Earlier Monday, Kerry said that al-Assad "could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week."
But speaking at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry described that as an impossible scenario.
"He isn't about to do it and it can't be done obviously," Kerry said.
The State Department later sought to clarify Kerry's comment as a "rhetorical argument," and a U.S. official called the secretary of state's remarks a "major goof."
"His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "That's why the world faces this moment."At The Atlantic, James Fallows writes that another Kerry goof crystallizes some larger impression:
That is of course the significance of today's unfortunate stumble by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said in London that any strike in Syria would be "unbelievably small."We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing -- unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.You know what he meant. He was advancing the argument for a contained, "surgical," pinpoint, etc., effort that would be big enough to let Assad and future dictators know the cost of using chemical weapons, yet not so broad as to entrap the United States in the ongoing (horrific) civil war. If the two words that had come to his mind in real time had been "unbelievably precise" rather than "unbelievably small," no one would have blinked.
But this is the undertaking that the same Secretary Kerry just finished telling us was our moment's moral crossroads, our Munich. And we will rise to that challenge with a response that is "unbelievably small."