Meet the Press   |  September 15, 2013

President Obama: Commander in confusion?

A Meet the Press roundtable looks back at how the president vacillated between different strategies over the past week.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> it's easy to be critical -- someone said, look, i don't know what the answer is but what would you have done differently at any stage along the way is the question?

>> well, if i were president.

>> yeah.

>> oh, that's a good question. look, i've never been in favor of going in because i knelt that the consequences were too severe, the unknowns were so problematic, i mean, what happens when our planes are shot down.

>> wanton killing of innocents using chemical weapons go on.

>> we can get into all of that over and over again, the 100,000 that preceded. there were gas attacks earlier and didn't respond to that. i think just to segue a minute if i may, one of the problems with the way obama has done this is that we are now having a conversation as equals with assad . i mean he's now got a place at the table along with putin and they're lecturing us and making demands on us and it diminishes our president, our role in the world and how we negotiate these things. i don't envy the president, for heaven's sakes i don't want to make that decision either but i think i am also not privy --

>> use the last two years to arm the rebels to change the momentum on the ground. we've lost that window of the last two years. it's not like we woke up one day suddenly and assad was a bad guy with chemical weapons . we've known this for awhile and yet it seemed like we were making up the policy as it went.

>> it's this daily crisis management . it's a mentality that pervades all white houses . but they don't do strategic thinking and say, what are our goals, now are how we going to get there? let's figure out where we want to be in six months and then move toward it and so there is this ad hoccery but, kathleen, you're saying that assad is making demands on us and the russians to a certain extent but the big demand is ours, that something has to be done with the chemical weapons and they have achieved buy-in at least rhetorically and, you know, if you go back two weeks or two months and you say we'd be at this point, granted with all, you know, this and that and the back and forth which is a problem, everyone would say, wow --

>> but, bob --

>> i'm sorry.

>> but if the russians are saying use of force is off the table, what leverage do we have? it seems to me they decided a lot.

>> we still have that option.

>> one of the extraordinary things about this agreement is that in the case of noncompliance, in the case of any chemical weapons by either side there is a provision for the use of force under chapter 7 under the united nations . we can say that will never happen but this is a substantial achievement. you say let's just arm the rebels. we don't know and you certainly don't know who are the rebels we want to arm never mind how this would spin out. we can talk about the politics of it and what this means for the president. die believe his leadership has taken a knock here but the idea that there's a clean path if only we could have found the right people to arm is delusional. we tried the same path in afghanistan and we ended up arming people who ended up, the mujahideen who were the core of al qaeda . now, we can say, well, we've got perfect clarity. we don't. we know that intelligence doesn't do that. syria is incredibly complex. there's a question of leadership but the outcome they have stumbled into is generally --

>> i don't think anybody is saying there is perfect clarity and it's equally delusional to think we'll go, if they don't comply to the security council where russia who not -- who doesn't even admit that assad has used the chemical weapons has got veto power .

>> the russians --

>> yes, but any use of force requires their approval.

>> no, it does not. no, it does not. as the commander in chief and this was the whole debate a week ago he said i'm going to strike militarily without the u.n., without congress, now, whether that's a good policy or not, but, you know, this is stabilization by accident and maybe another case of obama good luck. we'll see. it may bite him.

>> but without congress much less will he strike out the