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As the United States debates using force in Syria following its alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013, many members of Congress have criticized President Barack Obama’s threat to dictator Bashar Assad as a bad diplomatic move.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., defended him when she spoke with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, comparing Obama’s international credibility favorably in comparison with that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
"You know, President George W. Bush had significantly degraded our international influence around the world," she said. "We stood alone in the war in Iraq. We were roundly criticized and rightfully so. And today, we have 35 nations that signed the statement in support of the U.S.'s commitment to strike. ... So President Obama's leadership has rebuilt our credibility around the world with leaders that was decimated in the previous administration."
Blitzer pushed back against her argument, noting that the British Parliament, "our closest ally wouldn't even support potential U.S. military strikes in Syria."
Wasserman is right that some countries, such as France, have backed a potential strike this time around. But Britain and others are opposed.
Here, we’ll focus on fact-checking her statement about Iraq, in which she claimed that the United States didn’t have the support of other nations. A reader emailed us, asking if Wasserman Schultz was right. Her office did not return requests for comment.
We should start by noting that Bush received a lot of criticism for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 because he didn’t have backing from the United Nations. But the United States didn’t go in alone.
In fact, Bush claimed the support of 35 countries for the action in his March 2003 address to the nation declaring war.
"More than 35 countries are giving crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases, to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units. Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense," he said.
Later that month, the White House released a list of 49 nations that had "already begun military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and enforce 17 (United Nations Security Council) resolutions."
We should also point out that support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair was particularly strong.
"Tell our allies that at the very moment of action, at the very moment when they need our determination that Britain faltered? I will not be party to such a course. This is not the time to falter," Blair said at the end of a long, passionate speech before the House of Commons in favor of invading.
Great Britain had troops stationed in Iraq until 2009, while the United States pulled out in 2011.
When Blitzer asked about Obama's decision to strike Syria, Wasserman Schultz defended the president and argued that he has support, unlike when the United States "stood alone" against Iraq.
Although Democrats often criticize Bush for invading Iraq without more global backing, including that of the United Nations, Bush did put together a coalition. Nearly 50 countries, most notably Britain, ultimately supported the invasion, with many sending troops of their own. That's roughly on par with the support network that Obama has put together for action against Syria, and possibly exceeds it. We rate her claim Pants on Fire!
BBC, "UK Combat Operations End in Iraq," April 30, 2009
CNN, "Bush Declares War," March 19, 2003
The Guardian, "Full Text: Tony Blair’s Speech," March 18, 2003
New York Times, "In Turnaround, It’s France Backing Arms While Britain Sits on Syria Sidelines," Aug. 30, 2013
PolitiFact, "Would a U.S. Strike in Syria Violate International Law?" Sept. 12, 2013
The White House, "Operation Iraqi Freedom Coalition Members," March 27, 2003
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