WASHINGTON — The White House has a message for Republican hawks beating the drums of war in Syria: Remember Iraq.
“The fact of the matter is, jumping to conclusions and acting before you have all the facts is not a good recipe for making policy decisions,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday.
“We have seen in the not-too-distant past the consequences of acting before we had all the facts,” Carney added, a not so oblique reference to the false claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that helped galvanize the country behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Although the White House is likely leaning toward a strategy similar to the one it used in Libya — limited air and material support for rebels but avoiding inserting U.S. ground forces into the civil war — events on the ground are giving Republican opponents fodder for their war campaign.
“Apparently, the Syrians and Iranians have crossed a red line for the Israelis,” Sen. John McCain said Sunday.
For now, the White House hopes the lingering hangover from the Iraq War is enough to stave off hawks.
Obama is “looking at a range of options and he is not removing any option from the table,” Carney said. But he also argued, “There’s a recent enough example of why we need to make sure we have our facts in matters like these … And the dangers inherent of not having all those facts and corroborated evidence.”
That’s a useful out for a White House that reportedly got backed into the position on Syria it’s in by an unscripted remark by Obama that led to all the current “red line” talk in the first place.
Carney disputed the New York Times report, insisting Obama had intentionally used the “red line” phrase — even as he denied that it teed up any particular kind of action.
“To do so is to say, ‘If X happens, Y will happen,’” Carney said. “He has never said what action he will take at a policy level to the proved crossing of the red line in Syria.”