the confidence of the opposition.

It sent a message to would-be profilerators of nuclear weapons, that even if you use weapons of mass destruction, you can get away it. So you can have all the non-proliferation policy you want in the world in the technical sense, but that one moment did a lot to undermine years of American efforts to discourage the spread of nuclear weapons.

Around the world it raised fundamental questions of American reliability. I can’t tell you how many foreign ministers and other leaders in Asia and in other parts of the world took note of that, and they said Wow. If the United States isn’t prepared to follow through on what it says there, what might it mean for us?


Haas said that Obama’s alleged failure in Syria led to a world in disarray (title of his new book) — including the misguided Saudi intervention in Yemen.

Haass’s comments are noteworthy as an expression of an establishment Clintonite liberal interventionist critique of Obama that was surely murmured among Hillary Clinton and others in her circle in the last few years. Haass argued for a far more aggressive U.S. role in the world: the U.S. being the country that shapes the world order, and rallies other countries to obedience. There is not really any difference between Haass’s stance and that of neoconservatives, at this moment.

More of Haass’s hawkish criticism of Obama. He “had trouble appreciating the capacity for evil.”

There was a pattern here. Assad must go. But then there was no mechanism for bringing it about. Mubarak– the push there. “Qaddafi must go.” We did the intervention, but then there was no followup….

He overlearned the lesson of George W. Bush… There was a persistent gap and a recurring gap between his goals and rhetoric on the one hand and what he was prepared to do on the other, and whenever that happens in foreign policy you are cruising into difficulty, whenever you have that mismatch… Barack Obama will be seen as someone who underreached.

I think he simply had an assessment about the reasonableness of the world that unfortunately doesn’t apply. He believe that forces of democracy would inevitably emerge, so when the Arab spring broke out he saw the people holding cell phones and the rest as somehow representing the future. They were infinitessimally small minorities in thier socieites.

I think he had trouble appreciating the capacity for evil, whether it was in the hands of the Syrian government, a Bashar al-Assad, or in the hands of groups like al Qaeda or ISIS, or the kind of intervention that Mr. Putin carried out in Syria. So what Mr. Obama did was essentially think that things could essentially sort themselves out by themselves.

For an antidote on the Russian “evil” hysteria, please see Stephen Cohen.

Haass’s prescription for Donald Trump was being more assertive against Russia, of course:

We need to strengthen NATO… We need to remilitarize parts of NATO… We’ve got to help the Europeans deal with the kind of political intervention through cyberspace that the Russians did here. They’re going to try and do with the French and probably German elections… I think we need to push back against Russia’s efforts to promote disorder in particular in western Europe.

And his view of how Vladimir Putin regarded Clinton and Obama. Again a chance by the man wearing the colorfully-striped socks to hit Obama as weak:

In the case of Hillary Clinton, there was concern [on Putin’s part] that if she were elected, She would carry out a policy– if you remember the Clinton administration was the one that essentially initiated NATO enlargement. You would have support for the so-called colored revolutions, trying to promote various types of liberal movements in the region, potentially within Russia itself. So I think that Mr Putin very much saw a Clinton administration as potentially hostile to Russian interests. It also would have been slightly more assertive in the Middle East… In the case of Obama, I think he just thought that he could do things, whether in Ukraine or in the Middle East and he could essentially– I don’t know any better way of saying it– get away with it.

I believe a lot of Haass’s positions, so reflective of Clinton’s, helped Donald Trump get the presidency.






Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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36 Responses

  1. Donald on February 5, 2017, 1:06 pm

    He sees the Iraq War as a tactical blunder, not as a massive war crime. So like interventionists after Vietnam, he can’t wait until Americans get over their reluctance to get involved in yet another big war, so we can get back to jumping into any and every war the Beltway crowd wants to fight. Obama was no peacenik, not by a long shot, but proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and our own bombing and actions by special forces just aren’t macho enough for a guy like Haass.

    • JLewisDickerson on February 5, 2017, 3:12 pm

      Sorry, wrong location!

    • JWalters on February 6, 2017, 1:04 am

      Haas acts to me like one of the those dual-citizenship Israelis who have no dual loyalty problem because they are only loyal to Israel. He provides a “reasonable man” facade for Israel’s war profiteering oligarchy, financing and hiding behind extremist Jewish terrorists, who in turn hide behind a pretend democracy. He cannot possibly be as ignorant as he feigns. For his central role in Israel’s mass of atrocities he probably deserves to be in the dock at a Nuremberg-style trials.

      I see Obama as trying to rein in those forces, but when virtually the entire Congress and mainstream media depend on Israeli money it’s almost impossible for any president to make much headway. His getting the Iran deal through was a minor miracle, removing the main excuse for the Israelis and their neocon agents to steer the U.S. into war with Iran.

      • Atlantaiconoclast on February 6, 2017, 2:53 pm

        I won’t excuse Obama’s at best, inaction on Palestine, though I do applaud him for the Iran deal. Bu then again, he should have never imposed sanctions on Iran regardless.

  2. Mooser on February 5, 2017, 2:40 pm

    “Haass’s prescription for Donald Trump was being more assertive against Russia, of course:”

    Oh, yessir, Trump is sure taking Mr. Haas’ advice:

    Bill O’Reilly Calls Vladimir Putin A ‘Killer’, Donald Trump Says Americans Are Just As Bad.

    • JLewisDickerson on February 5, 2017, 3:15 pm

      RE: “Haas’ advice”

      SHOULD HAVE BEEN: Haass’ advice

      MEMORY AID: Just remember that the guy is a complete ass (who made the lying war criminal Elliott* Abrams his “senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies”! That makes Haass an ass’ ass! ! !

      * MEMORY AID: Double t (‘tt’ or “tee tee”) as in urine

      • JLewisDickerson on February 5, 2017, 3:36 pm

        * VISUAL MEMORY AID (complete with halo effect of colloidal suspension)

      • JLewisDickerson on February 5, 2017, 4:01 pm

        RE: “halo effect” – me (from above)

        SCIENTIFIC NAME: Tyndall effect (the scattering of light by particles in the colloid)

        From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

        [EXCERPT] Milk is an emulsified colloid of liquid butterfat globules dispersed within a water-based solution.
        A colloid, in chemistry, is a mixture in which one substance of microscopically dispersed insoluble particles is suspended throughout another substance. Sometimes the dispersed substance alone is called the colloid;[1] the term colloidal suspension refers unambiguously to the overall mixture (although a narrower sense of the word suspension is distinguished from colloids by larger particle size). Unlike a solution, whose solute and solvent constitute only one phase, a colloid has a dispersed phase (the suspended particles) and a continuous phase (the medium of suspension). To qualify as a colloid, the mixture must be one that does not settle or would take a very long time to settle appreciably.

        The dispersed-phase particles have a diameter between approximately 1 and 1000 nanometers.[2] Such particles are normally easily visible in an optical microscope, although at the smaller size range (r<250 nm), an ultramicroscope or an electron microscope may be required. Homogeneous mixtures with a dispersed phase in this size range may be called colloidal aerosols, colloidal emulsions, colloidal foams, colloidal dispersions, or hydrosols. The dispersed-phase particles or droplets are affected largely by the surface chemistry present in the colloid.

        Some colloids are translucent because of the Tyndall effect, which is the scattering of light by particles in the colloid. Other colloids may be opaque or have a slight color.

        Colloidal suspensions are the subject of interface and colloid science. This field of study was introduced in 1861 by Scottish scientist Thomas Graham. . .

        SOURCE –

      • Keith on February 5, 2017, 6:50 pm

        JLEWISDICKERSON- “RE: “halo effect”

        A “halo” is milk suspended over someone’s head? Who knew? Can it still be used?

  3. JLewisDickerson on February 5, 2017, 2:54 pm

    RE: “Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations” ~ Weiss

    MY SNARKCASM: Is this the same Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) that made the lying war criminal Elliott Abrams* its “senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies”? If it is, why would any sane individual care what its president, Richard Haass, thinks about anything?

    * SEE: “An Actual American War Criminal May Become Our Second-Ranking Diplomat” | By Eric Alterman | | Feb. 2, 2017
    Elliott Abrams spent the Reagan years abetting genocide—now, he has been floated as Trump’s deputy secretary of state.
    • LINK –

  4. eljay on February 5, 2017, 3:33 pm

    Mr. Haass seems incapable of appreciating “the capacity for evil” – and hypocrisy – of Western nations.

  5. annie on February 5, 2017, 3:52 pm

    Haass’s comments are noteworthy as an expression of an establishment Clintonite liberal interventionist critique of Obama that was surely murmured among Hillary Clinton and others in her circle in the last few years

    “surely murmured” is a tad of an understatement imho, considering the hammering meme throughout jeffrey goldberg’s extensive “the obama doctrine” published at the atlantic.


    The United States warned repeatedly that if Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons, that would constitute the crossing of a red line, and there would be serious consequences.

    initially obama was pushed and pressured into the CW red line statement. it came first as an answer to a journalist’s question. probably spoon fed to that journalist straight from the lobby. then, once he made the statement israeli intel provided the smoking gun, not something confirmed by our own intel re clapper’s “no smoking gun”.

    so this meme is going to continued to be hammered home, it’s now the official battering ram from the war party and serves as a warning to future presidents their legacy is at risk when/if they don’t cater to the lobby/war agenda.

    • Citizen on February 5, 2017, 8:47 pm


    • Atlantaiconoclast on February 6, 2017, 2:51 pm

      There is no evidence Assad gassed his own people in that specific incident that almost led to US direct intervention. I am not aware of evidence for any other alleged attack either. Are you? I trust Seymour Hersh more than I do Haas or Wolf Blitzer.

      • annie on February 6, 2017, 11:32 pm

        I am not aware of evidence for any other alleged attack either. Are you?

        there’s a war going on so yes, i do think the syrian army has engaged in attacks. but a poisonous gas attack by the SAA? no, i am not aware of one.

  6. on February 5, 2017, 4:07 pm

    I wish you’d told us more of Noonan’s sorry role in this “interview,” but I guess it’s not hard to figure. (It simply blows my mind, 13 years after the neocon-launched War on Iraq, eight years (and still going strong) of the mendacity, venality, criminality, back-stabbing of Benjamin Netanyahu and the state of Israel, and the Israel lobby seems stronger than ever, always able to find hacks like Noonan, so desperate are they for their next book’s blurbs.)

    I have been following this issue for more than 30 years, I have only ever heard two questions asked of a Zionist/Israeli official/Pentagon official in all that time, in a forum like this, or on NPR (where Haas is virtually on-staff): What is it you wanted to say, and, Is there anything else you wanted to say? Some might be cleverer than others in how they ask these questions (and paid accordingly), but those are the only two questions asked.

    • JWalters on February 6, 2017, 1:06 am

      Yep. And we never hear any mention of the Nakba, nada. Airbrushed history. The facts might give people the wrong impression about Israel. And its control over the U.S media.

  7. Keith on February 5, 2017, 6:25 pm

    PHIL- “There is not really any difference between Haass’s stance and that of neoconservatives, at this moment.”

    Yes, and the Council on Foreign Relations is the closest thing we have to the voice of the Deep State. Peace is the enemy. The empire intends to smash any and all opposition to bits. Hegemony or death. At this stage of the game it is difficult to predict what effect, if any, Trump will have on the imperial juggernaut. People like Haass strike me as being dangerously psychopathic.

    • Citizen on February 5, 2017, 8:52 pm

      There’s just no stopping The Fed, Treasury, Wall Street, MIC & Israel Lobby–Haass ilk pitchmen & their barely masked “think tanks” Depressing

    • Atlantaiconoclast on February 6, 2017, 2:44 pm

      He is, like Dennis Ross, a supremacist. No way around it. These are not stupid people. They know what they are saying is misleading.

  8. Sibiriak on February 5, 2017, 10:14 pm

    Suggested reading:

    UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05794498 Date: 11/30/2015 RELEASE IN FULL

    The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.


    • Atlantaiconoclast on February 6, 2017, 2:43 pm

      Ding ding ding! I have shown this link to countless HRC supporters, only to get the label “conspiracy theorist” thrown at me. The DNC Left has destroyed the anti war movement by keeping people caught up in political tribalism.

      • RoHa on February 6, 2017, 5:10 pm

        They were right. You were peddling a conspiracy theory. Mind you, they were wrong if they were suggesting that there wasn’t a conspiracy. That email reveals the conspiracy.

    • Keith on February 6, 2017, 6:07 pm

      SIBIRIAK- “The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.”

      If we combine your link with the article on Haass, several things are clear. First of all, they all lie. Haass’ comments are factually incorrect most of the time. Significantly, we are not talking about individual lies in isolation, rather, we see a coherent pattern of misinformation designed to establish a false narrative within which the desired policy outcomes appear logical. This supposed concern with Iran’s nuclear capability is but a pretext for intervention. The primary objective is unmentioned. The empire is determined to stop the Eurasian integration via China’s new silk road. Two proposed routes have already been blocked. Iran is a critical part of this geostrategic power struggle. Of course, there are multiple objectives at play, but the pipeline is never discussed. I now quote from an article by Andrew Korybko discussing Iran, Syria, color revolutions and hybrid war. I highly recommend the article.

      “Pertaining to Iran, the Islamic Republic is actually doubly susceptible to Hybrid War for both of the aforementioned reasons. It’s already been demonstrated to deadly effect how the US will deploy Hybrid War against Iran’s regional interests in Syria and elsewhere in the Mideast, but the country itself has yet to suffer from a full-fledged Hybrid War within its own borders aimed at interfering with China’s grand supercontinental ambitions of pan-Eurasian connectivity. Iran is the geostrategic gatekeeper linking West Asia (the Mideast) with Central, South, and even East Asia, so it obviously stands to fulfill an irreplaceable role in future Eurasian integration projects. China and Iran are already connected to one another via a circuitous rail network transiting along the peripheries of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, but plans have already been proposed for streamlining this route through the possible construction of a high-speed railway across the densely populated heartland of Central Asia.

      If left to its own without any external interference, the discussed China-Iran high-speed railway project could eventually extend through Turkey and further afield to the Balkans and thenceforth the EU, thus making Iran one of only three transit states which absolutely must be involved in China’s trans-Eurasian infrastructure projects. Russia sits atop Northern Eurasia and is therefore the geostrategic gatekeeper in this part of the continent for any crisscrossing EU-China networks, while Iran and Turkey are its South Eurasian counterparts for the same.

      To proactively prevent the actualization of these forecasted multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects across the Mideast, the US must either co-opt or destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the former being what the Obama Administration dreamed of doing after the nuclear deal while the latter is its Hybrid War “backup plan” in case the first one fails. Washington’s strategic infiltration plot failed to seduce Tehran, so it appears likely that Iran might be targeted by the US’ retributive Hybrid War intrigues sometime in the near future. In fact, the US has already been working on the necessary preparations and is presently arranging its forces in anticipation of waging this sort of conflict during the upcoming Trump Presidency.” (Andrew Korybko)

  9. JWalters on February 6, 2017, 1:07 am

    Thanks for the Stephen Cohen link. He should be on every MSM talk show discussing the Russia situation, at the very least to provide balance. But he’s not a neocon (i.e. Israeli agent).

    The following link is to an excellent, informative interview in which he discusses the historical context of the current neocon attack on Russia. And just as America’s Israeli-controlled media lie routinely about Israel, Cohen makes it clear they also routinely lie about Russia.

    In the following link professor Stephen Cohen discussed a history of dramatic incidents that have interferred with a rapprochment between the U.S. and Russia. This is about 11:15 in the following video. Cohen’s full comments begin at 9:30.

    In that interview he also comments on the US and UK press misreporting on Russia, and discusses the poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, making a strong alternative case to the media’s blaming Putin, and why such disinformation might have been disseminated.

    Also relevant is “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis”, by prize-winning investigative reporter Robert Parry. This describes how the Israelis would benefit from disrupting cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in the Middle East.

    • Sibiriak on February 6, 2017, 8:35 am

      JWalters: ….discusses the poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, making a strong alternative case to the media’s blaming Putin

      Interestingly, Christopher Steele, the (ex) MI6 agent who concocted the Trump “Golden Showers” dossier, had previously been the MI6 case officer to defector Litvinenko prior to his death.

    • on February 6, 2017, 10:39 am

      Sure do wish more of Cohen would rub off on his spouse, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Where’s the fire, Katrina? My God…

  10. RoHa on February 6, 2017, 2:36 am

    “The United States warned repeatedly that if Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons, that would constitute the crossing of a red line, and there would be serious consequences. He proceeded to use chemical weapons several times,”

    Who used chemical weapons?

    “Instead, the United States ultimately worked with Russia on a diplomatic solution to getting rid of the chemical weapons.”

    The way I recall it, it was Syria and Russia who worked out the plan, and the US sulkily tagged along.

    • on February 6, 2017, 10:35 am

      That’s not quite right. First, British Parliament voted NOT to go along w any American attack (they’re the real heroes here); then, Americans were flooding the switchboards of their elected representatives telling them ENOUGH); then Russia proposed a deal which the Obama Administration leapt at.

  11. Shingo on February 6, 2017, 4:04 am

    It amazes me how even so called foreign policy experts are so ignorant of the Iran deal. Where does it say that Iran has the right to produce nukes once the deal has expired? The JCOPA was a deal that imposed conditions over and above the terms fo the NPT. Iran will not be released from it’s obligations under the NPT unless Iran decides to withdraw from the NPT.

  12. Boo on February 6, 2017, 12:24 pm

    “Obama fostered spread of nuclear weapons”

    Bogus on its face. North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, and it’s the newest member of the Nuclear Club. There was no “spread of nuclear weapons” on Obama’s watch.

  13. genesto on February 6, 2017, 12:49 pm

    Nothing here, as far as I can see, about regime change throughout the Middle East, the real reason for all of these wars of choice and the resulting chaos.

  14. Atlantaiconoclast on February 6, 2017, 2:39 pm

    For goodness sake! Will someone please show me proof that Assad “gassed” his own people? There is no evidence he did. at least no evidence for the one incident that almost led Obama directly intervening with the military.

    Haas pretends not to know that Obama DID a lot in Syria, by allowing the CIA to fund Al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS in Syria, and by allowing our so called allies, from Israel to Saudi Arabia, to Turkey, to give aid and comfort to Al Qaeda and ISIS.

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