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Panetta says Obama vacillated on Syria

WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is criticizing President Barack Obama for leaning toward, then deciding against military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

"By failing to respond, it sent the wrong message to the world," Panetta says in his new book in which he also reveals his differences with the president over the decision to withdraw completely from Iraq in 2011. Panetta says he favored keeping a residual U.S. force behind.

In August 2012, Obama said the United States would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in the Syrian civil war if President Bashar Assad deployed or used chemical or biological weapons. "That's a red line for us," Obama said.

After Assad reportedly used chemical weapons, killing hundreds of Syrian civilians, Obama planned a Rose Garden address in which he was widely expected to announce airstrikes against Syria. Instead, Obama said he would consult with Congress.

"President Obama vacillated," Panetta writes in Worthy Fights, set for release next week. Turning to Congress "was, as he well knew, an almost certain way to scotch any action."

"The result … was a blow to American credibility," he writes.