After President Trump launched a cruise-missile strike last week against Syria for apparently using sarin gas on civilians, The Washington Post Fact Checker analyzed former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s past statement about the Obama administration’s removal of chemical weapons from Syria:
“We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. Our aim in contemplating the use of force following the use of chemical weapons in August of 2013 was not to intervene in the civil war, not to become involved in the combat between Assad and the opposition, but to deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of the diplomacy that we did with Russia and with the Security Council. We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”
— Susan E. Rice, then-national security adviser, in an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Jan. 16
The Fact Checker noted that PolitiFact removed a statement from its website by then-Secretary of State John Kerry that “We got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” which they had rated as mostly true in 2014 and said that while Rice’s remarks were more nuanced than Kerry’s, they were still problematic:
“In her NPR interview, Rice acknowledged that the Syrian civil war was the administration’s biggest disappointment but she pointed to the removal of chemical weapons from Syria as an achievement. President Barack Obama scrubbed a planned attack on Syrian facilities — which planners believed would have left two-thirds of Syria’s chemical weapons intact — in exchange for a diplomatic solution that was to result in the removal of all chemical weapons.
Rice said: ‘We were able to find a solution that didn’t necessitate the use of force that actually removed the chemical weapons that were known from Syria, in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished. … We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.’
But almost a year before Rice made those comments, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. had told Congress that Syria had continued to use chemical weapons, such as chlorine, against its own people:
‘We assess that Syria has not declared all the elements of its chemical weapons program to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Despite the creation of a specialized team and months of work by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to address gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration, numerous issues remain unresolved. Moreover, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime has used chemicals as a means of warfare since accession to the CWC in 2013. The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission has concluded that chlorine had been used on Syrian opposition forces in multiple incidents in 2014 and 2015. Helicopters — which only the Syrian regime possesses — were used in several of these attacks.’
Just four days before Rice’s comments, the Treasury Department sanctioned Syrian officials for use of chlorine in warfare. ‘The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people is a heinous act that violates the long-standing global norm against the production and use of chemical weapons,’ said Adam J. Szubin, acting undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. ‘Today’s action is a critical part of the international community’s effort to hold the Syrian regime accountable for violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and UN Security Council Resolution 2118.'”
By using the phrase “known,” Rice was able to make it seem that the administration had managed to get Syria to eliminate its entire chemical weapons stockpile when in fact it was only the “declared” stockpile, and that didn’t include chlorine, which is considered a dual-use chemical with industrial uses under the OPCW classification.
It isn’t known whether last week’s sarin gas attack by Syria was from the stockpile that was supposed to have been destroyed, or if it was newly created, even though production facilities were supposed to be eliminated under the agreement.
The Fact Checker also noted that Kerry’s “exit memo” to Obama, which was released 11 days before Rice’s NPR remarks, acknowledged that Syria continued to use “undeclared” chemical weapons. “Removing these weapons from Syria ensured that they could not be used — by the Assad regime or by terrorist groups like ISIL — but unfortunately other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly on the Syrian people,” Kerry wrote. “While we have made progress, we cannot and will not rest until the Syrian people can no longer be gassed and terrorized by these vicious weapons:”
“The Pinocchio Test
The removal of vast quantities of chemical weapons from Syria’s soil was indeed an achievement. When Obama contemplated attacking Syria, a major problem with his plan was that most of the chemical weapons would not have been destroyed.
But the Obama administration had a tendency to oversell what was accomplished, perhaps because Obama received so much criticism for not following through on an attack if Syria crossed what Obama had called ‘a red line.’ We have a reasonable-person test here at The Fact Checker, and it’s doubtful many NPR listeners realized that ‘known’ was code for the fact that Rice only was referring to chemical weapons stocks declared by Syria — or that chlorine weapons were not covered by the agreement.
The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria — and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent. Yet Rice said: ‘We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.’ She did not explain that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and thus was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement. That tipped her wordsmithing toward a Four.”
This isn’t the first time Rice has lied about something—think Benghazi—and undoubtedly won’t be the last lie that will be identified as coming from her mouth.