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Top HASC Dem on White House: 'They Don't Trust Us'

Nov. 14, 2013 - 01:00PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Rep. Smith Interview
Following several days of House Democratic frustration with the Obama administration over its troubled Obamacare rollout, HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., called out President Barack Obama over his Syria policy and bluntly said the White House has not even tried to build relationships with congressional Democratic allies. (File)
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WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats’ frustration with the Obama White House continued to seep into public view Thursday, with the party’s top House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member criticizing the administration’s national security team.

Following several days of House Democratic frustration with the Obama administration over its troubled Obamacare rollout, HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., called out President Barack Obama over his Syria policy and bluntly said the White House has not even tried to build relationships with congressional Democratic allies.

During a candid and free-flowing event at the Council on Foreign Relations, Smith said Obama’s infamous Syria “red line” threat “was not well thought out.”

Smith criticized the commander in chief and his national security team for threatening to use force against Bashar al-Assad’s regime if it used chemical weapons, then opting against doing so after it did so.

Assad remains in power and the US did not launch air and naval strikes to degrade his chemical arsenal after Russia helped broker a deal under which the Syrian leader agreed to allow UN inspectors to seize and destroy his chemical arms.

If such an agreement always would have removed the threat of US force, Obama and his aides should have “said so upfront,” Smith said.

Smith, who has been a loyal Obama ally on just about every major national security decision the president has pushed, expressed bewilderment at Obama’s decision over the summer to — briefly — seek congressional approval for potential strikes on Syria after Assad used chemical weapons in a manner that crossed his “red line.”

Smith said it was “unwise” of Obama to come to Congress, saying “you’re betting your presidency” because “you might not have had the votes” to pass a use-of-force resolution in both chambers.

The HASC ranking member pulled back the curtain that shields the public from Washington’s policy-making, revealing the White House national security staff has virtually no relationships with key lawmakers and aides.

Smith compared the Obama national security team to its predecessor, the George W. Bush administration, saying the latter kept defense lawmakers in the loop at each step of its decision-making process that led to the surge in Iraq.

But the Obama White House national security team “decides what the policy is, then they come tell us,” Smith said.

That means lawmakers are denied the ability to weigh in or raise concerns before a policy is announced, creating tension because the administration merely comes to Capitol Hill demanding Democrats to — at least publicly — “buy in.”

“I get it, they don’t trust us,” Smith said.

A White House official had yet to respond when asked to comment on Smith’s comments.

Smith also was critical of some lawmakers and analysts who believe US involvement in Syria would automatically end that nation’s brutal civil war, calling such thinking “absolutely wrong.”

“The US is just not in a position to force outcomes” in Syria or anywhere, he said.

Smith said the troubled US conflict in Iraq and the rocky one in Afghanistan show there are “limits” to “what the military can do.” Still, he endorsed a ramped-up US military effort in Syria, which now, for Washington, largely is a CIA mission.

Smith lobbied against using armed drones to help opposition forces, and candidly dubbed senior Pentagon officials as “unwilling” to do more in Syria.

However the Syria situation progresses, the path to a final resolution “will not be quick.”

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