President Barack Obama said in his final press conference of the year that he feels “responsible” for the bloodshed in Syria, and that his administration “went through every option” to try and limit the violence there.
“I always feel responsible,” the president said in response to a question about whether he felt a “moral responsibility for the carnage” in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, after failing to intervene in the Syrian civil war early on.
“I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers, when millions of people were being displaced,” he said. “I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taking place in south Sudan that’s not being reported on … there are places around the world where horrible things are happening. And because of my office, I feel responsible.”
“I ask myself every day, ‘Is there something I could do that would make a difference?'” Obama said. “That’s a starting point. There’s not a moment during the course of this presidency where I haven’t felt some responsibility.”
The president then explained that he and his advisors spent “days and weeks” worth of time meeting about Syria and trying to find a way to ease the suffering and end the civil war.
“I have consistently taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war, while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States,” Obama said.
The president noted that, in the “hours of meetings” he held with advisors and officials about Syria, it became clear that large numbers of US troops would have to be deployed to make a difference in the conflict. And with no international legal mandate, a lack of support from Congress, and a Russian and Iranian presence in Syria, Obama said, US ground troops “were going to run into problems.”
“It was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap,” Obama said. “And in that circumstance I have to make a decision as President as to what is best” for the country.
The president reiterated his support for the cease-fire and evacuation deal that is currently under way in Aleppo, the epicentre of the nearly six-year civil war.
“Our biggest priority right now is to put pressure, wherever we can, to try and get [the civilians] out” of Aleppo, Obama said, and noted that he would help president-elect Donald Trump — who said on Thursday that he is in favour of establishing humanitarian safe zones in Syria — with any advice he can provide so that he can make informed decisions.
But he contended that because the safe zones would be in Syrian territory, “some force” would be required to maintain them in the absence of consent from the Syrian government, the Russians, and the Iranians.
“If we can get more of the tens of thousands of people that are still trapped in Aleppo out,” Obama said, “as long as the world’s eyes are on them, the regime and Russia can hopefully find an arrangement whereby those people are kept safe.”
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