BEIRUT — President Barack Obama called the apparent gassing of hundreds of Syrian civilians a “big event of grave concern” but stressed today that he would not rush to embroil Americans in a costly new war.
As opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad braved the frontlines around Damascus to try and deliver tissue samples to UN inspectors from victims of Wednesday’s poisoning, Obama brushed over an interviewer’s reminder that he once called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” for US action on Syria.
He played down the chances of Assad cooperating with a UN team that might, if given access soon, provide conclusive evidence of what happened. In any case, he would not react in haste to calls for US intervention that would “mire” Americans in an undertaking that was counter to their long-term interests.
Noting budget constraints, problems of international law and a continuing US casualty toll in Afghanistan, Obama said:
“Sometimes what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.
“The United States continues to be the one country that people expect can do more than just simply protect their borders. But that does not mean that we have to get involved with everything immediately.
“We have to think through strategically what’s going to be in our long-term national interests.”
Asked about his comment — a year to the day before the poison fumes hit sleeping residents of rebel-held Damascus suburbs — that chemical weapons would be a red line for the United States, he replied: “If the US goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it.” (Reuters)