Obama explains hesitancy in Syria
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham brigade take positions during heavy fighting in Damascus on Saturday, January 26.
January 28th, 2013
10:09 AM ET
1 year ago

Obama explains hesitancy in Syria

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama is still grappling with what role the United States should play in Syria's bloody conflict, which began nearly two years ago and has claimed the lives of 60,000 people, according to a United Nations estimate.

In interviews released Sunday, the president pushed back on criticism from political rivals that his administration has been overly detached from foreign unrest, including the ongoing Syrian civil war.

"Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment," Obama told "60 Minutes."

"Syria's a classic example of where our involvement, we want to make sure that not only does it enhance U.S. security, but also that it is doing right by the people of Syria and neighbors like Israel that are going to be profoundly affected by it," he explained later. "And so it's true sometimes that we don't just shoot from the hip."

Since Syrian rebels first began trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, the United States has waded into the conflict incrementally. In December Obama said the U.S. government would recognize the leading Syrian opposition coalition, though stopped short of saying the U.S. would join other nations like Qatar in providing the rebels with weapons.

The U.S. has provided more than $200 million in funding and humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition, and has pressed them to establish a leadership structure.

Sixty-thousand people have died in Syria since the uprising began two years ago, and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced, according to U.N. estimates.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appearing alongside the president on "60 Minutes," called the situation in Syria a "wicked problem," but argued there was no clear blueprint for American involvement in the country.

"We are on the side of American values. We're on the side of freedom. We're on the side of the aspirations of all people, to have a better life, have the opportunities that we are fortunate to have here. But it's not always easy to perceive exactly what must be done in order to get to that outcome," she said.

In a solo interview with The New Republic, Obama listed the large questions that must be answered before the U.S. intervenes more substantially in Syria's civil war.

"In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation?" he told the magazine.

"Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who've been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?"

"Those are not simple questions," he said, explaining that the aim for his presidency is to make "more right calls than not."

Ultimately, the United States won't be able to "control every aspect of every transition and transformation," Obama told "60 Minutes."

"Sometimes, you know, there'll be unintended consequences," he said.


Filed under: Hillary Clinton • President Obama • Syria
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    One little mentioned fact about Syria is their Russian support, what benefit it brings to the Russians. The Syrian government has granted the Russians space for a naval port. The old USSR had long sought for a naval port on the Mediterranean because their only access to the oceans of the world where through northern artic waters.

    The Russian naval port is defended, in part, by Syrian troops and the rebels have thus far wisely avoided going near it or attacking it. Before the final fall of the Assad government, that port will come into play. The warm water port is not something with which the Russians would easily part ways.

    Thus far, the Russians have seemingly sided with Assad while trying to lend the appearance of neutrality, which they can for as long as their port is not directly threatened. It is only a matter of time before civil strife and violence affects the port in some way. It is quite likely that Russians would have to defend themselves for outside violence. The question that remains unanswered is who would the Russians be forced to shoot at? Do you still think it would be good idea to send arms or boots to Syria?

    January 28, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. Jane Elliot

    Tim,the reason that's all you see is because poor Americans have lost their jobs to illegal immigrants.Vic ,you know full well immigration reform is not what the election was about.For supportive of illegal immigrants,how about supporting Americans for a change.

    January 28, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  3. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The other problem with Syria is because we don't who all the players are. Some are those that we could support while others have links to terrorist groups that would like to see the US fall apart and rise as an Islamic caliphate. The problem is telling the two apart. I wouldn't mind having stealth fighters fly over those parts that have "rebels" and drop food, medical supplies and clothing with it clearly saying that this is from the USA. Comminications equipment would be good as well; having in give a copy of what they are saying would also be a requirement.

    January 28, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. Jerubbaal

    My question is where are all the rich Arab states? They need to provide support for their own. They sit on billions of oil wealth and do nothing to ease the suffering of the refugees or those in the embattled areas. If they are willing to idly sit by while these tragic events occur, I see no reason why the US should get involved in another Arab civil war. Just look at all the appreciation that we receive from the liberated Shia of Iraq. The Arabs have been fighting one another since the dawn of men. The Shia/Sunni split has been a souce of friction in Islam for centvries. For the sake of the US and our true ally Israel, I think it best to allow Syria to determine its own future and to force the Arab nations to deal with their own issues because they truly are thd ones with skin in the game.

    January 28, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  5. ThinkAgain

    Why aren't the Arab states getting involved to resolve this conflict? Why is it always the U.S. that has to step in? And to all you right-wingers complaining about President Obama's decisions regarding Syria, you do realize, don't you, that Syria's #1 backer is Russia, right? Any actions we do take must be well-thought-out and under the radar, if possible. The Middle East is a tinderbox and the last thing we need is American boots on the ground there.

    January 28, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  6. rs

    Aside from the obvious diplomatic and international reasons for not entering Syria (especially single-handedly), one obvious reason to intervene selectively in world affairs is cost- Bush more or less bankrupted America by unilaterally going into Iraq and Afghanistan and not budgeting for some of the longest wars in American history. True, there were partner nations, but the overwhelming cost was to the U.S.. For Republicans itching for a war with Iran, North Korea or complain that we have on presence Syria- just how do you expect to pay for these engagements? Will you cower at every American death and seek to find fault with the government once we do engage these tragedies? What about those huge and very profitable contracts to corporations like Halliburton? Before you bemoan the loss of American "prestige" abroad, perhaps you ought to examine the pocketbook a little more thoroughly and think about Mr. Bush's adventures in context.

    January 28, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  7. Tea Party Member

    American taxpayer monies should not be wasted in Syria. The United States should not be the worlds policeman. Declare peace in the middle east and bring all of our troops home. Better yet cut the military budget to only the funds needed to protect the homeland.

    BALANCE THE BUDGET AND SAVE AMERICA FROM BANKRUPTCY

    January 28, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  8. rs

    Jane Elliot
    Tim,the reason that's all you see is because poor Americans have lost their jobs to illegal immigrants.Vic ,you know full well immigration reform is not what the election was about.For supportive of illegal immigrants,how about supporting Americans for a change.
    ________________________
    I ask myself every day what Republicans detest the vast majority of Americans so. They would rather start wars in far-off land, build hospitals, schools and airports in Afghanistan, pay-off drug lords, or bankroll questionable leaders than help the poor, the sick or elderly at home (you know, the end Social Security and Medicare stupidity). Never mind the GOP's mindless hatred for the working classes- they don't support livable wages, worker's rights or even worker safety regulations.

    January 28, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  9. Moose

    He shot from hip with Ben Ghazi lies, why not just tell the truth?? He has no idea what to do.

    January 28, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  10. thomase

    Jane Elliot, I don't understand why you are blaming immigrants. The jobs that people are losing are USUALLY manufacturing jobs that are shuttered and moved to countries like China which saves the company millions of dollars a year and has tax incentives!

    What jobs are these "illegal immigrants" taking? They certainly aren't taking anything more than low or minimum wage positions.

    January 28, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  11. Rudy NYC

    ThinkAgain

    Why aren't the Arab states getting involved to resolve this conflict? Why is it always the U.S. that has to step in? And to all you right-wingers complaining about President Obama's decisions regarding Syria, you do realize, don't you, that Syria's #1 backer is Russia, right? Any actions we do take must be well-thought-out and under the radar, if possible. The Middle East is a tinderbox and the last thing we need is American boots on the ground there.
    ----------
    I believe the Arab League has been providing humanitarian support all along. They have recently announced their intent to send in peacekeepers to protect the civil population, with the intent of not taking sides and getting directly involved.

    Yes, the Russian support for Syria presents a preventitive problem for any direct US involvment, or for any involvement by any foreign power. Ultimately, the Russians are going to want to keep their warm water port of call. They would no doubt defend their port and those who provided it to them. I'm sure they want a navy more substantial than fleets of submarines that can navigate under the artic ice. Warm water ports would enable them to expand into aircraft carriers, enabling them to extend and expand their influence and military might in ways the US has over the past 20 years.

    January 28, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  12. Randy, San Francisco

    Look at the track record of Republican neo-conservatives who are so quick to intervene with American soldiers. IRAQ and the imaginary WMDs.

    January 28, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. CryBabies

    @Moose....If you are referring to last nights 60 Minutes interview....the bullets never left the chamber. He and Hillary were having a lovefest. I've been a religious viewer of that show for decades and last nights airing was a pitiful campaign promotion for her. C'mon CBS, get back to covering newsworthy articles.

    January 28, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  14. A Kickin` Donkey

    I would imagine that our interests are best served by the elimination of chem/bio weapons in the Syrian arsenal. We have conflagration ordinances which could incinerate these threats. We may consider a pre-emptive warning to the Syrians to vacate certain areas and we take limited, focused action. Furthering the security of Israel in this way also serves the US by keeping these weapons out of the hands of rebels & the alQueda terrorists in their midst. Syria / Leabonon has never presented us with nice, tidy solution and it won`t this time. America, prioritize OUR INTERESTS first.

    BTW – where should our next "Louisiana Purchase" be? What foward base do we want somewhere in the world \or launch airstrikes/drones, refueling tankers, naval bases, etc.?

    January 28, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Moose wrote:

    He shot from hip with Ben Ghazi lies, why not just tell the truth?? He has no idea what to do.
    ---------
    The right wing has had several out of places in some serious places ever since the second Nixon term, where both the VP and the POTUS had to resign in utter disgrace. They've been looking for opportunity to get revenge ever since, even going to the extreme of manufacturing scandals by blowing facts way out of proportion.

    To you I say, so what if the administration "lied" to the public. It's their right to withhold whatever information from the public that they deem as being vital to the interests of national security. Blow your Benghazi horn to your heart's content. There is no scandal to uncover by which they could impeach Pres. Obama. But, please, do not stop trying.

    January 28, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. freedom

    "Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference - at this point - does it make?"

    January 28, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  17. Tom

    Moose

    He shot from hip with Ben Ghazi lies, why not just tell the truth?? He has no idea what to do.
    __________________________________________________________________________________

    This administration wouldn't know how to tell the truth if it slapped them in the face. All Obama and his administration is concerned about is covering their butts. Disgusting how the Obama sheeple will come to their "Lord and Savior" defense and not be the least bit concerned about the murders of these American.

    January 28, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  18. Fair is Fair

    "To you I say, so what if the administration "lied" to the public. It's their right to withhold whatever information from the public that they deem as being vital to the interests of national security."
    -----
    What information exactly, in the Benghazi example, could have been withheld because it was vital to the interests of national security? You're stretching.

    January 28, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  19. California Gary

    @moose........sometimes doing nothing, or very little, is the best option. When standing at the edge of a pond full of alligators, do you just jump in and start swimming? Or is it better to contemplate a safer way around the pond? What is it you think Obama should be doing about Syria?

    January 28, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair asked:

    What information exactly, in the Benghazi example, could have been withheld because it was vital to the interests of national security? You're stretching.
    --------
    The administration had the authority to decide whether or not reveal whether or not they initially thought terrorists were behind the attack the day after the attack. Specifically, I am talking about the right wing criticism of Pres. Obama's announcement in the Rose Garden the day after the attack.

    The POTUS has the leeway to decide what is classified information, and what is not. It is a stretch to suggest he does not.

    January 28, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  21. freedom

    ""At this point." That is, and has always been, the underlying strategy of the Obama administration on Benghazi: stall for time until they've reached a safe distance from the horrors they perpetrated on the ambassador and his brave defenders, on the American people, on an insignificant amateur video maker, and on the many Arab Muslims killed during real protests stoked by the administration's repeated citing of an "outrageous," "disgusting," "intolerant" video which in fact had nothing to do with anything. From this distance, they hoped, all the important questions would begin to seem less urgent, and all the ugly facts begin to drift into the dark recesses of public consciousness. " Quote from an article from The American Thinker.

    January 28, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |