When it came time to make his case for the judgment of history, President Barack Obama had a ready rebuttal to one of the most cutting critiques of his time in office.
Although friends and foes alike faulted him for not following through on his threat to retaliate when Syria gassed its own people in 2013, Mr. Obama would counter that he had actually achieved a better result through an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons.
After last week, even former Obama aides assume that he will have to rethink that passage in his memoir. More than 80 civilians were killed in what Western analysts called a sarin attack by Syrian forces — a chilling demonstration that the agreement did not succeed. In recent days, former aides have lamented what they considered one of the worst moments of the Obama presidency and privately conceded that his legacy would suffer.
Even before last week’s chemical attack, many veterans of Mr. Obama’s team considered his handling of Syria his biggest failing and expressed regret that their administration could not stop a civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead and millions displaced.
Many of them even praised President Trump for taking the very action that Mr. Obama refused to take four years ago, by ordering a cruise missile strike against Syria. “Donald Trump has done the right thing on Syria,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, the director of policy planning in Mr. Obama’s State Department, wrote on Twitter. “Finally!! After years of useless hand-wringing in the face of hideous atrocities.”
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