Barack Obama
Barack ObamaReuters

United States President Barack Obama said on Thursday he does not regret stepping back from his "red line" on the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria.

In fact, Obama told the Atlantic magazine in an interview that he was “proud” of the decision.

In 2012, Obama warned Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be crossing a “red line”, but when such weapons were indeed subsequently used, he failed to act on those comments and instead opted to back the diplomatic deal brokered by Russia that saw the Assad regime hand over its declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

Speaking to the Atlantic, Obama described his decision to step back from planned military strikes, which would have changed the course of Syria's brutal five-year-old civil war.

"I'm very proud of this moment," he stressed.

"The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far," Obama was quoted as saying.

"The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America's credibility was at stake. And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically," said the president.

Critics argue that Obama's decision did damage to American credibility that will not be healed quickly or easily.

But, refuting those statements, the president told the Atlantic, "The fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America's interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I've made -- and I believe that ultimately it was the right decision to make."

In December, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized Obama over his failure to act in Syria after the warning to Assad, saying he believed Obama dealt a severe blow to the credibility of both Obama and the United States by not taking action after Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.

Similar comments were made by Leon Panetta, who preceded Hagel as Defense Secretary.

"By failing to respond, it sent the wrong message to the world," Panetta said in a book released in 2014, adding, "President Obama vacillated, first indicating that he was prepared to order some strikes, then retreating and agreeing to submit the matter to Congress.”

"The result, I felt, was a blow to American credibility. When the president as commander in chief draws a red line, it is critical that he act if the line is crossed. ... Assad's action clearly defied President Obama's warning," wrote Panetta.