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August 23rd, 2013
08:05 PM ET

Former NSC senior staffer: U.S. 'credibility on the line' with Syria

A year ago this week, President Barack Obama laid out his measurement for greater involvement in Syria during a White House press conference, saying that "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized."

Earlier this summer, the Obama administration announced it would provide military support to rebel fighters because al-Assad's forces had used chemical weapons but there continue to be calls for greater U.S. involvement.

“I’m disappointed that we make a statement even if it wasn’t sort of staffed and fully planned and then we don’t back it up with something serious because I do think that damages our interests,” Barry Pavel, senior director for defense policy and strategy on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2008 to 2010, told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“This is the president of the United States making an official statement that is watched not just by those parties related to the Syrian conflict but it’s watched by our allies all over the world,” he said.

“It’s watched by competitors like China, Russia and it’s also watched by potential adversaries like Iran,” he continued. “If these countries see that the United States makes a statement and then doesn’t back it up or that it backs it up in a very lawyerly way, this can lead to very damaging consequences for the United State national interests.”

Pavel’s comments come after the president sat down with CNN’s Chris Cuomo for an interview Thursday, days after rebels in Syria alleged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in an attack on rebels. The rebels claim the assault killed more than a thousand people.

Pavel - now V.P. and Director at Brent Scowcroft Center on Intl. Security at the Atlantic Council - has been critical of the administration’s handling of the conflict in Syria and, in his analysis of the situation in Syria, pointed to options of uses of military power.

“I think there are limited uses of military power that could help to achieve the desired effects and those uses would be launching a cruise missile in air strikes to take away Assad’s use of the air so that further humanitarian suffering is ended. We could also launch strikes against Assad’s military and make it very clear that these strikes are in direct response to his use of chemical weapons and additional strikes would be forthcoming if additional chemical weapons are used,” he said, adding also that the U.S. could do more to aid vetted rebel groups.

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