Ex-CIA chief on Syria strikes: 'This could fail'

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The former head of the CIA blamed President Obama for limiting U.S. options in Syria and said he was dubious the U.S. military could achieve the goal of preventing Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime from using chemical weapons again.

“This could fail,” Michael Hayden said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Hayden said that Obama’s “red line” talk put the “prestige and credibility” of the U.S. at risk and was now forcing the White House’s hand on Syria.

“[The president’s comments] do make a difference; they put the prestige of our president, they put the prestige and credibility of the United States of America at risk,” Hayden said. 

“I thought it was an unwise comment when he made it about a year ago, but it has consequences. It has put us on the line that we would act in the face of these kinds of actions, and there are a lot of audiences for this, not just the Syrians.”

Hayden said that if Obama had never set a red line, the U.S. would have a lot more options on the table.

“We would be in a position where we would have to consider acting,” he said. “But I also think we would have given ourselves a bit more space to begin building an international coalition, not to feel that we would have to act unilaterally.”

President Obama this week backed away from his earlier comments that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people was a red line that would provoke U.S. action.

The president said he didn’t set a red line on Syria, but rather, the world did. He also argued that it wasn’t his administration’s credibility at stake if the U.S. didn’t act.

Hayden expressed doubt that the U.S. could achieve its goal of deterring the Assad regime from using chemical weapons on its own people again.

He noted that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "has been very careful in these discussion with [lawmakers on Capitol Hill] not to overpromise what a military action might accomplish.”

Hayden said a military strike likely wouldn’t do enough to degrade the Syrian army’s capacity to carry out chemical weapons attacks in the future. 

He also said the U.S. could expect a retaliation from Assad or his allies in the region, who would want to prove they still had the capacity to carry out chemical weapons attacks.

“Success is in the minds of Bashar Assad,” Hayden said. “Success is changing their willingness to use these weapons in the future, and boy, even in saying that sentence, success is certainly not guaranteed.”