In August 2013, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus came under a Sarin gas attack – a nerve agent that causes lung muscle paralysis resulting in death from suffocation, that led to the death of 1,400 civilians which the White House initially attested that there was “high confidence” that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was behind. The drumbeats of war quickly followed with US Secretary of State John Kerry leading the chorus calling for immediate military intervention to oust Assad.
The President pulled back from this commitment to use force against the Syrian government after he was approached unannounced by his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who barged into the President’s daily briefing to make clear that the intelligence that the Assad government was behind the attack was "not a slam dunk" – words carefully chosen in reference to CIA director George Tenet’s disastrous guarantee that intelligence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were a "slam dunk."
Obama took this caution from his top intelligence official to heart instead choosing to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to pressure the Syrian government to destroy their chemical weapons stockpile on the same day, nearly the same moment, that John Kerry was calling for the United States to engage in a full-scale war to oust the Syrian leader.
Since then, many foreign policy analysts believe that John Kerry defected from the more hawkish wing of the Obama administration to the more diplomatic end looking for peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis through diplomacy and cooperation with Russia. Yet, recent leaked recordings suggest that John Kerry did not learn any such lesson.
Speaking before a group of Syrians opposed to the Assad government, on the sidelines of last week’s United Nation’s General assembly in New York, the Secretary of State took a moment to reiterate his hawkish credentials assuring the group that he continues to support a policy of hostility.
"I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument. I have argued this. I am the one who stood up and said attack Assad because of [chemical] weapons and then you know things evolved into a different process but the bottom line is that Congress refused to even vote to allow that," said Kerry.
The conversation took place only days before a brief ceasefire orchestrated by the United States and Russia collapsed after the US struck the Deir Ez Zor military base of the Syrian Army killing 62 and injuring another 100 in addition to over 300 ceasefire violations recorded by the rebels potentially foreshadowing the collapse of the situation.