Rogers: Obama administration ‘screwed up’ Syria deal

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Two and a half months after the U.S. backed off its threat to launch a bombing campaign against the Syrian regime, not everyone in Congress is happy with the easing of tensions.

In an interview that aired Sunday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the the sweeping, Russian-brokered agreement prematurely closed the door to a more wide-ranging armistice between the regime and opposition forces. The agreement requires Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014.

“If you were ever going to get a deal for a peace deal, a cease-fire, that got screwed up,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Rogers’ criticism came amid reports the U.S. has offered to help destroy some of the most lethal parts of al-Assad’s chemical stockpile.

In the immediate aftermath of the agreement, President Barack Obama praised the accord as “welcome progress” and an “important, concrete step” toward reducing violence in the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. “The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere,” Obama said on September 14. “We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children.”

While Rogers readily admitted that taking chemical weapons off the battlefield qualified as a success, the Michigan lawmaker insisted the administration, by not pushing harder for a cease-fire, enabled the Syrian dictator to keep killing with conventional weapons.

“They were too quick to try to get a deal,” Rogers said.

He argued the U.S. negotiating team dispatched to Geneva, Switzerland, ultimately left al-Assad with “the protection of the Russian government” and an “indeterminate amount of time” to continue massacring opposition forces and civilian dissidents. Rogers said the United States, in quickly coming to terms with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, undermined its credibility with allies in the region, including the Arab League, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

But he said the most serious damage done by the agreement was that it undermined America’s credibility with moderate rebel groups fighting the Syrian regime. “The opposition felt that the United States walked away from them,” he said.

Rogers’ Intelligence Committee counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, did not directly criticize the Obama administration’s handling of the Syria situation, but she did say the ongoing conflict — and the influx of jihadist fighters into the country — make it increasingly difficult to “separate the bad guys from the good guys.”

By Jason Seher