President Barack Obama’s decision to send weapons and ammunition to the Syrian opposition may have come too late in the two-year civil war, former Vice President Dick Cheney said.
“You had an opportunity earlier to provide support without having to get American forces directly involved,” Cheney said on the “Fox News Sunday” television program. “And they took a pass. Now they are going to do it, but the question is whether or not they are a day late and a dollar short.”
The 72-year-old Republican said the Obama administration’s handling of a “complex, difficult situation” in Syria has left unanswered many questions. At the same time, it’s taken the use of chemical weapons to spur the White House to deliver small arms to President Bashar al-Assad’s opposition.
“It’s not clear to me what the mission is here, or that they understand what it is,” Cheney said. “Is it strictly humanitarian? Is it geostrategic? Does the United States have a vested interest in the outcome?”
Still, Cheney said, “it is important that Assad go down” and supporting the opposition sooner might have been a more successful strategy.
Any Obama administration decision to impose a no-fly zone over Syria is not without risk either because Assad’s military has sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities, Cheney said.
“If the only reason you’re going is because now you have evidence that they used chemical weapons and killed 150 people with chemical weapons, is that our national interest?” Cheney said. “And I’m not sure that they have got it straight in their own minds what the objective is.”
During a June 13 briefing, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Assad’s forces had used the nerve gas sarin on a “small scale” several times, causing 100 to 150 deaths. Obama repeatedly has said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” for the U.S.
More than 93,000 people have been killed in the civil war between Assad’s regime and opposition forces.
Cheney also took issue with recent comments from Obama that the war on terrorism is at a “crossroads.” In describing a reduced threat around the world, Obama said in a speech last month in Washington that “our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue, but this war like all wars must end.”
The president is “just dead wrong on the status of the threat,” which “is bigger than ever,” the former vice president said. “The problem from the standpoint of terror is bin Laden may be dead but al-Qaeda and a lot of al-Qaeda wannabes and al-Qaeda affiliates are out there operating.”
Cheney defended the National Security Agency’s program of telephone and Internet data collection that he said safeguards the U.S. from terrorists. Obama should tell Americans that the surveillance efforts are beneficial, he said.
“We’re at an important point where the president of the United States ought to be able to stand up and say this is a righteous program, it’s a good program, it’s saving American lives and I support it,” Cheney said. “The problem is the guy has failed to be forthright and honest and credible on things like Benghazi and the IRS. So he’s got no credibility.”